MOTHERS AND APOLOGETICS
His mother was Madalyn Murray O’Hair. She won the landmark lawsuit filed on his behalf when he was fourteen years old, effectively banning prayer and Bible reading from public schools in America by an 8-1 Supreme Court decision, June 17, 1963. America’s schools have never recovered from this decision that long-time U. S. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia described as somebody “tampering with America’s soul.” The fact is here was a mother tampering with her child’s soul as well as millions of others.
In his book, My Life without God, William J. Murray tells of what it was like to have a mother who was once described as a America’s most famous atheist. In 1980, 17 years following that Supreme Court decision, Murray had renounced the atheism of his mother and offered a public apology “for whatever part I played in the removal of Bible reading and praying from the public schools . . . I can now see the damage this removal has caused to our nation in the form of loss of faith and moral decline.” He further said, “There had to be good, because I had looked into the eyes of evil. There had to be a God, because I had held hands with the devil.”
Stark is the contrast between this mother who militantly negated faith in the life of her son and the mother of Timothy who motherly nurtured faith in her son. Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote a marvelous tribute to Timothy’s mother and grandmother: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Timothy 1:5). Later, in the same letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “ . . . [C]ontinue in what in you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).
From the year 1840 comes a brief apologetics text (The Bible True and Infidelity Wicked) written by William Plumer and containing a very interesting story. Colonel Ethan Allen of New England was an officer in the Revolutionary War. He was brave, patriotic, gifted, but he was an infidel. Having fought the enemies of his country, he also fought Christianity. He wrote a volume against the Christian faith. He was a husband and a father. In time, a daughter became ill. It was apparent to her physician, her parents, and herself that she only had a short time to live. In these circumstances she appealed to her father, Ethan Allen, and to her mother who professed to be a Christian not to deceive her but to tell her whether she should believe the infidel or the Christian system. Plumer writes, “The mother, from emotion or from prudence, was silent. In the father, parental love gained the ascendency over infidel passion and prejudice and he said, ‘My daughter, believe your mother. She has told you the truth’” (77-78).
Concerning these things I still agree with Rodney (Gipsy) Smith (1860-1947). Smith was an unusual evangelist who traveled extensively in Europe and America powerfully preaching with a self-taught style of English said to be comparable to John Bunyan. In his Christ and the Home! sermon, Smith said:
THE MOTHER makes the home. What the mothers of the nation are today, the children very largely will be to-morrow. The mothers of our race are moulding the life of the race, and the character of the race. The prosperity and progress of the world of to-morrow depends upon the mothers of to-day.
I saw this in France, in the blood and mud of the trenches. I saw it in the hospitals, where the broken, bruised and torn bodies of men were healed and restored. I heard it from the lips of the dying. It makes all the difference in such circumstances if a boy can recall the memory of a good mother. And in other walks of life, whether a girl has a good mother or a bad one . . .
A lady, one of the aristocracy of France, once sat by the side of the Emperor, Napoleon, at a great dinner. “My Emperor, will you tell me what it is France needs most at this present hour?” she said. The great Napoleon turned to the lady and said, quietly, “France needs most of all mothers.” And if you ask me what Britain, America, Australia, or any other country in the world needs most of all to-day, my reply would be the same—“Just mothers—good mothers, godly mothers!” (103-04)
Even as I write these words the day before Mother’s Day 2016, with little comprehension, but with much appreciation I give thought to the threads of Providence. In some fashion I believe such has been involved in providing me a mother, now 91 years old, to whom I will always be indebted for a “faith more precious than gold that perishes” (1 Peter 1:7-8). One morning, just a few days ago, I phoned her. As I asked her what she was doing that morning, she replied, “I am reading from the Bible that your son, my grandson, gave me.” John Greenleaf Whittier had it right in those lines from his poem “Miriam.” He said it well.
We search the world for truth; we cull
The good, the pure, the beautiful,
From graven stone and written scroll,
From all old flower-fields of the soul;
And, weary seekers of the best,
We come back laden from our quest,
To find that all the sages said
Is in the Book our mothers read.
Fant, Jr. Clyde E. and William F. Pinson, Jr. 20 Centuries of Great Preaching. Vol. 7, 1850-1950. Waco: Word, 1971.