A Shudder Swept Through Them

A Shudder Swept Through Them

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PNEUMA 38 (2016) 312–329

A Shudder Swept Through Them An Identification of the Controversial Joshua Sykes

Andrea Shan Johnson

California State University, Dominguez Hills, Carson, California



Upon hearing that baptism should be administered by immersion while invoking the name of Jesus at the Arroyo Seco camp meeting of 1913, one minister expressed concern that this practice would associate the early pentecostal movement with a man named Sykes. Who Sykes was has been the matter of some mystery, but this research based on archival holdings and newspapers suggests that it was Joshua Sykes, a pacifist preacher who lived in both Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Sykes represents Progressive era controversies in religion and in pacifism, and his history explains some of the early resistance to adopting this particular form of baptism.


Joshua Sykes – Oneness Pentecostals – Jesus’ Name baptism – Los Angeles – Oakland – Berkeley – World Wari– Progressive religion – Church of the Living God – pentecostal cults

For Pentecostals, events in California have played a significant role in the devel- opment of their faith. The 1906 Azusa Street revivals in Los Angeles created a movement that was multicultural. By 1918 Aimee Semple McPherson, whose background was pentecostal but who downplayed speaking in tongues, held her first large revival in California, and in 1923 she opened Angelus Temple, a large church that held crowds of over five thousand. During the Great Depres- sion, the Pentecostals in California experienced a harvest; many new migrants, from a Baptist background but uncomfortable in the local Baptist churches, turned to the pentecostal ones. There was, however, another, more controver- sial figure to come out of California, and although his scandals made national

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2016 | doi: 10.1163/15700747-03803002


a shudder swept through them


news in his time, he has been all but forgotten in ours. His history is intertwined with that of the Golden State, and his story demonstrates the challenges of faith in the early 1900s. This was Joshua Sykes.

The historiography on Sykes is strangely slim and muddled for a man who made headlines across the nation. Most mentions of Sykes refer to a 1913 inci- dent during a pentecostal camp meeting at Arroyo Seco, California. The Arroyo Seco camp meeting is regarded by Pentecostals as the event at which Jesus’ Name baptism, practiced to some degree by a variety of ministers before, was laid out as the proper method of baptism and the event that sparked the rise of the oneness movement. Frank J. Ewart, an Australian-born Baptist preacher who had converted to Pentecostalism and who was pastoring William Durham’s former church in Los Angeles, attended the event and recalled that “a shudder swept the preachers on the platform” when Canadian evangelist R.E. McAlister proclaimed that the apostles “baptized their converts once in the name of Jesus Christ,” and did not use the titles Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This story is often told without further explanation, the “shudder” seen as some sign of a divine touch. But there is more to Ewart’s story. Ewart added that Frank Denny, a missionary to China, ran up on the platform and told McAlister not to promote such doctrine, lest the camp meeting become associated with a Dr. Sykes.1Most historical discussions of the events at Arroyo Seco draw on Ewart’s account.

Sykes seems to disappear from the story of Pentecostals after this event, and in many versions of pentecostal history he is left out altogether. Among those who omit him entirely is United Pentecostal author Fred J. Foster, whose work is often quoted in books on Oneness history and whose work has been required reading for ministers in the United Pentecostal Church, the largest North American Oneness Pentecostal denomination. The camp meeting in Foster’s Their Story: 20th Century Pentecostals, rates two pages, most of which is a retelling of Ewart’s work.2 Similarly, current United Pentecostal General Superintendent DavidBernard, whose academic training is in lawand theology, recalls the moment that Frank Denny leapt to the platform to warn of asso- ciating the camp meeting with Sykes, but he largely parrots Ewart’s account. Bernard assumes that the Sykes mentioned by Denny is the same Sykes who

1 Frank J. Ewart,The Phenomenon of Pentecost(1945; repr. Hazelwood,mo: World Aflame Press,

2000), 92–94; Vinson Synan,The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the

Twentieth Century(Grand Rapids,mi: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1997), 156.

2 Fred J. Foster, Their Story: 20th Century Pentecostals (1964; repr. Hazelwood, mo: Pentecostal

Publishing House, 2009), 88–90.

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was mentioned as baptizing in Jesus’ Name as early as 1907.3 Bernard does not refer to Sykes as a doctor. More recently, amateur pentecostal historians have made a mess of this history, referring to Joshua Sykes incorrectly as “Dr. Joshua W. Sykes.” This confusion has caused authors at the Apostolic Archives Inter- national website to proclaim that we have no knowledge of the dates of his birth and death, when actually we have a nearly complete record of his life and ministerial history as well as multiple photographs printed in news articles and housed in federal archives.4

Part of the problem, acknowledged by Cecil Robeck in “Introducing Pente- costalism to Lutherans” from Lutherans and Pentecostals in Dialogue, is that there were two men named Sykes in the Los Angeles area who were visi- bly involved in religious movements. One was Melvin E. Sykes, an African- American physician who lived on Ohio Street in 1914 and who was active in the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.5 The second, a white preacher, Joshua Sykes, who migrated to the state from Detroit, was many things: an inventor, a minister, and perhaps a manipulative cult leader, but he was not a doctor. What name Frank Denny actually said we do not know, but it would have been easy for Ewart, writing this account over thirty years later, to assume that it was Dr. Sykes, with whom he would have been more familiar, and not Joshua Sykes, who fled the Los Angeles area about a year after the camp meet- ing. Ewart never identifies the controversial Sykes by first name, but given the historical record, Frank Denny was referring to the white man, Joshua Sykes, rather than Dr. Melvin Sykes. Robeck is perhaps the only historian of pente- costal movements who has addressed this problem upfront. Given what we know of Joshua Sykes, it becomes easy to see why those who wrote about the pentecostal movements early on wrote no more about him. The shudder that ran through the ministers that day in Arroyo Seco might well have been one of horror, as they reflected on the implications of connecting the movement with one who baptized in a similar fashion, who was already controversial, and who had potential to become more controversial than the Azusa Street movement itself.

3 DavidK.Bernard,AHistoryofChristianDoctrine:TheTwentiethCenturya.d.1900–2000(Hazel-

wood,mo: Word Aflame Press, 1999), 64.

4 “Sykes, Joshua W. (afm).” Apostolic Archives International. http://apostolicarchives

.com/articles/article/8795590/173049.htm (accessed November 5, 2015).

5 Los Angeles City Directory (Los Angeles, ca: Los Angeles Directory Company, 1914); Ce-

cil M. Robeck, Jr., “Introducing Pentecostalism to Lutherans,” Lutherans and Pentecos-

tals in Dialogue. http://strasbourginstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Lutherans-and-

Pentecostals-in-Dialogue-Text-FINAL.pdf (accessed March 29, 2014).

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Joshua Sykes’s family can be traced to a Princess Anne, Virginia household in the 1820s. Census records for 1820 and 1830 list a Samuel Sikes (sic), probably Joshua’s father or grandfather, living in that area. By 1840 Samuel Sykes was living in the Isle of Wight, Virginia. In December 1846, Samuel married Martha Frizzle, and by the time of the 1850 census they had a daughter, Mary. Another daughter, Catherine, arrived around 1854; a son, Samuel, was born in February 1855, and finally Joshua himself arrived in 1860. His parents were not well off; at the year of his birth they reported personal and real estate worth of about $771, a sum that would have placed them among the less fortunate farmers of the South on the eve of the Civil War. As of the 1870 census, ten-year-old Joshua lived at home with his aging parents. By the 1880 census, he was living with his sister Catherine and her husband in the Pleasant Grove area near Norfolk. His occupation was listed as farmer.6

Existing records do not reveal when Joshua Sykes began to move west. The 1890 census records were mostly destroyed, so it is difficult for historians to use the census to verify details found in city directories, but city directories indicate that a Joshua Sykes had moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to sell insurance for the Mutual Life Insurance Company and resided there in 1890 and 1891.7 Sykes’s August 1893 marriage to Emma Bugbee of Illinois is recorded in Colorado. From later census and court documents, it is evident that this Joshua Sykes is the Sykes from this study, as the name of his wife and the marriage dates correlate. Additionally, a Joshua W. Sykes is listed as an insurance salesman for the Equitable Life Assurance Society in the Denver, Colorado, city directories of 1892 and 1893. Given both these entries and the marriage license, it appears that Sykes had made his way there.8 However, Joshua and Emma’s first child was born in Ohio in 1894, so it is apparent that Sykes struggled to settle in, something that would not be surprising as the nation experienced the 1893 Depression.9

Emma, Joshua’s wife, was born in Illinois in 1865. Her father, Alexander Don Carlos Bugbee, was from Connecticut, and her mother, Lavinia, was from

6 u.s. Census (Washington, dc, 1820); u.s. Census (Washington, dc, 1830); u.s. Census (Wash-

ington, dc, 1840); u.s. Census (Washington, dc, 1850); u.s. Census (Washington, dc, 1860);

u.s.Census (Washington,dc, 1870);u.s.Census (Washington,dc, 1880).

7 Kansas City Directory, 1889–1890 (Kansas City, mo: Hoye Directory Company, 1890); Kansas

City Directory, 1890–1891(Kansas City,mo: Hoye Directory Company, 1891).

8 Twentieth Annual Denver City Directory (Denver, co: Ballenger and Richards, 1892); Twenty-

first Annual Denver City Directory(Denver,co: Ballenger and Richards, 1893).

9 Listing for female child born to Joshua and Emma Sykes, “Ohio County Births, 1856–1909.”

Index and images. Family Search, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2009, 2011.

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Illinois. Emma received a fair amount of education for the time, as the 1880 census lists her as still attending school at age sixteen. Emma’s family moved often; various city directories and the census place them in Wisconsin and Illinois.AlexanderdiedinSeptember1892inRacine,Wisconsin,lessthanayear before Emma married Joshua Sykes, and her mother is listed as a widow there in 1894. Emma and Joshua soon began to have children, a daughter, Frances, born in October 1894 in Cleveland, Ohio, who lived until 1912, a son, Arthur, born in Detroit, Michigan, in September 1896, and another son, Marshall, also born in Detroit in September 1899. Lavinia may have been financially dependent upon her daughter. She was listed as living in Detroit by 1896 and had followed them to Los Angeles by 1907.10

Between the birth of their daughter Frances and their son Arthur, the Sykeses moved to Michigan. In Detroit, Sykes earned a living in a variety of occupations, including manufacturing, sales, and ministry. When Arthur was born, Joshua listed his occupation as an evangelist, but by the time their third child, Mar- shall, arrived, Joshua was in manufacturing and part owner of the Sykes-Vickery Company, a manufacturer and supplier of carpet sweepers. The city directory of 1900 noted that his company was now the Beecher-Sykes Company, owned in partnership with Harry Beecher. Census takers in 1900 noted that the family lived in a rented home, an indication that his businesses may not have been all that successful. By 1903, the company had disappeared from the city directory, and Sykes’s occupation was not identified. The following year he returned to insurance sales and seems to have continued in that occupation until moving to California.11 One might wonder about the stability of a man who changed occupations so frequently, but Sykes was at least intelligent. There are a num- ber of patents issued to Joshua W. Sykes of Detroit, Michigan, including one from 1896 for a pyramid-style communion service tray, one issued in 1897 to the young father for a baby bottle holder that could be easily accessed by the



u.s. Census (Washington, dc, 1870); u.s. Census (Washington, dc, 1880); Wisconsin Vital Records Death Index, vol. 2, p. 353; Racine City Directory (Racine, wi: W.F. Curtis, 1894); Detroit City Directory(Detroit,mi: R.L. Polk, 1896);Los Angeles City Directory(Los Angeles, ca: Los Angeles City Directory Company, 1907); California Death Index, 1905–1939, entry for Frances V. Sykes.

Entry for Arthur R. Sykes, 27 Sep 1896, “Michigan Births, 1867–1902,” index and images, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2009, 2011; Entry for Marshall E. Sykes, “Michigan Births, 1867–1902,” database with images, citing Department of Vital Records, Lansing. Detroit City Directory (Detroit,mi: R.L. Polk, 1899);Detroit City Directory(Detroit,mi: R.L. Polk, 1900);Detroit City Directory (Detroit, mi: R.L. Polk, 1903); Detroit City Directory (Detroit, mi, R.L. Polk, 1904); Detroit City Directory(Detroit,mi: R.L. Polk, 1905);u.s.Census (Washington,dc, 1900).

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children themselves, and two more, issued in 1899 and 1903, for improvements to carpet sweepers.12 During this time Sykes was also a Baptist minister, and although his exact role and congregation are unclear, it was later reported that it was while he was in Detroit that he had a vision to obtain 144,000 followers to prepare for the second coming.13

Sometime between 1903, when the carpet sweeper patent was issued, and 1906, the Sykes family moved to East Los Angeles, where Joshua Sykes began to pastor an independent Baptist church, although the 1910 census and city direc- tories from that era list his occupation as real estate.14The California to which Sykes moved was in a period of labor and political uprising. The 1906 earth- quake in San Francisco revealed a multitude of sins on the part of corrupt city officials who had neglected to enforce building codes and had accepted bribes. This sparked a wave of reformers who would push for a number of changes to the electoral process, making California one of the leading Progressive states. TheLos Angeles Timesbuilding was bombed in 1910, and John McNamara of the Bridge and Structural Iron Workers Union, along with his brother James, were accused of perpetrating the attack. Before their eventual confession, they were defended by renowned attorney Clarence Darrow in matters concerning the crime. At the same time the International Workers of the World, or the Wob- blies as they were more popularly called, led two years of demonstrations in Fresno and eventually moved on to a dock strike in San Diego. On July 22, 1916, a Preparedness Day parade was bombed in San Francisco and eventually two socialists were convicted: Tom Mooney and Warren Knox Billings.15 So while Californians were embracing reform, they were also leery of radicals.

Sykes is representative of the changing religious scene. Much of his teachings and religious practices were similar to those found among the state’s early Pen-


13 14


Joshua Sykes. Design for a Communion-Service Tray. u.s. Patent 596,348, filed June 20, 1896, and issued September 22, 1896; Joshua Sykes. Holder for Nursery-Bottles.u.s.Patent 599,239, filed July 15, 1896, and issued April 13, 1897; Joshua Sykes. Holder for Nursery- Bottles.u.s.Patent 647,662, filed August 9, 1897, issued May 17, 1898; Joshua Sykes. Carpet- Sweeper. u.s. Patent 632,424, specification forming part of letters patent 617,997, filed April 16, 1897, issued January 17, 1899. Joshua Sykes. Carpet-Sweeper. u.s. Patent 90,179, specification forming part of letters of patent no. 722,642, filed January 17, 1902, issued March 10, 1903.

“‘Prophet’ Sykes and his Flock to Hold Reunion,”Oakland Tribune, February 15, 1921, 1. u.s. Census (Washington, dc, 1910), Sykes is misidentified in this as Dykes on some elec- tronic databases; Los Angeles City Directory (Los Angeles, ca: Los Angeles City Directory Company, 1909); Los Angeles City Directory (Los Angeles, ca: Los Angeles City Directory Company, 1911).

Kevin Starr,California: A History(New York: Modern Chronicles Book, 2007), 198–202.

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tecostals. William Seymour, a student of Charles Parham in Texas, had moved west to bring the pentecostal faith to California. In 1906 Seymour began holding services on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Reporters from local papers attended services to cover the scandalous goings-on in the interracial congregation. Bap- tists too had noticed this movement. Two Southern California Baptist minis- ters, Joseph Smale and Elmer Fisher, had begun to call for their congregations to seek spirit baptism. They eventually developed ties to the Azusa Street move- ment. Similarly, Sykes changed his church name to the Apostolic Church and began to baptize in the name of Christ, a formula that was close enough to the one suggested by R.E. McAlister for Denny to recognize it at the 1913 camp meeting. Sykes quickly became controversial. In March 1907, the Los Angeles Herald reported that for at least five months, Sykes’s congregation had looked for visions as answers to prayer and practiced speaking in tongues. These prac- tices made Sykes an ill fit for the Baptist church, and in 1910 a Los Angeles Times reporter found that Sykes had revealed that the Baptists were consider- ing putting him out.16By 1913, reporters at theTimeswere documenting Sykes’s end-time prophecies and the supposed con artistry that accompanied them. The congregation was now called the Church of the Living God, and it met in a red, purple, and blue tent structure that they referred to as the Tabernacle of David. The membership was estimated to number five hundred. Sykes claimed that miracles occurred, including one incident in which he baptized converts in the ocean and came out with dry underwear, but he believed that Los Ange- les itself was doomed. By 1914, the paper reported that Sykes opposed marriage, encouraged women in the area to leave their husbands who did not favor the church, and persuaded church members to turn over their property and savings in face of the oncoming disaster. In February 1914, the Times, not necessarily a fan of unions and union-sympathetic Progressives after having been bombed four years earlier, reported that Sykes and most of his followers were Progres- sives and favored Governor Hiram Johnson. By February of that year the district attorney was investigating and the locals were talking tar and feathers. Over the years the church had responded to such charges, saying that while Sykes did not favor marriage, he did perform marriages for members, and that while some people had turned their property over to the church, Sykes himself was consuming only bread and water.17



“Ghosts Yank Him out of His Bed; Man Has Religion Thrust upon Him,”Los Angeles Herald, March 5, 1907, 6; “New Religion Is Strenuous,”Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1910,i10. “Prefers Faith to her Spouse,” Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1912, ii 14; “Crack O’Doom Is Predicted,”Los Angeles Times, November 30, 1913, ii 10; “Rival Church of Living God,”Los

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Sykes’s church was notable enough to be featured in muckraker Upton Sin- clair’s self-published book Profits of Religion in 1918. Sinclair was not fond of either “holy rollers” or hell-fire and brimstone sermons. He described a woman speaking in tongues as “making chattering sounds like an ape,” and “Holy Rollers” and “Holy Jumpers” as “ghastly sects which cultivate the religious hyste- rias, and have spread like a plague among the women …” Sinclair complained that he had opened his “morning paper and read the arrest of five men and seven women in Los Angeles, members of a sect known as the ‘Church of the Living God,’ upon a charge of having disturbed the peace of their neighbors … they ‘crawled on the floor, grunted like pigs and barked like dogs.’”18By the time Sinclair published his work however, Sykes was gone.

Inspired by either the Holy Spirit or his mounting legal troubles, Sykes decided in May 1914 that the Bay Area might be a better choice. The Times described the departure as a near riot, barely controlled by police. Many of the congregation abandoned belongings and left for the train station imme- diately after the service, looking straight ahead so as to avoid the fate of Lot’s wife. Sykes, with 147 other members of the congregation, took a steamer to Oak- land and spent the trip trying to convert fellow passengers. His mother-in-law, Lavinia, who had lived with them in Los Angeles, did not follow; she remained in the area until her death in May 1924.19

Once in the Bay Area, the Church of the Living God set up their tent Tem- ple of David. The move did not solve their problems. Immediately Sykes irri- tated locals with his religious ideas and rough facilities. The church members camped out near Emeryville. The Oakland Tribune estimated that there were three hundred church members who had installed a copper baptism tank that doubled as a bathtub. Sykes, bragging that he would soon have one thousand members, held two types of services, one for church members only in a fenced- off area, and the other for the public.20 Occasionally the Tribune published




Angeles Times, December 9, 1913, ii 6; “New Religion Is Strenuous,” Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1910, i 10; “Angry Talk of Tar and Feathers,”Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1914, ii1.

Upton Sinclair,Profits of Religion: An Essay in Economic Interpretation(Pasadena,ca, 1918), 43–44, 242–243.

“Joshua Flees New Sodom,”Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1914, ii 1; “Steamer Bears Fleeing Joshua,” Los Angeles Times, May 20, 1914, ii 5. “Sykes Loses Suit: ‘Vision’ Is to Move On,” Oakland Tribune, April, 26 1918, 1; u.s. Census (Washington, dc, 1910); California Death Index, 1905–1939, California Department of Health and Welfare. California Vital Records; “Angry Talk of Tar and Feathers,”Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1914,ii1.

“New Dowie Leads Sect,”Oakland Tribune, May 29, 1914, 4.

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information on the church and writings by Sykes in its Taxpayers Column, so locals had a good idea of what the prophet was teaching.21

When the Church of the Living God arrived in Oakland, the region was at the end of the recovery from the 1906 earthquake and on the verge of an economic boom from World Wari. Although typically associated with San Francisco, the natural disaster caused minor damage to other towns in the region. Addition- ally, East Bay towns benefited from an increased population after the earth- quake, as many of the refugees settled in those cities. As the people of Oakland rebuilt, they applied principles of the City Beautiful movement and included parks and improvements at Lake Merritt. Similarly, Berkeley had advertised itself as “Berkeley the Beautiful.” A ragged tent church did not fit in there. About two months after Sykes fled north, World War i broke out in Europe. The Bay Area was caught up in the debates over preparedness; union types opposed building up the American arsenal prior to the war, afraid of business profiteer- ing, and Oakland was no exception. Shipyards moved from San Francisco to the East Bay after the earthquake and expanded rapidly as the war began. When the United States entered the war in April 1917, Sykes and his church were caught up in conflict.22

The trouble began shortly after Congress declared war. By October, the locals identified Sykes as a possible German sympathizer. On October 24, 1917, theTri- bunereported that Sykes and two women from his congregation were arrested in Oakland after local residents complained that they uttered seditious remarks during a street meeting. They were released due to insufficient evidence.23 However, citizens of Berkeley became frustrated with waiting for the federal government to do something and created their own sedition law, one in which pacifist support or unpatriotic utterances could lead to a fine of $500, six months in jail, or both.24

In April 1918, a year after the United States entered the war, Sykes’s battle with the Berkeley community heated up. The main point of contention was his failure to fly an American flag in front of his tent church. On April 16, a group of about twenty boys from the neighborhood armed with clubs and bricks stormed the church and demanded that church members raise a flag. Sykes refused, and the police were called. Church leaders were taken to the police station and told to display the flag to avoid trouble. When they returned that

21 22

23 24

See, for example, “Taxpayers Column,”Oakland Tribune, July 26, 1914, 22.

Beth Bagwell,Oakland: The Story of a City(Novato,ca: Presidio, 1982); Charles Wollenberg, Berkeley: A City History(Berkeley: University of California, 2008), 49–50, 64–65. “Pacifists Are Arrested but Freed Again,”Oakland Tribune, October 24, 1917, 16. “Sedition Law Will Be Model for Many Cities,”Oakland Tribune, April 21, 1918, 44.

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night, the boys were still there and warned Sykes that they would be back. By this time, many in the community believed that Sykes was pro-German, as he had apparently told the German members of his congregation that they did not have to register for the draft or as aliens because the church had an anti- war creed, and that they were first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of heaven.25

Although the influence on Sykes’s pacifist views is unclear, those views were not unlike the pacifist views held by much of the pentecostal movement. By the time wwi began, a variety of pentecostal organizations had been formed, and those organizations were rapidly formulating pacifist positions. Major orga- nizations such as the Assemblies of God and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World adopted statements that were to some degree pacifist.26 In addi- tion, some pentecostal leaders, including Charles Parham, regarded pacifism as necessary when attempting to take the gospel to the entire world. Fur- thermore, they saw themselves as “citizens of heaven” who were to repre- sent Christ rather than earthly governments. Some, such as Samuel Booth- Clibborn, were convinced that the war was a punishment brought by God upon nations for their sins, including France for immorality, Belgium for vio- lence in the Congo, and the United States for love of money. Preachers such as Frank Bartleman would be critical of the business empires that stood to profit from war production.27 In this way, Pentecostals may not have been all that different from anti-preparedness advocates who had a large presence in the Bay Area and who believed that businessmen wanted the war. Sykes’s advo- cacy of this position in an area whose economy was expanding due to the growth of the shipyards could not have made him a popular man with local elites.

The furor continued later that week. On Thursday, April 18, 1918, the papers reported that the church still had no flag and that Chief of Police August Vollmer had said that unless the flag was disrespected, there was nothing law enforcement could do. The President of the Berkeley Defense Corps had other suggestions. Although warning against mob action, Victor J. Robertson proclaimed for the paper that




“Sykes Tears Flag Down,” Oakland Tribune, April 17, 1918, 9; “Youths Demand that Sykes Raise Flag,”Berkeley Dailey Gazette, April 17, 1918, 1.

Jay Beaman, Pentecostal Pacifism: The Origin, Development and Rejection of Pacific Belief among the Pentecostals(Eugene,or: Wipf and Stock, 1989), 25–30.

Murray W. Dempster, “Crossing Boarders: Arguments Used by Early American Pente- costals in Support of the Global Character of Pacifism,” in Pentecostals and Nonviolence: Reclaiming a Heritage, ed. Paul Alexander (Eugene,or: Pickwick, 2012), 121–142.

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[t]here should be some law that would reach persons and organizations whose attitude is known to be unfriendly if not exactly disloyal to this government. Failure to provide adequate punishment to traitors and spies and other disloyal persons or organizations is the cause of numerous recent outbursts of popular indignation in this country. Regrettable as this is it will continue until a lawfully effective way is proved to deal with such cases. Personally, I believe that a spy or traitor should be shot …28

That night a mob attacked the church.

The scene was dramatic. A mob of what theBerkeley Daily Gazetteestimated to be around two hundred boys between the ages of ten and twenty burst into the church around 8:30pm. They demanded that the congregation sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” and then turned to go after Sykes. Sykes’s son Arthur tried to stand up to the boys but was quickly tossed into the baptistery near the entrance of the tent. An elder in the church met a similar fate. By this time several women in the congregation had run to Sykes’s defense, giving the boys some trouble, as according to the Berkeley paper the boys were careful not to hurt the women as they pried Sykes away. At this point some members of the congregation were willing to sing, but Sykes was not, and he too was sent into the baptistery. The police were called but arrested no one.29

Although Sykes had announced that his church would soon raise a flag, the pole outside of the church remained empty the next day. On April 19, the mob returned and burned the tent church and nearby buildings that the church had intended to use for housing. A sailor climbed up the barren flagpole and added a flag, and the mob stood around and sang the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The crowd dispersed only after they burned Sykes in effigy. The next morning a sign hung at the intersection of Woolsey and Shattuck that declared “The Tabernacle of David Captured by South Berkeley.”30 The editor at the Tribune was critical of both sides, saying that both should be prosecuted in court and that Sykes’s attorney, renowned Democratic politician Theodore Bell, should know better than to propose a public debate.31 The attack on Sykes and Bell’s


29 30


“Sykes Fails to Fly Old Glory,” Oakland Tribune, April 18, 1918, 8; “Sykes Fails to Show Flag Today,”Berkeley Daily Gazette, April 18, 1918, 1.

“Sykes Dragged from Altar and Ducked by Boys,”Berkeley Daily Gazette, April 19, 1918, 1, 8. “Sykes Dragged from Altar and Ducked by Boys”; “Lawyer for Sykes Puts Blame upon Police Chief,”OaklandTribune, April 20, 1918, 1, 4; “Pastor Hung in Effigy,”MansfieldNews, April 20, 1918, 2.

Editorial,Oakland Tribune, April 25, 1918, 10.

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response were not far removed from the response to the socialist and anarchist movement in the state. The tarring and feathering of those whose patriotism did not measure up was nothing new in California. When Emma Goldman and fellow anarchist Ben Rietman visited San Diego during the Wobblies strike of 1912, a local mob forced Rietman to sing the national anthem, tarred and feathered him, and put the couple on a train out of town.32

The fuss continued in Berkeley. On Saturday April 20, boys burned down the remaining walls of a structure on the church property and attempted to burn another effigy of Sykes, which the police confiscated. Crowds from the region drove to Berkeley to see the ruins, their cars clogging the streets of a town built in the horse and buggy era. That night Chief of Police August Vollmer worked until 2:00 am managing the crowds, including one of about 1,200 men who met outside of the city hall.33On April 21, ten thousand church workers attended a rally at the Oakland Auditorium, pledged to eliminate un- American speech and activity, and endorsed the war-time aims of the governor and President Woodrow Wilson. The pastor of the First Baptist Church of Berkeley was critical of the methods used against Sykes, but he labeled Sykes a “nuisance” and recalled a time at an interfaith meeting the previous September when members of the church would not stand to sing a patriotic song. Bishop A.W. Leonard of the Methodist Episcopal Church of San Francisco proclaimed, “We are Americans. This is not the home for the propagation of pacifism—it is the home of fight.”34

All of this publicity may have been beneficial for those in charge of the Liberty loan campaign. On the night of April 19, 1918, the same night a mob burned Sykes’s church, Berkeley was treated to a fireworks display when they became the first city in the Bay Area to meet their bond purchase quota. Not only did the residents meet their goal of $1,189,125 in bond sales; they also raised an extra $50,000 for the war effort.35Some anticipated that Sykes would return to preach his services on Friday, April 26. He did not. However, the Oakland paper reported that boys kept a pot of tar boiling and collected feather pillows from local housewives just in case. The local police patrolling the scene were convinced that Bell had engineered the service to see what the town would do.36

32 33

34 35 36

Kevin Starr,California: A History(New York: Modern Chronicles Book, 2007), 199–200. “Fee of $1000 Set on Draft Case Defense,”Oakland Tribune, April 21, 1918, 53; “Find Parts of Possible Hun Gun in Ruins,”Oakland Tribune, April 22, 1918, 3.

“10,000 Workers Vow to Whip Huns,”Oakland Tribune, April 22, 1918, 1.

“Berkeley’s Honor Flag is Raised,”Oakland Tribune, April 21, 1918, 44.

“Sykes Does not Return to Ruins,”Oakland Tribune, April 27, 1918, 11.

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By June 1918, it was clear that Vollmer’s police force were either not willing or not able to protect Sykes’s church, and local government officials were determined to prevent the construction of another. Bell, the attorney for the church, had blamed Vollmer since the day after the fire and now threatened to sue the city. Bell claimed that Vollmer had used his position as police chief to encourage college and high school students in the town to burn the church and attack the members. Vollmer, who had about twenty officers on the scene to face a crowd that was estimated to be about ten thousand strong the night the church burned, responded that he had too small a force to do much more, and that short of firing into the crowd, there had been no way to stop them.37

Who exactly organized the mob remains unclear. When told that Bell had called for a debate about Sykes’s statements, the Mayor of Berkeley, Samuel Irv- ing, responded that while he himself had no interest in debating, Bell should seek out the “volunteer ‘council of home defense’ that staged the affair.”38 Although most accounts of the mob attribute it to the work of boys, the Tri- bune estimated that the mob was as many as ten thousand strong and con- tained not just boys but men and women, the latter of which poured gas from their cars into the hats of the boys who promptly set a series of fires that the fire department could not control.39 The Berkeley Defense Corps, the home defense council to which the mayor referred, denied any organi- zational responsibility, but admitted that individuals of the corps had taken part.40

Whether or not Vollmer had organized them, he contributed to the possi- bility of vigilante behavior. As Chief of Police, Vollmer also represented Berke- ley’s commitment to Progressive era civic reform. He used modern science and experimented with making the police force more efficient; under Vollmer, the department began to adopt modern forms of transportation from bicycles to cars, and his officers were required to undergo professional training. He also developed one of the first university criminal justice departments, and law enforcement officials from around the world came to observe him.41 Vollmer had found it expedient to organize the men of the town, a move that might have seemed wise given California’s vigilante past, giving him a mob that he could somewhat control but that meant that Berkeley had both a Citizens Police

37 38 39 40 41

“Lawyer for Sykes Puts Blame upon Police Chief,”Oakland Tribune, April 20, 1918, 1, 4. Ibid.

Ibid., 1.

“Pitt-Bell Debate Hangs on Letter,”Oakland Tribune, April 23, 1918, 16.

Wollenberg, Berkeley: A City History, 72–74.

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whose duties included issuing traffic citations and a Junior Police that during the war pledged to report seditious statements and hunted down pro-German residents of the town.42

The mob succeeded in ridding the area of the Sykeses. Burned out of his church, Sykes and about fifty followers left for Colorado. Shortly after they arrived, son Arthur married Edna Sanchez, a young woman who had appar- ently joined the church in California. Joshua and Emma seem to have been somewhat dependent upon their son and new daughter-in-law. In the 1920 cen- sus, Arthur, then aged twenty-three, is listed as the head of a household that included his father, his mother, and others who appear to be older female mem- bers of the church.43 Joshua and Emma’s dependency on their son may have been due in part to Joshua’s legal troubles.

About twenty-five days after Sykes fled to Denver, a federal grand jury in- dicted him and three other church members on charges of conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act and obstructing the draft law. Prosecutors contended that church leaders predicted that the Germans would win, urged members of the church not to buy liberty bonds, contribute to the Red Cross, register as enemy aliens, display the American flag, or stand during the national anthem. In addition, male members of the church were instructed not to work in war facilities, which became legal grounds to claim that they had attempted to interfere with the building of ships.44 In December 1918, months after Sykes had moved the congregation to Denver, Special War Attorney Casper Ornbaun announced that he was opening a case against Sykes and his followers on similar charges. Pre-trial proceedings began in California in December 1918. Witnesses came forward who quoted Sykes as exhorting members of his church to “[b]are your breasts and be shot, but do not be drafted” and refusing to baptize anyone who enlisted or built ships for the war, proclaiming that he had had a vision of Germany winning.45 The trial began on January 7, 1919.





Letter from Don L. Harford to August Vollmer, June 30, 1918, Berkeley Police Department Records, Carton 2, Folderh; Box 48, Berkeley, California Citizens Police folder, both in The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda City Directory (Oakland, ca: Polk-Husted, 1918); The Sanchez family with father Alfred and daughters Edna and Blanche lived in the Bay area at the time.u.s.Census (Washington,dc, 1920).

“4 ‘Living God’ Church Chiefs are Indicted,”Oakland Tribune, June 28, 1918, 4; Joshua Sykes, A.M. Dean, John Ferguson, and Joseph Crosby v. United States of America, No. 3346, 9th Cir, 1919–1921, National Archives and Records Administration, San Francisco.

“An Excellent Example of a Dangerous Mountebank and His Bad Doctrine,” Modesto Evening News(ca), December 13, 1918, 4.

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During the first day of the trial, Sykes admitted to having read Scriptures for anti-war references. He was found guilty, but his internment was delayed while he pursued appeals. In late January 1921, he received a fourteen-day stay of execution, which delayed his report date to McNeil Island in Washington, but the Supreme Court refused to hear his final appeal, which meant that he had to report to serve his sentence.46

In the meantime, Sykes’s ever-growing church had become a headache for Denver authorities. By 1920 many church members had changed their last names to Jehovah. The 1920 Denver directory listed over sixty households with the Jehovah name. The Billings Gazette reported in December 1920 that Sykes’s church, now called the Tabernacle of David, had six hundred follow- ers, a number that is plausible considering the number of Jehovah-named households and the fact that households often contained multiple boarders and not all church members changed their names. By 1925, there were over one hundred Jehovah households.47These members did not coexist peacefully with the community, and Sykes faced the same sorts of accusations that he had faced in Los Angeles after church members, anticipating the end of the world, gave him property and after rumors circulated about his anti-marriage stance. Former members claimed in affidavits that Sykes baptized women naked in a glass baptismal tank and told them that his hands had healing pow- ers.48

Sykes delayed in reporting to serve time. In February 1921, the people of Berkeley expected Sykes to return and planned to stop any of his local appear- ances, but Sykes was back in Colorado awaiting the end of the world. Although the papers proclaimed that Sykes was on his way, he continually delayed, and in




“Head of the Church of Living God is on Trial,”Modesto Evening News (ca), December 9, 1918, 2; “Apostle Says He is Citizen of Heaven,”Modesto Evening News(ca), January 7, 1919, 1. Ballenger & Richards, Denver Directory (Denver, co: Gazetteer Publishing and Printing, 1920);Ballenger & Richards, Denver Directory(Denver,co: Gazetteer Publishing and Print- ing, 1925); “Leader of Cult Cited as Free Love Disciple,”Billings Gazette(mt), December 25, 1920, 10.

“World Did Not End, so Joshua Sykes’ Victim Asks Return of $150,”Nevada State Journal (Reno, nv), December 30, 1920, 1. “David’s Temple Disciple Haled into Court on Swindle Charge,” Las Vegas Optic (nm), January 14, 1921, 1. “Leader of Cult Cited as Free Love Disciple,” Billings Gazette (mt), December 25, 1920, 10; “Woman Splits House of David; Disciples Quit,”Syracuse Herald (ny), January 2, 1921, 44; “Prophet Sykes Takes Queen, His Wife is Piqued,” Oakland Tribune, December 27, 1920, 14; “‘Prophet’ in Jail on Free Love Charge,” Oakland Tribune, December 24, 1920, 1; “‘Great Jehovah and King of Heaven and Earth’ in Bad Straits,”Logansport Pharos Tribune(in), December 31, 1920, 2.

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the end he was brought in by law enforcement.49 Tired of waiting, authorities in San Francisco asked that the Denver police arrest him. Police “invaded” the church, hoping to find Sykes during services, but he had fled in an automobile. A chase ensued in which the police forced Sykes’s car to the curb. Reporters in Denver met with Sykes, who continued to predict the destruction of the world by earthquake.50

Sykes served his sentence with other pacifists at the United States Peniten- tiary on McNeil Island in Washington. The penitentiary records reflect how much Sykes had changed. Booked on March 27, 1921, Sykes, small of frame at 5 feet 4 inches, was sixty-one years old, graying, and no longer claiming Emma as his wife. Instead his wife was listed as Rachael Jehovah from El Paso, Texas. He claimed to be temperate and a Jewish minister. His prison identification card contains a picture and remarks that his teeth were mostly false and that he had a number of marks and scars. He would be released on June 10, 1922.51

Sykes may have believed that his marriage to Emma was over, but she did not. In fact, his abandonment of Emma created some problems for Sykes, as an estimated two hundred members of the church left the organization by December 1920 and denounced him for taking up with a much younger, pretty, divorced, and wealthy woman, Marie Friede, who ran the church during his incarceration. This behavior was apparently not uncommon among members of the church, some of whom embraced free love principles, leaving spouses who were not church members and living with church members as soulmates. At least one former member of the church reported that polygamy occurred.52

In February 1921, possibly encouraged by this protest, Emma Sykes sued Marie Friede, who was using the names Rachael Sykes and the Queen of Heav- en, for alienation of affection, a common lawsuit in cases of adultery. Emma asked for a settlement of $50,000. The proceedings were nasty. The following month, Friede was taken into custody on charges of lunacy and placed in the insane ward at the county hospital to keep her from going through a $150,000 fortune. When Emma sued Marie Friede, Emma’s attorneys had to prove that

49 50 51


“Prophet Sykes on Way to Serve Time,”Oakland Tribune, March 22, 1921, 9.

“‘Jehovah’ Flees Denver Police,”Ogden Standard Examine(ut), March 3, 1921, 2. Joshua Sykes, Entry 3743, March 27, 1921,u.s.Penitentiary, Photos, and Records of Prisoners Received, 1887–1951, McNeil Island, Washington, National Archives and Records Admin- istration, Washington, dc, Microfilm Series m1619, Roll 2; Joshua Sykes, McNeil Island Penitentiary Prisoner Identification Photographs, National Archives and Records Admin- istration, Pacific Alaska Region, Seattle,arcNo. 608846, Box No. 13.

“Woman Splits House of David; Disciples Quit,” 44; “Prophet Sykes Takes Queen, His Wife is Piqued,” 14; “‘Great Jehovah and King of Heaven and Earth’ in Bad Straits,” 2.

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Friede was a seductress. Instead, in October of that year, the court ruled that Joshua Sykes had done the “vamping,” as Friede testified that she had given into him only after months of pursuit.53

By the time Sykes was released from prison in June 1922, Emma had disap- peared from the records. His absence had not diminished the public’s fascina- tion with him. Church members planned a closed-door party upon his return. Reporters managed to get in through a window but were soon tossed out. Read- ers were not disappointed, however, as a riot occurred at the party when a man, not a member of the church, tried to force his way into the party where his wife, who had joined the church, was celebrating. The ensuing scuffle involved the police and firemen on the scene and resulted in nineteen members going to jail.54

The church continued in this manner for some time, although it seems to have been on the decline when Sykes died of pneumonia in 1929. Even in death, he made headlines. Members of his church believed that he would resurrect in three days and would not let the coroner have his body. Unwilling to go to war over a dead man, the coroner left, warning the church members that they could not bury the body and that he would be back to retrieve it on the fourth day. By this point not much of the church remained. The newspapers reported that only about fifty followers awaited his resurrection and described the church building as “ramshackle” and “dingy.”55

From there the church appears to have disintegrated. No trace of Emma can be found in the 1930 census. Marshall had moved with the family to Colorado and was listed as a boarder in another household in the 1920 census, but it cannot be determined what happened to him after his father’s death. It is probable that Arthur returned to California.56 Sykes’s impact on the Jesus’ Name movement as a whole cannot be determined, although it is possible, given Denny’s strong reaction, that some were unwilling to embrace Jesus’





“Joshua Sykes Ruled Vamper in Wife’s Suit,” Oakland Tribune, October 20, 1921, 15; “Queen of Heaven in Alienation Suit,”Ogden Standard Examiner (ut), February 12, 1921, 8; “Sanity is Questioned of Sykes’ Consort,”Oakland Tribune, March 4, 1921.

“Jehovah Sykes takes up his Reign Once More in Denver,” Modesto Evening News (ca), June 13, 1922, 1; “Jehovah Sykes Out of Prison,” Anunciador (Trinidad, co), June 17, 1922, 4; “David Tabernacle Scene of Rioting,”The Lincoln Star (ne), June 14, 1922, 13. “‘Second Messiah’ Dies,”Lincoln Evening Journal (ne), February 26, 1929, 2; “Former Head of Berkeley Cult Dies,” Oakland Tribune, February 26, 1929, 1–2; “Leader Expected to Rise Again,”Montana Standard (Butte, mt), February 26, 1929, 2; “Sykes is Dead and Stays So,” Reno Evening Gazette(nv), February 27, 1929, 1.

u.s.Census (Washington,dc, 1930);u.s.Census (Washington,dc, 1940).

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Name baptism due to some early adherents of similar methods. After he left Los Angeles, media accounts did not frame him within the pentecostal movement and he disappeared from pentecostal publications, although much of what he did, including his ardent pacifism, was similar to beliefs and practices prevalent in parts of the pentecostal community. Given Ewart’s misstatement of Sykes’s title and given Sykes’s infamous history, it is not surprising that Pentecostals have not looked closely at Sykes’s story. It is, however, unfortunate that we have so little of Sykes’s own words left with which better to frame his beliefs.

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