Mordecai Fowler Ham, Jr. (April 2, 1877 – November 1, 1961), was an American Independent Baptist evangelist and temperance movement leader. He entered the ministry in 1901 and in 1936 began a radio broadcast reaching into seven southern states. Early in his ministry, he was ordained at Burton Memorial Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The son of Tobias Ham and the former Ollie McElroy, Ham was born on a farm in Allen County near Scottsville in southern Kentucky, north of the Tennessee state line. Descended from eight generations of Baptist preachers, his namesake grandfather was Mordecai F. Ham, Sr. He once stated that "From the time I was eight years old, I never thought of myself as anything but a Christian. At nine, I had definite convictions that the Lord wanted me to preach...." Ham studied at Ogden College in Bowling Green and relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where he engaged in business from 1896 to 1900. There, he married the former Bessie Simmons in July 1900. In December 1900, he closed the business to devote full-time to the ministry. One target of Ham's sermons was alcohol abuse, particularly before the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He believed that problems involving liquor could best be resolved by conversion to Christianity and the placement of new believers in churches which stress abstinence of alcoholic beverages. Ham was publicly and virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic. He was "a revivalist who considered Jews 'beyond redemption'". In 1928, though many in his congregation were Democrats, Ham supported Republican Herbert Hoover for the American presidency: "If you vote for Al Smith, you're voting against Christ, and you will all be damned". Smith was the Roman Catholic and Democratic governor of New York who lost the election to Hoover. In November 1934, Billy Graham was converted under Mordecai Ham's preaching in a revival in Charlotte, North Carolina. Through Ham's influence with William Bell Riley in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Graham was launched onto a national and international platform of influence and prestige among evangelical ranks. Ham had held his greatest number of meetings in Texas. Graham joined a Texas church, First Baptist of Dallas, then the largest Southern Baptist congregation in the nation and pastored by W.A. Criswell.
Family and ministry
Bessie Ham died five years after their marriage. In 1907, at the age of thirty, Ham married Annie Laurie Smith, who was then only fifteen. This marriage lasted more than fifty years. They had three daughters: Martha Elizabeth (born September 16, 1912), Dorothy (born December 16, 1915), and Annie Laurie (born December 11, 1924).
In January 1901, Ham began the study of twenty-seven books to prepare for the ministry, a process that involved reading, praying, meditation, and writing. From 1901 to 1941, Ham led 289 meetings in 22 states, which produced 303,387 professions of faith in Christ. He subsequently conducted a weekly radio sermon over a network of stations originating in Louisville, Kentucky. He published many of these messages for distribution to listeners, having depended on his most loyal audience members for financial support. He also held rallies and short meetings in various cities in his radio coverage area.
Racism and Anti-Semitism
Ham had a reputation for racism and anti-Semitism. He believed and preached on various topics based on classical anti-Semitic canards such as believing Jews had special access to political power and influence and that they represent a subversive social force. The targets for his preaching were often "nebulous rings of Jewish, Catholic or Black conspirators plotting to destroy white protestant America." In 1926 W.O. Saunders, a newspaper editor in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, confronted Ham for defaming a prominent Jew during an evangelistic campaign. Ham had accused the President of Sears, Roebuck & Company in Chicago, Julius Rosenwald of operating inter-racial prostitution rings in Chicago that exploited white women. Saunders wrote an account of the accusations Ham had made and how Saunders had proved them false called "The Book of Ham." The Book was widely distributed, describing instances of Ham's negative views towards Jews. Ham believed in the ideas of British Israelism, that the white Anglo-Saxon races had been chosen by God. Ham outlined this in a piece of writing called "the Need of the Anglo-Israel Truth" that is featured on some websites of the Identity Movement.
Ham held more than seventy-five meetings in Texas, including Beaumont, Houston, Austin, Galveston, Bay City, Port Arthur, Corpus Christi, Fort Worth, and Longview. At the close of each meeting, Ham would extend a lengthy "invitation", during which time he would, by mass persuasion, draw attendees to make "decisions for Christ", i.e., to step forward and by an act of prayer, profess their new-found faith in Christ.
Ham held his first Texas meeting in 1903 in the community of Hico, with 150 decisions for Christ. Similarly, there were 160 decisions thereafter in Garland east of Dallas. J.B. Gambrell, editor of The Baptist Standard newspaper, described Ham's Garland meeting:
"Brother Ham is a young man and has been preaching but a short time. He has distinct elements of power. In the first place he preaches certainties and not doubts. An evangelist of doubt is a sorry traveler in these low grounds. He believes the great truths of the Bible up to the hilt, and he preaches with directness and great aggressiveness."
Evangelizing along the Gulf of Mexico, Ham held meetings at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans, which brought thirty converts in 1903. He returned to New Orleans in 1908 for a meeting jointly sponsored by Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists, and three thousand responded.
In Fort Worth, Ham held a meeting with J. Frank Norris, another conservative evangelist known for his strict biblical interpretation. The two developed a personal and professional relationship which was sometimes strained. Norris in most instances tried to dominate his friends and associates to his advantage and benefit.
Ham used several unique strategies for reaching people, often confronting individuals face-to-face. He employed "gospel cars" in several cities to draw attention to his revivals. While in Houston, the gospel car approached an individual on the edge of a bayou who was contemplating suicide. The man was converted to Christianity as a result. If street cars were unavailable, Ham used horses and wagons. In one of the meetings in Houston, the parade assembled included more than two thousand vehicles, including a hearse.
In 1911, the meetings in the border city of Laredo, a traditionally Roman Catholic area, and in Tyler, the largest city of East Texas, netted three hundred decisions each.
In 1915, there were 1,200 decisions in San Angelo in Tom Green County in west Texas. E.J. Lyon, pastor of the First Baptist Church of San Angelo encouraged other Baptist pastors to assist Ham in his crusades:
". . . Baptists in the states will make no mistake in working with [Ham], as they usually get more members than any other churches in the meetings. Then they get more than they could get in a church meeting of their own. Yet again, the general tone of Christian living is lifed in the whole religious life of the city, which makes it easier for the new members to be strengthened in Christian service."
In 1915, there were 1,100 decisions in Denison, the birthplace of Dwight D. Eisenhower. That same year, there were 850 conversions in Temple in Central Texas. In 1937, Ham returned to Houston, where there were seven thousand decisions. His last Texas meeting was in 1940 in Fort Worth, where 3,900 professed Christ. The 61,260 decisions in Texas were the largest number in a single state that Ham would achieve. His second greatest number was 55,763 in Tennessee. Other strong showings were in North Carolina and Oklahoma. In his later meetings in Texas, Ham concentrated on the larger cities of the Gulf Coast and Central Texas, where he had witnessed the greatest numerical success.
William J. Ramsey, Ham's long-time music director, joined the evangelist as a result of the 1912 crusade in Waco, Texas. Another on the team was Rawley Tredway (1900–1980) of Mansfield, the seat of De Soto Parish in northwestern Louisiana.
- The Second Coming of Christ and Revelation
- Believing a Lie
- Light on the Dance
- The Jews
- The Need of the Anglo – Israel Truth
- The Sabbath Question
Ham received an honorary degree from Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.