The Pietist Option

Pietist Option 1

I was going to title this post, “Forget the Benedict Option, Embrace the Pietist Option!” But then I realized that by exhorting you to ignore Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” I was not acting in a manner befitting a Pietist. (Sorry, I am a work in progress!)

Yesterday I got two books in the mail: Joanna Bourke’s 2006 tome Fear: A Cultural History and Chris Gehrz’s and Mark Pattie’s The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity.  One book is (as the title suggests) about fear. The other book is about hope. I have been reading Bourke today, but have had Gehrz and Pattie nearby so I have something to turn to if I get overly depressed.

I read The Pietist Option in manuscript and was encouraged by it.  When InterVarsity Press asked me to endorse it, I immediately said yes!  Here is what appears on the back cover:

Pietist Option 2

Not all the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home will be interested in this new book.  I know many of you are not religious or people of faith.  If you fall into this category, I want to encourage you to read The Pietist Option anyway.  Gehrz (a Yale-trained historian) and Pattie (a Christian pastor) offer a way of thinking about Christianity that you might find appealing. Other readers of this blog come from Christian traditions that do not give primary attention to Pietism.  Fair enough.  But I still think you should read the book.  All Christian traditions could use a dose of something akin to Pietism.

I was reading some of The Pietist Option to my sixteen-year-old daughter last night.  (I managed to get her attention between Snapchats, texts, and AP U.S. history homework). Here are a few of the snippets I read to her:

“If we’re seeking after renewal, it’s got to start with you and me confessing how we’ve failed to love God and to love our neighbors.”

“The Pietist option calls Christians back to the motivations and actions of the Servant who stooped to wash his disciples feet.”

“Our world needs a new narrative to unite us in spirit and mission, to provide us a hopeful pathway to pursue together.”

She did not tell me to stop, so I guess that is a good sign. 🙂

 

Another Conservative Critique of the Nashville Statement

Gaylord

I don’t know much about Matthew Lee Anderson apart from a few things I read every now and then in which he is defending traditional marriage.  I was thus was surprised to learn that he refused to sign the Nashville Statement on human sexuality.

Yesterday he published a critical piece on the Nashville Statement titled “Evangelical’s ‘Flight 93’ Moment: Reflections on the Nashville Statement.”  The piece is useful because it has a lot of links to articles and posts written by defenders and critics of the Statement.  It is good to have these links all in one place.

I was disappointed, however, that Anderson ignored Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz‘s critique of the Nashville Statement at The Pietist Schoolman.  It is the best evangelical critique of the Statement that I have read.

Anderson and Gerhz seem to be in agreement that the Nashville Statement reflects what we (and now many others) have been calling “The Age of Trump.”

Here is a taste:

The Nashville Statement is the Flight 93 statement. It is striking how similar its defenses have been to arguments that evangelicals should vote for Trump. The sense of crisis the preamble announces is so pervasive that it justifies not just any statement, but this one. Anything else makes the perfect the enemy of the good. One signer told me Article 10 alone should impel me to sign, because the urgency of the hour demands it. ‘Choose ye this day’, the statement announces, and voting third party is clearly a waste. The impulse to close ranks and reassert evangelicalism’s identity publicly and the eagerness to indulge in the rhetorical excess of the statement’s importance have the same roots in the despair that governs our politics. Those Nashville pastorswere right to detect an elusive commonality between evangelical support for Trump and the dynamics surrounding this statement, even if the vast majority of its signers were strong and faithful critics of Trump’s campaign.

Only time will tell, but I fear the Nashville Statement will be no more a win for conservative evangelicals than the election of Donald Trump. While it has exposed the silliness of progressive foes, it has also galvanized them and dangerously inflated our confidence in our own rightness and strength. The statement draws some of the right boundaries, but in the wrong way. And at least one boundary ought not to be drawn, or needs to be clarified. It comes to many right conclusions, but reflects principles and ideas that have born bad fruit within evangelicalism.

Read the entire piece here.

More from the Pietist Schoolman on the Nashville Statement

Gaylord

Last week I called the Nashville Statement a “disaster.”  Even if one affirms the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, this statement seems unusually divisive.  (I thought Al Mohler’s defense of the Nashville Statement in this weekend’s Washington Post took a less strident tone).  Over at Facebook I compared the Nashville Statement to other attempts by conservative evangelicals to define who is an evangelical and who is not.  I am thinking here of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Evangelical Affirmations meeting of 1989.  I was an observer at the latter meeting while I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and I saw fierce debates over whether or not an affirmation of biblical inerrancy was a marker of evangelical identity.  I also watched an attempt to keep John Stott from the evangelical fold because he believed in annihilationism.  Many of the signers of the Nashville Statement were also in the Arnold T. Olson Chapel in Deerfield, Illinois on that Spring day in 1989.

Last week at the Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gerhz described the Nashville Statement as “theology for the age of Trump.”  I affirmed his decision to describe the statement in this way.  Many people who signed the statement or who were sympathetic to the signers, took offense to this.  They argued that a significant number of signers did not vote for Trump in 2016.  Fair enough.  But as Gerhz’s recent post suggests, such a response misses his point.  Here is a taste of that post:

It’s clear that the title of the post (“The Nashville Statement: Theology for the Age of Trump”) has been a stumbling block for some. Lamentably but understandably, they don’t necessarily want to read two thousand words’ worth of my musings. Incorrectly but understandably, they read the title and nothing else, assuming that I’ll simply dismiss the signers as Trump apologists, or John Fea’s “court evangelicals.”

I did try to head this off in the post. While noting that one prominent signer is Trump supporter James Dobson, I added that the list also includes Trump critics like Moore and Piper. (In retrospect, I should have added Burk to that list.). But if I wanted to bring more light than heat to the discussion, I should have stated that point even more forcefully before trying to place the Nashville Statement in the context of an “Age of Trump.”

So let me try to sum it up this way:

The Nashville Statement is meant to stand up against “the spirit of our age” on matters of sexuality and gender. But the way it is written actually evokes the angry, merciless, divisive discourse of our age — whose problems don’t start or stop with Donald Trump, but certainly are exemplified by him.

Bart thinks that some of us critics of the statement raised “mincing and squeamish complaints” about it. Recognizing that I am naturally averse to confrontation and conflict and perhaps too quick to cry “Peace, peace,” I nonetheless stand by my conviction that Christians should always write as winsomely and irenically as possible. Even when it’s absolutely essential to draw a doctrinal “line in the sand,” it should be with the intention of persuading people to join us on our side of that boundary, not of keeping them separated.

So no, the signers are not all Trump backers. (I don’t think most have made their politics clear, either way.) But in their attempt to present an evangelical witness in the year of our Lord 2017, I think it would have behooved the authors of the Nashville Statement — like any of us writing for a public that is inevitably bigger than the intended audience — to have gone out of their way to communicate in as un-Trump-like a manner as possible.

Read the entire post here.

The Nashville Statement is a Disaster

 

Gaylord

It is a disaster for all the reasons Chris Gehrz makes clear in his post today at The Pietist Schoolman.  (I should add the title of this post is mine). The so-called “Nashville Statement” is indeed “theology for the Age of Trump.”

I don’t really have much to add to Gerhz’s post.  I encourage you to read it.

Here is a taste:

So for those of you in that middle… Even if you admire at least some of its signers and affirm at least part of what it says on sexuality and gender identity, here’s why I think you should be bothered by the Nashville Statement:

While it claims to hold out a steadfast Christian witness against “[t]he secular spirit of our age,” it mostly succeeds in exemplifying theology for the Age of Trump.

I don’t just mean that releasing such a statement in the middle of an unprecedented national disaster — and in place of a much more urgently needed evangelical statement on white supremacy — exhibits what journalist Jonathan Merritt called “Trump-level tone-deafness.”

Nor that the authors have chosen to condemn “transgenderism” just days after Pres. Trump began to implement a ban on transgender persons serving in the military, only feeding the perception that whatever daylight separates Trumpism and evangelicalism is vanishing. (After all, that ban was reportedly discussed with Trump’s much-maligned evangelical advisers before he first tweeted his intentions last month.)

The Nashville Statement strikes me as theology for the Age of Trump because it’s being thrust into social media for little purpose other than to energize allies and troll enemies — distracting our attention from more pressing problems in order to demonize minorities whose existence causes anxiety among the many in the majority.

It’s not truth written in love of people who share innate human desires for love, self-worth, and identity, bearers of God’s image who know their own shortcomings far more acutely than what others presume to judge in them from afar.

It’s red meat tossed to the hungry members of a passionate, but small base. (Indeed, passionate because it’s small – and shrinking.) Part 2 of CBMW head Denny Burk’s follow-up blog post makes it sound like the Nashville Statement could conceivably stand in line with the historic creeds of the church universal. But this document is as un-catholic as you can get, speaking for a mostly-male, mostly-white slice of mostly-Reformed evangelical Protestantism in one country. Even then one of the co-founders of The Gospel Coalition didn’t even sign it. As far as I can tell, the only evangelical college presidents to endorse it represent schools that have quit the CCCU or never belonged to it. For no good reason, the document includes an article (#7) that excludes celibate gay Christians who might otherwise have been supportive. And there seems to be no representation of the African, Asian, and Latin American churches where theologically conservative Protestantism is actually growing fastest — nor of the Roman Catholic church, which only represents the majority of all Christians on the planet.

Read the entire post here.

One more thought:  I defend the right of the framers and signers of the Nashville Statement to release this statement and to hold the views on human sexuality they express.  And as much as I agree with everything Chris Gehrz wrote in his post, I hope that we might be able to work toward what John Inazu calls a “confident pluralism” on these matters.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the Nashville Statement gets us any closer to this kind of pluralism.

What Does the Republican Dislike for Higher Education Mean for Christian Colleges?

Bethel_thumbnail

On Tuesday, we posted about the recent Pew Research Center survey that suggests most Republicans have a negative view of higher education.  Over at the Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz has some “quick thoughts” on this survey and what it might mean for Christian colleges.  He writes:

I’m struck by this result from the Pew survey: Republicans are twice as likely to take a positive view of churches and religious organizations as of colleges and universities. For many on the left, I’m sure this will just bolster the assumption that Christians are anti-intellectuals. But it also suggests an interesting situation for those of us who work for Christian colleges and universities.

Here again, the data yields more questions than answers. Do Republicans have a higher view of private religious colleges than other institutions of higher learning? Or do they increasingly view institutions like my employer with the same skepticism they afford secular colleges and universities?

But as a perennially hopeful kind of guy, I still think that Christian higher ed can serve as a bridge stretching across the growing chasm between church and academy. If only among our students, alumni, and other constituents who are Republican or lean that direction, can Christian college faculty and staff persuade them of the value of the liberal arts, scientific inquiry, and the life of the mind?

Maybe not. There are days I’m not sure enough higher ed professionals share those values. And as I’ll explain next week, I’m struggling with how to be persuasive at all in a time such as ours.

Read the entire post here.  And, needless to say, I am looking forward to Chris’s aforementioned “I’m struggling to persuasive” post.

Historians “get in the way of death”

Resurrection

And in the process we “practice resurrection.”

Yesterday was a long day of meetings about unhappy things.  I needed a reminder of why I do what I do and why I do what I do where I do it.

Chris Gehrz’s powerful reflection on the work of historians was just what I needed. Thank you.

Here is a taste:

…history can serve as both an academic and spiritual discipline, a way of getting in the way of death and practicing resurrection.

First, history gets in the way of death.

Not that history stops people from dying — neither its subjects nor its practitioners — but it resists the power of death. For if Paul is right that death is the “last enemy to be destroyed,” then death is more than an event: it is an active force, one among the rulers, authorities, and powers that oppose God. Death doesn’t merely snuff out the spark of life; it seeks to strip humanity of the dignity inherent to being made of the image of God. Resurrection may bring change “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” but in the meantime, death lingers: slowly, methodically seeking to erase the meaning of mortal existence from our memory.

So if we practice the discipline of history, we act as a counter-force to death. We are not standing passively by the grave, but actively protecting against the decay of forgetting. For not only do we help preserve the evidence the dead leave behind, but we make meaning of lives that death seeks to render meaningless…

I don’t mean to claim too much with that phrase: we are not emptying tombs. Nor do we do the practical good that Claiborne and other neo-monastics have done when they “practice resurrection” by working to revive urban neighborhoods left for dead.

But I also don’t want to claim too little. It is no small thing to breathe life into what remains of the past by teaching, speaking, and writing about it. History is harder than most will ever know; it must be fueled by passion and compassion. Indeed, such “resurrection” is one of the most common ways that Christian historians fulfill Christ’s command to love our (temporal) neighbors: dedicating our time, energy, and gifts to bringing them — however briefly and figuratively — back to life, in all their messy complexity. We read historical texts, argues Fea, “for the purpose of learning how to love people who are not like us, perhaps even people who, if we were living at the same time, may have been our enemies” (Why Study History?, p. 131).

In the process, perhaps we might even bring some life back to our students and ourselves. Long before our physical demise, we suffer the creeping spiritual death of sin. Perhaps history can serve as a means of grace, reviving in us the ability to love God with our minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Read the entire post at The Pietist Schoolman.

“This is Your Chance”: The Pietist Schoolman on the Christian Liberal Arts

 

Crown

Crown College

Chris Gehrz, aka the Pietist Schoolman, recently gave the keynote address for the annual Honors Symposium at Crown College, a Christian college in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota.  He has graciously posted an abridged version of his address, “The Three Journeys of the Christian Liberal Arts,” at The Anxious Bench.

Here is a taste:

Unfortunately, as the Presbyterian pastor and novelist Frederick Buechner said once, while preaching on Isaiah 6, “our lives are full of all sorts of voices calling us in all sorts of directions. Some of them are voices from inside and some of them are voices from outside. The more alive and alert we are, the more clamorous our lives are. Which do we listen to? What kind of voice do we listen for?”

You are being sent out into a noisy world, “where there are so many voices and they all in their ways sound so promising.” None is louder than “the great blaring, boring, banal voice of our mass culture, which threatens to deafen us all by blasting forth that the only thing that really matters about your work is how much it will get you in the way of salary and status…”

But this is your chance. Before you’re encumbered by too many responsibilities and obligations, think about your education as a relatively quiet space in which you have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tune your ears to hear God’s voice — in Scripture and theology, but also in the cadences of poetry and music, in the narratives of history and theatre, in the song of birds and bubbling of test tubes, in the cries of those who suffer.

If Buechner is right, then the sound of God’s call on your life is actually like a vocal duet: the sound of two different voices singing two different notes with two different timbres — and one ultimate purpose.

First, we should go “[w]here we most need to go,” follow “the voice of our own gladness,” and do that which “leaves us with the strongest sense of sailing true north and of peace, which is much of what gladness is…”

Second, we should go “where we are most needed,” into a world with “so much drudgery, so much grief, so much emptiness and fear and pain,” and offer ourselves in service.

And if, Buechner concludes, you answer to those two voices, you will take up “the calling of all of us, the calling to be Christs.”

What does this have to do with the Christian liberal arts? Buechner advises us to “keep our lives open,” but it’s hard to do that if you track yourself into a professional path admitting little personal exploration. As it happens, the broad study of the liberal arts both helps you know yourself more deeply, so that you’re better able to discern that “true north” that is specific to you, and in disenchanting you, it helps you recognize the grief and pain that you can alleviate, the emptiness that you can fill.

Read the entire post here.  In the meantime, I am sending this off to my daughter.  She is a freshman at a Christian liberal arts college.

 

 

Christians and “America First”

america-firstLast week I did a post titled “Can a Christian Embrace ‘America First’?”  The post called attention to Fordham theologian Charles Camosy’s argument that “Trumpism” is a heresy because it places the nation over the gospel.

Today, over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gerhz of Bethel University historicizes Camosy’s claim.  In his post “The Christian History of ‘America First’,” Gehrz reminds us that the original “America First” campaign had a lot of Christian support.

Here is a small taste:

But while I continue to believe that “America First” as our president seems to mean it is inconsistent with Christian belief and witness, it’s also worth noting that the pre-World War II isolationist movement that pioneered that phrase actually had considerable support from a wide range of Christians.

There were actually two such groups. The first, more explicitly Christian America First (founded 1939) was a right-wing women’s movement affiliated with Gerald L. K. Smith, a firebrand preacher who entered politics via his association with Huey Long and published the conservative magazine, The Cross and the Flag. In a 1994 article for the journal Diplomatic History, Laura McEnaney argued that the self-styled “Christian mothers” of that America First fused religion, patriotism, and isolationism into “a defense of the nuclear family structure and the conventional gender roles that made this movement’s vision of social and sexual purity possible and sustainable.”

More famous is the America First Committee (AFC), an ideologically diverse group founded in September 1940 by law student R. Douglas Stuart. (You can learn more about AFC from Philip, who posted about it last month at The American Conservative.) A member of the anti-war Yale Christian Association, Stuart’s father and grandfather were both executives at Quaker Oats, a company that plays a key role in Tim Gloege’s history of “corporate evangelicalism.”

Read the entire piece here.

Christian Historian: “We Have Never Elected A More Dangerous Chief Executive

white-house

We all know Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz as The Pietist Schoolman.  He is one of the most insightful Christian historians blogging today.

When Chris left the United States in January to lead a history-related travel course in Europe the POTUS was Barack Obama. When he returned home yesterday Donald Trump was POTUS.

Here are some of his thoughts on the new resident of the White House:

In his inaugural address, Trump claimed that the solution to “American carnage” is to place “America First.” That phrase by itself is troubling to any historian of World War II, evoking as it does the misguided isolationist movement that tried to keep the world’s most powerful country from opposing the world’s most wicked leader. But I can at least understand that impulse; after all, the phrase originated with Americans who sought to keep their nation out of the futile world war that we’ve been studying this month.

But the new president went far beyond a rethinking of foreign affairs or trade policy:

“At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, ‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”

At some level, these words do resonate with me. Much of his claim of “carnage” was overwrought or simply dishonest, but there is suffering and injustice in this land. So I do want to believe that “We are one nation — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success.”

But precisely because of the divisive, corrosive nature of Trump’s campaign and what his election revealed about the even deeper fissures in American society, I have serious doubts that Americans remain “one nation,” bound together by shared pain, dreams, or success.

And if that nation can only be preserved by “total allegiance” to it, then better we follow the psalmist’s call to unity in other kinds of communities

Read the entire post here.

More on Whether or Not Christian Colleges Were Behind the Evangelical Support of Trump

Boyer Hall

My response to SUNY-Binghamton education professor Adam Laats’s piece at History News Network has garnered some interesting conversation on Twitter.  Follow me at @johnfea1 to get up to speed.

Some tweeters are defending my original posts.  Others think Laats is on to something. And still others are taking this opportunity to talk about how they had bad experiences at Christian colleges in a way that has nothing to do with the original question that Laats posed.

A few tweeters wanted something more than anecdotal evidence to support my claim that evangelical Christian colleges are not to blame for Trump.  Chris Gehrz, aka The Pietist Schoolman, heard the call and tried to crunch some numbers.  It turns out that support for the GOP candidate in precincts that include a Christian college was often weaker in 2016 than in 2012.

Read his entire report here.  If you are interested in this question it is definitely worth your time.

A few of my own takeaways:

  • At Liberty University, support for the GOP candidate was down from 2012 and support for third party candidates was up.
  • In a central Pennsylvania region that went heavily for Trump, the precinct that contains Messiah College was an island of Hillary supporters.  In fact, support for the GOP candidate in this precinct went down over 18% between 2012 and 2016 and support for the Democratic candidate went up almost 9%. (Cumberland County, where Messiah College is located, went 57% for Trump and 38% for Hillary).
  • As Gehrz recently wrote on his Facebook page, the two biggest drops in support for the GOP candidate among Christian college precincts in MN, VA, PA, and OH came in the precincts for Gehrz’s school (Bethel University) and my school (Messiah College).

None of these statistics surprise me.  Nor does Gehrz’s conclusions.

I want to close this post by reiterating something that I said in my original post.  Christian colleges are not to blame for Trump because most evangelicals do not attend or support Christian colleges, especially those Christian colleges that are members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.  As I argued in the original post (with the help of a link to a 2005  Books and Culture piece by Allen Guelzo), Christian college students and faculty make-up a very small slice of the evangelical pie in America.

Wheaton College political scientist Bryan McGaw probably put it best:

 

Is History Hot?

Anxious-Bench-squareOver at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz responds to Jason Steinhauer‘s recent piece for Inside Higher Ed about how history can contribute to public life.

Here is a taste of Gehrz’s piece:

I’m glad that more and more of us seem to take an interest in helping the public to think historically about the past. (All the more so when one alternative is a politician encouraging frightened voters to think nostalgically about the past.) This is no accident: in many corners of the guild, we’ve received encouragement to move out of our comfort zones and use new and old media to communicate with wider audiences.

Indeed, Steinhauer has elsewhere urged at least some historians to take on the role of “history communicators” and

advocate for policy decisions informed by historical research; step beyond the walls of universities and institutions and participate in public debates; author opinion pieces; engage in conversation with policymakers and the public; and work diligently to communicate history in a populist tone that has mass appeal across print, video, and audio. Most important, History Communicators will stand up for history against simplification, misinformation, or attack and explain basic historical concepts that we in the profession take for granted.

Indeed, blogs like The Anxious Bench have sprung up in large part because more and more historians want to “communicate history in a populist tone that has mass appeal….” As many of us continue to wrestle with Alan Jacobs’ widely-discussed Harper’s essay, “The Watchmen,” I’d point to AB colleagues like Philip Jenkins, Tommy Kidd, and John Fea as sustaining a (vanishing?) tradition of “serious Christian intellectuals who occupied a prominent place on the national stage.”

At the same time, I also think it’s important that historians and other Christian intellectuals continue to take up what Tracy McKenzie has called our “vocation to the church.” In my Trump post, I quoted John Hope Franklin’s famous claim that historians can serve as “the conscience of his nation, if honesty and consistency are factors that nurture the conscience.” By the same token, I think Christian historians might sometimes serve as the “conscience of the church,” helping fellow believers to confess and learn from those moments when we fall short of our calling as the Body of Christ. For example, Justin Taylor has been doing a nice job of this at the new Gospel Coalition history blog he shares with Kidd, writing multiple posts on racism and segregation in the history of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

A lot of good stuff here.  Read the entire piece.

And Gerhz is right when he says that some of us “continue to wrestle” with Alan Jacobs’s Harper‘s essay “The Watchmen.”  I hope to get some posts up on the Jacobs piece soon.  Stay tuned.

Why the “Pietist Schoolman” Signed the “Historians Against Trump” Letter

Make AmericaChris Gerhz, aka “The Pietist Schoolman,” a history professor at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, was another signer of the “Historians Against Trump” letter.

Here is a taste of recent post:

I’m not naive enough to believe – as Fish reads out of the letter — “that historians, because of their training, are uniquely objective observers.” As the authors acknowledge early on, we historians (like anyone else) cannot fully escape “our own limitations and subjectivity.” But we do seek after truth as objectively as possible — not uniquely (most academic disciplines would affirm this objective), but distinctively (in accordance with the particularities of our discipline — e.g., grounding any historical truth-claim in a reasonable interpretation of available historical evidence. It’s why I’m more bothered than other Trump opponents by Hillary Clinton’s use of private email while serving as secretary of state, which was not only careless but made more difficult the work of those of us who benefit from the transparency of well-kept public records.)

I’m also not naive enough to believe that we should expect political candidates to be unfailingly honest. According to the nonpartisan, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checkers at Politifact, the other major party’s presumptive nominee has made “True” or “Mostly True” statements only 51% of the time. That’s a higher percentage than the equivalent numbers for the current presidentvice president, and all four majorcongressional leaders.

It’s also nearly five times as high as the same number for Donald Trump.

Not just historians, but anyone else whose profession places any value on truth-telling, should be bothered by a supposedly candid non-politician’s casual disregard for reality. But it’s especially worrisome for historians because the central theme of Trump’s campaign is an ahistorical claim about the past: that America was once great and can easily be made so again. Harshly, but not unfairly, the open letter’s authors describe Trump’s campaign as one of violence — against “individuals and groups” (more on that in a moment), but also “against memory and accountability; against historical analysis and fact.”

Read the entire piece here.

Big Changes in the Christian Historians’ Blogosphere

AnxiousBench_P30_bh

The Supreme Court of the United States is not the only “bench” that is experiencing a change of personnel.

As John Turner of George Mason University reports, Thomas Kidd, the prolific historian of American Christianity at Baylor University, will be leaving The Anxious Bench to help start a new blog (with Justin Taylor) at The Gospel Coalition. (More on that below).

Turner writes:

This week, one of our other original contributors has taken up a new post at The Gospel Coalition. I have known Thomas Kidd for nearly two decades, since we were in graduate school together at Notre Dame. It was through his initiative that The Anxious Bench came into being, and he has enriched us with a steady stream of thoughtful and powerful posts over the past four years. He has also served as our blogmeister.

I greatly admire the way that Tommy writes with purpose, clarity, and faith. What my friend has modeled through his publications has greatly inspired and shaped my own work. We will miss you at The Anxious Bench, but we offer our best wishes on your new assignment, Tommy!

Kidd will be replaced at the Anxious Bench by one of our favorite bloggers: Chris Gehrz, the chair of the history department at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Gehrz will take over Kidd’s regular Tuesday slot and will serve as blogmeister.  Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know Gehrz from his own blog–The Pietist Schoolman.

Gehrz recently announced his new gig in a post at The Pietist Schoolman.  Here is a taste:

Even after the imbalanced swap of Kidd for Gehrz, this particular bench remains a deep one, with some truly impressive “historians of broadly evangelical faith [sharing] their reflections on contemporary faith, politics and culture in the light of American and global religious history.” I doubt that Philip Jenkins needs much introduction, and John Turner (for the leading role he’s played, as a historian from outside the LDS fold, in the “Mormon moment“) and David Swartz (for his groundbreaking work on politically progressive evangelicalism) may be familiar to long-time readers of this blog. Beth Allison Barr regularly corrects my mistaken assumptions about medieval Christianity. And each month Agnes and Tal Howard each contribute thought-provoking posts on everything from Puritanism to snake handling.

Fans of The Pietist Schoolman will be happy to know that Gehrz will continue to maintain his regular posts at the site.

As for Kidd, he has teamed up with Justin Taylor (of Between Two Worlds fame) to start Evangelical History.  Here is a taste of Kidd’s description of the new venture:

Welcome to the Evangelical History blog of The Gospel Coalition! This blog is a partnership between Justin Taylor and Thomas Kidd (me). Many of you will know Justin from his influential Between Two Worlds blog, which will be continuing at TGC while he and I also collaborate on this initiative.

What do we mean by “evangelical history”? Justin and I both have broad interests in the history of evangelical Christianity, and the history of Christianity, so those will be a major focus here. But we’re also interested in a Christian view of all kinds of history: political, military, social, and other topics.

I don’t know if I can handle all this movement before the August 1, 2016 MLB trading deadline!

The Church Should Counter Donald Trump By Being the Church

Trump Jeffress

In this highly symbolic photo, pastor Robert Jeffress stands beside Donald Trump and smiles approvingly as the GOP presidential nominee expounds.  What’s wrong with this picture?

As some of you know, last week I was on a public radio show (Interfaith Voices) with Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 12,000 member First Baptist Church of Dallas and one of the most prominent evangelical supporters of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

At one point during the on-air conversation, the moderator, Maureen Fiedler, asked Jeffress how he reconciled his evangelical faith with Trump’s disparaging marks about women.  In a style that has now become commonplace among Trump surrogates, Jeffress dismissed the question.  He said that Trump’s disparaging marks about women were said in his role as a television personality on his reality show The Apprentice and should not be taken too seriously.  He then switched topics.

I pushed back.

First, I said that Trump’s remarks about women were not simply throw-away comments made on The Apprentice.  These remarks about Megyn Kelly, Heidi Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Elizabeth Warren, and Hillary Clinton were made on the campaign trail.

Second, I asked Jeffress how, as a Christian pastor with national influence, he could defend Trump’s comments about women. (Or most anything else he says for that matter).  His calling as a Christian minister is not to defend political candidates, it is to proclaim the truth of the Gospel and speak-out against sin.  Listen here.

In other words, his vocation is to be prophetic. But unfortunately for Jeffress he cannot do this because, like many on the Christian Right, he has allowed politics to “trump” his calling as a pastor.  From a historical point of view, Jeffress is the most recent manifestation of the evangelical church’s unholy alliance with GOP politics, an alliance that began in the late 1970s.

As a Christian, I have been thinking a lot about how the church should respond to the Trump phenomenon.  This morning I was helped on that front by Chris Gehrz, aka “The Pietist Schoolman,” the chair of the history department at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I know that Chris is wrestling with the same questions that I am.  In his post “‘Tell It Like It Is’: How the Church Should Respond to Trump,” Chris urges the church to “tell it like it is” (speak the truth to Trump’s lies), be prophetic, confess past and present sins, and proclaim the Gospel.  Amen.

Here is a taste of his post:

During our travels over the holiday weekend, we visited a church and witnessed an odd, telling moment. Looking for a negative sermon illustration at one point, the pastor spontaneously mentioned “the presidential candidate who says he doesn’t need God’s forgiveness.” As best I can recall, the pastor didn’t even say Donald Trump’s name, but he clearly thought he had crossed some kind of homiletical line. Blushing, he stopped the sermon and told his congregation that he regretted making the reference.

Again, I was a visitor, so I don’t know the particular dynamics here. The pastor didn’t explain why he regretted saying what he did. But I suspect that a fair number of pastors, priests, and other Christian leaders are uncertain just how to respond to the Trump candidacy. Many who, like me, find it hard to shake the feeling that they have a moral imperative to resist Trump nevertheless cringe at the thought of bringing “politics into the pulpit.”

Read the entire post here.

How Do Christian Colleges Serve the Church?

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In my recent piece on Donald Trump, Christian colleges, and the humanities and liberal arts I wrote:

Evangelical churches and their pastors are also to blame. How many evangelical churches have created spaces where conversations can take place about how to apply the Christian faith to culture, politics, art, nature, or our understanding of the past and its relationship to the present?

I am not saying these topics need to be addressed during Sunday morning services. This time and space needs to be reserved for Word and sacrament. But certainly some of our megachurches could make room for this kind of training.

Much of my analysis in this excerpt and elsewhere in the piece comes from my book Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker Academic, 2013). I like to think that there is a lot in this book that applies not only to the discipline of history, but to the humanities broadly.

All this week, Chris Gehrz of the Pietist Schoolman has also been wrestling with these issues.  In his latest post, he writes about the relationship between Christian colleges and churches.  Here is a taste:

Now, should we be preparing students for meaningful work that meets the needs of others? Of course. (I’d argue that history, like the other humanities, does this quite well.) Is it okay for Christian colleges to have business programs? Sure, though they should be embedded in a well-rounded arts and sciences curriculum and emphasize character formation as much as professional training. (That’s why I respect our business department.) Should our programs be responsive to economic change? Yes, so long as institutional leaders make the hard choices necessary to sustain that missional core of disciplines without which a liberal arts college ceases to be a liberal arts college.

But no Christian college ought primarily to serve the needs of a market economy. Nor to baptize capitalism (or any other ideology).

Not just the humanities or the general education curriculum, but every professional program — including those in marketing, finance, entrepreneurship, organizational leadership, etc. — ought to prepare students to identify, question, and, if necessary, challenge the values, assumptions, practices, and structures of the systems in which they will participate — even as they continue to serve their neighbors through such participation.

And he concludes:

I would like our students to come out of a Christian college ready to model what the humanities mean in the mission, ministry, and community of the church. I’m not sure that’s happening right now. Perhaps — by discussion and assignment design or by encouraging internships in churches or faith-based organizations, for example — I need to prepare them more explicitly to translate their knowledge and skills in the context of a small group, congregation, denomination, parachurch ministry, etc.

Read Chris’s entire post here.

“An Indefensible Hope”

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Drew Dyrli Hermeling and I just recorded Episode 7 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast.  It is our baseball episode and it will go public on Sunday.  Our guest is ESPN’s Paul Lukas, an expert on the history of baseball uniforms.  Stay tuned. Better yet, head over to the podcast page and download a few episodes.  Even better yet, tell your friends to download a few episodes.

As the baseball season gets underway this week, I have been trying to catch up on the work of sportswriters and commentators who usually use the first week of April to reflect on the meaning of baseball to American life.  So far that best thing I have read comes from Chris Gerhz at his blog, The Pietist Schoolman.  Here is a taste of “Opening Day: ‘An Indefensible Hope.’“:

For my Twins and most other major league teams, today is Opening Day: the time each year when I’m reminded again that I love baseball far above every other sport — and that it’s hard to explain that love to non-fans. For example, the fact that baseball could inspire a writer as acclaimed as John Updike to do some of his best work speaks volumes about the National Pastime: why I love it, and why others roll their eyes at people like me.

Consider Updike’s 1960 New Yorker essay on Ted Williams’ last game (“Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu“). Within three sentences, Updike has already described Fenway Park as “a compromise between Man’s Euclidean determinations and Nature’s beguiling irregularities.” And he’s exactly right to do so… But that’s just the first classical reference in an essay that goes on to liken Williams to Jason, Achilles, and Nestor.

And to compare him to works by both Donatello and Leonardo.

And to use “Wordsworthian” as an adjective. And to record a joke about Thomas Aquinas.

As you may have heard, baseball is “the thinking man’s game.”

But even if you find such allusions pretentious, stick with Updike’s essay. You’ll eventually come to his riveting account of the 41-year old Williams stepping into the batter’s box in the 8th inning of an otherwise meaningless game:

This was almost certainly his last time to come to the plate in Fenway Park, and instead of merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, we stood, all of us—stood and applauded. Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment. At last, the umpire signalled for Fisher to pitch; with the other players, he had been frozen in position. Only Williams had moved during the ovation, switching his hat impatiently, ignoring everything except his cherished task. Fisher wound up, and the applause sank into a hush.

As a historian, I appreciate how Updike has all those memories of the past (each hearkening back to earlier sections of the essay) converging in a single moment. That’s a big part of baseball’s appeal for me: everything that happens adds a layer to the archeology of a game that would be recognizable to Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama alike.

Read the entire post here.

The Pietist Schoolman on Centrist Evangelicalism

CentrismEarlier this week we published a post on David Gushee’s pieces on the decline of centrist evangelicalism.

So is there an impending “divorce” between conservative evangelicals and progressive evangelicals?

I always appreciate Chris Gehrz’s perspective on issues like this.  Over at The Pietist Schoolman he rejects Gushee’s “divorce” thesis and suggests, like I did, that centrist evangelicalism is not going away anytime soon.

Here is a taste:

What’s least clear to me is what Gushee, having encouraged evangelical readers to accept the inevitability of a “divorce,” wants them to do about it. Should denominations, churches, and individuals withdraw their membership in the National Association of Evangelicals? Should self-identified “progressive” evangelicals stop giving money to World Vision because it backtracked on affirming the relationships of its LGBT employees? Should “conservatives” stop supporting InterVarsity because it (kind of) endorsed Black Lives Matters? Should one group or the other stop sending its teenagers to evangelical colleges or its future pastors to evangelical seminaries?

Read the entire post here.

More on History and Hope

Last week I wrote a couple of posts in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s piece “Hope and the Historians.”  I began by posting a quote from the article.  I then published a reader feedback post with some commentary on Coates’s piece.  Here is what I wrote:

I don’t know of any historians worth their salt who begin their investigations of the past in search of something “hopeful.” I need to think about this some more, but I am not sure that “hopefulness” is a category of historical analysis.  I am not sure who Coates is referring to here. Perhaps he is referring to folks who dabble in the past to make political points in the present.  I would not call these people “historians.”

I would also say that Coates is making a theological statement here.  His remarks about human nature have an Augustinian quality to them,  Coates’s words read like a rebuke to the progressive view of human history that defines our profession.


My tentative suggestion that “hopefulness” is not a “category of historical analysis” got the attention of Chris Gehrz over at the Pietist Schoolman.  Chris writes: “John tentatively declines to describe hopefulness as a ‘category of historical analysis’ and instead concludes that ‘Coates is making a theological statement here.’  I’m not sure it’s that easy, at least for historians who adhere to a religion that holds hope to be one of its three cardinal virtues.  

Gerhz goes on to make an argument for why Christian historians should integrate the theological idea of hope into their work:

So what does this mean for the Christian historian? If, to paraphrase the same apostle, we may not interpret the past as others do who have no hope, what would that look like? Christian hope has meaning precisely because it requires us to be honest about the need of sinners for redemption and restoration. But hope both reaches back before the Fall, to God’s good intentions for Creation, and reaches out past the Cross, to the impossible reality of the Resurrection….
Even if I could convince Coates that my theological conviction does not preclude professional integrity, he might just retreat to an earlier line in his essay: “Hope may well be relevant to their personal lives, but it is largely irrelevant to their study.” In short, he’d suggest that I can do no more than keep private belief in a separate compartment, out of the way of public practice.
Since we don’t even share a belief in God, I’m not sure I could make any further progress with Coates. (Whom I really do admire, this important disagreement notwithstanding.) But for fellow Christians, let me suggest that we not abandon “hope-learning integration.”
Consider how we read the birth accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. To a significant degree, they provide evidence undergirding a Coatesian interpretation of history: the bureaucratic caprices of a distant emperor whose local client engaged in mass murder with no apparent repercussions suggest the tenacity of injustice. But in the seemingly irrelevant story of a poor young woman, her carpenter husband, and their newborn son, those sources also support a very different interpretation of the movement of history.
Of that child’s “kingdom there will be no end,” his mother was promised. But it’s not like the kingdoms of Caesar and Hitler, writes Ben Corey: “It’s an upside-down kingdom that grows in upside-down ways.” In a blog post reprinted by Mennonite World Review the same day that The Atlantic published Coates’ essay, Corey found hope in the decline of an American Christianity wedded to political power and nationalist ideology.
Time will tell if Corey is right that “we are at an interesting point in history and are standing right in the middle of a death/growth cycle,” but isn’t it possible that his principle might work in retrospect as well as prospect? If so, then Christian historians ought to be attentive to the past signs of growth for a kingdom that “operates on principles that are contrary to anything else we find in the world.” Such a truthful-hopeful interpretation will likely make much of evidence that may seem to be beneath our notice — evidence the size and significance of a mustard seed, or a bit of yeast.
I agree entirely with Gerhz’s thoughts about hope.  I believe in hope.  I like how Christopher Lasch described hope (and distinguished it from optimism) in The True and Only Heaven:
Hope does not demand a belief in progress.  It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity.  Hope implies a deep-seated trusted in life that appears absurd to those who lack it. 
If Eric Miller is correct in his magisterial Hope in a Scattering Time, Lasch was not a Christian.  He did not view hope as a theological concept.  I do.  I cannot understand hope apart from a Christian understanding of redemption.  The kingdom of God is both now and not yet.  As a Christian I am called to work toward building that kingdom by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my Creator.  My faith also teaches me that because of the brokenness of this world, even the best attempts at reform or change or moral progress will have limited results.
So let me revisit a question raised by Gehrz:  What does hope mean for the Christian historian?  I think it means a lot for a historian interested in historiography, the philosophy of history, or what theologians offer refer to as eschatology.  But I am not sure how useful it is for the practice of doing history, of resurrecting the past (so to speak), of understanding human activity as it exists over time. 

I think historians should interpret, describe, write about, etc. people in the past who had hope. For example, I don’t see how one understands the history of slavery without understanding the meaning of hope.   Historians should not shy away from hope as a concept that has motivated millions and millions of people in the past.  They should take it seriously in their work.
I also don’t want to be understood here as saying that there are no resources in the Christian faith to help the historian in her work.  As I argued in Why Study History?, the theological concept of “sin” is a very useful (and to some degree verifiable) idea to help explain human behavior.  So is the Imago Dei, the idea that all human beings have worth and value and should thus find a place in the stories we tell about the past.  These theological beliefs seem more useful because they explain, from a Christian point of view at least, the identity of the human beings we study.  Hope, on the other hand, is something we strive for, we pray for, we seek.   

In the correspondence and comments I have received about my original posts several folks have suggested that as Christians they cannot embrace Coates’s hopelessness. I agree with them.  But like the doctrine of “providence,” I am not sure how a belief in “hope” gets us any closer to understanding the past.

Others have brought up the teaching of history as a hopeful act.  Again, I agree that teaching students to hope (and work) for meaningful change in this world is a very good thing.  I also think that students can be inspired by hopeful people who they encounter in the past.  But I don’t see how a historian’s belief in hope–Christian or otherwise–helps us make sense of the past.

I know my thoughts here are very scattered and rough (please remember that this is a blog). I am willing to be persuaded.  In fact, there is a part of me that wants to be persuaded.  I remain hopeful that someone can convince me that hope might be a useful tool in my Christian historian’s toolbox in the same way that it is a Christian virtue I want to cultivate in my life.

Oklahoma Wesleyan University President "Confuses Defiance for Courage"

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I know that some of you have been following this story.  Everett Piper, the President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, recently reported that a student at his university approached him after a chapel service troubled because the sermon he had just heard made him feel “victimized.”  The sermon was based on 1 Corinthians 13, the so-called “love chapter.”  The student complained that the sermon made him “feel bad for not showing love” and the preacher made him feel “uncomfortable.” Piper writes:

I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”

I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.

Piper’s public letter has received a lot of attention in the last several days.  Rod Dreher of The American Conservative said that Piper’s letter showed the OKWU president to be a “man among boys.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education and The New York Times have covered the story.

But the best thing I have read on this whole affair is Chris Gehrz’s blog post “This Is Not Leadership.”  Gehrz is sympathetic to some of Piper’s comments.  But as a good historical thinker he places these remarks in a much larger context.  I wish I could just re-post Gehrz’s thoughts. I strongly encourage you to head over to the Pietist Schoolman and read it for yourself.

(I have said it before and I will say it again.  Chris Gehrz is, without peer, our most thoughtful and insightful commentator on the state of Christian colleges.  I hope Bethel University appreciates him. It is only a matter of time before he will be working as a Dean or Provost somewhere in the CCCU).

Part of the larger context Gehrz notes is Piper’s decision in August 2015 to pull Oklahoma Wesleyan out of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) because the presidents of the CCCU institutions chose to take some time to deliberate about what they should do with Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen Colleges–two members of the CCCU that chose to allow faculty in same-sex marriages to teach at their schools. Eventually Eastern Mennonite and Goshen decided to leave the CCCU over this issue, but Oklahoma Wesleyan (and Union University in Jackson, Tennessee) criticized the CCCU leadership for not immediately kicking these schools out of the CCCU because of their positions on gay faculty.  (You can find some of our posts on the subject here. I even commented over at Inside Higher Ed).

Like Gerhz, I am having a hard time reconciling Piper’s approach to the CCCU-gay marriage issue with this statement from his public letter: “At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered.  We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict….”

As Gerhz notes, a leader must always be ready to communicate the following:  1).  The world is complicated.  2). There is no easy solution.  3).  We need to make decisions consistent with our values.  Gehrz shows how Piper has failed to exercise this kind of leadership (at least on the first two issues) in several incidents over the past year.  Gehrz concludes: “We need…university presidents…who will take the time to listen to multiple narratives, to empathize with diverse members of divided communities, and to hold ideas in tension.  We need leaders who can do all this and yet still make prudent decisions that extend long-held values forward into a fast-changing future.”

Shortly after I read Gehrz post, I read Tamara Venit Shelton‘s piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Shelton teaches American history at Claremont McKenna College.

Here is a taste:

Early in the morning, on a Wednesday in November, an alliance of student groups at Claremont McKenna College sent faculty a “Call to Action.” A pair of events — an incendiary email from the dean of students and a racially charged Halloween costume chronicled on Facebook — had inflamed the long-standing, unanswered grievances of students from traditionally under-represented populations.

Their protest echoed similar movements at places like Yale University and the University of Missouri. At Claremont McKenna, the students rallied for greater administrative support, a more diverse curriculum and faculty, and a resource center. They asked for their feelings of marginalization and their experiences of exclusion to be recognized. They refused to remain silent any longer.

As a professor of history at the college, a feminist, and a person of color, I read the Call to Action feeling grateful for our students’ bravery and eager to lend my support. In addition to the demands, the Call to Action listed some two dozen recent microaggressions and acts of bias — someone had defaced posters supporting transgendered rights, an economics professor had used the term “welfare queens.” Then I noticed my course was on the list.

“There is a current class on the Civil War that simulated the pros and cons of slavery,” the Call to Action said. “Many students of color found this discussion to be extremely insensitive and hurtful.”

I reacted with surprise, embarrassment, and — to be candid — indignation. I have been teaching college courses on race and ethnicity for 12 years. Feminist and multicultural pedagogies inform my teaching philosophy. I have tried to equip students with tools to think about difference and inclusion.

How could someone like me wind up on a list like that?

The American Civil War was a subject that I taught regularly. But this semester, I decided to include an innovative curriculum called Reacting to the Past. In an immersive role-playing game, students assumed the identities of Kentucky state legislators during the crisis of secession in early 1861. Using highly detailed role sheets and historical documents, the students-as-legislators debated the merits of remaining in the Union or leaving to join the Confederacy. The game asked students to confront the complex motivations of Civil War-era politicians. True to the historical moment, very few were antislavery; most were slaveholders. The rules of the role-playing game prevented racist speech, but debates over slavery and secession necessarily reflected the entangled imperatives of economics, politics, religion, and — most uncomfortably — racism.

After the Call to Action, one colleague asked why I had assigned a role-playing game for a topic as serious as American slavery and secession. I hoped that it would enable my students to engage with primary sources in ways that conventional seminar-style discussion did not. Studies in education and psychology have shown that role-playing helps students practice empathy and communication. In my Civil War course, I believed that historical role-playing would encourage students to inhabit a worldview wholly unlike their own. I hoped they might emerge with a new understanding of the racist logic supporting slavery and the profound legacy that the Civil War Era had on the United States.

As I have argued many times, most recently a piece I wrote last night for the magazine of the National Council for History Education (not sure if it will be published yet, but if it isn’t published I will post it here) and in Why Study History, that empathy is required for true historical understanding to take place. Shelton knows this:

I expected that the exercise would be productively uncomfortable. Most of the students had to empathize with characters they found morally repugnant. Understandably, that is hard to do, but it is essential to the historian’s craft. To do the work of history, we must understand that real people — with all their virtues and flaws — made history. We need not sympathize with them or absolve them, but we commit to comprehending them on their own terms.

I wonder how Everett Piper would have responded in this situation?  Based on past experience I imagine he would tell Shelton’s students to buck-up and to stop being so sensitive and easily offended.

This is how Shelton responded:

Learning that my class contributed to a climate of racial insensitivity on campus has compelled me to reflect on how I teach. Have my courses overemphasized an intellectual, almost clinical engagement with the past that disregards the emotional and moral turmoil such an encounter can cause? As a historian I confront the brutality of racism in my research every day, and I treat it with the critical distance my discipline has taught me. Perhaps I have become desensitized to our painful past — like a doctor habituated to delivering a bad prognosis.

Perhaps in encouraging my students to practice empathy with people who lived in the past, I forgot to practice empathy with the very people sitting in my classroom…

I will not shrink from difficult conversations about race and power. I will probably assign a role-playing game again although I will do more to prepare students for the emotional difficulties such work can entail. Alongside critical engagement with the past, I will create space for contemplating the vital concerns of our present. I have heard the Call; this is how I will respond.

I do not know Tamara Venit Shelton.  I don’t know if she is a person of religious faith. But both she and Everett Piper recently responded to similar situations in their respective institutions.  Which response was more Christian?