“That’s why I chose you”

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Check out John Allen‘s interview with Father Juan Julian Carron, leader of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation.  Carron offers some important reflections on how Christians need to live in this world.  I hope the court evangelicals are reading.

Here is a taste:

Allen: Rod Dreher recently argued that Christians should abandon the culture wars in the West because we’ve already lost, and the most we can hope for is a ‘Benedict option,’ meaning creatively preserving small islands of the faith amid a decaying and hostile culture. You too seem to be saying that we should get past the culture wars, without abandoning those positions, but for a different reason.

Carron: Certainly, absolutely. It’s always struck me, the contraposition between trying to make Christianity into a civil religion, on the one hand, and on the other, trying to make it entirely private. To me, it’s like trying to amend the design of God. I ask myself, who would ever have bet that God would begin to reach out to the world by calling Abraham? It was the most unlikely, most confusing, way of going about it anyone could have imagined.

The choice can’t come down to either the culture wars or a Christianity emptied of content, because neither of those options has anything to do with Abraham and salvation history. Abraham was chosen by God to begin introducing into history a new way of living life, that could slowly begin to generate an external reality with the capacity to make like dignified, to make it full.

I imagine that if Abraham were around today, in our minority situation, and he went to God and said, ‘Nobody’s paying any attention to me,’ what would God have said? We know very well what he’d say: ‘That’s why I chose you, to begin posing to reality a presence significant enough, even if no one believes it, that I will make of you a people so numerous that your descendants will be like the stars in the sky.’

When he sent his son into the world, stripped of his divine power to become man, he did the same thing. It’s like St. Paul said, he came to give us the capacity to live life in a new way. That’s what generates a culture. The question for us is whether the situation we’re in today gives us the chance to recover the origins of the design of God.

Allen: You seem fairly optimistic that’s still possible.

Carron: Yes, absolutely. I’m completely optimistic, because of the nature of the faith itself. I’m an optimist based on the nature of the Christian experience. It doesn’t depend on my reading of things, my diagnosis of the sociological situation. The problem is that to be able to start over again from this absolutely original point of departure, we have to go back to the roots of the faith itself, in what Jesus said and did.

If there’s a case for pessimism, it’s that too many times we’ve reduced Christianity either to a series of values, an ethics, or simply a philosophical discourse. That’s not attractive, it doesn’t have the power to seduce anyone. People don’t feel the attractive force of Christianity. But precisely because the situation we’re living in today is so dramatic, from every point of view, paradoxically it’s easier to get across the novelty of Christianity.

Read the entire interview here.

Hofstadter: “American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”

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With Freedom Rider Rip Patton in Nashville

Over at The New Republic, Jeet Heer reminds us that “America Has Always Been Angry and Violent.”  He offers this history lesson in the wake of the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others in Alexandria, Virginia last week.

Here is a taste:

The notion that Americans are particularly angry today has become a rote talking point in the political press, repeated year after year. In 2011, after Representative Gabby Giffords was shot by a mentally ill man, NBC’s Mark Murray wrote, “If one word summed up the past two years in American politics, it was this: anger.” In 2007, George Will wrote in The Washington Post, “Americans are infatuated with anger.” In 1996, in her book The Angry American, George Washington University political scientist Susan Tolchin described an epidemic of “voter rage.”

But long before any of these writers, amid Barry Goldwater’s demogogic presidential campaign, the great historian Richard Hofstadter began his classic 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” thus: “American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers… But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”

Hofstadter was exactly right—not only about the anger in the mid-’60s, but also that it was “far from new.” We are not, as Podhoretz and Pelosi suggest, living in a especially or uniquely dangerous moment. Incendiary political speech and political violence have been pervasive in U.S. history.

“What is impressive to one who begins to learn about American violence is its extraordinary frequency, its sheer commonplaceness in our history, its persistence into very recent and contemporary times, and its rather abrupt contrast without our pretensions to singular national virtue,” Hofstadter wrote in the introduction to American Violence: A Documentary History, the 1972 collection he co-edited with Michael Wallace. It shouldn’t surprise us that a colonial settler society that wiped out the Native American population, imported slave labor, and relied on vigilante violence to police newly incorporated territories should be prone to political violence. Reading through Hofstadter and Wallace’s book, one is reminded anew that American history has consisted of slave revolts and their violent crushing, race riots, labor clashes, and assassinations.

Read the entire piece here.

I first read Heet’s piece while traveling throughout the South on a Civil Rights bus tour where we learned a great deal about Martin Luther King’s theory of non-violence from several veterans of the movement who tried to order their lives around this principle. During a conversation with Freedom Rider Rip Patton in the Nashville Public Library, one of the participants on our tour asked Patton how to introduce the principles of non-violence to the students she teaches.  This participant, obviously moved by what she had heard and seen all week, prefaced her remarks by saying that she was convinced that King’s philosophy of non-violence best represented the teachings of Jesus Christ.

I am not a pacifist, but I was also struck by the non-violent philosophy of the leaders and activists of the Civil Rights Movement. I often wrote about it in my daily posts.  As Rip Patton spoke that day he referenced several passages from the Bible.  One of those passages was Romans 12:2:  “And do not be conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  Rip said that this verse was one of several Bible passages that motivated him to join the movement as a college student.

Romans 12:2 is one of the most counter-cultural verses in the New Testament.  I got the sense that the verse had layered meanings for Rip.  First, the “world” was no doubt the world of white supremacy that he had lived through in segregated Nashville.  He would no longer allow himself to be “conformed” to this unjust world.  This required action on his part.

But I also think Rip would say that the “world” of Romans 12:2 was defined by violence and anger.  As a Christian he could not “conform” to this world.  He would pursue a course of counter-cultural transformation–a path that was good and acceptable and the perfect will of God.  This course was defined by non-violence.

Heet and Hofstadter are correct.  American history has always been characterized by violence.  But it seems that the God of the early Civil Rights movement was calling its participants to something higher.

As I wrote this post I also thought about Martha Nussbaum’s recent National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture on the limits of anger as a political and social emotion.  Here are some of my tweets from that lecture:

Nussbaum: The ancient Greek democracy had an anger problem. Just like modern democracies. #JeffLec17 #humanities

Nussbaum: Ancients raged a “cultural struggle” against anger, seeing it as destructive to democratic institutions. #jefflec17 #humanities

Nussbaum: We should resist anger in our political culture. This is not easy. Many feel anger is needed for justice. #JeffLec17 #humanities

Nussbaum: “Killing the killer does not restore the dead to life. Pain for pain is an easy idea, but it is a false lure. #JeffLec17

Nussbaum: We go wrong when we permit retributive thoughts to convince us that inflicting pain in the present corrects the past. #jefflec17

Nussbaum: Hard to get our head around complicated truths. Easier to incinerate the witch. #JeffLec17 #humanities #anger

Nussbaum: Fear feeds payback. Obliterating wrong-doers makes us feel better. Even just wars decline into payback & bloodthirst. #JeffLec17

Nussbaum: King gets busy turning retributive anger into work and and hope. #jefflec17 #humanities #mlk #anger

Nussbaum: Democracy must give up empty & destructive thought of payback. Move toward a future of regal justice & human well-being #JeffLec17

Nussbaum: Malcolm X was wrong to criticize King’s rejection of retribution. #Mlk #JeffLec17 #humanities #MLK

Nussbaum: Retributive desires are like the wild beasts in writings of Lucretiius. Anger is powerful, but always gets out of hand. #jefflec17

Nussbaum: History teaches that we always destroy ourselves when we allow ourselves to be governed by fear and anger. #JeffLec17#humanities

 

Andrew Sullivan Pulls No Punches: “The Pope and the Pagan”

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Andrew Sullivan has been one of the leading anti-Trump voices among the American punditry.  His recent piece at New York Magazine, “The Pope and the Pagan,” is scathing.

Here is a taste:

The contrast between a grim-faced pope and the grinning president at the Vatican this past week was not lost on the press or late-night TV. But they missed the mark, it seems to me. They noted merely that the two leaders profoundly disagree on, say, the dignity of immigrants, the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, or the urgency of tackling climate change. While these disagreements exist, they are, it seems to me, merely symptoms of a deeper chasm — the vast, empty, and dark space that lies between Donald Trump and anything resembling Christianity.

I don’t believe that there is a Christian politics as such — there is plenty of scope for disagreement about how to translate a Christian worldview into secular politics, or whether to translate it at all. But I do believe there is a Christian set of core human virtues and values, rooted in what we Catholics still think of as the truth, and that those virtues are rooted in the Gospels. We all fail the virtue test, of course, including yours truly, perhaps more than most. But Trump is a special case — because when you think about those virtues, it is very hard to see Donald Trump as anything but a living, breathing, shameless refutation of every single one.

Trump is not an atheist, confident yet humble in the search for a God-free morality. He is not an agnostic, genuinely doubtful as to the meaning of existence but always open to revelation should it arrive. He is not even a wayward Christian, as he sometimes claims to be, beset by doubt and failing to live up to ideals he nonetheless holds. The ideals he holds are, in fact, the antithesis of Christianity — and his life proves it. He is neither religious nor irreligious. He is pre-religious. He is a pagan. He makes much more sense as a character in Game of Thrones, a medieval world bereft of the legacy of Jesus of Nazareth, than as a president of a modern, Western country.

He loves the exercise of domination, where Christianity practices subservience. He thrills to the use of force, while Jesus preached nonviolence, even in the face of overwhelming coercion. He is tribal, where Jesus was resolutely universal. He is a serial fantasist, whereas Jesus came to reveal the Truth. He is proud, where Jesus was humble. He lives off the attention of the crowd, whereas Jesus fled the throngs that followed him. He is unimaginably wealthy, while Jesus preached the virtue of extreme poverty. He despises the weak, whom Jesus always sided with. He lies to gain an advantage, while Jesus told the truth and was executed for it. He loathes the “other,” when Jesus’ radical embrace of the outsider lay at the heart of his teaching. He campaigns on fear, which Jesus repeatedly told us to abandon. He clings to his privileged bubble, while Jesus walked the streets, with nothing to his name. His only true loyalty is to his family, while Jesus abandoned his. He believes in torture, while Jesus endured it silently. He sees women as objects of possession and abuse, while Jesus — at odds with his time and place — saw women as fully equal, indeed as the first witnesses to the Resurrection. He is in love with power, while Jesus — possessed of greater power, his followers believe, than any other human being — chose to surrender all of it. If Trump were to issue his own set of beatitudes, they would have to be something like this:

Blessed are the winners: for theirs is the kingdom of Earth.

Blessed are the healthy: for they will pay lower premiums.

Blessed are the rich: for they will inherit what’s left of the earth, tax-free.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for oil and coal: for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciless: for they are so, so strong.

Blessed are the liars: for they will get away with it.

Blessed are the war-makers: for they will be called very, very smart.

Blessed are those who support you regardless: for theirs is the Electoral College.

Blessed are you when others revile you and investigate you and utter all kinds of fake news about you. Rejoice and be glad, for the failing press is dying.

Read the entire piece here.

We are all sinners. We are all flawed.  But I am still in the camp of people who want my leaders to act with some degree of moral integrity in this broken world.  Anyone who thinks that morality is unimportant for a President is fooling themselves.  United States presidents must make moral statements and judgments all the time. It is part of the job description. Think about Trump condemning the terrorist attacks in Manchester or, God-forbid, having to comfort Americans experiencing the next major tragedy on American soil. Where does he find the resources to fulfill the moral responsibilities required of this office?

We want our presidents to do what is right for the country.  We will not always agree with our president about the nature of what is right, but we want him to articulate a moral vision that is rooted in something.  Perhaps it is religious faith.  Maybe it is moral philosophy or ethics.  Maybe it is something else.  But I am still of the belief that leaders must have a moral core that informs his or her trade deals, Supreme Court appointments, and the defenses of religious liberty.

Without character, Trump’s appeal to the court evangelicals looks like little more than political manipulation.

ADDENDUM:  As pointed out by many of you on Twitter, “moral integrity” is technically not part of the “job description” of the President of the United States.  Fair enough.  I should have chosen another word or phrase other than “job description.”  Heck, I am just glad people have read this far in the post and read carefully enough to notice this error! 🙂

How Do Christians Respond to Persecution?

Persecuted1Over the past three years a group of scholars at the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University have been studying persecuted Christians around the world.  They call their project “Under Caesar’s Sword: Christian Response to Persecution.”

I recently learned about the project’s report: “In Response to Persecution.”

Here is a summary of the major findings:

Christian communities most commonly adopt survival strategies. While these strategies are defined as the least proactive form of resistance to persecution, they often involve creativity, determination, and courage. These strategies include going underground, flight, and accommodation to or support for repressive regimes.

Strategies of association are the second most common response. In these cases, Christian communities seek to secure their religious freedom by developing ties with other actors, including other Christian communities, nonChristian religions, and secular figures. 

Strategies of confrontation are the least common response. They serve to bear witness to the faith, expose and end injustice, mobilize others to oppose injustice, and replace it with religious freedom.

Christian responses to persecution are almost always nonviolent and, with very few exceptions, do not involve acts of terrorism.

Theology—in particular, a Christian community’s theology of suffering, church, and culture—influences the response of  that community.

Protestant evangelical and Pentecostal Christians are more likely to be persecuted than mainline Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, or other Christians associated with ancient churches. In response to persecution, evangelical and Pentecostal Christians are more likely to engage in strategies of survival or, on rare occasions, confrontation. They are less likely, however, to engage in strategies of association. Mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, are more likely to respond through strategies of association.

The intensity of persecution only partly explains Christians’ responses.

While success is difficult to define, some strategies of response have produced tangible results worthy of emulation.

 

Lamenting Trump

Today someone I trust and respect told me that my writing at this blog has become more angry since the 2016 presidential election cycle.  It was unclear whether the person who said this meant it as a criticism or a compliment.  I took it as a friendly warning.

I mostly write as a historian at The Way of Improvement Leads Home , but sometimes I write as a Christian. And when I write as a Christian I do not always write as a good Christian. Maybe some day someone will write a history of the way Donald Trump’s election influenced the faith and spirituality of evangelicals who did not vote for him.

As someone who has spent a lot of time writing negative things about Donald Trump, I needed to hear Mark Galli’s recent editorial at Christianity TodayThanks.

Here is a taste:

Trump is a man whom God loves. He is a sinner for whom Christ died. Despite his evident moral failings, Trump nonetheless has been created in the image of God. He may be a political and moral enemy for many of our readers, but that is all the more reason we are called to love him and pray for him (Matt. 5:44).

To love such a man surely includes challenging the policies and moral tenor of his administration. But this prophetic work too easily slips into “rejoicing in evil” (1 Cor. 13:6). We note this especially among late-night comedians (and their viewers) who delight in mocking Trump’s every misstep to the reward of soaring television ratings. Humor is a divine gift designed, in part, to relieve unbearable tension—which today is at a breaking point politically. So these comedians play an important role in a democracy. Still, a fine line runs between righteous satire and rejoicing in the foolishness of others, and when it is crossed, it does not bode well for Christian witness or for the health of the republic.

What might better characterize our reaction is less satire and more lament. Blessed are those who mourn their sins (Matt. 5:4), and because they see themselves in solidarity with all sinners, who also mourn the sins of others.

And, more shocking still (given the current climate), instead of being quick to speak truth to power, we might also, from time to time, speak mercy to the immoral. And if there is anyone who needs mercy, it is Trump.

Some believe that Trump is a baby Christian who is making his way in the faith. While we would never presume to judge another’s heart, we are deeply troubled by what is observable about Trump’s spiritual health. Aside from his ethical breaches and questionable character, his attitude toward the sacred has been confused and cavalier. He says he “reveres” Jesus not for his death and resurrection on our behalf, but mainly for his “bravery and courage.” In Iowa, he spoke of the Lord’s Supper, saying, “I drink my little wine … and have my little cracker.” He is reputed to have said he has no need of forgiveness, but he qualified that in an interview with Cal Thomas: “I will be asking for forgiveness, but hopefully I won’t have to be asking for much forgiveness.” He fundamentally sees himself not as a sinner in need of mercy but as an “honorable man.”

Again, it is for God alone to judge the state of the heart. But the gospel of Jesus Christ casts the behavior of Trump in a transcendent light, and that light looks to us like darkness (Luke 11:35).

Not all evangelicals will agree with our assessment. But can we agree on this? To continue to attack or defend his policies depending on our assessment of the common good. And to do so as men and women who know themselves and Trump as sinners in the hands of a righteous God, who will brook no evil—and who will never fail to welcome the penitent.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Jimmy Carter’s Christianity

81e2e-carterIn case you missed it, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently interviewed Jimmy Carter about his Christian faith.  Here is a taste of the interview:

Christians celebrate Easter on Sunday. But wait — do we really think Jesus literally rose from the dead?

I asked questions like that in a Christmas Day column, interviewing the Rev. Tim Keller, a prominent evangelical pastor. In this, the second of an occasional series, I decided to quiz former President Jimmy Carter. He’s a longtime Sunday school teacher and born-again evangelical but of a more liberal bent than Keller. Here’s our email conversation, edited for clarity.

ME How literally do you take the Bible, including miracles like the Resurrection?

PRESIDENT CARTER Having a scientific background, I do not believe in a six-day creation of the world that occurred in 4004 B.C., stars falling on the earth, that kind of thing. I accept the overall message of the Bible as true, and also accept miracles described in the New Testament, including the virgin birth and the Resurrection.

With Easter approaching, let me push you on the Resurrection. If you heard a report today from the Middle East of a man brought back to life after an execution, I doubt you’d believe it even if there were eyewitnesses. So why believe ancient accounts written years after the events?

I would be skeptical of a report like you describe. My belief in the resurrection of Jesus comes from my Christian faith, and not from any need for scientific proof. I derive a great personal benefit from the totality of this belief, which comes naturally to me.

I do not judge whether someone else is a Christian. Jesus said, “Judge not, …” I try to apply the teachings of Jesus in my own life, often without success.

How can I reconcile my admiration for the message of Jesus, all about inclusion, with a church history that is often about exclusion?

As St. Paul said to the Galatians in 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” In His day, Jesus broke down walls of separation and superiority among people. Those (mostly men) who practice superiority and exclusion contradict my interpretations of the life and teachings of Jesus, which exemplified peace, love, compassion, humility, forgiveness and sacrificial love.

Read the entire interview here.

The Benedict Option and Christian “Persecution” in America

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Baptists were persecuted in colonial Virginia

Are American Christians being persecuted for their faith?  I am not sure persecution is the right word.  No one is coming into the homes of Christians with weapons threatening to kill them if they do not publicly denounce their faith.

But if this was happening, wouldn’t it be a good thing?

Didn’t Jesus say “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12).

The other day, while lecturing on seventeenth-century Quakers and the deaths they suffered as martyrs for their faith, I recalled my old friend Tim. Back in the day Tim and I used to exchange letters.  Rather than end his letters with the standard “Sincerely Yours” or “Warmly,” he would often write “May You Suffer and Die for Christ, Tim.” My Christian students got a good laugh when I told them about Tim, but I wonder how many of them took such a call to martyrdom seriously.

I should also say that claims of persecution by American Christians make them look foolish and petty in light of the real persecution Christians are suffering around the world.

But I digress.

It seems everywhere I look online these days someone is debating whether or not American Christians are experiencing persecution (or perhaps discrimination) for their beliefs. Over at Commonweal, Julia Marley suggests that the “evangelical martyr complex” was partially fueled by the 1995 D.C. Talk song “Jesus Freak.” More on this below.

But most of the discussion on this front has stemmed from Rod Dreher’s recent book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Some of you may recall that we blogged about this book a couple of weeks ago and tried to find common ground between “The Benedict Option” and what law professor John Inazu has called “Confident Pluralism.”

Recently Calvin College philosophy professor James K.A. Smith thought it was necessary to criticize Dreher’s book from the pages of the website of The Washington Post.  (I am still a bit confused as to why Smith would turn to the Washington Post to debate how Christians should live in a secular world. But in an era of social media where everyone is privy to intramural debates among Christians I guess it doesn’t really  matter).  Smith’s points about Christians living in fear are well taken.  I have made a similar argument in the context of the evangelical support of Donald Trump’s refugee policy.  But Smith’s suggestion that he was trusting in “a savior who rose from the dead” (and by implication Dreher was not) seemed a bit over-the-top.

Dreher was particularly upset by the way Smith, who Dreher claims was an early supporter of the “Benedict Option,” apparently changed his mind about the book when writing for his Washington Post audience.  Dreher responded with a post at his blog titled “The Benedict Arnold Option.” (This is not the first time Smith’s assault on a Christian writer has led to a strong push-back. The Smith-Dreher exchange reminds me a little bit of Smith’s scuffle in 2010 with Baylor philosopher Frank Beckwith).

Meanwhile, Darryl Hart offers some historical context.  Evangelicals, he argues, have felt marginalized in American culture for over a century.  This is why, for example, they founded faith-based “Christian colleges” like Calvin College to protect them from the secularizing tendencies of the outside world and to instill them with a “Christian world view.” (In the process he reminds Smith of the location from which he writes).  As Hart notes: “As I have indicated many times, what bothers me about the BenOp is that Rod seems to understand a cultural crisis now when some Christians (the mainstream calls them fundamentalists) saw it at least a century ago.” Hart is right. At the turn of the 20th century when evangelicals were ousted from the denominations, and by extension the culture, they turned inward and founded a host of institutions that we now often describe as the “evangelical subculture.” Joel Carpenter wrote about this in Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism and a couple of oft-cited articles.  Was this development something akin to a “Benedict Option?”

This leads me to best review of The Benedict Option I have read so far.  It comes from Damon Linker at The Week.  While Hart argues that the persecution complex in American evangelicalism began over a century ago, Linker takes an even longer view.  He wonders if there was ever a moment when Christianity was powerful enough to hold sway over American life:

Yet it’s worth asking whether Christianity as both Neuhaus and Dreher understand it ever exercised rule in quite the way they imagine it did. Certainly it did in Puritan New England, and in certain regions of the country during the Great Awakenings of the 1730s and early 19th century. And clearly American civil religion, partly derived from Puritanism and reinvigorated countless times by various religious and cultural influences down through the centuries, has always had a broadly Protestant and deistic character.

But was this default Christianity anything like the doctrinally, liturgically, and morally rigorous forms of worship and belief that Dreher advocates? I don’t think so. Yes, rates of church attendance were higher in the past, but those rates fluctuated quite a bit from time to time and place to place. And in many of those times and places, the forms of worship were decidedly low-church, with tent revivals, renegade preachers, and faith healers barnstorming the country, while in most white churches the message broadcast from pulpits either explicitly endorsed a racist status quo or passed over it in silence.

But Linker’s approach is more nuanced than this.  He differs slightly from those like Julia Marley who suggest that the sense of persecution felt by evangelicals is built on a false understanding of Christian persecution in the Roman Empire and the belief that the United States is a Christian nation.  Linker argues that there have been significant changes in the culture–particularly in the area of sexual morality– that might justify evangelical concern.  He writes:

Intercourse outside of marriage, masturbation, the use of contraception, homosexuality (including same-sex marriage), transgenderism — none of it will register as raising significant moral or theological issues and problems. That wasn’t true in the 19th-century U.S., in 17th-century Prussia, or in 11th-century France. In all of those times and places, news of what growing numbers of people (including people who define themselves as Christians) think of as sexually acceptable behavior would have been received as inexplicable, and an abomination.

That is what makes our time decisively different from past eras in the history of the Christian West: We live on the far side of the sexual revolution. Neuhaus thought that revolution could be at least partially reversed through concerted democratic action. Dreher has no such hopes and so advises withdrawal and self-protection.

If traditional sexual morality is an absolutely necessary component in an authentic Christian life, then America may well be the post-Christian nation Dreher insists it is, with devout Christians reduced to the status of exiles within it and facing the prospect of outright persecution in the workplace and elsewhere. (Dreher’s book discusses some of these persecutory possibilities, and he regularly highlights and ponders them in considerable detail on his blog at The American Conservative.)

Dreher’s concerns about persecution may be somewhat exaggerated, but they aren’t delusional. Now that same-sex marriage has been declared a constitutional right, the full weight of anti-discrimination law is poised to bear down on those whose faith precludes them from accepting the licitness of such arrangements. That has inspired many religious conservatives (and a few liberals, like myself) to demand new laws to strengthen the First Amendment’s religious liberty protections, specifically to clarify that the “free exercise” clause is not limited to what takes place within the walls of a church.

I appreciate Linker’s approach here because it acknowledges what I and others believe are real threats to religious liberty that should not be dismissed. At the same time, it affirms a lot of my own historical work on the problematic assertion that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

Linker concludes:

What if Dreher and other conservative Christians could know that they would not be forced to bake cakes or provide other services for same-sex weddings, that religious colleges would not be forced to permit same-sex cohabitation, and that employees would not be fired or otherwise penalized for holding traditional views about sexuality? Would that render the Benedict Option unnecessary?

I doubt Dreher would think so — because Christians would still find themselves living in a country in which a range of authorities within civil society constantly convey the message that same-sex marriage is good and opposing it is bigotry, in which pornography is ubiquitous, and in which gender is increasingly treated as a human construct entirely disconnected from nature, marriage, procreation, and a divinely authored order of things.

But why is that such a problem? Don’t Orthodox Jews and observant Muslims, who hold analogous views about sex, manage to live and thrive in the United States, despite its sexual turmoil and lasciviousness? Indeed they do. But they are and have always been tiny minorities in America — which means that, in the decisive respect, they already practice something like the Benedict Option. They don’t need to be taught how to preserve themselves in the face of constant counter-religious temptations.

Perhaps that consideration partially explains why Dreher sometimes seems to hype the persecution that conservative Christians already confront or will soon face — as a kind of shock therapy for the complacent, as if to say: “We’re no longer in charge here! If we don’t start protecting and preserving ourselves soon, there won’t be anything left to protect or preserve!”

Read Linker’s entire piece here.

Nicholas Kristof to Tim Keller: “Am I a Christian?”

22cb0-kristof-new-184Today Nicholas Kristof devoted his New York Times column to a conversation with Tim Keller, prominent evangelical minister and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  The title of the column is “Pastor, Am I a Christian?

Kristof is not the first New York Times columnist who seems to be on a spiritual journey that involved a consideration of Christianity. His colleague David Brooks has also talked openly about such a journey.

Kristof’s conversation with Keller is one of the most openly religious pieces I have ever read in The New York Times.  

Here is a taste:

Kristof: Tim, people sometimes say that the answer is faith. But, as a journalist, I’ve found skepticism useful. If I hear something that sounds superstitious, I want eyewitnesses and evidence. That’s the attitude we take toward Islam and Hinduism and Taoism, so why suspend skepticism in our own faith tradition?

Keller:  I agree. We should require evidence and good reasoning, and we should not write off other religions as ‘superstitious’ and then fail to question our more familiar Jewish or Christian faith tradition.

But I don’t want to contrast faith with skepticism so sharply that they are seen to be opposites. They aren’t. I think we all base our lives on both reason and faith. For example, my faith is to some degree based on reasoning that the existence of God makes the most sense of what we see in nature, history and experience. Thomas Nagel recently wrote that the thoroughly materialistic view of nature can’t account for human consciousness, cognition and moral values. That’s part of the reasoning behind my faith. So my faith is based on logic and argument.

In the end, however, no one can demonstrably prove the primary things human beings base their lives on, whether we are talking about the existence of God or the importance of human rights and equality. Nietzsche argued that the humanistic values of most secular people, such as the importance of the individual, human rights and responsibility for the poor, have no place in a completely materialistic universe. He even accused people holding humanistic values as being “covert Christians” because it required a leap of faith to hold to them. We must all live by faith.

Kristof: I’ll grudgingly concede your point: My belief in human rights and morality may be more about faith than logic. But is it really analogous to believe in things that seem consistent with science and modernity, like human rights, and those that seem inconsistent, like a virgin birth or resurrection?

Keller: I don’t see why faith should be seen as inconsistent with science. There is nothing illogical about miracles if a Creator God exists. If a God exists who is big enough to create the universe in all its complexity and vastness, why should a mere miracle be such a mental stretch? To prove that miracles could not happen, you would have to know beyond a doubt that God does not exist. But that is not something anyone can prove.

Science must always assume that an effect has a repeatable, natural cause. That is its methodology. Imagine, then, for the sake of argument that a miracle actually occurred. Science would have no way to confirm a nonrepeatable, supernatural cause. Alvin Plantinga argued that to say that there must be a scientific cause for any apparently miraculous phenomenon is like insisting that your lost keys must be under the streetlight because that’s the only place you can see.

Read the entire column here.

Do Historians Privilege “Change Over Time” Over “Continuity?”

ChangeOverTimeBack in January 2007 historians Thomas Andrews and Flannery Burke wrote a piece in Perspectives on History titled “What Does It Mean to Think Historically?”  In this essay Andrews and Burke synthesized the concepts that historians use to make sense of the world into five “C’s”.  They are change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency.

Over the years I have managed to get a lot of mileage out of this piece.  I discussed the 5’c of historical thinking in the introduction to my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction in 2011 (which will appear in a revised edition in 2016) and I elaborate even further on these ideas in my Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past in 2014.

If I were to add another “C” to the historical thinking toolbox it would be continuity. Andrews and Burke mention continuity as part of their discussion of “change over time.” They write:

The idea of change over time is perhaps the easiest of the C’s to grasp. Students readily acknowledge that we employ and struggle with technologies unavailable to our forebears, that we live by different laws, and that we enjoy different cultural pursuits. Moreover, students also note that some aspects of life remain the same across time. Many Europeans celebrate many of the same holidays that they did three or four hundred years ago, for instance, often using the same rituals and words to mark a day’s significance. Continuity thus comprises an integral part of the idea of change over time.

Whether we think about continuity as part of change over time, or describe it as a 6th “C,” I think most historians agree that is should be an important part of their thinking as they try to make sense of the past for their audiences.

This leads me to the question in the title of my post.  Do historians tend to privilege change over time over continuity?  I ask this because I have been part of a few social media conversations over the past week in which these issues have been raised.

The first conversation took place in a social media exchange over Christopher Lasch’s 1979 best-seller The Culture of Narcissism.  I spent some of my Memorial Day weekend re-reading Lasch with Donald Trump in mind.  As I read I kept asking myself what parts of Lasch’s analysis were unique to the late 1970s context in which he wrote and what parts of his analysis of narcissism were still relevant today, almost forty years later.

In the end, without going into details (you can find my tweets at #narcissism or @johnfea1), I found a great deal of similarity between the “culture of narcissism” of the 1970s and today’s “culture of narcissism.”  Yes, narcissism today has been greatly enhanced by the internet and social media, but many of the ideas Lasch put forth are still relevant.  In other words, I saw continuity between the past and the present.

A couple of historians, however, wanted to dismiss my argument about continuity.  They argued that Lasch is dated, overrated, and no longer useful.  Someone even questioned why I was reading him, as if his work, written in 1979, could say nothing to our contemporary culture.  When I said in this post that “things have not changed much,” one scholar, invoking change over time, called the phrase “baloney.” It seems here that my critics privilege change over time over continuity.

The second conversation took place over Twitter. (Always difficult to tackle these kinds of complex issues on Twitter, so what I say below should be taken with a small grain of salt).  I was discussing Thomas Jefferson’s religious beliefs with some scholars of Jefferson and some American religious historians.  In the process we got into a debate over the meaning of Christianity.  (Again, this is probably not the kind of debate that should take place over Twitter!).

Several folks in the debate appealed to change over time.  In other words, Christianity is always changing and redefining itself.  Jefferson, with his rejection of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the resurrection, still believed he was a Christian.  He was expanding the definition of Christianity, a belief that changes and has changed over time.

As I said in the debate, I have no doubt that Thomas Jefferson thought he was a Christian. This is a historical statement that I would agree with.  See my chapter on Jefferson’s religion in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?  It is entitled “Thomas Jefferson: Follower of Jesus.”

But I also think Jefferson was wrong to think he was a Christian.  Yes, I am more than willing to admit that this is a theological statement, not a historical one.  By suggesting that Jefferson was not a Christian some might say (although no one did in this debate) that I am inappropriately bringing my own beliefs about what is a Christian to bear on this conversation.  In other words, the fact that I am an orthodox Christian has crept into my work as a historian.  Maybe.  But if this is the case, I also wonder if the progressivism of many in the historical profession also functions as a type of theological or ideological view of the world that shapes their approach to the evidence.

To put it differently, and perhaps more historically, this debate also seems to have something to do with the tension between change over time and continuity in historical writing.  A historian who emphasizes change over time might argue that Jefferson is simply expanding the definition of what it means to be a Christian.  Thus to question Jefferson’s definition of Christianity could be a form of discrimination.

A historian who emphasizes continuity, however, might argue that there are certain beliefs that all Christians have embraced through time–non-negotiable or common-denominator beliefs such as the resurrection or the Trinity or the deity of Christ or the teachings of the Nicene Creed–that have always defined what it means to be a “Christian” and continue to define what it means to be a “Christian.”  Those who want to embrace an ever-changing definition of Christianity over time, without any continuity, are at risk of stripping the label “Christian” of any real meaning.  (I am sure some might be pleased with such a development).

So back to my original question:  I wonder if progressive historians tend to be more favorable to “change over time” than “continuity” when studying the past.

Just some thoughts here.  Still working on all of this, particularly as it relates to the relationship between history and theology.  But I do think its an issue worth thinking more about.

The Tragedy of Marco Rubio

Rubio

Have you had a chance to see Marco Rubio’s stand-up comedy act?  He has been getting a lot of laughs on the campaign trail at the expense of Donald Trump.  When Rubio says that Trump has an orange face, has “small hands,” or wets his pants, the crowds at his rallies go wild.

I recently saw a spokesperson for the Rubio campaign talking about the need for his candidate to “hit back.”  Rubio is trying to beat Trump at his own game–insults and personal attacks.  Many politicos are wondering why he did not do this earlier.

Rubio’s raw ambition has been on display during the last week.  He is desperate.  He is willing to do anything to stop Donald Trump, even if it means getting down in the mud with the GOP front-runner.

It wasn’t too long ago that Rubio was in Iowa and South Carolina trying to paint himself as the evangelical alternative to Trump and Ted Cruz.  What happened to this apparently Christian candidate?

This kind of eye-for-eye campaigning is embarrassing for the GOP.  But it is especially problematic for someone who goes out on the campaign trail and names the name of Jesus Christ.

I imagine that Rubio still thinks he is a Christian candidate.  In a world in which “evangelical” is defined by one’s position on abortion, marriage, and religious liberty for Christians, Rubio remains faithful.  As long as he tows the line on these issues, no matter how he behaves, he can claim the Christian mantle.  On this front, he is no better than Trump.

Rubio appears to be yet another product of the unholy alliance between Republican politics and American evangelicalism that came with the rise of the Christian Right in the 1980s. The leaders of the Christian Right–Falwell, Dobson, LaHaye, Bauer, Kennedy, Perkins, Reed, and Robertson–were successful in politicizing American evangelicalism by boiling it down to two or three moral issues.

I am beginning to wonder if it is possible in this day and age to run for President of the United States and still keep one’s integrity as a Christian.

Maybe Stephen Prothero was right when he said that Jesus would vote for Bernie Sanders.

The Author’s Corner with Christopher Cantwell, Heath Carter, and Janine Giordano Drake

ThePewandthePicketLineChristopher D. Cantwell is Assistant Professor of History and Religious Studies at University of Missouri at Kansas City;  Heath W. Carter is Assistant Professor of History at Valparaiso University; and Janine Giordano Drake is Assistant Professor of History at University of Great Falls. This interview with Cantwell is based on their new book, The Pew and the Picket Line: Christianity and the American Working Class (University of Illinois Press, 2016).

JF: What led you all to edit Pew and the Picket Line?

CC: In one sense this collection grew out of a panel on “Class and the Transformation of American Protestantism” that Janine, Heath, and I put together for the American Society for Church History’s 2012. In another sense, however, this project emerged from the growth of scholarship on the religious histories of working people that has emerged over the last ten years. All of the contributors are early- to mid-career scholars whose work is situated in those spaces where American religious history and American labor history intersect or overlap. And what’s remarkable, I think, is the breadth of this new work. The collections has essays on everything form the esoteric theology of nineteenth-century labor activists to the faith-healing practices of Midwestern metal miners to the role syncretic religious beliefs plaid in galvanizing a strike of female pecan shellers in San Antonio. We had hoped to have the collection cover as much temporal and geographic ground as possible, and we’re excited to have essays on working men and women from a range of racial, ethnic, and geographic categories. It gives the collection a decidedly multivocal quality. Indeed, we three editors occasionally argued at length over the consequences of blending religious and labor history–and I should note that the opinions here are my own. But we all agreed of the importance of this intervention.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Pew and the Picket Line?

CC: There is no history of American religion that is not also a history of labor. Conversely, there is no history of America’s working people that does not also attend to the history of religion.

JF: Why do we need to read Pew and the Picket Line?

CC: In an era in which the history of capitalism is currently in vogue among scholars of religion, the collection argues for the inclusion of working people in this emerging field. While scholars have examined the faith of corporate leaders at great length few have ventured down to the shop floor. We think it’s important, indeed essential, to do so. The beliefs and practices of working people not only shaped their social lives, but also impacted the places they worked. This impact, in turn, could potentially effect the shape of entire industries. The collection is a call to attend to this complexity.

JF: Thanks, Christopher!

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?: Christian Theologians Weigh-In

If you are following the Larycia Hawkins case at Wheaton College you know that she was placed on administrative leave by the college not for wearing a hijab in solidarity with her Muslim “sisters,” but because she said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  

I am not a theologian, but one cannot deny that historically both Christianity and Islam trace their roots to Abrahamic faith.  So in that sense, they do worship the same God.  Of course there are some big distinctions between the way Christians and Muslims worship this God, understand His identity (the Trinity, for example), and view His plan for His creation.  (And these distinctions, as I argued in the post I linked to above, are extremely important and should be paramount at evangelical Christian colleges).  I think Hawkins is trying to say that we all belong to the same family–the human family. And there are times, even in the life of an exclusively Christian college, when those human connections should be acknowledged. And they should be acknowledged, and even celebrated, for Christian reasons–namely the Imago Dei.  So I am not sure that someone saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God is a statement that is necessarily out of bounds at a Christian college, but it must be carefully nuanced and explained.  Unfortunately, this nuance is often lost on much of the constituency of evangelical colleges.

But I digress…

In the last twenty-four hours, two respected Christian theologians have made a case that Christians and Muslims do indeed worship the same God.

Here is Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, a Protestant theologian cited by Hawkins, in The Washington Post:

What is theologically wrong with asserting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, according to Hawkins’s opponents — and mine? Muslims deny the Trinity and incarnation, and, therefore, the Christian God and Muslim God cannot be the same. But the conclusion doesn’t square. And Christians, though historically not friendly to either Judaism or the Jews, have rightly resisted that line of thinking when it comes to the God of Israel.
For centuries, a great many Orthodox Jews have strenuously objected to those same Christian convictions: Christians are idolaters because they worship a human being, Jesus Christ, and Christians are polytheists because they worship “Father, Son and the Spirit” rather than the one true God of Israel. What was the Christian response? Christian theologians neither insisted that they worship a different God than Jews nor did they accuse Jews of idolatry. That’s a step that would have been easy to make, for if Jews don’t worship the same God as the Christians, then they worship the false God and, therefore, are idolaters. Instead of rejecting the God of the Jews, Christians affirmed that they worship the same God as the Jews, but noted that the two religious groups understand God in in partly different ways.
Why is the Christian response to Muslim denial of the Trinity and the incarnation not the same as the response to similar Jewish denial? Why are many Christians today unable to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God but understand God in partly different ways?
Read the entire piece here.
And here is a post from Francis Beckwith, a Baylor theologian/philosopher and former president of the Evangelical Theological Society who had to resign his post when he converted to Catholicism:
Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? To answer it well, we have to make some important philosophical distinctions. First, what does it mean for two terms to refer to the same thing? Take, for example, the names “Muhammed Ali” and “Cassius Clay.” Although they are different terms, they refer to the same thing, for each has identical properties. Whatever is true of Ali is true of Clay and vice versa. (By the way, you can do the same with “Robert Zimmerman” and “Bob Dylan,” or “Norma Jean Baker” and “Marilyn Monroe”).
So the fact that Christians may call God “Yahweh” and Muslims call God “Allah” makes no difference if both “Gods” have identical properties. In fact, what is known as classical theism was embraced by the greatest thinkers of the Abrahamic religions: St. Thomas Aquinas (Christian), Moses Maimonides (Jewish), and Avicenna (Muslim). Because, according to the classical theist, there can only in principle be one God, Christians, Jews, and Muslims who embrace classical theism must be worshipping the same God. It simply cannot be otherwise.
But doesn’t Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn’t this mean that they indeed worship different “Gods”? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.” On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.”
Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? Again, of course not. The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person – whether human or divine – does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.
For these reasons, it would a real injustice if Wheaton College were to terminate the employment of Professor Hawkins simply because those evaluating her case cannot make these subtle, though important, philosophical distinctions.
Read Beckwith’s entire post here.

Does the Left Need Religion?

During the 1980s American historians began paying a lot of attention to religion and politics. This interest has not waned over the last thirty or so years.

Most of the studies of religion and politics, however, have focused on the roots and origins of the Christian Right.  Only until recently have historians made connections between Christianity and the political left in the 20th century. Books by David Swartz, Molly Worthen, Heath Carter, and Brantley Gasaway come immediately to mind, but I am sure there are others I am missing.

In the Fall 2015 issue of Dissent, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, a staff writer for The New Republic, joins the chorus of writers calling attention to the historic links between Christianity and progressivism. Here is a taste of her essay, “Why the Left Needs Religion.”

Viewing the relationship between Christianity and leftism as inherently antagonistic is firstly a disservice to history. Despite the efforts of the busi-ness leaders who conquered Christian thought during the Great Depression, American Christians have never supported capitalist domination of governance or of society. Consider, for instance, a recent study by historian Heath Carter of the Christian roots of labor union organizing in Chicago during the Gilded Age. In Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago, Carter recovers what has been lost to the rhetoric of the Christian right, namely that Christianity (even its evangelical iterations) aligns very well with the goals of organizers fighting for justice and dignity in their work. Indeed, America’s labor movement has long enjoyed support from Christianity of all stripes, from the Catholicism of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker, to the peace-oriented Protestantism of A.J. Muste and the Society of Friends.

Outside of labor organizing, Christian theology has also influenced other leftist social movements, such as black power in the United States and liberation theology in Latin America. American civil rights activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. invoked this theology of liberation to agitate not only for racial justice, but for equality everywhere and for everyone, including in the sphere of economics. today, the same line of reasoning is evident in the words and writings of Pope Francis, who has added environmental concerns to the issues we must address so that all can flourish equally.

Christianity, in other words, is no more destined for a cozy relationship with neoliberal, free-market politics than any other ideology, and perhaps less so, given its longstanding interest in the poor. the fact that Christian-ity is reflexively associated with conservatism in the United States is not so much an accident of history as it is a concerted effort on the part of vested, moneyed interests. Still, making a bad match for American conservatism.

The Author’s Corner with Bill Leonard

Bill Leonard is James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and Professor of Church History at Wake Forest University. This interview is based on his new book, A Sense of the Heart: Christian Religious Experience in the US (Abingdon Press, November 2014).


JF: What led you to write A Sense of the Heart​?

BL: An editor from Abingdon Press called me to ask if I would be interested in writing a new text that would survey American Christianity, or religious experience in the US. I chose the latter opportunity since for many years I have taught graduate seminars on Religious Experience in America. I have often thought of writing a text on the topic and this was just the incentive I needed. I have long understood religious experience to be an important resource examining the shape and diversity of American Christianity in its various forms. The phrase, “a sense of the heart,” comes from Jonathan Edwards’ work, A Treatise on Religious Affections, and describes something of the nature of religious experience within and beyond Edwards’ own understanding of religious experience and conversion.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A Sense of the Heart?

BL: The book explores the nature and diversity of religious experience in light of such distinct religio-cultural issues as pluralism, voluntarism, religious freedom, democratic idealism, and Protestant privilege in the US. This unique environment not only shaped the nature of experience with the Divine, but also provided a milieu in which multiple individuals and groups cultivated encounters with the Sacred.

JF: Why do we need to read A Sense of the Heart​?
BL: The book can be a helpful resource for several reasons: 1) It provides a one-volume survey of the history, theology and practice of religious experience in multiple contexts from the colonial period to the 21st century; 2) Americans have nurtured varying, often intense, religious experiences that informed spiritual identity, united and divided Christian communities, and made some type of “conversion” normative for all who would claim a relationship with Christ and the church; 3) Through it all, religious experience became one way in which the “objective” idea that God loves human beings and offers them salvation, becomes a “subjective” reality in the lives of specific individuals. This text pursues those issues. 

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
BL: I grew up reading and loving history. My father passed on to me his love of history, reading history to me before I learned to read for myself. As native Texans we read Texas history together from early in my life. I think I learned the heroes of the Alamo before the names of the Apostles! My interest in history was nurtured by multiple mentors at every phase of the educational journey–men and women who were themselves captivated by historical studies with different approaches and specializations. Dr. Alice Wonders, chair of the Religion Department at Texas Wesleyan University, was an important mentor who encouraged me to pursue historical studies with an eye toward teaching. Dr. William Estep, well know church historian from my seminary studies, shaped my interest in teaching Christian history; and Dr. Earl Kent Brown at Boston University helped me focus my work in areas of American religion. He guided my dissertation in elements of American Protestant mysticism. My own experiences among Baptists in the South–conversionism, revivalism, varying “plans of salvation” led to some of my earliest research into religious experience and my concern to communicate those studies to new generations of students. 

JF: What is your next project?
BL: Right now I am preparing a new edition of an earlier work entitled, Word of God Across the Ages: Using Church History in Preaching. It offers suggestions at to utilizing historical studies homiletically and provides a variety of sermons with focus on the theology and spirituality of certain historical figures from St. Paul to Sojourner Truth, to Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am also doing initial research for a study of religion in Appalachia, particularly as much of the region’s religious culture is being impacted by the impinging mass culture of the larger American religious and secular society.

JF: Good stuff, thanks Bill.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

Is Great Britain a Christian Nation?

Some of you have been following this debate occurring across the proverbial pond. Callum Brown concluded that “Christian Britain” is dead.  Prime Minister David Cameron disagreed. Rowan Williams landed somewhere in the middle.

If you want to get caught up on this debate I encourage you to read Brantley Gasaway’s recent post at Religion in American History.  Here is a taste:

For those of us who study American religion, this recent British debate can remind us once again of the ambiguity of identifying a country as a “Christian nation.”  What qualifies a country as “Christian”?  Is it the official establishment of a Christian church (but if so, then is Great Britain “Christian” while the United States is not)?  Is it a matter of the historical influence of Christianity upon a nation’s laws, politics, and culture (but if so, when does this historical influence matter less than the contemporary relevance of Christianity in the public sphere)?  Is it a matter of demographics (but if so, does a simple majority of self-identified Christians qualify a nation as “Christian”)?   Is it the close alignment of a country’s policies with the Christian ethics of peace and justice?  Or it is the number of references to God in a country’s passport?

As some of you know I took a shot at this whole issue in the context of the United States.

"Christ the Lord is Risen Today," 1922

I should have posted this on Easter.  A great Charles Wesley hymn courtesy of the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox:

http://media.loc.gov/player/flowplayer.commercial.swf?0.738723476184532<!

  • Recording Title

    Christ the Lord is risen today
  • Other Title(s)

    • Lyra Davidica (Work title)
  • Author

  • Composer

  • Contralto

  • Genre(s)

    Religious
  • Category

    Vocal
  • Description

    Contralto vocal solo, with orchestra
  • Language

    English
  • Label Name/Number

    Victor 87354
  • Matrix Number/Take Number

    B-26435/1
  • Recording Date

    1922-04-26
  • Place of Recording

    Camden, New Jersey
  • Size

    10″
  • Duration

    03:07

He Leadeth Me

From Library of Congress National Jukebox

http://media.loc.gov/player/flowplayer.commercial.swf?0.8042101915925741<!–

  • Recording Title

    He leadeth me
  • Vocal group

  • Composer

  • Lyricist

  • Soprano vocal

  • Tenor vocal

  • Genre(s)

    Religious
  • Category

    Vocal
  • Description

    Female-male vocal duet, with orchestra
  • Language

    English
  • Label Name/Number

    Victor 16465
  • Matrix Number/Take Number

    B-8586/2
  • Recording Date

    1910-02-01
  • Place of Recording

    Camden, New Jersey [unconfirmed]
  • Size

    10″
  • Duration

    02:33

"American Creation" Migrates to "Old Life" or Would George Whitefield Think George Washington Needed to be Converted?

There is a fierce debate going on at Darryl Hart’s “Old Life” blog about how to define “Christian” in the context of the American founding era.  After writing a rather straightforward post on Donald Lutz’s study of the books quoted by the founding fathers, all hell broke loose in the comments section. It looks like the good folks at American CreationJon Rowe and Tom Van Dyke particularly–are holding forth in a conversation that includes a host of other voices as well.

If you can endure the long-winded posts, it might be worth your time. 

My favorite line so far: Hart asks commentator Bill Fortenberry if George Whitefield would think George Washington needed to be converted.  (My answer to this question is a resounding “yes”).