In some evangelical and Pentecostal Christian circles a popular part of "Olde Tyme Gospel Campaigns" is the "testimony meeting." The Preacher in charge invites one or two of the brothers and sisters present to "give a word of testimony." This generally follows a fairly conventional formula, something like: "I lived a dreadfully sinful life far away from God. I smoked. I took drugs. I drank. I hung about with bad women or a bad crowd. I did this, that and the other, but glory to God, I gave my heart to Jesus and now I have seen the light and lead a life in His service."
Depending on the severity of the past sinfulness, and the skill and the passion of the zealous convert, these tales can give the listeners a vicarious thrill in their accounts of the otherwise forbidden side of life. Many of these stories are published and widely circulated. One very popular title in this genre of literature was David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade.
Race with the Devil, the acclaimed biographer and writer Joseph Pearce’s autobiographical account of his transformation from nationalist political activist to quiet Catholic scholar is a Catholic version of this kind of testimony literature. Wilkerson tells how Nicky Cruz, the leader of a violent New York street gang, turned his life around after finding Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. Pearce’s account is equally dramatic. At times he faced death; in the Lewisham riots when he got separated from his comrades and again in Ulster when he almost strayed into the wrong area with "drink on him."
Cruz’s conversion was almost instantaneous. However, Pearce’s account is of a fanatical young political activist who was gradually turned around by the grace of God one tiny piece at a time. This process of soul-searching would cause him to abandon his political cause and embrace Catholicism. He claims it began during his second spell of imprisonment in December 1985 when a well-wisher gave him a set of rosary beads just after he was sent down by the judge for incitement to hatred.
He was no longer the "idealistic fanatic" of 1982, screaming defiance at the judge who sentenced him to six months in prison. He was no longer preparing himself physically and mentally for the political struggle by a rigorous keep-fit regime or by smuggling out copies of his writings to his supporters. This time he was "descending into a tunnel from which the light at the end was not yet visible." For twelve months he experienced his ‘dark night of the soul’ and began to take his first steps away from political activism into the bosom of Holy Mother Church.
This reviewer has a disclosure to make. I knew Joseph Pearce when he was known to his comrades as Joe Pearce, the young "idealistic fanatic" who founded Bulldog magazine and who was later part of the young team behind the influential journal Nationalism Today. I first met him in 1979 and stayed with Joe, his first wife, their children (and their cat Otto), in their flat in Barking whenever I visited London for National Front meetings and occasional street demonstrations. I lost touch with him after he came out of prison in 1986 when he inexplicably (at the time) backed what I regarded at the time as a reactionary breakaway faction from the Official National Front. I have to say that his present-day recollection of the young Joe Pearce as a hate-filled racist agitator bent on provoking race war come-what-may seems quite at odds with the enthusiastic young political activist I remember. I can’t see inside a man’s heart, of course, but I do wonder if he is gilding the lily a little in his latter-days.
This is just an excerpt from Culture Wars Magazine, not the full article. To continue reading, purchase the February, 2019 edition of Culture Wars Magazine.
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Race with the Devil - Reviewed by David Kerr