This Week in Texas Methodist History November 1
The guest preacher for the 1937 Texas Annual Conference was Robert Shuler from Los Angeles. No, it wasn’t Robert H. Schuller who is well known for the Crystal Cathedral. The preacher was Robert P. Shuler, known in his time as “Fighting Bob,” and probably better known in his day than Robert H. Schuller is in our day.
Annual Conference met in Texarkana that year, from Nov. 3 to 7, with Monroe Vivian as host preacher. It was sort of a homecoming because Robert P. Shuler had once served First Methodist Paris, less than 100 miles away. He had come to Paris from University Methodist in Austin where he was succeeded by A. Frank Smith who was now the presiding bishop of the Texas Conference.
Shuler transferred from Paris to Trinity Methodist in Los Angeles in 1920. He used that platform to become one of the nation’s first radio preachers who mixed religion and politics. In 1926 (the same year as Father Coughlan began his broadcasts) he launched station KGEF (Keep God Ever First) from Trinity. His favorite topic was prohibition, but that interest naturally expanded to police corruption, gambling, and vice. (Remember this is Hollywood during the Roaring 20s). The mayor of Los Angeles unsuccessfully sued him for libel in 1929.
In 1931 the Federal Radio Commission (predecessor of the FCC) revoked his license because of his hysterical rants against African Americans, Jews, Roman Catholics, the President of the University of Southern California (evolution was taught there), the YWCA (they allowed dancing), and other evangelists including Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson. He was not opposed to everything. He supported the Ku Klux Klan. He appealed the license revocation to the U. S. Supreme Court where he was defended by the ACLU which, ironically, was another one of his targets. The justices upheld the revocation so he moved his program to another station.
In 1932 he ran for the U. S. Senate on the Prohibition Party ticket and received over 25% of the vote, carrying Orange and Riverside Counties. That was not the end of his political career. In 1942 he received a dual nomination from both the Prohibition and Republican parties for the 13th congressional district. He lost to Jerry Vorhees 53,000 to 40,000.
In spite of what seems like a full time radio and political career, Shuler continued to be reappointed to Trinity. When he finally retired in 1953, his son, Robert, Jr., took his place. He died in 1965.
Shuler’s participation in the 1937 Texas Annual Conference raises some questions. Who invited this “father of hate radio”? Was there a large factor of conference preachers who agreed with him? What about the relationship between Shuler and Bishop Smith? In his excellent biography of Bishop Smith (Growing a Soul, SMU Press, Dallas, 1979) Norman Spellman recounts some of the problems Shuler created at University Methodist that Smith had to solve. How did the two men regard each other twenty years later? The 1937 Journal offers few clues. The resolution of thanks to Shuler is pure boilerplate. Questions remain.