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RELIGIOUS AND BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION. The Religious and Benevolent Association, established by a group of Waco citizens led by James D. Shaw, was chartered on December 2, 1882, by the state of Texas. Its purpose was stated to be "for the worship of God, benevolent and religious works." The association first met in the district courthouse but built its own Liberal Hall in 1884. Membership was drawn from a cross-section of the population of Waco. Among those most active in the work were W. R. Wallace, a physician; Edward J. Gurley, a lawyer; G. B. Gerald, county judge and postmaster; and C. M. Hubby. The association began to publish a monthly magazine called the Independent Pulpit in 1883. The publication served as a forum for many of the members' freethinking views. It was edited by Shaw and had a world-wide circulation. The introduction of such an association was bitterly opposed by churchmen across Central Texas. B. H. Carrollqv, pastor of the Baptist church in Waco, preached a sermon entitled "The Agnostic," in which no attempt was made to veil the animosity felt by many members of the community. J. B. Cranfillqv, editor of the Gatesville Advance, called the association the "Hell and Damnation Society" and told his readers that Shaw would turn them from the truth. He described the association as an "asylum for erratic thinkers on religious subjects." In spite of opposition the association continued to grow until late in 1889, when financial troubles became apparent. The attendance at the weekly lectures began to decrease, the benevolent work suffered from lack of funds, and the influx of new members declined. On October 5, 1889, Liberal Hall was destroyed by fire, and although Shaw and his followers were determined to rebuild, the association disappeared. Shaw became active in the Liberal Association of Texas and continued to publish the Independent Pulpit.

Blake W. Barrow, Freethought in Texas: J. D. Shaw and the Independent Pulpit (M.A. thesis, Baylor University, 1983). Dallas Morning News, January 6, 1929. Virginia Ming, "J. D. Shaw: Freethinker," Waco Heritage and History, Summer 1979. Macum Phelan, History of Early Methodism in Texas, 1817–1866 (Nashville: Cokesbury, 1924); A History of the Expansion of Methodism in Texas, 1867–1902 (Dallas: Mathis, Van Nort, 1937).
Virginia H. Ming

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Virginia H. Ming, "Religious and Benevolent Association," accessed October 22, 2017,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.