William Montgomery Brown (1855-1937)

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This study focuses on the background, life and personality of Episcopal Bishop William Montgomery Brown to explain why he became a materialist and a communist. Born to poor but industrious parents near Orrville, Ohio in 1855, he pursued the ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. Following the publication of his The Church for Americans in 1895, he was chosen as the episcopal successor to the Rt. Rev. Henry Niles Pierce, Bishop of Arkansas. He went on to write some works which proved controversial, causing friction within and outside of his diocese, leading him to move back to his native Ohio where, following a crisis of faith, he became a materialist and communist. Then, following the publication of his Communism and Christianism: Banish Gods from Skies and Capitalists from Earth!, he was tried for heresy and deposed in 1925. He spent the remaining years of his life advancing communism and advocating a symbolic, non-supernatural Christianity, up until his death in 1937.


“Almost no one today knows the name of William Montgomery Brown, a bishop in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the early decades of the twentieth-century, but this church leader in Ohio and Arkansas was a prolific author, controversialist, and extraordinarily diverse religious leader who became the only Episcopal bishop in the United States ever to be deposed for heresy ... With admirable balance and extensive research, Dr. Carden traces out the life trajectory of Bishop Brown ... The result is a significant contribution to religious and intellectual history, the history of the South, and the little-known story of the intersection of Darwinism and Marxism with Protestantism in a most unlikely place, the American South.” – Dr. John B. Boles, William P. Hobby Professor of History, Rice University

“Dr. Carden’s well-written biography of the only bishop ever deposed by the Protestant Episcopal Church is as insightful as it is definitive. William Montgomery Brown’s struggle from poor farm lad to Episcopal Bishop to Communist Party advocate clearly reflects the ever-present tensions between social class, religion, and politics in late-nineteenth/early twentieth-century American life – tensions that are with us yet today.” – Dr. Ferenc Morton Szasz, Regents Professor of History, The University of New Mexico

"Clear in its prose, thorough in its research, and sound in its judgments." - Journal of Southern History

Table of Contents

Preface by John B. Boles
1 The Early Years, 1855-1883
2 Clerical Career in Ohio, 1878-1897
3 Arkansas: Election and Confirmation as Bishop Coadjutor, 1879-1898
4 Bishop of Arkansas, 1899-1911
5 The Level Plan of Church Union and Materialism, 1910-1916
6 Marxism and Communism and Christianism, 1917-1920
7 Prelude to the Trial, 1920-1924
8 The Court for the Trial of a Bishop, 1924
9 Court of Review, Publicity, and Deposal, 1924-1925
10 The Last Years, 1925-1937

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