The Author’s Corner with Sebastian Page

Sebastian Page is a historian of the 19th century United States and the Atlantic world. This interview is based on his new book, Black Resettlement and the American Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2021). For those who wish to purchase Page’s book, the code PAGE2021 will give customers 20% off from Cambridge University Press.

JF: What led you to write Black Resettlement?

SP: As an undergraduate at the University of Oxford, I wondered what primary sources might be close to hand for an original thesis on U.S. history. My advisor told me that the library had just bought microfilm copies of the records of the American Colonization Society (ACS), which I consulted to write about its activity during the Civil War. For my doctoral project, I intended to do nothing more than keep going through those microfilms to study the colonization movement’s antebellum revival. That all changed when Phillip Magness, a peer unconvinced by the then-dominant account of the supposedly ephemeral nature of Abraham Lincoln’s involvement in colonization, contacted me to suggest checking the holdings of the British National Archives on Belize. That research became our Colonization after Emancipation (University of Missouri Press, 2011)—and its implication, that I should investigate locations and organizations other than Liberia and the ACS, sounded a clarion call for many years’ more work.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Black Resettlement?

SP: From the Revolution through the Civil War, white Americans deluded themselves that they need not integrate black compatriots bound to migrate to some distant land. Such separatist thinking encompassed more than the program they called “colonization,” and more destinations than the best-known Liberia, Haiti, and Canada.

JF: Why do we need to read Black Resettlement?

SP: To redress the complacency of half a century of scholarship that, in its admirable (but misguided) attempt to co-opt the memory of the Civil War to a vindication of the modern civil rights movement, has downplayed the equal pedigree of the expulsive impetus. In recent years, the latter has re-emerged as “self-deportation” (the idea that the state can press certain immigrant groups to leave, short of full-blown coercion), and as the chants of “send her back” that President Trump’s supporters directed at four congresswomen of color, three of whom were born in the United States.

You should also read Black Resettlement to appreciate how you cannot separate the history of the United States from that of the world in which it found itself—even at the state level, and even for the nineteenth century, the last redoubt of the “nationalist” paradigm. But above all, read Black Resettlement to help me put a stake through the heart of the most damaging myth to stalk our discipline: that “all the original research has been done,” and that producing new scholarship is a mere matter of offering a fresh angle on previously known facts.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

SP: In that I am a Briton with no familial connection to America, and who had never even visited the United States until I was twenty-five, that is an excellent question. When I was fourteen, a teacher who did have American kin introduced us to the Civil War, which fascinated me—though looked likely to remain a point of purely personal interest, since I had no further opportunity to study American history until my second year at university. Even then, I drew a bad place in the ballot for Oxford’s course on the American Revolution, and was set to specialize in nineteenth-century Europe instead, when one of the successful applicants for the former withdrew, freeing up a space. (I then changed two of my other options, to extend my newfound focus on U.S. history through the Civil War.) Great oaks from contingent acorns grow!

JF: What is your next project?

SP: I have already done much research on an incongruous “spinoff” project: the self-exile of former Confederates after the Civil War. But I am researching it in the narrow sense of identifying and photographing archival material, then handing it over to other U.K.-based Americanists, who are free to make of it what they will. That allows me to devote most of my time to the topic I have always wanted to research: the end of capital punishment in Britain.

JF: Thanks, Sebastian!

John MacArthur’s reach extends to Canada

Some of you may be following the controversy surrounding GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Alberta. Last Sunday, Alberta health officials arrived at the church and found that its leadership was ignoring public health restrictions related to Covid-19. The church was filled beyond the 15% capacity required by law. The congregation was not practicing social distancing or wearing masks. Pastor James Coates spent a night in jail. Read more here.

One of the things missing from this story is GraceLife Church’s connection with Los Angeles megachurch pastor John MacArthur. Christianity Today compared GraceLife’s stand to MacArthur’s decision to open his Grace Community Church last summer despite California state regulations, but did not mention that Coates is a MacArthur disciple. He attended MacArthur’s Masters Seminary and his church is part of the MacArthur network of “trusted churches.”

GraceLife has made its case here. A taste:

Given the attention our church has received in recent days, we want to address the broader public on our reasons for gathering as a local church. What follows is not a theological defence. We have already addressed that sufficiently hereherehere and here (and it is primarily and predominantly obedience to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that has shaped our stance). Instead, what follows will shed light on our approach to what is being called a “pandemic.” The reason we put “pandemic” in quotes is because the definition of a pandemic was changed about 10 years ago. At one time, a pandemic was defined as an infectious disease that resulted in a certain percentage of excess deaths over and above normal annual averages. The definition was changed in connection with H1N1 to remove this threshold. Ten years ago, COVID-19 would not have qualified as a pandemic. In fact, not even close.

Coates’s attempt to define the meaning of the word “pandemic” sounds a lot like MacArthur in August 2020.

Some of you may recall that MacArthur suggested churches that remain closed during COVID-19 are not “true” churches. (Fellow California megachurch pastor Rick Warren took a different approach).

See some of our other posts on MacArthur here.

Episode 82: The Fastest Game in the World

Ice hockey is now a global sport. Even Brazil, Mexico, Jamaica, and Australia have national teams. The National Hockey League has teams in Miami, Tampa Bay, Dallas, Nashville, and Phoenix. Junior league hockey is played in Shreveport and Amarillo. Anyone who wants to understand hockey today must not only tell a story about skates, rinks, sticks and goals, but must also tell a story about television, marketing, suburbia, social welfare, politics, class, climate change, and youth culture. Our guest in this episode, Bruce Berglund, helps us make sense of it all. He is the author of The Fastest Game in the World: Hockey and the Globalization of Sports (University of California Press, 2020).

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A Canadian historian reflects on Trumpism

Here is a taste of Jerry Bannister‘s recent piece at Borealia:

From the moment of Trump’s election four years ago, we have talked relentlessly about how long it will last. Fear of Tumpism is, at root, the fear of being trapped in a madhouse without an exit. As I said four years ago, as Canadians we never voted for or against Trump, but we all will have to face the consequences. One of the cruelties of the past four years is that, regardless of what happened, in a way, Trump always won. Wherever one sat on the political spectrum – no matter how much one hated Trump – most of us were talking about him. For four years, he has dominated not so much the headlines of today but the horizons for tomorrow. For one to write an accurate history of the past four years, therefore, one would have to focus an awful lot on how much Trump’s presidency shaped our idea of the future. For historians, this should prompt us to consider how people in previous eras dealt with crises like the ones we’re facing. Did they escape into a nostalgic past, confront the challenges of the present, or focus more on when it would end? 

While it’s fashionable these days to quote Orwell’s dictum that who controls the past controls the future, I wonder whether we might have it backwards. Despite all the right-wing rhetoric about history (in both the U.S. and other countries facing authoritarianism), Trumpism has remarkably little to say about the past. What it’s really about, in my view, is not so much turning back the clock as stopping it. What drives people to attend MAGA rallies is the same thing that drives those who want to suppress the vote: fear of the future. I don’t think they want to return to 1955 so much as they simply oppose the changes unfolding around them. For historians, this has important implications: it suggests that we should perhaps pay less attention to right-wing rhetoric about the past, despite all the ink spilled on conservative views of monuments. I am not denying that history is important to right-wing populism but I think that it serves a secondary, largely symbolic role. What matters most, in a figurative sense, is the battle over opening or closing the possibilities of the future. Like the literal struggle today to ensure that every vote gets counted, the struggle over our ideas of the future will affect us all for years to come. The outcome of that struggle will, in the end, determine how we look at the past.  

Read the entire post here.

Canada will bring 1.2 million immigrants into the country over the next three years.

Just sayin’. 🙂

Here is Aljazeera:

Canada plans to bring in more than 1.2 million new immigrants over the next three years, the federal immigration minister said on Friday, as the country tries to fill gaps in its labour market and boost the economy, both hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the federal government aims to accept 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021, another 411,000 in 2022 and then 421,000 in 2023.

Canada needs more workers, he said, “and immigration is the way to get there”.

Read the rest here.

When Canadian Methodists erased women evangelists from their history

Check out historian Scott McLaren‘s interesting piece at Borealia, a blog about early Canadian history. McLaren, the author of Pulpit, Press, and Politics: Methodists and the Market for Books in Upper Canada, explores the ways early Methodist historians erased “the dramatic roles women played in Methodism’s early proselytizing success.”

Here is a taste of his post, “The Disappearing Daughters of Jerusalem”:

It is impossible to know, because evidence of this kind is so sparse, how often the male writers seamlessly and without vestige erased the roles women played among Methodists and other denominations in these early years. From a methodological perspective, what is particularly striking about these three narratives is that only the last – the version in which Methodist women play no role at all as active agents in the conversions – was ever published. The other two – the first from Bangs’s 1805 journal and the second from his undated autobiography – are available only to those with access to original archival documents held at the United Methodist Archives at Drew University in the United States. One can only wonder at how many other narratives like these lie dormant in the enormous bulk of handwritten narratives, journals, diaries, and letters left behind by both the men and women who lived in the years preceding Methodism’s determined rise to denominational dominance and social respectability in North America.

Read the entire piece here.

Loyalist Migration: A New Digital Resource

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Map source: Borealia blog

Check out Tim Compeau‘s post at Borealia on a new project that will visualize the movement of men and women displaced by the American Revolution.

A taste:

Loyalist Migrations is a collaboration between Huron University College’s Community History Centre, the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada (UELAC), and Liz Sutherland at the Map and Data Centre at Western University. This will be a multi-year project that draws upon archival sources and family histories to visualize the movement of thousands of migrants, exiles, and refugees, from all walks of life, who were displaced by the American Revolution. By plotting these individual journeys using ArcGIS, we hope to demonstrate the scope and diversity of the migrations for public audiences and, in the years to come, provide new research and analysis based on this collection of data.[1]

Thanks to generous funding from the UELAC, undergraduate students at Huron have begun exploring the journeys found in the Loyalist Directory, a resource of over 9000 entries describing families and individuals who resettled in Canada. The family stories contained in these entries would have remained scattered in land registries, church records, and family bibles had they not been gathered and shared by UELAC members. The Loyalist Directory is a testament to the abilities of family historians and loyalist descendants to preserve their history. We encourage genealogists, historians, and researchers to contribute to the project by submitting a loyalist, refugee, or migrant using this online form.

Each line on the map represents an individual or a family, and a mouse click will reveal a small snippet of lives turned upside-down by the conflict. Take for example the entry for Philip George Bender and his family. Born in Germany in 1743, Bender emigrated to the Thirteen Colonies before the Revolution. He fled his Philadelphia home in 1776 and joined Butler’s Rangers, a loyalist unit fighting on the frontier. He later resettled in the Niagara region of Upper Canada with his wife, Mary, and at least three children.[2] The single line on the map represents the movement of a whole family of five and it demonstrates both the potential and the limitations of the map.

Read the entire post here.

The Author’s Corner with Thomas Richards

Breakaway AmericasThomas Richards Jr. teaches history at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. This interview is based on his new book, Breakaway Americas: The Unmanifest Future of the Jacksonian United States (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Breakaway Americas?

TR: This book began with two seemingly disparate nineteenth-century histories: Texas and Canada. As a first-year graduate student, I was particularly intrigued by two works on Texas: Andrés Reséndez’s Changing National Identities at the Frontier and the late Andrew Cayton’s essay “Continental Politics: Liberalism, Nationalism, and the Appeal of Texas in the 1820s,” found in the edited volume Beyond the Founders. Both authors argued that the Anglo-Texans who migrated to late Mexican Texas and the Republic of Texas were not US expansionists or filibusters. Rather, they were genuinely attracted to various aspects of life in Texas, much of which they believed improved upon that of the United States.

At the same time, I started researching the 1838 “Patriot War” on the US-Canadian border, in which Americans invaded Canada in an effort to restart the failed Canadian Rebellions. As with Texas, this struggle has often been portrayed as American filibusters seeking to expand US territory. Yet, American Patriots rarely mentioned the United States, and, if they did, it was with disdain – just like many early Anglo-Texans. After all, the United States in the late 1830s was mired in economic depression, social unrest, and political dysfunction. To my surprise (and delight as a historian), American Patriots even routinely references the Republic of Texas to explain their goals, as they hoped to create a “northern Texas” that offered them land and prosperity, in contrast to a US seemingly on the decline.

After seeing such similar rhetoric in such disparate places, I widened my gaze: what did Americans in Oregon Territory think about the United States? Or those in Mexican California? What did the Mormons think as they moved to the Salt Lake Valley (then part of Mexico)? Or even “removed” Natives in US Indian Territory? If both Anglo-Texans and American Patriots forecasted a permanent US decline and better alternatives beyond US borders, what did these other groups think? Sure enough, they held similar notions of the future – although the ideals each group sought to realize were markedly different.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Breakaway Americas?

TR: Until the mid-1840s, a majority of Americans did not believe US expansion would occur in the near future, and therefore those who migrated beyond US borders sought to create their own “breakaway Americas” that improved upon the United States. Yet, while their prediction was quite logical, it turned out to be utterly wrong, as a series of unforeseen and unlikely contingencies drastically changed the trajectory of US politics, making what once appeared unlikely to become “manifest destiny.”

JF: Why do we need to read Breakaway Americas?

TR: For three reasons. First, from a historiographic standpoint, this book proves that explaining US expansion through the ideology of “manifest destiny” needs to be permanently abandoned. While historians have long demonstrated that this ideology masked the violence and racism of US conquest, most continue to assume that a majority of Americans – both within the United States and beyond its borders – predicted and supported US expansion. This was simply not the case.

Second, from an informational standpoint, this book brings together a wide range of people and groups rarely examined together (and sometimes hardly examined at all): Mormons, Removed Natives, Anglo-Californians, Anglo-Texans, Americans in Oregon Territory, and even the American Patriots who invaded Canada. All of these groups are fascinating, both for their shared prediction that US borders would forever stop at the Rocky Mountains, and for how much they differed among one another, all while embracing various aspects of American culture and society.

Third, from a presentist standpoint, this book places a great deal of weight on the concept of historical contingency, by which I mean that the past is just as much shaped by unlikely and unpredictable in-the-moment events as it is by larger structural forces. For those who lament our current political dysfunction and seemingly unbreakable cycle of hostile partisanship, the concept of contingency offers hope for the future. To be sure, it can also offer despair – no one knows how the next unpredictable event will play out (indeed, my book laments the violence of US expansion that resulted from the contingencies of the late 1830s and 1840s). Yet, at the very least, just as nothing was destined in the past, nothing about our present moment is “baked in.” Change can happen in unforeseeable ways.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

TR: Ironically, my personal story directly contradicts the argument of my book: there is almost nothing contingent about my journey to becoming an American historian. Indeed, it may have been “baked in” as early as age three, when my father took me to Gettysburg for the first time. In kindergarten, I wrote a story about Ben Franklin. I majored in history as an undergraduate at Penn, and immediately started teaching it at a Philadelphia high school the following year. No one who knew me was surprised when I returned to graduate school at Temple to get my Ph.D. in history. While I have other historical obsessions beyond simply the early American republic–Byzantium, for example–I cannot read ancient Greek, so American history was the most logical obsession to pursue.

JF: What is your next project?

TR: I am writing a trade book that will tell the story of early American politics through the lens of the various “roads not taken” – or, more accurately, roads taken that eventually led to dead ends. For example, I’m writing a chapter on the rise and fall of female suffrage in early New Jersey, and another chapter on the Kentucky court fight of the mid-1820s, in which two courts claimed legitimacy and sparred over economic relief measures for the poor. Once again, I’m placing an importance on contingency: these moments that seemed so alien and anomalous in retrospect, could have, under only slightly different circumstances, turned into the norm.

JF: Thanks, Thomas!

The Pot-Smoking Dutch Calvinists Who Stopped “worshipping the Ph.D.” and Gave Their Students “guerrilla credentials.”

InstituteChristianStudies1

Institute of Christian Studies, Toronto

I don’t pretend to know much about Dutch Calvinism in America or the differences between Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd. (There are good books on the subject, I would start with the work of James D. Bratt). But I know these differences mean a great deal to the Christian intellectuals who live in places like Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Sioux Center, Iowa. Having said that, I have been learning a lot about this unique religious culture since both of my daughters started attending Calvin University in Grand Rapids. In fact, my youngest daughter, a political science major, just finished reading Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism for a course in political philosophy. It has made for some good quarantine conversations.

I also knew that Dutch Calvinists have a presence in Canada where they established educational institutions such as the Institute for Christian Studies (Toronto), Kings University (Edmonton), and Redeemer University (Ancaster, Ontario).

It is the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS) that provides the focus of David Swartz‘s recent piece at The Anxious Bench: “The Reformed Evangelicals Who Smoked Pot in Toronto.” Here is a taste:

ICS adherents castigated what they viewed as the quaint moralisms of their home denomination. The Christian Reformed Church, they felt, was failing to address pressing social issues.

For instance, the denomination’s periodical explained in the mid-1960s that even if John F. Kennedy’s assassination left his agenda incomplete, still Christ could declare, “It is finished.” Hendrik Hart, James Olthuis, Bernard Zylstra, and other young turk Reformationalists at the ICS—typically fiery personalities in their early thirties—denounced such lines as pietistic sophistry. Instead, they envisioned new radical, socially active Reformed communities all over North America.

By the early 1970s, the ICS had evolved into an idiosyncratic fusion of Dutch ethnicity and political counterculture. Its constituency came mostly from children of the 185,000 Dutch immigrants who entered Canada between 1947 and 1970 because of a stagnant economy in the Netherlands. Tobacco and marijuana were pervasive at the Toronto school. Baggy jeans and tattered corduroy hung on gaunt frames, and beards proliferated. Communal living in several large houses in Toronto was common. Requiring no assignment deadlines, grades, transcripts, or degrees, ICS nurtured a profoundly anti-establishment ethos that stressed collegiality over hierarchy. Its administrative structure evolved into what faculty member Peter Schouls called “coordinate decentralization,” a system in which employees were accountable to boards and committees, not other individuals. An advertisement for ICS in the early 1970s read, “Are you going to grad school? Try the House of Subversion. … We are subverting the American university structure. We don’t have million dollar buildings. … We aren’t scholarly imperialists. We’ve stopped worshipping the Ph.D. We give guerrilla credentials.”

Read the entire piece here. It draws from Swartz’s book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism. Swartz shows how Grand Rapids Dutch Calvinists associated with Calvin College tried to moderate the radicalism of ICS and connect with moderates and progressives within evangelicalism.  It’s a fascinating read.

CBC Ideas: “The Pulpit, Power & Politics: Evangelicalism’s Thumbprint on America”

Trump court evangelicals

I recently joined Jemar Tisby and Molly Worthen on Canadian Broadcast Corporation’s “Ideas.”  You can listen here.

Here is a taste of the accompanying article:

John Fea has written an entire book about the apparently contradictory relationship of evangelicals and Donald Trump, basing the title on one of Trump’s oft-repeated catch phrases: Believe Me.

He sees the championing of Donald Trump by evangelicals through two lenses — as an historian, and as a committed evangelical himself.

Historically, evangelicals began courting agents of secular power in the Reagan era. The trouble he finds in this trajectory is that the evangelical church’s fixation on abortion, appointments to the Supreme Court, and supporting politicians they see as a means to a theological end, opens up the risk of losing credibility both to a generation of younger believers, and their own capacity to bear witness authentically.

The root of “evangelical,” he points out, means “good news, which in turn means a commitment to social justice and harmony. He dubs those seeking to curry favour and influence with the president “court evangelicals.”

Christian belief, he posits, doesn’t entail posing for a photo op and aligning oneself with power, but — like the prophet Nathan — telling the truth to it. 

Read the entire piece here.

What is Happening to Religious Pluralism in Quebec?

Quebec churc h

I just read Michael W. Higgins’s piece at Commonweal: “Quebec’s Moral Quagmire.”  Higgins explores Quebec’s “Bill 21,” a law that, in Higgins’s words, “bans police, civil servants, teachers, government officials, jail guards, and other state employees from wearing any form of religious garment–the Sikh turban, the Jewish kippa, the Muslim hijab, niqab, and burka, and the Christian cross–while on the job.”

Here is a taste:

Sheema Khan, a Harvard-educated scientist and inventor, writes regularly on the status of Muslim women in Canada; Khan wears a hijab, and struggles to find common ground between secular Canada and her own religious tradition. Shortly after the passing of Bill 21, while visiting Montreal, Khan writes that she witnessed a terrible auto accident. Having provided a statement to the police, she muses: “What if I am called to testify and denied the opportunity to do so because of my hijab? Will the court be deemed a space laique, where no religious symbols are allowed?” Noting that on two occasions, Quebec judges have unsuccessfully tried to bar women with hijabs, she asks: “Will judges be emboldened to try again? In the future, a turbaned Sikh police officer cannot take a witness statement; an observant Jewish lawyer won’t be allowed to prosecute a case on behalf of the province.” Decrying a Quebec that is “march[ing] to its own tune of folly,” Khan envisions “religious dress” police, and urges her fellow Canadians to “not remain silent while their fellow citizens are denied basic human rights.”

Indeed, many organizations are not remaining silent, including the major universities of the province; the Montreal English-speaking school board and teacher unions both French and English; law firms; journalists and editors of the premier media organs in Quebec; and religious bodies of every stripe, including the Assembly of Quebec Bishops. The Archbishop of Montreal, Christian Lepine, called Bill 21 an erosion of individual freedoms and a diminishment of human dignity. The Fédération des femmes du Québec warned of the damage that will be done to Muslim women through the bill’s discriminatory bias.

Most important, the federal government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a native Quebecker, stand vigorously opposed to the bill, and are resolved to appeal it to the Supreme Court as a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Their challenge will be amplified by the Legault administration’s intention to invoke the so-called “notwithstanding clause,” also known as the “override clause,” which allows federal or provincial governments temporarily to override, or bypass, certain Charter rights. The clause, a controversial amendment since its inception as part of the Canada Act of 1982, which completed the country’s constitutional independence from the U.K., was deemed necessary at the time to ensure the cooperation of all the provinces, and Quebec specifically. Invoking the clause has been rare; but when a provincial government does so, it usually gets its way.  

Legault knows that the province’s prerogative can be tested in the courts, but he also knows the bar for revocation is high, and that in a national election year the governing party in Ottawa will be reluctant to alienate the population of a province it depends on for elected Members of Parliament. The Prime Minister, however, given his very public opposition to Bill 21, will have little choice but to intervene at some point. While this is more likely to happen after the election, Trudeau might conceivably choose to make it an election battleground: Ottawa defending religious freedoms over the populist-secularists keen on scrubbing the public landscape clean of religious markers. Given the wide antipathy to Bill 21 outside Quebec, that might work, but he will need to weigh in the balance the collateral damage of pitting English Canada against la belle province.

Support for the bill within Quebec has come from various constituencies: rural residents hostile to the urban monoliths of Montreal and Quebec City; native Quebeckers uncomfortable with significant immigration in recent years from former French colonies, principally in Africa and the Caribbean; rising anxiety over the perceived threats to the linguistic and cultural identity of Quebec by the expanding Muslim population; the relentless denigration of the old values in an ever-changing Quebec; and the emergence of populist politicians further to the right of Premier Legault, like Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party, who feed the fears of a citizenry under siege. But support has also come from leftist circles, including sovereigntists keen on democratic socialism in the European mode, and some feminist organizations that see the veil as a cultural prop of an oppressive patriarchy.

Read the entire piece here.   It is interesting to see nativists, secularists, and feminists coming together in this way.  This bill illustrates how opponents of religious freedom and religious pluralism can be found on both sides of the political aisle.

Election Night with the CBC

CBC RadioIf you can pull yourself away from CNN or NPR on election night (November 6), I will be doing some commentary on the evangelical vote for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s radio coverage of the 2018 midterm elections.  More details to follow.  Stay tuned.

Christian Political Engagement in the Age of Trump

university-of-regina-campus-image

University of Regina

As some of you know, I spent the last couple of days in Regina, Saskatchewan.  The Canadian Society of Church History (CSCH)  invited me to deliver the keynote address at its annual conference.  (Thanks for everything Stuart Barnard!).  The collegial historians associated with the CSCH made me feel very welcome and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know some of them on Wednesday night at dinner.  (Thanks again for the ride to the hotel Robyn Rogers Healey!) If you get chance to join this organization or attend its annual conference, I highly recommend that you do it!  Next year’s meeting is in Vancouver.

The lecture drew a good turnout of CSCH members and other scholars who were in town for the 2018 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.  It was titled “Fear, Hope, and Nostalgia: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”  I even got to  talk about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump on CBC radio show in Saskatchewan!

Here is a small taste of my lecture:

In the late 1970s, after a period of relative quietism in the middle of the 20th century, conservative evangelicals composed a political playbook to win back the culture from the forces of secularization.  Most of the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 understand the relationship between their faith and their politics through this playbook.  The playbook, which was tweaked occasionally over the years to address whatever moral issues seemed most important at the time, never lost its focus on restoring, renewing, and reclaiming America for Christ through the pursuit of political power.  When executed properly, the playbook teaches evangelicals to elect the right President and members of Congress who will pass laws privileging evangelical Christian views of the world.  These elected officials will then appoint and confirm conservative Supreme Court Justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, defend life in the womb, and uphold religious liberty for those who believe in traditional views of marriage. 

The power that this playbook holds among American evangelicals cannot be underestimated.  Frankly, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and the rest of the leaders of the Christian Right deserve a lot more credit than they currently receive in general treatments of modern American political history.  Falwell, for example, may be the most important figure in American politics in the post-World War II era.  His playbook has been so successful that most ordinary evangelicals cannot imagine an alternative way of thinking about Christian political witness, even when other evangelicals have proposed alternative options for engagement with public life.

For example, University of Virginia sociologist and cultural critic James Davison Hunter’s has suggested that rather than trying to “change the world” through power politics, Christians might consider thinking about their cultural witness through what he calls faithful presence.  Hunter writes

I would suggest that a theology of faithful presence first calls Christians to attend to the people and places that they experience directly. It is not that believers should be disconnected from, or avoid responsibility for, people and places across the globe. Far from it…. But with that said, the call of faithful presence gives priority to what is right in front of us—the community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people in which these are constituted. For most, this will mean a preference for stability, locality, and particularity of place and its needs. It is here, through the joys, sufferings, hopes, disappointments, ­concerns, desires, and worries of the people with whom we are in long-term and close relation—family, neighbors, coworkers, and community—where we find our authenticity as a body and as believers. It is here where we learn forgiveness and humility, practice kindness, hospitality, and charity, grow in patience and wisdom, and become clothed in compassion, gentleness, and joy. This is the crucible within which Christian holiness is forged. This is the context within which shalom is enacted…. Faithful presence… would encourage ambition, but the instrumentalities of ambition are always subservient to the requirements of humility and charity.”

Or consider Duke University theologian Stanley Hauerwas and Baylor University’s Jonathan Tran on abortion:

When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marian icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political. How much money and time spent on electing the right candidates might have been used for this kind of political witness?”

Washington Post columnist and former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has called for evangelicals to draw from Catholic social teaching as a means of thinking about how the Christian understanding of human dignity might influence public policy.  The National Association of Evangelicals’s recent statement on political engagement, titled  “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility,” is deeply rooted in Catholic social teaching.

Evangelicals from the Dutch Reformed tradition, guided by the 19th-century Dutch politician Abraham Kuyper, have long advocated for a “principled or confessional pluralism” in which the various “spheres” of society—churches, families, schools, business, agencies of the arts and humanities—are free to exercise authority over their particular spheres.  As historian George Marsden writes, “The primary function of government is to promote justice and to act as a sort of referee, patrolling the boundaries among the spheres of society, protecting the sovereignty within each sphere, adjudicating conflicts, and assuring equal rights and equal protections so far as that is possible.” Marsden adds, “In this richly pluralistic view, society thrives when it promotes the health and integrity of what more recently have often been called ‘mediating institutions.’ Such institutions, likewise, should stay within their spheres of sovereignty.

John Inazu, an evangelical and Washington University-St. Louis law professor has suggested for something similar—he calls it “confident pluralism.”  Inazu writes: Confident Pluralism argues that we can and must live together peaceably in spite of deep and sometimes irresolvable differences over politics, religion, sexuality, and other important matters.  We can do so in two important ways—by insisting on constitutional commitments that honor and protect difference and by embodying tolerance, humility, and patience in our speech, our collective action (protests, strikes, and boycotts), and our relationship across difference.”  New York City megachurch pastor and evangelical author Timothy Keller has championed Inazu’s view.

It is not my intention here to advocate for any of these evangelical approaches to political engagement.  My purpose here today is to note that the Christian Right has rejected all of them, preferring instead to advance their moral, political, and cultural agenda by gaining control of the levers of power.   What is particular telling is that few of these cultural warriors seem to have thought very deeply about what they will do if they ever do gain power.  What happens when the dog catches the bus?  Will the Christian Right try to create a theocracy?  Will they imprison doctors who perform abortions?  Will they ban gay marriage?  Will they require every county seat to display a cross and a copy of the Ten Commandments?   What is their plan once America is restored, renewed, and reclaimed?

Saskatchewan Bound!

Regina

I have never been to Saskatchewan.  But if all goes as planned, I will be visiting Regina, Saskatchewan on Wednesday (May 30) to deliver the plenary address at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Church History.  The title of my talk is “Fear, Power, and Nostalgia: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

I hope to spend some time attending sessions and exploring Regina.  Is there anything I need to visit or see while I am there?

Canadian Evangelicals on Easter in an Age of Trump

Trump court evangelicals

Check out Douglas Todd‘s piece at the Vancouver SunHe asks leading Canadian evangelicals what they think about all the evangelicals in the United States who support Donald Trump.

Here is a taste:

Three Canadian evangelical theologians say the politics of most American Protestants, specifically evangelicals, varies dramatically from that of most Canadian Christians. The three offer ways it remains possible to find meaning and inspiration in Easter.

“Watching from Canada, it can be confusing to make sense of what’s going on in the U.S., for Christians and non-Christians alike,” said Rev. Ken Shigematsu, head pastor of a large evangelical congregation at Vancouver’s Tenth Church. “With the large number of evangelical Christians in America, many of them feel they can influence and even dominate the political process. Canadian Christians (in contrast) see themselves on the margins of society.”

Read the rest here.

Museums in an Age of Fake News

Gatineau_-_QC_-_Museum_of_Civilisation3

Canadian Museum of History (Wikipedia Commons)

This piece in the Toronto Star recently caught my attention.  In an age of fake news, museums are stepping up to the plate to help “separate fact from fiction and spark critical thinking.”

Here is a taste of reporter Stephanie Levitz’s article “In an era of ‘fake news’ people are turning to museums for facts.”

The value of people having tactile experiences with objects from history or science can’t be overstated, Beckel said. Where else but in a museum can one get a sense of the size of the dinosaurs?

But the value of challenging people’s understanding of those objects is equally important, said Lisa Leblanc, director of creative development for Canadian history hall at the Museum of History.

The “cacophony of channels” has put more information at people’s fingertips than ever before, but also allows for them to only engage with information that reinforces their world view, she said.

For museums to keep the public’s trust and also do their job sparking critical thinking, bursting those bubbles is important, she said.

Read the entire piece here.

“An odd ‘freedom struggle’ that sends 60,000 people fleeing to Canada for their lives.”

VIolence

Yes, Canada has their own view of our American Revolution.  Tristin Hopper of the National Post has a few issues with it.

  1. The colonists were fighting “one of the world’s most democratic nations.” (“Democratic” is a bit strong here. How about “liberty-loving” instead?)
  2.  The war, however, did involve an “autocratic tyrant: Louis XVI, King of France.
  3.  American colonists sparked the French and Indian War and then refused to pay for it.
  4. Canada tried to recognize native American land and “respect” Catholics, but these efforts were deemed “intolerable.”
  5. The American revolutionaries had a “pretty serious terrorism problem.”
  6. America’s “struggle for liberty” resulted in between 60,000 and 80,000 refugees to Canada.

See how Hopper unpacks these points here.

 

Why Did Nova Scotia Stay Loyal?

Nova ScotiaAlexandra Montgomery, a Ph.D candidate at Penn and an award-winning historian, asks this question here.

A taste:

As an American born kid growing up in Halifax, the question of why that chunk of land stayed British while the rest of the colonies to the south declared independence was something of a puzzle. I became even more confused when I learned that most of the people who lived there at the outbreak of the Revolution were New Englanders, a group of people who my trips to Boston and Connecticut to visit family had convinced me had been waiting to rebel practically since the Mayflower made landfall. As I got older and started to study the history of North America more seriously, my understandings grew much more nuanced. But I discovered that many historians puzzled over the same problem I had. It turned out that there were many theories for Nova Scotia’s loyalty: a supposed culture of neutrality, a lack of connections to the rest of the continent, a heavy British military presence, and Anglo Nova Scotia’s markedly different relationship to the imperial center have all been cited as possible explanations. Yet, in my own work I’ve become more and more interested in a slightly different question. What kinds of alternate futures did people imagine for the region? What did people—British, French, and Indigenous—think and hope was possible?

Read more.

HT: Boston 1775