If you take cognizance of MY Message, a greater picture of ME can be reproduced in your likeness.
Since the late 1930s, Father Divine and his followers oversaw the documentation of the Peace Mission's own history and public pronouncements in a weekly newspaper, with wire and tape recordings, film and photography. These texts, images and recordings were used to communicate the ideas of "God in a body" to followers in missions around the United States -- from Harlem to Los Angeles -- and around the world -- from Switzerland to Australia. The Peace Mission would later sacramentalize artifacts from this archive of media as "the word of God revealed," making use of Father Divine's printed words and recorded voice within their own religious rituals and practices to maintain contact with the deity and his standards when he was "physically absent."
Covering eighty years of the Movement -- from posed studio portraits of Father Divine and Penninah or Mother Divine in her first reincarnated body to Polaroids of Mother Divine in the second body with the immediate community of believers around her; from newspaper photographs originally published in the Movements newspaper, The New Day, to personal snapshots of followers in attendance at various Peace Mission Holy Communion Banquet services around the world, from Church residence to followers' businesses, this collection represents a remarkable disclosure of images by an American intentional community -- images which for the most part were taken by members by community themselves. These photographs formed a series of religious family albums of sorts -- exemplars of what some scholars have identified as "vernacular photography."
While Father Divine's Peace Mission was not the first American religion to actively engage such media as photography, sound and film (and now video) to promote its existence and purpose and celebrate and maintain its history, it did so with a passion that is related to dual causes. First, is the social energy in the Movement's early years for empowerment, justice, and intellectual stimulation felt by African Americans in Harlem during the era of "The New Negro" Movement in the period after the First World War. And second, the spiritual energy generated by a belief system that proposed that God had been incarnated on the earth as a black man; a figure whose appearance alone represented empowerment and equality. When his photographic image for Church members was circulated by the Movement in 1932 (having been photographed by now noted Washington, D.C. studio photographer, Addison Scurlock), it was soon venerated as a sacred icon of justice, freedom from oppression, and protection from ills. These images placed in every room of Church residences were the Peace Mission's answer to the omnipresent crucifix in Roman Catholic institutional and domestic spaces; they showed God in a "dark-complected" body and the very representation of that idea radiated its own positive power and spirit. Today, followers re-enact their collective past by watching together the old movies and listening to their God's recorded words.