Sunday, Billy (1862–1935)

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Billy Sunday (1862–1935)

Billy Sunday was an early forerunner of the contemporary religious right. The most famous traveling evangelist (see entry on Evangelism under 1900s—The Way We Lived in volume 1) of his day, Sunday crusaded across the nation with performances that united fundamentalist religious teaching and conservative politics with good old-fashioned showmanship.

In his early career, Sunday was a womanizing professional baseball player who liked to drink and fight. But after hearing the services of an evangelistic group from the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, Illinois, in 1886, Sunday was soon converted. He gave up drinking, swearing, and womanizing and began offering inspirational talks to his young fans.

Sunday left baseball in 1891 and began a touring ministry four years later. Advance men promoted his appearances as if they were vaudeville (see entry under 1900s—Film and Theater in volume 1) shows. Musical entertainment was furnished by choirs and bands. Sunday—the star of the show—combined dramatic gestures and colorful language to preach against sin and for the need to right oneself with God. His preaching produced hundreds of thousands of converts. A staunch right-winger, he also brought politics into religion, advocating the outlawing of alcoholic beverages and the banning of teaching evolution in schools.

—Rob Edelman

For More Information

Bruns, Roger. Preacher: Billy Sunday and Big Time American Evangelism. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992.

Dorsett, Lyle W. Billy Sunday and the Redemption of Urban America. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.