Let’s Remember That Slavery in North America Pre-Dates 1619

Slavery in New Spain

New Spain, 1599

The “20 And odd negroes” who arrived in Virginia in 1619 were the first slaves in English North America, but slavery existed in North American well before this.  Here is Olivia Waxman at Time:

The 400th anniversary being marked this month is really the 400th anniversary of the Anglo-centric history of Africans in the U.S., says Greg Carr, the Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. Dating the history of Africans in North America to 400 years ago “reinforces this narrative of English superiority.” But, he argues, remembering the Spanish and indigenous sides of the history is more important now than ever, as “the people [officials] are closing the border to are [descended from] people who were here when you came.”

“People don’t tend to want to think about early U.S. history as being anything but English and English-speaking,” echoes Michael Guasco, historian at Davidson College and author of Slaves and Englishmen: Human Bondage in the Early Modern Atlantic World. “There is a Hispanic heritage that predates the U.S, and there’s a tendency for people to willingly forget or omit the early history of Florida, Texas and California, particularly as the politics of today want to push back against Spanish language and immigration from Latin America.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with David Kirkpatrick

KirkpatrickDavid C. Kirkpatrick is Assistant Professor of Religion at James Madison University.  This interview is based on his new book A Gospel for the Poor: Global Social Christianity and the Latin American Evangelical Left (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write A Gospel for the Poor?

DK: Writing this book was an exciting journey that took me to five countries and allowed me to interview fascinating characters around the world. I was especially motivated to bring the voices of marginalized yet deeply influential Christians into established and ongoing conversations. As I started the project, I began to uncover ways in which the influence of Latin Americans had been hidden or excluded, including through translation and adoption by American leaders. As a Spanish speaker myself, I was also motivated to translate Spanish materials for an English-speaking audience and to narrate the ways in which these leaders navigated their bilingual world. At times, progressive Latin American evangelicals used their bilingualism to their advantage, saying one thing in English and another in Spanish. This type of historical recovery motivated me throughout the project. But more importantly, I think their story was worth telling: A Cold War generation of Latin Americans who demanded a place at the table of global evangelical leadership, seeking to strip Christianity of its white, middle-class, American packaging. Within a fraught and contested space, they sought to construct a gospel for the poor.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Gospel for the Poor.

DK: In A Gospel for the Poor, I argue that the intellectual scaffolding of the Evangelical Left was built not in the American public square but in Cold War Latin America. In this context, transnational conversations provoked the rise of progressive evangelical politics, the explosion of Christian humanitarian organizations, and the infusion of social justice into the very mission of evangelicals around the world and across a broad spectrum of denominations.

JF: Why do we need to read A Gospel for the Poor?

DK: A Gospel for the Poorfuses the worlds of Pope Francis and Billy Graham. Many of the main characters in the book are familiar to readers—Graham, John Stott, Carl F. H. Henry, Stacey Woods (founder of InterVarsity-USA), Gustavo Gutiérrez, and others. This story not only recasts well-known Christian leaders but also argues for the importance and inclusion of lesser-known activists such as René Padilla, Orlando Costas, and Samuel Escobar. In order to do so, I utilized a far-flung set of archival materials mostly outside the United States—dusty boxes in René Padilla’s Buenos Aires garage, binders in Samuel Escobar’s apartment in Valencia, Spain, John Stott’s travel diary at Lambeth Palace library in London, long-thought-lost meeting minutes from Seminario Bíblico in San José, Costa Rica, papers of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Oxford, and, of course, the collections at Wheaton College to name a few. Alongside bilingual interviews, this subaltern dataset flavors the narrative and reframes key events and leaders.

A Gospel for the Poor seeks to answer key questions about progressive Christianity such as, why did many evangelicals in the North greet these ideas as family rather than foein contrast to their reaction to the so-called Social Gospel of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? Thus, we turn not to centers of power but to a revolutionary Latin American university environment, examining a cluster of political and social forces reshaping the post-war Americas:  rural-urban migration flows, the resulting complications of urbanization, and the rapid expansion of the universities, where Marxist ideas of revolutionary change presented a growing appeal to students around the world. In turn, this produced a renaissance of social Christianities in the U.S. and buttressed an increasingly interventionist evangelical foreign policy, as well.

For the Evangelical Left, they required theological justification for their political action and when searching for words to describe a gospel for the poor, key members turned to the Global South and language that was forged within the Cold War. In the words of Emerging Church leader Brian McLaren, the Latin American Evangelical Left provided a “different theological ecosystem.”

Ultimately, A Gospel for the Poor contributes to an exciting ongoing conversation on evangelical internationalism and social Christianity. In this story, progressive Latin Americans became trailblazers, playing the role of controversial truthtellers and prophets, bringing to bear the reality of the Majority World into the consciousness of powerbrokers in the North. The role of progressive Latin Americans as a bridge between younger, emerging evangelical leadership in the Global South and the evangelical establishment was crucial to the task of challenging loyalties. In fact, it is fair to say that one cannot understand the contextual turn of global evangelicalism in the postwar period without understanding their role within it.

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

DKMy path to becoming an historian of World Christianity was rather circuitous. I have long been fascinated by the relationship between the United States and Latin America, with all their crucial intersections whether migration, religion, or politics. In college, I studied Spanish and lived in Oaxaca, Mexico, between my sophomore and junior years. Through many journeys prior and since, I fell in love with Latin American culture and history. In conversations and research, the shadow of the United States was ever-present. In grad school, I fell in love with archival research and interviewing—a love relationship that still motivates my work. But perhaps more than anything, two mentors shaped my journey as an historian—Doug Sweeney at TEDS and Brian Stanley at Edinburgh. They took me under their wing and, through hundreds of hours of mentorship, taught me how to think, research, and write. To me, they are also tremendous examples of Christian voices in our contentious contemporary world. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

JF: What is your next project?

DK: I have two current book projects that are well under way, both surrounding the issue of global religious violence. I am co-editing a collection of essays with Jason Bruner provisionally titled A Global Vision of Violence: Persecution, Media, and Martyrdom in World Christianity. We have a tremendous lineup of scholars with diverse perspectives. My second monograph is titled Blood and Borders: Violence and the Origins of the “Global War on Christians.” Blood and Borders situates American evangelicalism within in a transnational frame and foreground religious violence against Protestants in Latin America. It provides a fresh take on how American evangelicals view themselves, their neighbors, and their place in the world—a world that declared war on their perceived global family.

DK: Thanks, David!

Evangelicals and M-13 in El Salvador

 

El Salvador

It appears that evangelicalism in El Salvador is helping to solve the nation’s problem with gangs.  Here is a taste of Molly O’Toole’s piece at The New Republic:

According to experts, one of the gangs’ golden rules is that members can never leave with their lives. But in the past few years, there’s been a fascinating development: Gang bosses are increasingly granting those under their command desistance—a status change from “active” to “calmado,” meaning “calmed down”—if they convert to evangelicalism. At El Salvador’s San Francisco Gotera prison, about 1,000 ex-gang members have become evangelicals, nearly all of the overcrowded prison’s occupants

The phenomenon can also be seen outside, at smaller Pentecostal parishes such asEbenezer, whose ministry to gang members, The Final Trumpet, is known for speaking in tongues. Newfound-religious who stray from the righteous path, however—whether by drinking, doing drugs, beating their wives or girlfriends, or not attending church—can face deadly consequences from their former compatriots.

It’s an open, urgent question whether evangelical megachurches like Taber can use their influence to bring peace to El Salvador—or whether this is just one more union of political convenience that’s doomed to combust. 

Read the entire piece here.

Does Nativism Still Exist Among U.S. Catholics?

Ganges

Catholic University historian Julia G. Young believes that it does.  Here is a taste of her piece “‘We Were Different‘”:

A few years ago, I taught an undergraduate course on migration at the Catholic University of America. During one lecture, I compared nineteenth-century Italian migration and contemporary Mexican migration to the United States. A hand shot up, and a student—one of several with an Italian surname—objected. “They’re not the same,” he protested. “My great-grandmother came here legally, and learned English—Mexicans don’t do that.”

As a historian who studies Mexican immigration to the United States, I’m used to hearing statements like this. Concerns about new immigrants’ legal status and failure to assimilate are widespread, and nativism has re-emerged in recent decades. Still, I wondered why this proud young Italian-American Catholic was so unwilling to compare his ancestors to the Mexican Catholic immigrants of today. Why did he not feel a sense of sympathy and solidarity for contemporary immigrants, who share so much with the great waves of Irish, Italians, Poles, and other immigrants of the late nineteenth century?

At the time, I didn’t quite grasp how many U.S. Catholics feel the widespread American discontent over immigration. After all, the Catholic hierarchy is vocally pro-immigrant, and the U.S. Catholic population is entirely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Catholics have a proud tradition of social justice, and numerous Catholic organizations have done immensely valuable work to protect immigrants. Nevertheless, in our new Trumpian era of border walls and travel bans, it has become more apparent to me (and others, such as Paul Moses in a recent piece for Commonweal, “White Catholics & Nativism,” September 1, 2017) that white Catholics have a nativism problem of their own.

Given the history of Catholic immigration to the United States, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Catholic nativism toward other Catholic immigrants is a recurring sentiment that dates to at least the second half of the nineteenth century, when the influx of Catholics changed the religious landscape of the United States. From then until today, Irish, Italian, Polish, Mexican, and other Catholics have fought over power, identity, religious practice, and shared spaces.

Read the entire piece at Commonweal.

Author’s Corner with Mark Goldberg

MarkGoldenberg

Mark Goldberg is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Houston. This interview is based on his new book, Conquering Sickness: Race, Health, and Colonization in the Texas Borderlands (University of Nebraska Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Conquering Sickness?

MG: In graduate school, I became interested in how people in multiracial spaces negotiated power. I am also from Texas, and a particular exclusive set of stories about the 18th and 19th century tend to dominate here, flatting the texture and nuance of Texas history and silencing many narratives.  During research for my master’s thesis, which analyzed Caddo Indian trade in east Texas, I came across many interesting discussions about disease and healing practices that people employed, including peyote and amulets. I also had the opportunity to take a graduate course that traveled around the U.S. West, studying the history of race in the region. We visited the Levi Jordan Plantation in Brazoria, Texas, where archaeologist Ken Brown has led a team that uncovered a curer’s cabin, highlighting the healer’s use of syncretic African and African American healing practices in postemancipation Texas. These experiences pushed me towards the study of health and healing in Texas. 

Health is one of the most basic elements of life, so it offered me a window into popular culture in the 18th and 19th century.  The history of health and healing in Texas addressed my intellectual curiosities and my desire to write against mythic, popular representations of the Lone Star State.  The era that I cover, roughly 1780 to 1880, saw multiple waves of colonization in moments when Native peoples dominated much of the region.  It was ripe for the study of race, popular culture, and power, as different nation-states tried to assert control over Texas, while Comanches and Karankawas held the upper hand in many instances.  Power was fluid in this borderland, so what did cross-cultural interactions and exchanges mean in this place undergoing conquest? 

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Conquering Sickness?

MG: The desire to build healthy settlements drove Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo conquests of Texas. Spaniards, Mexicans, and Anglo Americans defined healthiness environmentally and culturally, based around perceptions of how people lived, and they differentiated their own “healthy” behaviors racially, against Native and (during Anglo migrations) Mexican “unhealthy” ways of living.

JF: Why do we need to read Conquering Sickness? 

MG: First, I would say, for the stories.  I uncovered many fascinating examples of how individuals treated disease and how they thought about sickness and health.  The first story that caught my eye, which I still find captivating, concerns how the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas (one state at the time) confronted the 1833 cholera epidemic.  After a series of public health initiatives regulating when people were out and about, how they prepared food, town cleanliness, and leisure activities, failed to stem the tide of disease, the government came to employ a peyote remedy as its official prescription.  How could a nation-state, which was in the process of being built, promote a practice associated with so-called Indian superstition, when to be Mexican at the time meant culturally not Indian?  These types of healing exchanges occurred throughout the century under study, as did state governments’ efforts to legitimize their use of medicine that they simultaneously scorned.  Colonialism was largely about instituting particular ways of living beyond methods of healing, which colonizers in Texas often defined against nonwhite residents. Spanish missionaries, for example, justified conquest by trying to mold Indians into proper, civilized, healthy Catholics. Conversion, and by extension conquest, was not only about spirituality, but also about how one carried oneself. 

I also think it is important to see how a common idea—healthiness—was (and is) defined culturally and how science, which appears objective, has been shaped by local cultures and desires. For example, to live a healthy life in post-1848 Texas meant to embrace white, middle class values—temperance, sedentary agriculture, sexual restraint—showing the close relationship Anglo newcomers drew between morality and health. They often saw Mexicans and Indians as immoral and therefore unhealthy. Ultimately, then, this raises a question relevant today:  in what ways might we define something like healthiness in a culturally, religiously, racially, and sexually loaded manner?     

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

MG:  I was always interested in history, but when I was an undergraduate, I was premed with an art history major for most of college. I only decided not to pursue a medical career and to become an academic historian during my senior year. I realized that my passion was trying to understand histories that never fit into a neat, master narrative. My own family history of multigenerational migrations; Eastern European, Jewish, Latin American, Latina/o, and Texas histories; and U.S. immigration does not easily meld into a dominant national narrative, so perhaps that influenced my interests. I started graduate school focusing on 20th-century U.S. history and ties between the civil rights movement and Latin America. I moved back in time and across regions, but my interest in race and U.S.-Latin American connections continued as I came to study of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

JF: What is your next project?

MG: I am bringing together my background in Latina/o history with a new interest in Jewish Studies. Continuing to ask questions about race, ethnicity, national identity, and cultural boundaries, I am examining Jewish Latina/o history and studying the connections among Latina/o, Jewish, and American identities. I am interested in how Jewish Latina/os in the 20th century have used different forms of storytelling—about the colonial past, around food and music—to link those identities. It is also a personal study, allowing me to apply my interests in the American West and borderlands, Latina/o history, and cultural history to my family and community’s story. 

JF: Thanks, Mark!

Some Brazilians Love the American Confederacy

==Americana

That’s right.  Head over to Business Insider and check out some of the pics.

Here is a taste of Melia Robinson’s piece:

When the American Confederacy lost the Civil War in May 1865, 10,000 Southerners fled the US for a small city in Brazil, where they could rebuild their lives and carry on their traditions.

Now, 150 years later, their story has been seemingly erased from the history books.

But deep in the heart of Brazil, descendants of these confederate expats gather annually to celebrate their controversial history and maintain their traditions and culture. In 2015, Vice’s Mimi Dwyer attended the festival and revealed what life is like in the city called Americana.

Brazil’s Statue of Liberty?

Christ_on_Corcovado_mountain

This is how American religious historian Thomas Tweed describes “Christ the Redeemer,” the statue of Jesus that looks down over Rio. Tweed’s reference to the statue as Brazil’s “Statue of Liberty” is from Michelle Boorstein’s recent Washington Post piece, “The Many Meanings of Rio’s Massive Christ Statue.”

Here is a taste:

Christ the Redeemer” — or “Cristo Redentor” — rises almost a half-mile into the Rio sky, and is perhaps the most recognizable Christian image in Latin America.

Yet Cristo’s meaning to Brazilians varies. Some see it as a tribute to Catholicism while others consider it a salvo against secularism. Still others in the rapidly diversifying country consider it a general symbol of welcome, with arms open wide. One of its original creators called it a “monument to science, art and religion.”

Cristo is an iconic image of Brazil. It is “reproduced everywhere,” read a 2014 BBC feature, “in graffiti art, sand sculptures on Copacabana beach — and even on skin.” During Carnival, there is a street party called Christ’s Armpit, or ‘Suvaco do Cristo,” that weaves its way at the base of the mountain, called Corcovado.

Thomas Tweed, a history professor and Latino Studies Institute fellow at the University of Notre Dame, compared Cristo to the Statue of Liberty — national iconic images that can’t help but stir debate about what, specifically, they say.

“The statue looms large on the landscape, but it hides as much as it reveals about the diverse religious life of Brazilians,” Tweed said Monday.

When the project began in the 1920s, Brazil was almost entirely Catholic. It made perfect sense for the most ambitious public art project to be funded through the Catholic Church. Until as late as 1970, 92 percent of Brazilians identified as Catholic, according to a Pew Research poll.

But today, Tweed noted, Brazil is “a remarkably diverse religious world.” A quarter of the country is Protestant — mostly evangelical — 10 percent more are unaffiliated, and there is a great deal of blending of faiths and beliefs.

According to the BBC, the original idea for a monument to Christ came from a group of Brazilians who, “in the wake of World War I, feared an advancing tide of Godlessness. Church and state had been separated when Brazil became a republic at the end of the previous century, and they saw the statue as a way of reclaiming Rio — then Brazil’s capital city — for Christianity.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner With Caitlin Fitz

FitzCaitlin Fitz is Assistant Professor, Department of History, Northwestern University.  This interview is based on her new book, Our Sister Republics: The United States in an Age of American Revolutions (Liverlight/W.W. Norton, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Our Sister Republics?

CF: The summer before my senior year of college, I was holed up in a dark corner of the Tennessee State Library and Archives, shivering from the air conditioning and dizzy from the microfilm reader.   I had stumbled into a last-minute summer job as a research assistant for a biographer of the celebrated lawyer Felix Grundy, and it had been a slow day reeling through the early nineteenth century newspapers: no big finds, no surprises, mostly just the usual articles on horse races and land sales.  Maybe it was the musty books I had read on “frontier” life in Tennessee, or maybe it was the rudimentary appearance of the newspapers—the long “s,” the simple four-column layout, the uniformity of the fonts—but for whatever reason, my mental image of early Tennessee featured tobacco-spitting, whiskey-swilling, gun-toting rustics, a pugnacious assembly of David Crocketts and their hardscrabble wives.  I had learned from the papers that these people read about Europe, and about other parts of the United States.  But mostly I assumed that they were consumed with their own local affairs: felling trees, fighting Indians, trading slaves, counting votes, planting tobacco.

I still remember when a new headline finally jolted me to attention: an article on “the Brazils.”  Another followed, and then another.  Soon I was seeing articles on “Caraccas,” “Buenos Ayres,” and “Carthagena.”  I couldn’t explain it.  These people had a taxing, hazardous journey just to get to New Orleans and Natchez, not to mention the pulsing ports of the East.  I could understand their interest in neighboring Mexico.  But South America?  It seemed so exotic.  Maybe these people were less insular than I had assumed.

Still, I was researching Felix Grundy, and Grundy didn’t appear in the South American news reports.  I moved on, but the discovery lingered in my memory.  When I got to graduate school several years later—having just returned, in fact, from a year in Brazil—it resurfaced, and I slowly realized there was a bigger story to tell about early U.S. relations with Latin America.  Those cosmopolitan Tennessee clodhoppers were just the beginning.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Our Sister Republics?

CF: In the 1810s and early 1820s, the United States teemed with grassroots excitement for Latin American independence, despite well-known racial and religious differences.  Our Sister Republics brings that inter-American ardor to life, showing how the early United States took shape in an age of hemisphere-wide, American revolutions and why that matters.

JF: Why do we need to read Our Sister Republics?

CF: Some of the most exciting recent work on the early United States has illuminated the young republic’s connections to Europe and, increasingly, the Caribbean.  But that North Atlantic focus has simultaneously overshadowed a rich and complementary history of interaction between North and South America.  By the United States’ fiftieth anniversary in 1826, most of the Western Hemisphere was politically independent from Europe, and most of the new nations were republics.  Looking below the equator rather than across the Atlantic, Our Sister Republics shows how Latin America’s independence wars shaped U.S. nationalism and distilled popular U.S. thinking about race, equality, revolution, and republicanism.

There were many surprises for me along the way.  First, I was surprised that people in the United States followed events in South America so closely—that ordinary farmers, for example, named their firstborn sons after Spanish-speaking generals, and that July Fourth patriots routinely toasted Latin America.  Second, given what we know about white U.S. audiences’ widespread contempt for Haiti, I was astonished that the popular excitement for republicanism’s spread in Spanish America usually overshadowed concerns about the insurgents’ Catholicism and about their antislavery sympathies; white people’s sanguine optimism about Spanish American independence suggests that plain folk throughout the nation were more receptive to the abstract ideals of equality and abolition than we often assume.  Third, if the standard story of U.S.-Latin American relations emphasizes conquest, aggression, and political puppetry, Our Sister Republics recalls a time when people in the United States hailed their southern neighbors as fellow American revolutionaries, and it shows how that earlier optimism arguably helped to fuel antebellum aggression.  Fourth, it complements more traditional diplomatic histories with a bottom-up view of how ordinary people understood (and sometimes influenced) foreign relations, from privateering and weapon trafficking to newspapers and the ballot box.  Fifth, it shows an important moment in the evolution of American exceptionalism.  By the United States’ fiftieth year—which coincided with the end of the inter-American revolutionary age—the United States was the only republic in the Western Hemisphere that endorsed slavery’s expansion.  That broader context helps explain how ideas about national superiority fused to ideas about white superiority with greater force and assurance, forming a stronger public rhetoric of white U.S. exceptionalism.

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

CFIn retrospect, I could tell a pleasantly linear story about how I was destined to be a historian.  By the middle of elementary school, I had devoured all of the historical fiction in my school’s little library: Johnny Tremain; Caddie Woodlawn; Sarah, Plain and Tall; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; the Little House books.  Around the same time, my indulging parents happened upon a set of Fisher-Price “Spellbinder” cassette tapes that narrated stories of the American Revolution, Gulliver’s Travels, Rip Van Winkle, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn.  Rip and Gulliver gave me nightmares, but I spent years falling asleep to the sound of Benjamin Franklin debating Lord North over imperial tax policy.

It sounds so predetermined that I’m a little embarrassed to write it down.  But it’s not as though I always planned to be a historian.  Does anyone?  In my central Pennsylvania high school, I imagined myself a future biologist, a public servant, a nonprofit maven.  Even when I decided to become a history major at the end of my freshman year of college—are you out there, Suzanne Marchand?  Your European history survey did me in!—I didn’t plan to make a career out of it.  If I had scored higher on my LSAT practice tests, I may well have defaulted to law school.  I finally realized how much I wanted to be a historian during my senior year, as I wrote a 150-page thesis on the Tennessee antislavery movement.  I loved every minute, and I still had more to say, more to find out.  I was hooked.

JF: What is your next project?

CFI’m working on a few things, including a biography of John Calhoun and his wife Floride Calhoun.  I’m also digging more deeply into the life of someone I discuss in Our Sister Republics: a pardo (or “mulatto”) revolutionary from northeastern Brazil named Emiliano Mundrucu.  Inspired by the Haitian Revolution, Mundrucu helped to lead an 1824 uprising against the independent Brazilian monarchy.  When that failed, he fled to Boston, where (after voyages to Haiti and Colombia) he became an important figure in Boston’s abolitionist community and waged an early battle to desegregate transportation.  Born the same year that the Haitian Revolution began, Mundrucu died just months after celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation alongside Boston’s leading black abolitionists, and his story sheds light on inter-American connections within African-American and abolitionist communities.

JF:  Thanks, Caitlin.  Great stuff!

Let’s Not Forget Pope Francis is a Latin American

Writing at The Anxious Bench blog, Gordon College history professor Agnes Howard offers a unique angle on Pope Francis’s visit to the United States.  She wants us to think harder about the Pope’s identity as a Latin American, his advocacy of Hispanic immigrants, and what it all means for how we move forward.


She writes:

First, American-history education should do due diligence to Spanish-colonial formation of many parts of the United States. Both in regions still distinctly marked by Spanish settlers’ experience (say, California) and those where traces are much fainter (Alabama), the period of Spanish presence should figure significantly in self-understanding. Part of the solution could be supplied by more robust instruction in state histories within U.S. history curricula. Another step toward getting our America right is the winsome approach of Felipe Fernández-Armesto, who demonstrates that Hispanic history is our American history.
Second, American kids should learn Latin American history, at least as a survey, at least for a year, because proximity, foreign policy, and culture make it useful to know.  Too many of us go about with woeful ignorance about our neighbors.
Third, the spectacle of non-Catholics cheering a new-world Pope should pique the curiosity of those unacquainted with the story of Catholicism and American freedom or insufficiently disgusted by the current of anti-Catholicism long in circulation here.  The influence of Catholicism is not only a nineteenth-century immigrant phenomenon but enters with the thirteen original colonies. That means you, Maryland, but also eighteenth-century Urusline sisters in Mobile and New Orleans, plus clusters of Catholics elsewhere in the colonies, often facing hostility.   Recent discoveries hint that there may even have been a Catholic presence in Jamestown.
Read her entire post here.

Francis, the Poor, Liberation Theology, and those "Calvinized" American Catholics

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter has been offering some very helpful commentary in the midst of the whole papal conclave and choice of Jorge Maria Bergoglio as Pope Francis.  In this piece at The New Republic he discusses the challenges that Latin American bishops face in dealing with what the Church calls “the preferential option for the poor” and Bergoglio’s ultimate rejection of liberation theology. In the process, he takes some shots at the “Calvinized” nature of American Catholicism.

Here is a taste:

The Latin American bishops have spent the last fifty years wrestling with one dominant question: What does it mean to exercise a preferential option for the poor? In the U.S., Catholics live in an affluent society and have grown tone-deaf to the essential understanding of the Christian Scriptures: The Gospels are good news for the poor. The Catholic Church in America certainly provides many and varied social services to the poor, but the Church has only incidentally and sporadically questioned the roots of our market economy. In the U.S., even the Catholics have been “Calvinized” over the years. To the extent that religion plays a role in evaluating the economy it is as an add-on, encouraging people to give to charity once they make their millions.

In Latin America, where millions of Catholics go to bed hungry and live in slums, the cause of the poor is not only about providing social services. The Church in Latin America, for historical and cultural reasons, plays a great role is shaping society in foundational ways. The question of providing for the poor in Latin America, and throughout the global South, has been asked at a deeper level, intellectually and practically, than one finds in the affluent West.

Many Latin American theologians in the late 60s and 70s were attracted to “liberation theology,” which started with a Marxist-inspired analysis of social structures and tried to craft a Christian response. But, the liberation theologians strangely mimicked the neo-con capitalists they criticized, exercising an economic reductionism that equated the achievement of social progress with salvation. The neo-cons suggest the market will heal human ills, and the liberation theologians thought Marxist analysis would achieve the same end. Both ended up diminishing the most obvious Christian doctrine—original sin—and collapsing their hopes for the end time into a political program. Liberation theologians and neo-con American Catholics are loathe to admit it, but both committed the same mistake, reducing the mystery of man to a manageable problem capable of either Marxist or market manipulations. They approached the problem of the poor from different directions, but their relationship is strangely symbiotic.

Bergoglio was never seduced by the promises of the liberation theologians.

Read the rest here.