Earlier tonight, Metaxas tweeted this:
I am thankful to several folks who sent this tweet to me. Eric Metaxas blocked me from seeing his Twitter feed after I wrote a multi-part series criticizing his fast-and-loose (and mostly erroneous) use of American history in his book If You Can Keep It. You can read that series, and Metaxas’s dismissal of it, here.
Just a few quick responses to this tweet
1. There were some founding fathers who might be described as “evangelical.” They included John Witherspoon, John Jay, Roger Sherman and Samuel Adams. But just because a given founder was an evangelical does not mean that he was indispensable to the American Revolution or that his evangelical faith informed the quest for independence from Great Britain. I have written extensively about the myth of an evangelical founding in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction. But perhaps Eric Metaxas is suggesting, as he did in If You Can Keep It, that there was a direct correlation between the First Great Awakening (an evangelical revival in the 1740s) and the American Revolution. I critiqued that view here. The bottom line is this: The American Revolution would have happened with or without American evangelicals.
2. Evangelicals were very active in the abolitionist movement, but so were non-evangelicals. The question of whether abolitionism would have happened without evangelicals is a debatable point. For a nuanced picture–one that treats religion fairly–I suggest you read Manisha Sinha’s excellent book The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition. We also interviewed her on Episode 16 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.
3. The idea that the Civil Rights Movement would not have occurred without evangelicals is absurd. While there were certainly black preachers involved who might be labeled “evangelical,” most of the clergy who led the movement were deeply shaped by the Black social gospel. White evangelicals in the South defended segregation. White evangelicals in the North did not have a uniform position on civil rights for African-Americans. The white evangelicals associated with magazines like Christianity Today did little to advance the movement. Some good stuff on this front comes David Chappel in A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. Chappel’s student, Michael Hammond, has also done some excellent work on this front. Mark Noll’s God and Race in American Politics: A Short History also provides a nice introduction.
4. If you are a fan of the Reagan Revolution, I suppose you could make the argument that conservative evangelicals had a lot do with it. The 1980s was the decade in which evangelicals made an unholy alliance with the Republican Party. There are a lot of good books on this subject. I would start with Daniel K. Williams, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right. I also write about this story in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?
Don’t get me wrong–evangelicals have played an important role in the shaping of our nation. I recently wrote about this in a piece at The Atlantic. You can read it here.