Except for their name, the Gideons haven't changed much since three traveling salesmen got together in Boscobel. Wis, 80 years ago and dedicated themselves to placing Bibles in hotel rooms and Pullman cars as a way of sharing their faith with lonely men on the road.
Placing Bibles in hotels, railroad cars, YMCAs, planes, doctor's offices, ships, hospitals, jails, schools and other public places still in the sole objective of what began as the Christian Commercial Men's Association.
And that is what matters most to Freeman Morgan, who told the 79th annual Gideons International convention at the Fontainebleau Hotel here of the experience that led him into the movement.
Morgan is a psychologist dealing with industrial relations in his job as assistant to the president of Senco Products Inc., manufacturer of staples and nails.
The 55-year-old Kentuckian told the 300 delegates from 66 countries that he had been director of management development for a large supermarket chain and had become "uptight and concerned about the lack of progress in the people I dealt with using psychological humanism . . . It had no answers for me and I began find it difficult to get along with my suborinates."
So, Morgan said, he quit his job and formed his own human resources consultant firm. "I had earned a reputation in group dynamics and sensitivity training," he said, "so a Christian group asked me to speak to them and to use Scripture as a basis for my talk."
Just before he was to speak to the group he picked up a Bible lying in the lobby of the YMCA where the group was meeting to find an appropriate text. He thought he had it, he said, when he found James 5:16, which talks about confessing one's faults and praying for one another to be healed.
"That's great text, I thought. That describes what I'm doing," Morgan recalled. "I went in there confident I was going to knock'em dead and get lots of clients - I needed them because my business was not going too well."
But after he was introduced, Morgan said, the lights were turned down and when he looked at the Scripture for his text he started to read verse 15 instead of verse 16: "And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he has committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."
"That verse pierced my heart," Morgan told the Gideons. "I knew that was the answer - the Lord will raise you up and your sins will be forgiven. I knew my pschology could not forgive sins and so many of patients were guilt-ridden.
"Instead of giving my speech, I began weeping and crying out for the Lord to save me," Morgan recounted. "Ernst Cassy, a missionary to Haiti, was in the audience and ran up, put his arms around me and said those eternal words: 'Jesus loves you.' Then I knew Jesus was real because He came in and lived with me. I was born again," Morgan said.
Throughout its 80 years, the Gideons have not included women, Catholics, factory workers or clergy in their membership, which now totals 59,000 in the United States. They are active in 116 countries and have distributed more than 200 million Bibles and New Testaments in 46 languages.
According to F. C. Aldridge past intermediate president, the most likely change for the movement in the future would be for the Gideons to open their ranks to Catholics. "There are many fine, born-again Catholic business and professional men today," he said.
He explained that only business and professional men, rather than clerks or factory workers, are allowed to become Gideons because "Only men who control their own time can do the work we do. We have to carry it out during business hours."
There is a women's auxiliary to the Gideons, and many events - like the convention - are family affairs. Alderidge said he sees little likelihood of any pressure to change the organization's constitution to include women.