Fighting Bob Shuler of Los Angeles—God’s Man for the Issues of his Time (2011)
This is an excellent biography of a remarkable man who had great influence in Los Angeles politics during the ‘20s through the 40’s. It was written by Robert P. Shuler III, the grandson of the subject (a fifth-generation Methodist minister), and in the interest of full disclosure, a friend of mine for close to thirty years. I’d often heard about “Fighting” Bob Shuler, but not to the level of detail in this wonderful 469 page book.
Bob Shuler was raised in the South, knew his calling early in life, and became a minister. He was attached to several churches throughout the South, and then was sent to Los Angeles. What he found was a small church (in terms of active members) and a terribly corrupt city. He was a contemporary of Aimee Semple McPherson, the infamous Pentecostal minister during that period. Over time, “Fighting” Bob Shuler grew the Trinity Methodist Church (now a parking lot near Staples Center) to five thousand members, he had a magazine distributed to thousands where he published his opinion pieces skewering those that needed it, and he had his own radio station that reached six-hundred thousand people at its height. The bio traces his humble beginnings, his religious experiences, and his growing theology which could be best described as orthodox Wesleyan Methodism, although one could also say he was “fundamentalist.”
His fervor in attacking vices, corruption, injustices by the powerful, and the growing influence of “modernism” on the Methodist church, meant that he made enemies—lots of them. And he named names! He was hated by most politicians for he got some of them sent to jail, the police department, because he got chiefs fired, the district attorney’s office, the courts, all the Hearst newspapers, Hollywood, and the mob. William Randolph Hearst wanted to destroy him, sending investigators out to dig up dirt on Bob Shuler. They could never find any. His life was threatened, his church bombed, and he spent fourteen days in jail, part of a twenty day sentence for contempt of court, but they let him out early because he was having too good a time making friends with the prisoners and he was using his plight as a backdrop for further attacks on the established order. He also had enemies within the church—the progressives, with their watered down theology—an internecine war that continues today, though weakly. The book covers numerous examples of religious and political battles in detail including the Julian Oil Scandal, which was on par with the Bernie Madoff debacle of recent vintage.
For those interested in a man that was energetic, relentless in his pursuits, an excellent writer, humorous, and theologically grounded in Wesleyan traditions, fighting those forces that always need fought, this is a thorough and well-written biography. My friend, Bob Shuler III, did a nice job telling the story of his grandfather’s exciting life.
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