Houston’s Own, R. B. Thieme
Article By HAU Member Don Wilkey
R. B. Thieme was an imposing figure whose influence extended well beyond his Houston Home. For many years he was pastor of the Berachah Church in the city. A World War II veteran, the influence of the military left its impact on his ministry. He was known by many as the “Colonel.” Thieme preached in a military uniform and military themes abounded in the church building.
At the height of Thieme’s influence, he sent out over 30,000 tapes to followers around the nation. Some called his followers “Thiemites,” and others coined the term “tapers.” The adherents to his teachings were loyal and paid allegiance to their mentor as the final authority on scripture. Critics testify to the fact that many of them could not tolerate any other biblical teacher or preacher once R. B. had them hooked into his tapes. Critics like James Dunn, once head of the Baptist Joint Committee, claimed he had a cult- like following. Among his followers of notoriety was the Dan Quayle family. The Quayles’ like much of his following, listened faithfully and diligently to weekly tapes sent out by the minister.
Thieme graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary and was known as a dispensational theologian. He was known to greatly influence Hal Lindsey, the end of times author. Chuck Swindol was converted in his church. Thieme was pastor of the church in Houston from 1950 to 2003. He was authoritative and dictatorial in manner. One of his first actions as pastor of the church was to fire anyone who had authority in the congregation. He demanded strict submission from his followers according to author Gary Wills. 1
Some web posters claimed that while attending Thieme’s church there were often police patrolling the parking lot. A former friend told me he went with a friend to interview Thieme while in seminary. He noted Thieme was surrounded by body guards and there was an apparent high security program at the church. Supposedly many of his followers could take no more of his swearing and bullying and many of them left the congregation to attend places like First and Second Baptist in Houston. Thieme allowed no visitation to take place in the church. Seldom were there activities in the fellowship that were not connected to his preaching or teaching. I have had more than one witness tell me that Thieme would get into he pulpit and ask if the crowd brought their Bible. If they did not have one he would tell them to “get you’re a*# out.”
Joe Hall wrote a dissertation on Thieme and noted that Dallas Seminary broke off its relationship with Thieme. Thieme refused to support DTS in his later years. Students that came to DTS from Thieme’s church were known to have a “critical spirit.” Pastors around the nation began to take note whenever they lost members to Thieme’s tape ministry. Groups of followers would leave the local church to gather in someone’s home to listen to Thieme. Hall noted R.B.had a strong disdain for what he considered liberals or long hairs. He taught that conscientious objectors were cowards. Real Christians were supposed to fight for the nation. This fighting was justified in the killing of women and children according to the Houston cleric. Witnesses told me he openly stated it is our God given right to kill gooks and n%#@. Christian nation themes abounded in his ministry. He implied America was a theocracy and justified war waged by the nation as being divinely authorized. The pastor was strong on male dominance and taught that husbands owned their wives. He was known to proclaim a one woman for one man which was predetermined by divine providence. That is, there was one right man for every woman according to God’s provisions. 2
One peculiar view Thieme held that drew the wrath of many Biblical thinkers was his view on the blood of Christ. Thieme did not believe it was the blood, as much as it was the death of Christ that was the atonement for sins. Boatloads of authors have taken to the airways to refute Thieme’s view. Few if any called him unorthodox.
I recall Thieme coming to Fort Worth to speak at an engagement. Some friends on the work crew went to hear him speak. They told me he cussed and was threatening. He did not like long hair and would tell the men who didn’t have shot haircuts to leave his presence. An evangelist I knew told me the story of R.B. being invited to Houston Baptist University. Speaking in chapel, Thieme noted some of the students were not paying attention, instead reading newspapers. He shouted them down and one of the crowd anonymously uttered a return. Thieme promptly offered to take the guy on in a fistfight outside in the parking lot. I have heard more than once Thieme offering to fight someone from his speaking stand. Former members recall military hand to hand combat that he would teach the boys who attended the fellowship.
The mysterious saga in Thieme’s life is his control over others. He was typical of Southern Fundamentalism in that he demanded complete control of the church. He was a fore runner to the modern church franchise. That is, churches that meet in different locations with a central figure as pastor. Technology transports their messages and the group is identified with a leader they only know by sight or messages. They do not know the person at all, neither does he know them.
I recall hearing about a group from my home town years ago who abandoned our church to sit in a den and listen to Thieme. Little did they know of his demeanor or personality. This is the blessing and curse of the mega church. Ministers are not present at the hospital, funeral, or wedding. Some have little ability to relate to people outside of a huge setting. Thieme’s followers are notorious for splitting churches and being disruptive forces in congregations.
Thieme is a link to the Religious Right through his right wing viewpoints and his patriarchal attitudes towards the family. Many of the military figures that adorned the vestibule at Berachah Church had little to do with the Christian faith. Thieme was an orthodox believer with unorthodox opinions and practices. He is still a force to be dealt with since his tapes and books continue to be spread around the Christian Church. Bruce Wilson had a story on Talk2action about a man who slew some innocent people motivated by Thieme’s teachings on male dominance.
Dallas Theological Seminary with the political views of men like Thieme, Lindsey and H. A. Ironside, provides a definite link between the hard right and religion.
- www.internetmnk April 6, 2013.
- Joe Hall, A Critical Examination of the Teachings of R. B. Thieme”, Dissertation Paper for Dallas Theological Seminary. Dallas, Texas.