See you next week. Have fun raking leaves!
See you next week. Have fun raking leaves!
Vote at the Asbury Park Press. The ballot includes song by Bon Jovi, Count Basie, The Four Seasons, Gloria Gaynor, Connie Francis, Whitney Houston, The Isley Brothers, The Misfits, and Patty Smith.
Ronald Sider is a veteran of the evangelical left. He is a longtime professor of theology at Palmer Theological Seminary (formerly Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action. He is best known for his 1977 book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. I am also a fan of his book The Scandal of Evangelical Politics.
Ron will not remember this, but we first met in the late 1990s when he spoke at The Stony Brook School, an evangelical boarding school on Long Island. Later, he asked me to present a paper on the recent history of evangelical political engagement at a Catholic-Evangelical dialogue on faith and politics at Georgetown University That piece was eventually published as “A Brief History of Modern Evangelical Social Engagement” in Catholics and Evangelicals for the Common Good: A Dialogue in a Historic Convergence.
In a recent blog post, Sider chides his fellow Democrats for failing to take seriously the reduction of abortion in the United States. Here is a taste:
Even if you think (as I do) that on a majority of issues, Democratic proposals (e.g., on racial and and economic justice, healthcare, taxes, climate change) are closer to a biblical vision than that of Republicans, still the ever increasing refusal of Democrats to take seriously the pro-life concerns of Christians and others is a problem.
Former President Bill Clinton told a good friend of mine that the reason his wife Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania (and therefore the presidency) was because of her radical stand on abortion. In 2008 when she ran for the Democratic nomination, she said abortion should be” legal, safe and rare”. In 2016, she no longer said it should be rare. The head of the Democratic National Committee recently told another good friend of mine that in his circles, one did not dare even use the word “reduction” when talking about abortion.
For years a number of congressional Democrats supported the Hyde amendment which prevented government using our tax dollars to fund abortions. That action respected the beliefs of pro-life people. But Democrats no longer support that provision.
There used to be dozens of pro-life Democrats in the US Congress who supported some restrictions on abortion. Today only five are left.
The powerful, well-funded national association of Democratic state attorneys-general has recently announced that they will refuse to endorse anyone who does not support abortion and favor expanding abortion services. In the first national debate for Democratic candidates for president, one questioner asked if there was any circumstance where abortion should be restricted. Not a single Democratic candidate named any restriction.
This rigidity is politically foolish. The Gallup Paul repeatedly has shown that about 25% of Americans think abortion should never be legal. 25% think it should be legal in every situation. And about 50% think abortion should be legal ONLY in certain circumstances.
One would think the Democrats would ponder the fact that Democrats very recently won the race to be governor in two very conservative states ( West Virginia and Louisiana) where Donald Trump won by huge margins in 2016. And both successful Democratic governors endorsed a pro-life agenda that would place some restrictions on abortion.
Former Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp is right; “There are very principled people who are Democrats, who feel very strongly about this issue [abortion] for religious reasons and when you say you’re not welcome in our party I think it is exclusionary”(New York Times, Nov. 18, p. A11).
And politically stupid!
Read the entire piece here.
Sider echoes (or maybe I echoed him!) my argument about Hillary Clinton in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. In that book I called for a reduction in the number of abortions in America, but I also argued that overturning Roe v. Wade is probably not the best way of doing this.
Monmouth University in Freehold, New Jersey is the home of the Bruce Springsteen Archives. It thus makes sense that the university is offering a course on the life and music of The Boss. In the Spring 2020 semester history professor Kenneth Campbell will offer “Bruce Springsteen’s America: Land of Hope and Dreams” (HS-398-01). Here is a taste of Mark Marrone’s article at the Monmouth University student newspaper:
As universities across New Jersey offered classes on Springsteen, Eileen Chapman, Director of The Bruce Springsteen Archives, felt that we were long overdue for a course on The Boss.
“Over the past eight years many professors who teach Springsteen courses have visited the archives to conduct research and prepare course materials. They have come from various colleges and universities throughout New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania but also from Rome, Italy and Canada,” said Chapman.
Chapman brought this up to Campbell, which left him, “dismayed to hear that,” said Campbell. “I have been a huge fan of Bruce for many years and given our location and his generosity in donating his archive to us, I certainly think he (and our students) deserve a course dedicated to his musical legacy.”
Luckily, Chapman mentioned the idea to the right person who could ‘Prove It All Night.’ “Having taught courses on the Beatles for the past ten years, people had frequently asked me why I didn’t teach a course on Bruce Springsteen. I finally decided I needed to do it, if no one else on the faculty is interested,” said Campbell.
Campbell has been a fan of Springsteen’s work throughout most of his life and he wants to share this appreciation to students in the course.
He stated, “[Springsteen’s] music has accompanied me on my life journey for the past 45 years and been a constant through all the growth and experiences of my life.”
Campbell continued, “It has influenced me, informed me, taught me, made me think, and inspired me. I am sure I am not alone in this feeling and think it must be very rare for an artist to have that kind of effect on people’s lives over such a long period of time.”
Campbell intends to teach the course through a historical lens. “I decided to develop a history course because of how much Bruce’s lyrics focus on the history of the United States and how much his life reflects and relates to the past 70 years of that history,” he said.
The course will focus on a wide range of historical events and will feature materials you can buy at your local record store.
“In my syllabus, I intertwine units on past history and topics such as the Great Depression or the American West with units on recent history related to Bruce’s life and music. I have built the course around Bruce’s own songs and writings, including his autobiography, Born to Run, and books about Bruce and his connections to the American tradition,” Campbell stated.
Read the entire piece here.
Here is a taste of Amy Frykholm’s Christian Century interview with Duke Divinity School professor Kate Bowler, the author of The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities:
Evangelicals tend to be skeptical of women in formal positions of authority. Is celebrity a way of circumventing that dynamic?
Exploring that issue was the really fun part of the book. These women were a puzzle hidden in plain sight. These are women who by any logical account should not be as popular as they are. They are not theologically educated, and they are not encouraged to be on stage, so why are they there?
These women had to build their platforms extra-ecclesially. They had to find pulpit-adjacent places. Sometimes that involves parachurch ministries, like one focusing on a specific issue or a women’s ministry—something that is not threatening to the power structures and that is an extension of women’s previous dominance in the missionary movement.
Beth Moore is the most famous face of the Southern Baptist publishing arm. As evangelist and Bible teacher, she is a colossal money maker for her publisher, and she uses Twitter as her pulpit with tremendous success. Social media is very powerful in her world—it’s a way to reach an audience daily and weekly. Many women in this role have managed to skip a lot of the infrastructure and go directly to the crowd.
It is a delicate position because it is outside an institution. These women are not afforded any of the protections of an institution. If an institutional leader makes a mistake, the institution has a vested interest in protecting or rehabilitating them. You see this when there is a sex scandal in evangelical churches; the pastor is pretty quickly put on a rehabilitation tour. A woman without an institution is on her own. If she falls, she falls hard.
Southern Baptists want to adhere to a traditional approach to women in ministry, but they cannot square that demand with the number of women in their own tradition who are leading.
This is a country dominated by megachurches. The concentration of people into these churches is astonishing. That means leadership is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. People want the male leader on stage to be “grounded,” and having a woman by his side confers emotional well-roundedness. It provides a kind of spiritual covering. She is credentialing him. Women in this role can become very powerful in their congregations. They have to figure out how to minister spiritually to all the women in the congregation. That gives women a job and a platform. This aspect of modern congregations makes it very difficult for women to be kept out of the pulpit.
Read the entire piece here.
What is the 1619 Project? Get up to speed here.
Q. What was your initial reaction to the 1619 Project?
A. Well, I didn’t know anything about it until I got my Sunday paper, with the magazine section entirely devoted to the 1619 Project. Because this is a subject I’ve long been interested in I sat down and started to read some of the essays. I’d say that, almost from the outset, I was disturbed by what seemed like a very unbalanced, one-sided account, which lacked context and perspective on the complexity of slavery, which was clearly, obviously, not an exclusively American institution, but existed throughout history. And slavery in the United States was only a small part of a larger world process that unfolded over many centuries. And in the United States, too, there was not only slavery but also an antislavery movement. So I thought the account, which emphasized American racism—which is obviously a major part of the history, no question about it—but it focused so narrowly on that part of the story that it left most of the history out.
So I read a few of the essays and skimmed the rest, but didn’t pursue much more about it because it seemed to me that I wasn’t learning very much new. And I was a little bit unhappy with the idea that people who did not have a good knowledge of the subject would be influenced by this and would then have a biased or narrow view…
Q. We’ve spoken to a lot of historians, leading scholars in the fields of slavery, the Civil War, the American Revolution, and we’re finding that none of them were approached. Although the Times doesn’t list its sources, what do you think, in terms of scholarship, this 1619 Project is basing itself on?
A. I don’t really know. One of the people they approached is Kevin Kruse, who wrote about Atlanta. He’s a colleague, a professor here at Princeton. He doesn’t quite fit the mold of the other writers. But I don’t know who advised them, and what motivated them to choose the people they did choose.
Q. Nikole Hannah-Jones, the lead writer and leader of the 1619 Project, includes a statement in her essay—and I would say that this is the thesis of the project—that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.”
A. Yes, I saw that too. It does not make very much sense to me. I suppose she’s using DNA metaphorically. She argues that racism is the central theme of American history. It is certainly part of the history. But again, I think it lacks context, lacks perspective on the entire course of slavery and how slavery began and how slavery in the United States was hardly unique. And racial convictions, or “anti-other” convictions, have been central to many societies.
But the idea that racism is a permanent condition, well that’s just not true. And it also doesn’t account for the countervailing tendencies in American history as well. Because opposition to slavery, and opposition to racism, has also been an important theme in American history.
Read the entire piece here.
This weekend Louisiana’s Democratic governor John Bel Edwards was reelected. He defeated a Trump-supported Republican named Eddie Risponse. Trump visited Louisiana twice in the last two weeks in the hopes of getting Risponse elected. It did not help.
It is worth noting that John Bel Edwards greatly expanded Medicaid in Louisiana. He also signed a bill banning abortion after a heartbeat is detected. And his victory was largely due to overwhelming support among Louisiana’s African Americans.
It would be interesting to know what white, progressive, highly educated Democrats think of all this. After all, they have been primarily responsible for the party’s turn to the kind of abortion extremism that would have doomed an orthodox Democrat in a race like this one. Mother Jones ran a piece a few days before the election with the headline, “Is There Still Room for an Anti-Abortion Hardliner in the Democratic Party?” The answer in the party platform—which claims that abortion should be unrestricted, that it should be paid for by pro-lifers’ tax dollars, and that it is “core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing”—is obviously in the negative.
But when faced with the prospect of a Trump-supported governor, Democratic activists changed their tune. This kind of change needs to happen more generally throughout the party, especially as we head into 2020. In 2016, Trump over-performed with African Americans and Latinos—populations which tend to be more abortion-skeptical than white Democrats. For the Democrats’ progressive leadership, which at least says all the right things about listening to voices of color, the factors behind Edwards’s reelection should be highly instructive. But the party, at least as currently constituted, is light years away from permitting a pro-life Democratic candidate from running for national office.
Despite struggling in purple states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, there is, remarkably, increased talk of the Democrats becoming a dominant party by turning big states like Texas from red to blue. But it is nearly impossible to see how this would work given their current abortion platform—which, in addition to just being politically bananas, is made-to-order for devastating pro-life messaging.
Indeed, recent studies of pro-life political advertisements in Texas found that they had the biggest impact on—wait for it—Democratic-leaning women, young voters, and Latino voters. Such ads moved them 10, 8, and 13 points, respectively. And they had real political results—pushing Governor Abbott to a whopping 44 percent approval rating with Latinos, for instance. Is it possible that the progressive, white abortion rights activists who dominate the Democratic party leadership could be marginalized in favor of those genuinely committed to listening to black and Latino voices on abortion?
One might think that Trump’s 2016 victory, coupled with the Edwards reelection, would be enough to push the party to change course. But the bubble of coastal elites (on both right and left) is a difficult one to burst. I fear that only something totally devastating—like a 2020 Trump victory—could shake up the current leadership.
Read the entire piece here.
Check out Ashley Layne‘s Substream Magazine interview with Bob Crawford, bass player for the Avett Brothers. Then go to Episode 53 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast and listen to our interview with Crawford.
Here is a taste of Layne’s interview:
So the band definitely has southern roots and deep ties to an historically conservative state, was there hesitation at all to include songs like “Bang Bang” and “We Americans” on the album? Were you scared of being too pointed and divisive?
Well, no. There was a conversation about “Bang Bang” with Scott and Seth. You know what’s great about it is, it’s a conversation starter. So, I think that needs to be pointed out. I think it also needs to be pointed out that the song is written from a personal viewpoint of a real-world situation. So, I think that is important to recognize, as well. This is a song that was good for us as a group, mainly Scott and Seth, because it allowed them to engage in a difficult conversation.
I look at “Bang Bang” and “We Americans” differently. I fell in love with American History in 2004, and I began just reading. I started with the David McCullough books. I had a curiosity about American history that I still have to this day. I have a history podcast called The Road to Now; it’s something I am very serious about. I am getting my masters in history, so when I heard “We Americans” that Seth wrote, I knew Seth was reading Henry Adams so I was like, ’Oh, this is the natural result of Seth reading Henry Adams.’ Henry Adams has the greatest prose of any historian on the face of the planet. To read his historical text is to read literature it’s so beautifully written. Seth also writes beautiful prose and he’s a wordsmith, so, yeah, of course (Seth) nailed the content.
When you read history there were narratives that were, until the past 50 years, not told, but were real narratives. “We Americans” checks out. I often said to Seth, I hope you have a bibliography for this song because historians are gonna want to see it.
I put “We Americans” in the bucket with “This Land is Your Land.” And I think what’s great about “We Americans” is it goes from the idea of patriotism to paying tribute and respect. So the saying I always have is: the good, the bad, the ugly of American History. Being an American, you need to be able to recognize and somehow deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly of American history. I think what “We Americans” does, it recognizes that we need to have a certain love of our country and patriotism, but the song ends with recognizing love of God as being greater than love of country and love of one another as being greater. That’s what it means to me. I think it’s a great song. And, I think it’s a lot different than “Bang Bang” in terms of what’s controversial about it. I don’t think the subject matter of “We Americans” is controversial at all, I don’t think it should be.
Read the entire interview here.
NBA Hall of Famer and public intellectual Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wonders if movies like Harriet—the new movie about Harriet Tubman–“risk defining African American participation in U.S. history primarily as victims.” Here is a taste of his recent piece at The Hollywood Reporter:
On the one hand, these films are necessary to correct the misperceptions many Americans have about slavery as a result of inaccurate school textbooks, ill-informed teachers and conservative propaganda. Because many of them are prestigious enough to garner critical acclaim (12 Years a Slavealone won 32 awards, including three Oscars), they bring a gravitas to their message that people are more likely to take seriously. Such movies have the potential of raising awareness among white audiences about the horrific past so that they’re more sympathetic to the current economic and social plight of marginalized minorities, the cause of which is the domino effect directly from slavery.
On the other hand, some may see these films as snowflake overkill that desensitizes white audiences, putting them on the defensive about being blamed for something in which they had no part. That resentment could cause them to turn a blind eye to the current state of racial inequity.
I also worry that so many movies about slavery risk defining African Americans’ participation in American history primarily as victims rather than as victors in a continuous battle for economic and social freedom. The thousands of black soldiers who died fighting on behalf of the country, the martyred civil rights leaders, even our many scientific innovations and inventions that transformed American society — from refrigeration to blood banks — get dismissed, diminished or ignored because all that some white Americans remember are angry black faces crying “Unfair!” This puts a heavy burden on blacks to continually have to prove how vigorously they support the country that once enslaved them. They are expected to ignore the current inequities and just be grateful the country unlocked the chains. We stopped beating, branding, raping and lynching you — isn’t that enough?
Read the entire piece here.
Last weekend the Boss played a two-hour show at The Stony Pony in Asbury Park to raise money for student scholarships at Boston College, the university where Springsteen’s son Evan attended.
Here is Thunder Road:
Learn more here.
I was listening to National Public Radio on my drive to Grand Rapids, Michigan on Thursday and somewhere around Ann Arbor I heard Baylor historian Thomas Kidd talking about the definition of the word “evangelical.” Kidd, of course, was discussing his new book Who Is an Evangelical: The History of a Movement in Crisis.
Here is a taste of what I heard:
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We’ve reached the point in the media where the word evangelical has lost a lot of its original meaning. Author Thomas Kidd points this out in his new book “Who Is An Evangelical?”
THOMAS KIDD: I think it is a sign of the politicization of evangelicalism that people who, say, don’t go to church would still be willing to say that they’re an evangelical. I think that signals that somehow, evangelical now is a fundamentally political term.
CORNISH: Thomas Kidd says prior to the mid-’70s, there wasn’t a box to check. But it was shortly after pollsters started actually asking voters about their religious affiliation that we saw the coalescing of a powerful political voting bloc.
KIDD: The transition moment has to be 1976…
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: My name is Jimmy Carter, and I’m running for president.
KIDD: …When one of the major parties nominates an outspoken evangelical, Jimmy Carter, for the Democrats…
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CARTER: All of us – our individual fates are linked.
KIDD: …As the presidential candidate and obviously eventually became president.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CARTER: In that knowledge and in that spirit, together, as the Bible says, we can move mountains. Thank you very much.
KIDD: And one of the most important developments that comes associated with that is that 1976 is the first year that the Gallup organization begins polling about whether people are evangelicals or born again. And it’s often not being asked about whether you’re an evangelical to see what your spiritual beliefs and practices are but to determine what your political behavior is.
Read or listen here.
One of our correspondents, a twenty-two-year-old history major at Calvin College, sent us this photo today:
A few things online that caught my attention this week:
What happens when a charter school in North Carolina wants to teach indigenous history.
Is a “modern great books” curriculum the way to save the humanities
The abortion debate is dishonest
The “classics” and working class life
Social media and democracy
Nicole Hemmer on why Republicans win
Some great historical pieces on Thanksgiving
Andrea Turpin reviews Separate Pasts: Growing-Up White in the Segregated South
Mr. Rogers and the awkward pause
University community engagement as a “racket”
Carl Paulus reviews Stanley Harrold, American Abolitionism: Its Direct Political Impact from Colonial Times into Reconstruction
Americans believe Christianity is good for public life
Paige Patterson and the first African American president of the Southern Baptist Convention
Oklahoma and Baylor football’s role in Christian sports ministry
Michael Brown, a pro-Trump radio pundit, recently appeared on court evangelical Steven Strang‘s podcast and talked about the attempts to impeach Donald Trump . The title of the podcast is “Are Demonic Spirits Influencing the Trump Impeachment Process.” (I am not sure why Strang decided to frame his title in the form of a question because he and Brown clearly believe that this is the answer is “yes.”)
Here is Brown on the podcast:
When you look at the women who were literally scratching the doors of the Supreme Court building, and pounding the doors, it was like someone having a tantrum when they couldn’t get there way. It’s one thing to feel passionate about an issue, it’s another thing to behave in that way. I documented in [my book] Jezebel’s War With America…that you have to look at the forces that have come together from radical feminists to witches, even The New York Times saying we’ve reached “peak witch, asking when did everyone become a witch. These are the same ones who are “hexing” Donald Trump and hexing the patriarchy…there is more going on here….
Bottom line we have to recognize we are in an intense spiritual battle…for decades now there has been a real push to destroy the very fabric of our culture, to uproot any Christian heritage and roots that we have. It’s been very deep and very concerted. You can see the most major shift from the sixties and thereafter and we are now reaping the very, very bad fruit of it. So it’s going to come down to us getting really serious–believers who are searching their own hearts and their own lives. Am I revived? Have I lost my first love and left it? Have I become part of the problem? Am I compromised?…And then from there let’s be a positive influence on those around us. Let’s help ignite unite a passion fire in others. And as believers get awakened to live for God, for the Gospel, then they’ll get awakened on social issues, cultural issues [and] start to stand up for what’s right. But look, either we’re gonna be the generation that was known as the one that let the drag queens read to toddlers in libraries with the endorsement of the American Library Association, or we’ll be known as the generation that stood for what was right and recovered the foundations of the Gospel, and of family, and of morality here in America. It’s either or. We’re standing at a critical point in our history.
There are a lot of things that can be said about Brown’s thoughts. As an evangelical Christian, I too believe in the kind of spiritual revival Brown is talking about here. Brown seems to imply, in the context of this podcast on impeachment, that if only Christians would come alive spiritually they would see the light and naturally support the presidency of Donald Trump.
But what if the church needs to be revived for the purpose of opposing the sinful behavior that our current president represents? What if Christians need to be revived so that they can see that they have jumped into bed with this man and, as a result, are damaging the witness of the Gospel?
As an early American historian, I was particularly struck by Brown’s reference to passion-filled women “scratching” at the door of the Supreme Court building. Brown mentions “witches.” He talks about women having “tantrums.” Wow! Is it just me or does this sound a lot like the most important “spiritual battle” of 17th-century New England–the Salem Witch Trials?
Brown says “there is more going on here.” This suggests that the impeachment of Donald Trump is a spiritual battle–a battle against the devil and his minions. The same goes for his use of the word “forces” to describe the Democratic efforts to impeach the president.
I think it’s time to revisit a couple of good books on the Salem Witch Trials.
Elizabeth Reis, Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England
These books show that women were often thought to be easily susceptible to the wiles of the devil because of their “weaker” nature. Puritans believed that the devil possessed and inflicted women for the purpose of undermining the orderly Christian society they were trying to build in Massachusetts Bay. When the devil inflicted women in this way, the Puritans described the women behaving in a manner similar to how Brown describes anti-Trump women above.
This is so true. A taste:
This impeachment is so confusing. Both sides are making contradictory claims and it’s almost impossible to know who to trust.
On the one hand, you have George Kent, a career Foreign Service officer whose entire family served in the armed forces, including an uncle who was at Pearl Harbor and survived the Bataan Death March, and on the other hand, you have a bone spurs draft dodger whose dad got arrested at a KKK riot.
There’s this fellow Bill Taylor who served as a Captain and company commander in Vietnam and who was awarded a Bronze Star, but then again, Donald Trump’s first wife Ivana and numerous other women have said that he sexually assaulted them.
If only American politics weren’t so partisan, I might be able to make sense of it all, but I can’t.
At the hearing, I saw two serious, professional men who both served under Republican and Democrat administrations. Yet just last week, President Trump was ordered to pay two million dollars for using charity funds to pay off his business debts and promote himself. How can a voter like me be expected to know who is more credible?
These men testified under oath that the president tried to withhold military aid to a crucial ally unless the Ukranian president made a phony and defamatory speech about Joe Biden, and I admit that does sound slightly damning. At the same time, there’s a white supremacist working closely with Donald Trump who orchestrated the immigration policy which separated thousands of children, including babies, from their parents. Politics are so complicated!
What sounds more believable? That career diplomats with everything to lose would make up a story implicating the most powerful man in America? Or that the president’s butt-dialling, criminal-loving lawyer was involved in something nefarious? I wish this would be easier!
I’m no political scientist, but it seems to me that a man who has told 13,435 lies and has equated Nazis with people protesting Nazis, and who publicly stated he’d date his own daughter, and who tried and failed to buy Greenland is at least as honest as the many people, both Republican and Democrat, who have testified against him in this impeachment hearing.
Read the entire piece here.
Call it “Quit Lit” or something else, but this is a powerful and moving piece by former Crown University English professor Michial Farmer. A friend who sent the essay to me called it “uncomfortably honest.” I would agree. Farmer bares his soul and, as my friend says, we are like the priest behind the curtain. But I think we in the humanities, especially those of us at Christian colleges, can relate to some his story.
Here is a taste of “Two Forms of Despair“:
There is real freedom in resignation: For the last several years of my teaching career, I suffered a variety of annoying and humiliating medical symptoms: phantom gallbladder pain, heart palpitations, strange twitches of the nerves in my big toe, several months of constipation. When I took them to my physician, he inevitably told me that I was doing it to myself, that these were physical manifestations of my anxiety that my classes wouldn’t have enough students to run, that my college would close, that no other college would ever hire me. But symptoms of anxiety form a kind of feedback loop, and I’d lie in bed panicking that I had gallstones, a heart attack, multiple sclerosis, colon cancer—anything to avoid facing the truth that I was trying to live in a world that didn’t exist, a world in which it was possible for a person like me to be a great success teaching English, of all things, at an evangelical college, of all places. Every year, I stared out over the abyss, and hope sprung eternal as I sent out dozens of applications to state schools, overseas universities, and more prestigious Christian colleges; every year, the abyss stared back at me in the guise of form letters or, more often, a cold and mechanical silence.
I remember the last straw. I’d applied for a job at a noteworthy religious college in the Pacific Northwest, a job I was quite qualified for in a department where I knew someone. She wasn’t on the search committee, so she helped me with my application, which I spent weeks perfecting. The school rejected me during the first round; they didn’t even interview me over the phone. They sent the rejection email on a Friday night at midnight. Something broke off inside of me, and I needed two sleeping pills to fight through the jungle of catatonic anxiety and fall asleep. A few months later, my provost called me into his office and told me that I was “banging my head against the wall” by trying to turn my college into the sort of place I’d want to teach. There was no way out, and no way to improve the inside. My final physical symptom appeared: a lump in my throat so large and solid that I couldn’t wear a tie anymore. Magically, it went away after I resigned myself to the fact that a career in education was not in my future.
I don’t think cynical people go into humanities education—or if they do, their cynicism is a screen to protect them from the low financial and social rewards their thirteen years of higher education require. They—we—do it because we believe in the power of art and thought to transform lives and the world. And yet it’s a cliché at this point to talk about the failure of universities to support the noble goals of humanists, religious and secular alike.
When I went into graduate school, I believed that the Christian college could be a useful, vital counterweight to the forces of professionalization and politics that have rent the humanities at secular universities. I imagined the Christian college as a sort of monastery wherein all areas of study, but especially the humanities, find meaning and context in the shared beliefs and practices of the community. I hope I won’t sound petulant if I point out that most Christian colleges, perhaps all of them, have failed to live up to that vision—which may have only been another of my fantasies in the first place. I don’t blame them; the armies threatening the Christian liberal arts are led by Republicans and Democrats, atheists and evangelicals. Administrators have to be practical if they want to save the jobs of their faculty members and the real good their institutions are doing in the world. When my provost told me I was beating my head against the wall, I think he meant that I was trying to live in a world that can no longer exist, if it ever could have. He wanted me to resign—not resign from my job, I think, but resign myself to the idea that I could not get what I wanted from my job. He was seeking my good.
Read the entire piece at The Front Porch Republic.
Here is Pasadena Now:
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens announced today that it has acquired two collections related to abolition and slavery in 19th-century America, including an exceptionally rare account book from the Underground Railroad.
The first group of materials includes the papers of Zachariah Taylor Shugart (1805–1881), a Quaker abolitionist who operated an Underground Railroad stop at his farm in Cass County, Michigan. The centerpiece of the collection is an account ledger which contains the names of 137 men and women who passed through Shugart’s farm while trying to reach freedom in Canada; these names are recorded amid everyday details of Shugart’s business life, including the number of minks he trapped and the debts he was owed.
The second collection is the archive of some 2,000 letters and accounts documenting the history of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury saltworks, a major operation founded in 1808 in what is now Kanawha County, West Virginia. The records shed light on an industry that was not plantation-based but still relied heavily on slave labor.
“These new materials provide compelling windows into the lives of those who were enslaved and those who escaped slavery, and also shed light on the politics of the times before, during, and after the Civil War,” said Sandra Ludig Brooke, Avery Director of the Library at The Huntington. “They are a vivid complement to The Huntington’s rich collections documenting American slavery, abolitionist movements, and the history of the American South.”
Read the rest here.
Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:
A recent Washington Post op-ed by an Australian observer of the American religious scene should serve as a wake-up call to United States Christians. Michael Bird is a professing Christian and New Testament scholar at Ridley College in Parkville. Here is a taste of his piece “Jesus isn’t interested in America’s two-party division“:
As a scholar of the New Testament and a professing Christian, I simply do not recognize the plethora of American “Jesuses” spawned by the political left and right. What I see is neither the Jesus of Nazareth I know from history nor the Christ of faith that I know from my church.
To begin with, I am not remotely convinced by the Jesus of American conservative culture. A Jesus who sounds like a deified version of Ronald Reagan. A Jesus who believes that God helps those who help themselves. A Jesus who rejects biological evolution but ostensibly believes in an economic contest of survival of the fittest.
Then, among progressives, their Jesus is often described in ways that would probably best fit the long-lost love child of Lenin and Lady Gaga who grew up to become an Antifa activist. The industry of progressive politics trades in a secular Jesus sanitized of anything that sounds too religious.
I understand that everyone wants Jesus on their political side. In fact, I find it heartening that Jesus is still the endorsement that everyone wants! But there are immense costs being paid when politicians and pundits claim Jesus for their own side.
The primary problem is, of course, the absurd anachronisms.
Read the entire piece here.
What is causing our political polarization? Can democracy survive our current political climate? Atlantic senior editor Yoni Appelbaum joins others, such as Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (those who attended Levitsky’s recent lecture at Messiah College will find a lot that sounds familiar in Appelbaum’s argument), in suggesting that the GOP is having a hard time dealing with demographic change. I made the same argument for white evangelicals in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and Robert Jones argues something similar in The End of White Christian America.
Appelbaum, however, has not given up hope. He turns to history:
The right, and the country, can come back from this. Our history is rife with influential groups that, after discarding their commitment to democratic principles in an attempt to retain their grasp on power, lost their fight and then discovered they could thrive in the political order they had so feared. The Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, criminalizing criticism of their administration; Redemption-era Democrats stripped black voters of the franchise; and Progressive Republicans wrested municipal governance away from immigrant voters. Each rejected popular democracy out of fear that it would lose at the polls, and terror at what might then result. And in each case democracy eventually prevailed, without tragic effect on the losers. The American system works more often than it doesn’t.
The years around the First World War offer another example. A flood of immigrants, particularly from Eastern and Southern Europe, left many white Protestants feeling threatened. In rapid succession, the nation instituted Prohibition, in part to regulate the social habits of these new populations; staged the Palmer Raids, which rounded up thousands of political radicals and deported hundreds; saw the revival of the Ku Klux Klan as a national organization with millions of members, including tens of thousands who marched openly through Washington, D.C.; and passed new immigration laws, slamming shut the doors to the United States.
Under President Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic Party was at the forefront of this nativist backlash. Four years after Wilson left office, the party faced a battle between Wilson’s son-in-law and Al Smith—a New York Catholic of Irish, German, and Italian extraction who opposed Prohibition and denounced lynching—for the presidential nomination. The convention deadlocked for more than 100 ballots, ultimately settling on an obscure nominee. But in the next nominating fight, four years after that, Smith prevailed, shouldering aside the nativist forces within the party. He brought together newly enfranchised women and the ethnic voters of growing industrial cities. The Democrats lost the presidential race in 1928—but won the next five, in one of the most dominant runs in American political history. The most effective way to protect the things they cherished, Democratic politicians belatedly discovered, wasn’t by locking immigrants out of the party, but by inviting them in.
Whether the American political system today can endure without fracturing further, Daniel Ziblatt’s research suggests, may depend on the choices the center-right now makes. If the center-right decides to accept some electoral defeats and then seeks to gain adherents via argumentation and attraction—and, crucially, eschews making racial heritage its organizing principle—then the GOP can remain vibrant. Its fissures will heal and its prospects will improve, as did those of the Democratic Party in the 1920s, after Wilson. Democracy will be maintained. But if the center-right, surveying demographic upheaval and finding the prospect of electoral losses intolerable, casts its lot with Trumpism and a far right rooted in ethno-nationalism, then it is doomed to an ever smaller proportion of voters, and risks revisiting the ugliest chapters of our history.
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