Noebel Cause: Summit Ministries Director Retires

Paul Harvey

Colorado Springs hasn't been in the news quite as much in recent years (Ted Haggard notably excepted) as it was at the height of the culture wars. That may soon change as the Republican primary heats up. In the meantime, though, here's an important organization-in-transition story for you, from a (relatively) little known but quietly powerful local Christian training center that has exerted its influence over a couple of generation of folks now. Mark Barna, our local Colorado Springs Gazette religion reporter, recounts the career of David Noebel of Summit Ministries, who is retiring after close to half a century of leading his group. Originally an offshoot of Billy James Hargis's Christian Crusade, Noebel struck out on his own after sex scandals brought Hargis down -- including a couple who, upon their honeymoon, discovered they had both slept with Hargis out of wedlock. Noebel reportedly pushed out Hargis and took over the Christian Crusade program, folded it into Summit Ministries, and has carried on from there since.

In case you are worried that Noebel will get bored during his retirement, fear not.

Though retiring from Summit, Noebel will continue to lead the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, founded in 1953 in Iowa by Fred Schwarz to track U.S. communism, and currently headquartered in Manitou Springs. Noebel has written for the nonprofit’s newsletter for 45 years.

Noebel is best known now, at least among historians, as the great nonstop fountain of colorful quotes from his books in the 1960s and 1970s, most of which are rants about communism and rock-n-roll -- see, for example, Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution (1966), and Marxist Minstrels (1973). The first simply cannot be beat as an anti-rock screed (if I'm wrong about that, Randall, correct me): Noebel writes:

"THE BEATLES, or THE MINDBENDERS, for example, need only mass hypnotize thousands of American youth, condition their emotions through the beat of the 'music' and then have someone give the word for riot and revolt...If the following scientific program is not exposed, degenerated Americans will indeed raise the Communist flag over their own nation"

Because he's usually quoted in that context, Noebel has tended to be written off as a product of the culture wars of an entirely different era -- one before Christian rock/pop infiltrated the enemy headquarters and established itself on the scene (as David Stowe has documented in No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of Evangelicalism), and before, as Charity Carney just described, saccharine instrumental Muzak versions of Lennon's "Imagine" are piped into Christian chain stores.

But far from being the product of another era, Summit Ministries has remained an active training organization, with tens of thousands of people coming through its programs and filtering its message out to the grassroots. Sarah Posner has described its work in this area in much greater detail here. She writes:

If Noebel seems stuck in time with his fearmongering about a fifth column of “reds” aiming to take over America, his protégés continue to reinterpret his conspiratorial thinking in ways that reverberate throughout the conservative movement—despite the embarrassment over conspiracy theories from some conservative journalists. Noebel himself acknowledged the thread running from his activism to the Tea Party movement. “Most of them are evangelical Christian anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-statist... Michele Bachmann is one of their leaders and she certainly is a fine Christian gal and she’s got her feet in that camp big time.” And, he added, “I would say Ron Paul, for example, Ron Paul is more Christian than anything, to tell the truth.”

Noebel’s influence can be seen in the work of a Summit alumnus who answered the Christian Right call for evangelicals to create their own media and entertainment enterprises to replace secular ones. Noebel makes an appearance in the propaganda film Agenda: Grinding America Down, produced by former Idaho state legislator Curtis Bowers, who recently won the Christian Reconstructionist San Antonio Christian Film Festival. As a youth, Bowers and his family spent summers at Summit, which he described recently as “such a valuable and important thing that was helping turn America back to God and the Bible."

Noebel has been a colorful character for sure, and will remain a surefire source for quotable quotes for historians documenting the cultural conflicts of the 1960s/1970s. But he should remain of interest for his considerable influence on influencing the rhetoric and positioning of a substantial sub-group in contemporary politics. This far predates the Tea Party, and while off or under the radar for a couple of decades, its day is here -- again.

And if nothing else, that's good for business here at RiAH, and it primes the pump for interest in the new book by Randall and the forthcoming masterpiece (American Evangelicals and the Politics of Apocalypse, under contract with Harvard U. Press) from Matt.


Anonymous said…
ah, and he crosses my desk for his 1978 "Homosexual Revolution" as well as his 1986 "AIDS: Guidelines for Containing the Homosexual Venereal Disease" (co-authored with Wayne Lutton). And, of course, his discussion of homosexuality follows quite closely from -- and should productively be read alongside -- his concerns with communism.

Many a potent quotable to be found there.

Anthony Petro
Paul Harvey said…
Anthony, indeed, his rants on the subject of sexuality remain all too relevant long after the rock n roll controversies have receded to nostalgically amusing irrelevancy.
Randall said…
I'll need to track down the 1966 book. I have the minstrels one. There's a Hargis element here. Very interesting.

Popular Posts