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H. Boyce Taylor and the 1918 Flu Epidemic
By R. Charles Blair
      The great "flu epidemic" of 1918 still echoes today, nearly a century later. It was widely believed that German spies were sneaking into hog pens and using syringes to give pigs the "swine flu" so as to weaken American morale for the prospect of war. At my grandparents' home, the visiting preacher was spending the night on a pallet in the back room. When grandpa heard the hogs squealing, he grabbed his gun, jumped over the preacher to get out the back door, and found - a drunk, sleeping it off in the hog pen! Needless to say, the preacher was a bit stirred for the next morning's sermon!

      A far more serious story from that epidemic comes from Murray, Kentucky, and speaks to what we are facing in 2015. H. Boyce Taylor, noted pastor of the Murray Baptist Church (now First Baptist), was an outspoken pacifist, on public record against all war, and especially this one. The flu epidemic was a distraction, as local officials declared a suspension of all public activities, including church. At first Taylor, more concerned to oppose the war (an unpopular stand), was inclined to accept the edict and miss at least one Sunday out of concern for public health. But then he discovered that the local movie house had been given an exemption for its Saturday matinee (of course it never would have been open on Sunday!) That settled it; the telephone lines were kept hot to announce "preaching as usual at the Baptist Church."

      Come 11 (I'm not sure what they did about Sunday school), a small crowd had assembled. Services began as usual, when the local sheriff (a deacon) stood to announce a warrant for the pastor's arrest. "After I preach, young man! Sit down and listen; then I will go with you as a lawbreaker like Peter and Paul,!" roared the voice of authority. And the sheriff meekly sat, listened, then was prepared to escort his pastor to court. But much to the shock of all, Taylor insisted on being handcuffed and led away as an as common criminal. The judge, who may have been a member also, announced a light fine, but Taylor insisted on serving his jail time, and stayed in his cell reading his Bible until someone paid his fine.

      When actual war was declared, Taylor was jailed again, on the ground that his opposition to war weakened the morale of patriotic Americans. The application to our current issues is too obvious to belabor. Like Taylor, and many earlier saints, and some in Muslim countries today, we may be forced to such a deeply personal decision. Now is the time to prepare our hearts to face whatever issues may be our lot.
      R. Charles Blair, 31 Aug. 2015

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