“One pastor said half of his church is ready to lick the floor, to prove there’s no actual virus”

Conway

Here is a taste of a report from The Washington Post on how one group of churches in Arkansas decided to deal with Sunday services today:

In Arkansas, the Rev. Josh King met with the pastors of five other churches on Thursday to decide whether to continue holding service. Their religious beliefs told them that meeting in person to worship each Sunday remained an essential part of their faith, and some of their members signed on to Trump’s claims that the media and Democrats were overblowing the danger posed by the virus.

“One pastor said half of his church is ready to lick the floor, to prove there’s no actual virus,” said King, lead pastor at Second Baptist church in Conway, Ark.

But King and his colleagues were concerned: They believed the virus was a serious threat, and mass gatherings such as church services could spread it. He and the other Arkansas pastors ultimately decided that they would hold services as usual this Sunday, with some extra precautions.

They hired cleaning teams to scour their buildings. They asked the greeters to open the doors, so no one would touch the doorknobs, and asked members to donate online or at the door, so they wouldn’t need to pass a communal offering plate. No more coffee after the service, they told members, and no hugs or handshakes either.

“In your more politically conservative regions, closing is not interpreted as caring for you. It’s interpreted as liberalism, or buying into the hype,” said King, whose church draws about 1,100 worshipers on a typical Sunday.

Read the entire piece here.

And then you have Rodney Howard Browne. He is the pastor of The River Church in Tampa Bay, Florida and the founder of the so-called “holy laughter” revival. He is also a court evangelical who has described Trump as the “New World Order’s Worst Nightmare” and God’s “Rambo.”  Pick this video up at the 1:00:00 mark and watch for about five minutes:

Robb Ryerse: An Evangelical, Pro Gay Rights, Small Government, Medicare for All, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Confederate Monument, Pro Tax Reform, and Green Energy Republican Who Ran for Congress in 2018

Learn more here:

Ryerse is a graduate of Summit University (formerly Baptist Bible College) in Clarks Summit, PA and Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, PA.   Summit University has roots in the fundamentalist General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.  Biblical Theological Seminary is a generally evangelical seminary founded when theologian Allen McRae broke ranks with fundamentalist crusader Carl McIntire.  Ryerse has since left fundamentalism and now pastors a more progressive evangelical congregation.

At one point early in the film, Ryerse notes that one his favorite books is “Feinberg’s Systematic Theology.”  I did not know that John Feinberg, Paul Feinberg, or their father Charles Feinberg ever wrote a complete systematic theology.  Perhaps I did not hear this correctly.

He is considering another run in 2020.

“One turkey thrown out of a plane is a tragicomedy; 46 million turkeys killed in a slaughterhouse is Thanksgiving dinner”

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Over at The Atlantic, Anne Lowrey writes about Yellville, Arkansas, a place where they throw turkeys out of planes. (NOTE: This story is not about Les Nessman or WKRP in Cincinnati, although this episode of the well-known sitcom is mentioned in Lowrey’s piece). Here is a taste:

YELLVILLE, Ark.—It is October in the Ozarks. The grass has dried out and the trees have bronzed and browned. Deer lie glaze-eyed in the back of camouflaged pickup trucks. High-school football helmets crack every Friday night. And seven days a week, workers in processing plants are helping to kill, gut, pluck, and truss turkeys for Thanksgiving tables around the country.

Here in Yellville this cold and rainy weekend, there are turkeys everywhere—turkey shirts and turkey costumes and turkey paraphernalia. There is a raffle giving away birds for Thanksgiving dinner. There’s a brisk trade in turkey legs, too, pulled out of a barrel smoker. At the bandstand, a judge announces the winner of the “Miss Drumsticks” contest, who gleams and sparkles in her pageant finery. “It’s Miss Drumsticks because they’re judging who has the best thighs,” an older woman explained to me, matter-of-fact.

But—and this is unusual, and much to the dismay and consternation of many locals—there are no live turkeys. None in a cage towed behind a pickup. None thrown from the courthouse roof. None pitched off the bandstand and picked up by screaming teenagers. And none dropped out of an airplane. That is what the Yellville Turkey Trot festival is famous and infamous for, you see: living, breathing, squawking birds getting lobbed out of a low-flying aircraft.

Read the rest here.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Northwest Arkansas

Reimagining

I spent the day on Wednesday at John Brown University (JBU) in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. (It was my first trip to the “Natural State”).  Trisha Posey, Director of the University Honors Program, and Daniel Bennett, Assistant Professor of Political Science, invited me to participate in the university’s 2nd Annual Reimagining Faith and Public Life event.

After a great dinner at the home of JBU president Chip Pollard, I was happy to share the stage for the main event with Jonathan Leeman, a Christian writer, theologian, pastor and editorial director of a Christian website called 9Marks.  Leeman is the author of How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics a Divided AgeTrisha moderated a fruitful discussion about how evangelicals can move beyond a Christian Right approach to politics.

Reimagining Faith and Public Life was actually the culminating event of a day full of teaching and conversation at JBU.  It began with breakfast (Rikki Skopp is an absolutely amazing baker!) and fellowship with JBU honors faculty.  I then had the privilege of teaching Trisha’s first-year honors seminar “Faithful Leadership in Times of Crisis.”  Trisha and her students are studying historical examples of Christian leaders who led during difficult times.  So far they have looked at Sophie Scholl, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the monks of the medieval period. Later in the semester they will study the lives of Oscar Romero, John Woolman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Galileo, Leymah Gbowee, and a few others.  I am not sure if Abraham Lincoln can be considered a “faithful leader,” but he was certainly a leader in a “time of crisis.”  I chose to focus on his Second Inaugural Address as a theological reflection on the Civil War.  Lincoln’s religious take on the war was quite different from the writing and rhetoric of the leading Protestant theologians of the day.

After class I spent some time with one of Trisha’s students who is writing a very interesting paper on Reinhold Niebuhr’s critique of Billy Graham and mid-century American evangelicalism.  We chatted about the current state of the evangelical movement (is there such a thing?) and if there is anything that Niebuhr might be able to teach present-day evangelicals.

JBU 2

After lunch with JBU faculty, I headed to Dan Bennett’s American Government class where I led students in a discussion of Chapter 1 of Believe Me“The Evangelical Politics of Fear.”  Our discussion of “fear” led to a conversation about same-sex marriage and somehow ended with a focus on “nostalgia” and Christian nationalism.  Our discussion was all over the map, but the students seemed engaged.

JBU 1

Finally, I had a chance to meet with the members of two faculty-staff JBU book clubs who have been reading Believe Me.  As I fielded questions about the book I continued to learn more about the strengths and weakness of my argument.  At some point a book has to go to the publisher, appear in print, and be consumed by the public. But I find that I am always refining my thinking about a project through an engagement with readers.  It is flattering to have your ideas taken seriously and it is especially flattering when those ideas are taken seriously by such a vibrant and engaged group of academics, human resource professionals, advancement officers, and students.

I felt at home all day at JBU.  I hope to return some time soon.

Travel tip:  When flying to the airport in Fayetteville, Arkansas be careful not to board a plane for Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Yes, this almost happened.  FYI: Fayetteville, Arkansas airport appears on the display as “Northwest Arkansas” or “Bentonville.”

Stay tuned for the next stop on the Believe Me book tour: Sunday, October 28th at Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Laurel, Maryland.

Mark Silk: “I get why Michael Tate Reed destroyed the Ten Commandments”

Arkansas

This monument was recently destroyed by a driver in a 2016 Dodge Dart

Earlier this week I wrote a piece on Arkansas’s decision to place a monument commemorating the Ten Commandments at the State Capitol in Little Rock. The day after the monument was erected, a guy named Michael Tate Reed drove his 2016 Dodge Dart into the monument and destroyed it.  Tate, who describes himself as a “pentecostal Christian Jesus Freak,” has a history with these monuments.

Over at his Religion News Service blog Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk writes:

…Be it noted that Reed is no anti-religious bigot bent on destroying the iconic expression of Judeo-Christian faith. He’s an apparently devout evangelical — “a born again Christian whos a pentacostal Jesus Freak,” as he put it on Facebook — albeit one with a history of mental illness.

Before destroying the monument, he wrote:

I’m a firm believer that for our salvation we not only have faith in Jesus Christ, but we also obey the commands of God and that we confess Jesus as Lord But one thing I do not support is the violation of our constitutional right to have the freedom that’s guaranteed to us, that guarantees us the separation of church and state, because no one religion should the government represent.

In other words, Reed harks back to the first era of American evangelicalism, when the likes of Roger Williams and John Leland made themselves obnoxious to the ecclesiastical powers that were in New England by vigorous advocacy of keeping church and state as far apart as possible.

Read the entire piece here.  Silk concludes that somewhere Williams and Leland are smiling.

On the Ten Commandments Monument in Arkansas

Arkansas

Here we go again.

A Ten Commandments monument now sits outside the Arkansas Capitol in Little Rock.

As some monuments are taken down in the United States, others go up.  If we have learned one thing through the recent and ongoing Confederate monument debates, monuments actually tell us more about the era in which they were erected than they do the event that they celebrate.

With this in mind, the Arkansas monument will be interpreted by future historians as a symbol of the culture wars.  More specifically, it will be interpreted in the context of the Christian Right’s attempt to defend the idea that America is a Christian nation.

Historically, these kinds of monuments–whether they are religious or patriotic in nature–tend to appear in times of great social change.  They are one of our best windows into the fear that members of a majority group feel when newcomers arrive or when they must deal with cultural shifts.  It is not a coincidence, for example, that the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution (and the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy) began erecting monuments all over America around the turn of the 20th-century. This, after all, was a time when the demographic make-up of the United States was changing with the arrival of millions of new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.   Politicians exploit these fears in order to win elections.  They then fulfill their campaign promises by building monuments that reflect their anxieties. I guess it makes people feel better.  Apparently a monument now somehow makes Arkansas a Christian state.

Several historians who oppose the removal of certain Confederate monuments have suggested putting the monuments into context so that people can understand the world of white supremacy in which these monuments were erected.  With this in mind, perhaps Arkansas might consider erecting another monument at the Capitol engraved with a verse from the New Testament:

There is not fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  –1 John 4:18.

Secondarily, we might ask if this new Arkansas monument represents good history.  You can find answers to that question here.

I also recommend Jenna Weissman Joselit’s book Set in Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments.

ADDENDUM: I just learned, thanks to reader A.J. McDonald Jr. in the comments section, that the monument was destroyed yesterday.

The Mississippi River: The Flow of Religion, Tourism, and Music

Dagget

R to L: Aaron Miller, Melissa Daggett, Cam Addis, and Jodie Brown

Our reports from the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) continue to roll into The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  This report comes from Melissa Daggett, an instructor of United States history at San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas and the author of Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey (University Press of Mississippi, 2016).  Melissa reports on a panel sponsored by the OAH Committee on Community Colleges.  Enjoy!  –JF

On April 8, 2017, the Committee on Community Colleges opened the Saturday sessions with a panel of three, who presented papers that were informative, entertaining, scholarly, and timely. All three papers contained the common theme of the influence of the Mississippi River upon the course of American history, and it was fitting that the presentations were done in a location next to the river.

Melissa Daggett of San Jacinto College discussed the circulation of people and ideas into New Orleans from the Northeast, and from France and the French colony of Saint-Domingue in her paper, “Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans.” This circulation helped to establish New Orleans as the premier city for Spiritualism within the confines of a very conservative South during the late antebellum period through the early years of Reconstruction. Daggett began with a description of the genesis of Modern American Spiritualism, recounting the Fox sisters’ early forays into séance Spiritualism in New York. The new non-mainstream religion eventually crossed the Mason-Dixon line and because of its diversity and openness to new cultures and religions, New Orleans provided fertile ground to nurture Spiritualism. Daggett emphasized mediums and speakers from the Northeast who traveled to St. Louis across the mid-West and then boarded a steamboat for the final leg of the journey.

Many séance circles flourished in the Creole Faubourgs of Tremé and Marigny as well as the American sector of the city. Daggett focused on Le Cercle Harmonique, the francophone séance circle of Henry Louis Rey (1831–1894), a Creole of color who was a key civil rights activist, author, and Civil War and Reconstruction leader. Daggett included scans of spiritual communications from the René Grandjean Collection, rare photographs, and maps indicating the flow of peoples and ideas into New Orleans in her PowerPoint. Melissa Daggett’s presentation was based upon her recently published book, Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey (University Press of Mississippi, 2017).

Jodie Brown of American Public University focused her presentation, “The Voodoo That You Do: Exploration of African Traditions in Louisiana Tourism,” on the disconnect between reality and myths perpetuated on tourists in New Orleans. Brown pointed to the simplistic narratives of secondary school textbooks that are based on nationalism and morality as being one reason that the typical tourist accepts tour information dispensed by Crescent City tour guides. Brown, like Daggett, emphasized the importance of the Haitian Revolution and the resulting diaspora, upon New Orleans’ rich and complex history. Voodoo is a religion of African origins with strong Haitian influences that incorporates Catholic priests, and not simply a cult led by Marie Laveau.

The haunted house on Royal Street is a stable of tour guides, who delight in gory tales of mutilation and torture of Mme Lalaurie’s slaves. Brown argued that these tales are exaggerated and reflect the noble cause of abolition whose advocates often sensationalized the treatment of slaves to make a point. History was used as a tool to lecture the masses on moral lessons.

Brown discussed the importance of history education at both the secondary and post-secondary levels to present a more accurate picture of complex issues, events, and people. With a good history education, tourists to the Crescent City can understand the true events that form New Orleans’ history, and not sensationalized and simplistic stories.

Aaron Miller of Ivy Tech Community College focused on the importance of environment on music when he presented “Big River: The Mississippi Delta in the Life and Music of Johnny Cash.” Miller, a huge fan of Cash, said that the distinct geographical features of Cash’s boyhood home of Dyess, Arkansas had a profound impact on his childhood and served as a source of inspiration for his music. Dyess was created in 1934 as a new community which directed federal aid to impoverished and desperate people. The immediate goal was to help the residents to survive the Great Depression. As a young man, Cash struggled with poverty, spending much of his time picking cotton growing in the thick Arkansas mud, sometimes called “gumbo.” Music was Cash’s salvation. During the day, he sang songs while toiling in the cotton fields,and at night, he absorbed various genres of music, listening to the radio which managed to rely stations from far away cities like Memphis and Chicago.

Two of Cash’s early hits with the iconic Sun Records, “Five Feet and Rising” and “Big River,” are indebted to Cash’s formative years in the Mississippi Delta. Aaron Miller’s paper is based upon a book project.

Cam Addis of Austin Community College acted as Chair.

Should Howard Zinn Be Banned in Public Schools?

689e7-zinnKim Hendren, an Arkansas state legislator, wants to ban Howard Zinn‘s books from Arkansas public schools.  Here is a taste of a news story from “Common Dreams” website:

A Republican Arkansas lawmaker has introduced legislation to ban the works of the late historian, activist, and writer Howard Zinn from publicly funded schools.

The bill from Rep. Kim Hendren, just noted by the Arkansas Times, was introduced on Thursday and referred to the House Committee on Education.

It states (pdf) that any “public school district or an open-enrollment public charter school shall not include in its curriculum or course materials for a class or program of study any book or other material” authored by Zinn from 1959 until 2010, the year in which he died

The Zinn Education Project, which aims to “to introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of United States history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula,” noted Thursday that educators in the state may have a very different take from Hendren: “To date, there are more than 250 teachers in Arkansas who have signed up to access people’s history lessons from the Zinn Education Project website.”

The project is also offering a free copy of Zinn’s seminal A People’s History of the United States to any Arkansas teacher who requests it.

Read the entire post here.

Should Zinn be banned from classrooms in Arkansas?

“Banned” is a strong word.  I don’t know the motivation behind Hendren’s bill, but I imagine it has something to do with the left-wing leanings of Zinn’s work, especially his  A People’s History of the United States.   

So should Zinn’s works be used in school classrooms in Arkansas or anywhere else?  No and yes.

I have argued here in the past that Zinn’s book is bad history.  On this point I find myself in agreement with both leftist Georgetown historian Michael Kazin (who also serves as editor of Dissent) and Stanford history education scholar Sam Wineburg.  I would not assign it as the sole textbook in a history class.  It should be viewed as political text that uses the past to advance its agenda.

I would, however, consider using Zinn in the way that my friend Lendol Calder has used it in his United States history survey course.  Calder assigns Zinn alongside a conservative-leaning textbook such as Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People  (Larry Schweikart’s A Patriot’s History of the United States might be another conservative option) in order to show his students that history is “an argument without end.”  He calls Zinn and Johnson “untextbooks.”  I imagine that Calder assigns these two texts because their ideological bent is so overt and obvious.

Should Zinn be banned in Arkansas schools?  No.  But it should be used in very strategic ways that teach students how to think like historians and not like politicians.

The Head Football Coach at the University of Arkansas Was an “MBA History Professor of European Religions.”

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Bret Bielema

OK, not really.

But for a moment I was wondering if I should add “find a wife” to my So What CAN You Do With a History Major? series.”

Read about Bret Bielema‘s “career” as a history professor at Fox Sports.

A taste:

So what was the pick-up line that ultimately led to wedded bliss? Travis asked Bielema on Tuesday morning, and he gave an incredible answer.  

“I always say ‘I have a good memory.’ I don’t know if I remember the opening line, but I remember the opening sequence. It was about eight years ago, I still had some game, brought some A-game. The thing I didn’t do or what I do. I was with some guys with Wisconsin, one of them might have had a [Wisconsin] shirt on. I didn’t. I told her I was an MBA history professor.”

An MBA history professor? But wait, it gets better.

“That was my MO. My MO back in the day was, before I got too well known, I always went back as a history professor. Usually you don’t talk to a lot of history professors, you know? If anybody ever caught me off-guard and asked me what I studied or what I was a history professor [in], I went with ‘European religions’ because I don’t know if anybody really knows what that means.”

Wait, what? A history professor whose focus is on “European religions?” That’s insane. And incredible. It sounds like something straight out of an episode of “Seinfeld” or something. Honestly, doesn’t that sound like something George Costanza would do?

As it turns out, it was a line Bielema used quite often back in his day.

“My buddy was always an astronaut, so I had to come up with something equally absurd. But I used it a lot on airplanes, in situations when you didn’t want to talk to someone. If you’re sitting on a plane ride and you tell someone you’re a history professor in ‘European religions’ they usually leave you alone, but they think you’re in a different stratosphere.”

Yup.