The Author’s Corner with Katherine Gerbner

Christian SlaveryKatharine Gerbner is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Minnesota.  This interview is based on her book,  Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Christian Slavery?

KGI started Christian Slavery with a simple question: how could seemingly good people support something that was morally abhorrent? Specifically, I wanted to know why European Christians, and especially missionaries, accepted slavery. What I was uncovered was a deeply troubling story that is important to understand today. It shows how people with good intentions can play a terrible role in perpetuating injustice, and it demonstrates the long history of complicity between Christianity and slavery.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Christian Slavery?

KGI have three main arguments: (1) far from being forced to convert, enslaved and free blacks had to fight their way into Protestant churches; (2) Protestant missionaries paved the way for pro-slavery theology by arguing that conversion would not lead to freedom for the enslaved; and (3) White Supremacy grew out of “Protestant Supremacy”—the idea that enslaved people could not become Christian.

JF: Why do we need to read Christian Slavery?

KGThere’s a lot of discussion about White Supremacy right now. In those conversations, it’s essential to explore what we mean by “whiteness” and where this term comes from. What history shows us is that the word “white” replaced the word “Christian” in colonial records as a way to justify enslavement. In other words, whiteness was created under slavery in order to exclude people of African descent from freedom. So if we really want to understand White Supremacy, and to combat it, we have to acknowledge the complex relationship between Christianity and slavery.

My book also shows the possibilities for combating racism & White Supremacy. Some evangelical Christians and Quakers played a central role in the abolitionist movement, showing that Christianity could be used to support emancipation. And most importantly, enslaved and free blacks who fought their way into Protestant churches defined their faith around the concept of liberation, in opposition to pro-slavery theology.

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

KGI studied Religion and Middle Eastern Studies in college. But when it came time to write a Senior Thesis, I chose a historical document: the first antislavery petition written in the Americas, which was authored by German and Dutch Quakers in 17th c. Pennsylvania. I started by researching the origin of that document and its reception. As I did so, I realized that the anti-slavery Protest was rejected by English Quakers in Philadelphia. I was surprised by this—I grew up in Philadelphia and attended a Quaker school, but I had only learned about Quaker abolitionism. I was shocked to discover that there were Quakers who owned slaves. I wanted to know what else had been left out of the conventional histories. I started there, and I haven’t stopped researching since.

JFWhat is your next project?

KGI’m writing a book about slave rebellion and religious freedom, tentatively called Constructing Religion, Defining Crime. I noticed in my research for Christian Slavery that black Christians and other religious leaders were often blamed for slave rebellions. In response, white authorities created laws designed to criminalize black religious practices. My new research suggests that we cannot understand religion – or religious freedom – without examining slave rebellion. The history of slavery can help us to understand how and why some religious practices have been, and continue to be, excluded from the lexicon of “religion” and even criminalized.

JF: Thanks, Katherine!

“Contact may be dangerous, but so is no contact”

Sentinel Island

There were strong reactions when news first emerged about John Allen Chau, the missionary killed by the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island.  We have done several posts about the story.  Read them here.

As we learn more about Chau and the humans who inhabit North Sentinel Island the stories are becoming more nuanced.  For example, here is a taste Jeffrey Gettleman’s piece at The New York Times:

“There is no question that this attempt to make contact was totally wrong and a major violation of their human rights to autonomy,” he said. “Outsiders need to respect their wishes and treat them with dignity as fellow human beings. Respect means we don’t assume to know better how they should live.”

To me that is the operative question. How do they want to live? Can outsiders presume they don’t want contact without communicating with them? Where does their hostility come from? Maybe it’s from an old grudge (in the 19th century, a young British naval officer kidnapped a few of the islanders and some soon died). Maybe it’s from superstition or something else.

Kim Hill, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, thinks total isolation on a tropical island is a bit of a fantasy anyway. He said that it’s “unwise and inhumane to forcibly keep these groups isolated by building protective fences around them.”

First, if a population gets too small and isolated, like the people on North Sentinel, it will probably become extinct. Contact may be dangerous, but so is no contact. Second, some type of encounter with an outsider is inevitable, Mr. Hill said, and “accidental contact is a disaster waiting to happen.” North Sentinel is isolated, but it’s only 30 miles or so from Port Blair, the region’s growing capital. How long can the Indians keep people away from the island? Mr. Hill’s solution is to learn what the islanders want so that they can make the decision about their future.

“Humans are an extremely social species,” he said. “No groups want to live isolated forever. They do it out of fear.”

Read the entire piece here.

New Developments in the John Allen Chau Story

We have done several posts on the death of John Allen Chau, the missionary killed by the indigenous inhabitants of North Sentinel Island off the coast of India.  It seems like we learn more and more every day about this tragic event.  Religion News Service reporter https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js“>Jack Jenkins shared some new and relevant information on Twitter today:

John Allen Chau’s Missions Agency Responds to His Death

Chau

John Allen Chau, the missionary killed by an indigenous tribe on an island off the coast of India, was working with an evangelical missions organization called All Nations.  Over at Christianity Today’s “Quick to Listen” podcast, Morgan Lee (have I said yet that she is a former student?) and Mark Galli (editor of CT) talk to Mary Ho, the executive director of All Nations.

Listen here:

Some takeaways:

  • All Nations was founded by Floyd McClung, an “international leader’ of Youth with a Mission (referred to in evangelical circles as Y-WAM).
  • Chau contacted All Nations “about two years ago” and told them about North Sentinel Island and the Sentinelese.
  • Chau believed that his “life call” was to take the Gospel to the Sentinelese.  Ho said that “every decision” Chau made with his life from that point forward was to prepare him to reach the Sentinelese.  This include training in sports medicine, health, exercise science, EMT training, linguistics, missiology, and cultural anthropology.
  • Ho describes him “as a young man who was thorough and meticulous in his preparation.”
  • Ho says that All Nations train people in an approach to missions that “respects the local cultures.”
  • Ho says that Chau had 13-types of immunizations and quarantined himself for several days before he went to North Sentinel Island.  (He was physically fit and exercised daily during his quarantine).
  • All Nations “encourages” its missionaries to travel in groups of two or more.  Others were willing to go to North Sentinel Island with Chau, but Chau decided he wanted to go alone so he did not risk the safety of others.
  • Based on the conversation with Chau, Galli thinks that he was “well-prepared.”

I wish Morgan or Mark would have asked Ho if All Nations endorses Chau’s decision to break Indian law.

With some of this information in hand, Wheaton College missiologist Ed Stetzer has offered his take on Chau’s death in a piece at The Washington Post.

A Historian of Missions on the Death of John Allen Chau

TuckerWhen I was a student studying church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I read Ruth Tucker‘s book From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions.  Tucker was teaching in some capacity at Trinity at this time, but I never got a chance to take one of her courses.  As a relatively new evangelical, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya was my first exposure to the evangelical missionary enterprise.  I found it to be a both inspiring and honest treatment of the subject.

Over at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, Tucker reflects on the recent death of missionary John Allen Chau at the hands of the Sentinelese. (See my reflections here). She puts Chau’s story in the context of the so-called “Auca Five,” the missionaries killed in 1956 by the Auca Indians in the Ecuadorian rain forest.

Here is a taste of Tucker’s piece:

I am truly sorry about John Chau’s untimely death, and I certainly do not know his motives—whether any of my multiple-choice motives factored in. Was he really thinking he could bring the gospel without knowing the language? Even if he could have, he would have been seriously endangering the people. If the population of the island had died due to his bringing pathogens against which they have no immunity, wouldn’t that have been far worse?

Some will insist that Chau has potentially rallied a new generation of missionaries. Perhaps. It is indeed true that Operation Auca inspired many to become missionaries, but at what cost and at what neglect of sensible mission outreach?

In the end, missionaries evangelized both tribal groups that had defended themselves by killing the men they perceived to be enemies. In the first instance gifts were left at the perimeter of the tribal territory, allowing the people to make contact on their own terms. In the second instance, three women and a little girl visited the native people: Dayuma, leading the way, Bible translator Rachel Saint, and Elisabeth Elliot, Jim’s widow, and their young daughter.

“For those who saw it as a great Christian martyr story,” Elisabeth later wrote, “the outcome was beautifully predictable. All puzzles would be solved. God would vindicate Himself. Aucas would be converted and we could all ‘feel good’ about our faith.” But that is not what actually happened. “The truth is that not by any means did all subsequent events work out as hoped. There were negative effects of the missionaries’ entrance into Auca territory. There were arguments and misunderstandings and a few really terrible things, along with the answers to prayer.”

Read the entire piece here.

I am actually waiting for Wheaton College history professor Kathryn Long to weigh-in on this.  She is the author of the forthcoming book God in the Rainforest: A Tale of Martydom and Redemption in the Amazonian Ecuador (Oxford University Press, 2019).

ADDENDUM: A quick Google search tells me that Long offered commentary for this NPR piece.

Thoughts on the Death of John Allen Chau

Chau

What should we make of the death of a twenty-seven-year-old missionary at the hands of an indigenous tribe on North Sentinel Island off the coast of India?  On Sunday we published Kate Carte’s twitterstorm on the subject.  Yesterday I linked to Ryu Spaeth’s piece at The New Republic.  Since then, evangelical historian Thomas Kidd has weighed-in at The Gospel Coalition.  The story has also elicited several interesting comments at my Facebook page.

Frankly, this story has so many moving parts that I am not sure I have a “take” on it.  It is a tragic story on all sides.  I have mixed feelings about Chau’s death.

Here are a few thoughts:

1.This is one of those cases where people of Christian faith who believe in the Great Commission (Mt. 28) might see it differently from those who are not Christians.  As an evangelical myself, I understand and sympathize with Chau’s zeal and his desire to convert the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island. Chau was passionate about his faith and his desire to share it with others.  Conversionism, missionary work, and evangelism are at the heart of evangelical faith.  Historically, this kind of passion and zeal has often led to martyrdom.  I am reminded of my friend who I wrote about in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  He signed his letters to fellow Christians with these words: “May you suffer and die for Christ.”

I am not saying here that Chau deserves to be called a “martyr.” I am saying that Chau is not the first person to die proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

The Great Commission is one of the reasons I remain an evangelical. If you are a Christian and do not believe in evangelism, missions, or “making disciples” in the world then you need to explain to me why you take Jesus’s words seriously in some places of the Gospels (love your neighbor, caring for the poor, etc.) and not in Matthew 28:16-20.  It seems to me that the Great Commission of Matthew 28 is something more than simply, “go into the world and do acts of social justice.”  If this is what the Great Commission means, then I am not sure how Christianity is any different than the Peace Corps or some other non-religious agency.  It seems to me that the requirement to “make disciples” and “baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit” requires something more.  Chau took this call seriously.

2. Unfortunately, Chau was not a good steward of his passion and his commitment to the Great Commission.  He was a young man.  He had the potential of reaching so many lives with the good news of the Gospel.  We need more people in the church with his zeal for evangelism. Sadly, we will never get to witness his future ministry.

3. Christians have abused the Great Commission in ways that have led to violence, death, genocide, slavery, and other forms of imperialism.  Kate Carte is right about the so-called Pilgrim (and Puritan) invasion.  This is a history that today’s evangelicals must confront and I have spent the better of my career trying to get my fellow evangelicals to confront it.  But I am thankful, at least when it comes to missiology, that some thoughtful evangelicals have confronted it.  I don’t know of any missiologist teaching at a reputable evangelical theological seminary who would endorse the kind of imperialism practiced by the Pilgrims, 19th-century missionaries, or even 20th-century missionaries.  Moreover, I do not think contemporary missiologists would endorse Chau’s approach either.  His approach is not representative of evangelical missionary activity today.

4. Over at my Facebook page, historian Jonathan Couser writes that he “does not consider Chau a true missionary.”  He reminds us that the term “missionary” means “one who is sent” (from Latin, missus).  This, Couser writes, “implies authorization, commission from a sending church or agency.  So far as I understand, no church SENT Chau.  He got it into his own head to undertake a lone-wolf mission to an isolated people.”  This is a great point.  There is a reason why missionaries do not go to North Sentinel Island.  Churches and missions organizations bring wisdom, history, scholarship, and experience to the missionary endeavor.  Perhaps Chau did consult with a “sending” organization and simply ignored the advice.  Perhaps a “sending” organization would have been aware of the health risk he posed to the Sentinelese.

And now the attempt to recover Chau’s body has put others at risk.  It does not seem like he thought this through.  This is what happens when missionaries go rogue.

5.  Chau’s failure to work as part of the global Christian or missionary community is an example of the individualism at the heart of Western evangelicalism.  Chau’s trip to North Sentinel Island seems to have combined evangelical individualism with the adventure/adrenaline culture popular among American millennials today.  Chau seems to have ignored the wisdom of the church and the voices of other Christians in his life.

6. A lot has been made of Chau breaking Indian law by going to the North Sentinel Island.  No argument here.  But like Ryu Spaeth, I wonder when it is appropriate to break border laws and when it is not.  Is it appropriate to interpret Chau’s actions in the context of America’s immigration debate?  Many liberals and progressives defend undocumented immigrants crossing the border in the name of justice and compassion.  Others disagree.  Those who disagree suggest that undocumented immigrants are dangerous or a threat to American society.  They thus defend strict border control and punishment for those who enter the United States illegally.  (Caveat:  I am talking here about immigrants, not asylum seekers).

In Chau’s case, he understood his arrival on New Sentinel Island as an act of love and compassion.  He believed so strongly in the evangelical message of salvation that he thought it was worth breaking the law so that he could deliver this message to the Sentinelese.  Why such a strong defense of North Sentinel Island borders, but not such a strong defense of U.S. borders?  When should love and compassion define our understand of borders and when should it not? Do we only break the law for the ideas and moral principles that we like?

7.  As a Christian, I believe in the dignity of all human beings.  I thus believe murder is wrong.  I understand that the Sentinelese acted in self-defense.  But in the end, a life was lost.  This should cause us to grieve.  Murder is murder and life is life, whether the Sentinelese are noble savages or not.  Of course one might also say the same thing about Chau.  His arrival on the island put human lives at risk.

Tragic indeed.

Addendum: It appears that Chau did indeed work with a missions agency.  Kate Shellnut at Christianity Today reports that he was a missionary with All Nations missions.

Addendum #2:  At 12:14 am on November 27, 2018 I edited points 3 and 6 for clarity.

*The New Republic* Weighs-In on American Missionary John Allen Chau

 

ChauYesterday I posted Kate Carte’s twitter thread on the connections between the missionary killed by an indigenous tribe on North Sentinel Island and the American celebration of Thanksgiving.  Read the post here.

Over at The New Republic, Ryu Spaeth provides some ethical nuance.  Here is a taste of his piece, “The Strange Ethics of Killing John Allen Chau“:

It is basically a miracle that the Sentinelese, numbering as few as a few dozen people, continue to exist. Other indigenous tribes were wiped out when the British turned the Andaman and Nicobar Islands into a penal colony in the nineteenth century. Still others withered when they came into a more benign contact with anthropologists in the twentieth. It is no wonder the Sentinelese are wary of foreigners. For them to have successfully turned back yet another encroachment by the West, even in the figure of an irrepressible fool, seems like a rare victory amidst so much defeat. It feels like well-earned revenge.

But this is where the story’s underlying moral logic becomes almost too beguiling. Perhaps we want it to be that simple, for a man’s life to cost exactly that of a trespass of sacrosanct ground. Just as the Sentinelese appear to modern eyes to stand outside of time, with their rough-hewn weapons and ocean-bound lives, so does their rough administration of justice, suggesting some iron decree that is immemorial, nearing the divine: Cross this line and you will be struck down.

In much of the world, the rules that govern borders and sovereignty, that determine who can go where, are not so brightly defined. They are tacked together from a host of precedents and compromises, and riven with ambiguities and ethical pitfalls. Some people can cross, others cannot, and the difference is sometimes literally arbitrary, determined by lottery. There is nothing close to a consensus on what these rules should ultimately be, with the options ranging from walls to the abolition of borders altogether. At the root of this issue are fundamental questions about what it means to be a culture, a nation, a people. It is arguably the most divisive problem of our time, and easily one of the most explosive.

Just last week, as news was spreading of Chau’s death, no less a liberal eminence than Hillary Clinton declared that Europe “must send a very clear message—‘we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’” to migrants. Clinton said this position was necessary because a flood of migrants to Europe, starting in 2015, had played into the hands of right-wing anti-immigration parties, feeding their popularity. The latter part of that statement is undoubtedly true, but critics pointed out that that is no reason to deny refuge entirely to those fleeing appalling conditions in their home countries.

There is no equivalence between Clinton’s callous remarks and the hostility of the Sentinelese—for one thing, the dynamics at play between the powerful and the vulnerable in these two situations are reversed. But the comparison reminds us that the world we live in is necessarily imperfect and often unjust, because its laws are the product of competing claims made in pluralistic societies. The fascination with Chau’s killing is multifaceted, but perhaps it is at least partly driven by the impossible fantasy of a world where solutions arrive with the directness of an arrow’s flight—and where justice and the law are one and the same.

Read the entire piece here.

What Does a Dead Missionary Have to Do With Thanksgiving?

 

In case you haven’t heard, John Allen Chau, a 26-year-old missionary and graduate of Oral Roberts University, was killed last week trying to spread his faith to North Sentinel, an island in the Andaman Sea.  Read about it here.

Yesterday my friend Kate Carte unleashed a tweetstorm connecting Chau’s missionary endeavors to the story of 17th-century European imperialism, particularly the so-called “first Thanksgiving.”

I am not sure I agree with everything Kate has written here, but I have been thinking about and processing her comments all day and I think they are worth considering.  I present them here for your consideration.  (I apologize for the fact that I do not know how to embed a tweet in my blog without including the previous tweet.  Sorry).

 

Father Junipero Serra is OUT at Stanford

Serra

Here is the Stanford press release:

Stanford will rename some campus features named for Father Junipero Serra, the 18th-century founder of the California mission system, but will retain the Serra name and the names of other Spanish missionaries and settlers on other campus features, based on the recommendations of a university committee of faculty, students, staff and alumni.

The Stanford Board of Trustees accepted the committee’s recommendations to rename certain campus features and also accepted a recommendation by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne to use the opportunity to honor university co-founder Jane Stanford. As a first implementation step, Tessier-Lavigne is initiating a process seeking approval from Santa Clara County and the U.S. Postal Service to rename Serra Mall, the pedestrian and bicycle mall at the front of the Stanford campus that serves as the university’s official address, as “Jane Stanford Way.”

The Serra dormitory and small academic building with the Serra name also will be renamed, with the new names to be determined. However, Serra Street on campus will retain its current name, and the university will pursue new educational displays and other efforts to more fully address the multidimensional legacy of Serra and the mission system in California.

After extensive research and outreach, the committee applied a rigorous set of principles that a previous Stanford committee had developed for considering the renaming of campus features named for historical figures with complex legacies.

Serra’s establishment of the mission system is a central part of California history, and his life’s work led to his canonization by the Roman Catholic Church in 2015. At the same time, the historical record confirms that the mission system inflicted great harm and violence on Native Americans, and Stanford has several features named for Serra even though he played no direct role in the university’s history.

Read the rest here.

Want to learn more about Serra?  I recommend Steven Hackel’s Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father.

Did Missionaries Contribute to the Growth of Secularism?

Protestants AbroadOver at The Christian Century, Robert Westbrook of the University of Rochester reviews David Hollinger‘s latest book, Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America.

Here is a taste:

Protestants Abroad fits snugly within Hollinger’s long-standing narrative of the price that ecumenical Protestants paid as a religious community for their thinning of the particularism of Christianity. Clearly missionaries were prominent among the church leaders who got out ahead of the rank and file on controversial social and political matters and lost the loyalty of many of them. And the weight of Hollinger’s extensive biographical evidence is that they also pioneered the art of raising post-Protestant children who may well have admired their moral strength and shared their humanitarian values but found little need for their religious beliefs.

Hollinger himself remains impatient with those who persisted in “God-talk” long after he thinks it lost its plausibility, favoring post-Protestant “mish kids” over their still devout parents in this regard. But arguably, on his own evidence, there is something to be said, even if one does not speak it oneself, for God-talk or even Christ-talk. It may very well be that the tension between the universal and the particular was crushing for missionary theory, but was it so for missionary practice? There is little evidence in Hollinger’s book that this was the case.

Many of the numerous life stories in Hollinger’s books are tales of courage, courage that was for many of those who mustered it sustained by Christian belief, however thin it may have been. Civil rights activist and former missionary Ruth Harris was described by one of the students she inspired as “acting up for Christ”—not for humanity but for Christ. And the same might be said of many of those who gave us a more cosmopolitan republic. Could they have found the strength to act up elsewhere, outside the confines of Christian belief? Maybe, but in their Christianity was where they found it.

Thin God-talk is not necessarily weak God-talk; it can be wiry God-talk. God-talk lean, supple, and articulated alongside humility and doubt. Might one not cop to the considerable uncertainty that remains in even such wiry God-talk and despite doing so be moved by religious faith to do far more good than one might otherwise have done? The more cosmopolitan American republic that liberal Protestant missionaries did so much to create is of late under siege. If we are to protect it, perhaps a few courageous, die-hard ecumenical Christian survivalists will come in handy.

Read the entire review here.

North Korean Ice Hockey Has Presbyterian Roots

North Korea

This is news to me.  Atlas Obscura has it covered.  Here is a taste:

FOR ALL THE INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION that the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang are bringing to the Korean Peninsula’s fractious history, tense present, and uncertain future, there will likely be little talk about the era when a team of American high school students represented the (now North Korean) city of Pyongyang—in hockey. Today, North Korea has thoroughly erased positive depictions of Americans from its capital, but before World War II it hosted a strong American missionary presence, and was the site of a remarkable chapter in sports history.

The first documented ice hockey games in Korea occurred in 1928, when the Japanese Empire ruled Korea, which they called Chosun (1910–45). An organized national hockey league and a national championship followed a couple of years later. In the Chosun Hockey League, which included teams of all age groups, Americans from the missionary communities were instrumental in developing the game. The first national champion, in 1930, was Chosun Christian College in Seoul, a school founded in 1915 by American Presbyterian missionaries. In Pyongyang, the leading team was from Pyongyang Foreign School, the school that served the American community. Hockey was the school’s leading winter sport.

Hockey games in 1930s Korea were elemental, played on outdoor rinks on land and on Pyongyang’s frozen Taedong River. Bitter cold, rough natural ice, ankle-high improvised boards, and wind and snow were normal for the players, and spectators had to stand all game on the edge of the ice, and sometimes on it. Like pickup games on frozen ponds in Canada or Minnesota, the conditions of these early games challenged the dedication of players and spectators alike.

Read the rest here.

Baptist Missionaries Respond to Trump’s “S—hole” Comments

Mozambique_baptism1
I was afraid this would happen.  Court evangelicals take heed.  Check out Jeff Brumley’s piece at Baptist World Global.  Donald Trump is not making it easy for missionaries in Africa and elsewhere  Here is a taste:

Those interviewed by Baptist News Global reported being not only offended by the derogatory comment but also embarrassed by the obscenity hurled at people and cultures they have come to know and love. They also expressed a concern that the president’s insult will likely make it harder for missionaries to perform the already difficult job of sharing and living the gospel in the four corners.

And perhaps worst of all, these ministers said, is that the attitude behind Trump’s comments ignores the enviable personal and spiritual depth of many who live in “shithole” countries.

Mitch Randall experienced that consistently during church mission trips to African nations.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with David Hollinger

51BOYw8IuNL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgDavid Hollinger is Preston Hotchkis Professor Emeritus at the University of California-Berkley. This interview is based on his new book, Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America (Princeton University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Protestants Abroad?

DH: In the 1990s while writing books about multiculturalism (Postethnic America, 1995) and about Jewish intellectuals (Science, Jews, and Secular Culture, 1996), it struck me that many missionaries were precursors of the most defensible aspects of multiculturalism and were indeed the Anglo-Protestant equivalents of the cosmopolitan Jewish intellectuals who were famous for having expanded the horizons of American culture. I became annoyed at the patronizing and negative pictures of missionaries that were dominant among scholars and in popular culture. I also remembered, having long since forgotten it, what a powerful, charismatic figure was cut in my church-centered childhood by missionaries on furlough from China and India. As a little boy in Idaho and Washington, these people in their Sunday night lectures made me aware of a world much wider than my own surroundings.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Protestants Abroad?

DH: Deep immersion in foreign cultures led many missionaries to adopt relatively generous attitudes toward the varieties of humankind, causing these missionaries to question as provincial a great variety of Home Truths accepted by most of the folks at home. Between about 1920 and 1970, ecumenically inclined, anti-racist missionaries and their children advocated foreign policies friendly to the self-declared interests of non-white, decolonizing peoples, and promoted domestic initiatives that would later be called “multicultural.”

JF: Why do we need to read Protestants Abroad?

DH: To call attention to an egalitarian theme in the Christian tradition that is much less visible in the current era than it was fifty, seventy-five, and one hundred years ago. To make clear that Americans who have benefited from “white privilege” have done very different things with their color-produced opportunities, and have sometimes fought against the very racism of which they were the beneficiaries. To remind ourselves that contact with people very different from ourselves can liberate us from narrow understandings of what the possibilities for human life actually are.

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

DH: I wrote an entire essay (“Church People and Others”) answering exactly this question, posed by the editors of Becoming Historians (edited by James Banner and John Gillis, 2009), which I reprinted as Chapter 8 of my own book, After Cloven Tongues of Fire (2013). The short answer is that I did this because I did not know what I was doing! I thought it would be easier than philosophy and theology, the other fields that most interested me. I was mistaken. It proved to be very demanding, or so it has seemed to me. But what made me stay with it is probably more important than the naïve conceptions of the calling that led me to it. What made me stay with it was the ever-growing awareness that the study of history was a virtually boundless opportunity to explore an infinity of questions about what it meant to be human. The title of the “Church People and Others” piece refers to how I found my way from the society of my youth into the overwhelmingly secular circles of academia.

JF: What is your next project?

DH: Two things are in the works. First, I have been writing a family memoir that I may or may not publish, organized around my father’s difficult path to the ministry and his even more difficult departure from it. It is an account of a “Pennsylvania Dutch” family’s migration from Gettysburg to Saskatchewan, and how my father and his siblings were almost destroyed by the blizzards and by the unwise decisions of my grandfather, who was a leader of the Church of the Brethren and a Brethren in Christ bishop when the two denominations worked together in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s. Second, I am making notes for what might be a short, essayistic book (modelled on Postethnic America) about religion and politics in modern America. This book would address some of the problems that follow from the sort of thinking authorized by 2nd Corinthians 10:5 (every thought captive to Christ, etc.), and would attempt to bring some clarity to the widespread discourse about the function of religious ideas and affiliations in contemporary American public life.

JF: Thanks, David!  I can’t wait to read both of those books!

The Author’s Corner with Joy Schulz

9780803285897-JacketBlue.inddJoy Schulz is a Professor of History at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska. This interview is based on her new book, Hawaiian By Birth: Missionary Children, Bicultural Identity and U.S. Colonialism in the Pacific (University of Nebraska Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Hawaiian By Birth?

JS: When I first visited Honolulu as a teenager, I was struck by the fact that I was a racial minority. I remember wondering if I was feeling to a very small degree what my nonwhite friends in Nebraska felt on a daily basis. Later, after being introduced to the history of U.S. annexation of the Hawaiian Islands, I wondered why “the missionary boys,” as native Hawaiians called the annexationists, would overthrow their Christian queen. When I dug a little deeper and realized that hundreds of white children had grown up in the Hawaiian Islands as subjects of the Hawaiian monarchy, I became fascinated by their story. Having missionary friends who were raising their own children outside of the United States, I thought the topics of citizenship, national identity, and Christian mission—as they related to missionary children—were worthy of further exploration. The fact that the missionary children in Hawaii left extensive written records only made the project more exciting to me.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Hawaiian By Birth?

JS: Hawaiian By Birth is the history of U.S. colonization of the Hawaiian Islands as told by the children of nineteenth-century American missionaries living in the Islands. Hawaiian By Birth explains how American colonization was a domestic and generational endeavor, undertaken by missionary parents out of tremendous fear for their children’s economic futures, but completed by the children, whose views on race, religion, politics, and the environment were directly influenced by their bicultural upbringing.

JF: Why do we need to read Hawaiian By Birth?

JS: Other historical narratives of the Hawaiian Islands have been told from American missionary or native Hawaiian accounts. A few have looked at Hawaiian history from the perspective of missionary wives or Hawaiian queens. None have explained the U.S. annexation of the Hawaiian Islands from the perspective of the missionary sons and daughters.

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

JS: I decided to become a historian after hearing my college history professor describe the discipline. He told our class: if you like to read, think independently, and manage your own time, but also enjoy people, the discipline of history might be for you. I think I declared my major that same day!

JF: What is your next project?

JS: My next project explores the American public school teachers who traveled to the Philippines at the turn of the twentieth century. U.S. colonization of the Philippines was both a military and educative endeavor. Unlike the American public school system today, U.S. government-sponsored teachers traveling to the Philippines had openly Christian perspectives and evangelical goals. Who these teachers were, why they traveled across the Pacific, and what influence they had upon the islands interests me.

JF: Thanks, Joy!

Missionaries in the “Era of Good Feelings”

The Author's Corner with Emily Conroy-KrutzOn Tuesday, we called your attention to Sara Georgini’s series on the “Era of Good Feelings” at the U.S. Intellectual History Blog.

The series continues with a piece by Emily Conroy-Krutz of Michigan State University. Some of you may recall that Conroy-Krutz visited the Author’s Corner in September 2015 to discuss her book Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic.

In her post at the USIH blog she discusses “Missionary Intelligence and Americans’ Mental Map of the World” in the Era of Good Feelings.

Here is a taste:

Throughout its history, an important part of the foreign missions movement was communicating what they termed “missionary intelligence,” sharing information about the world with their domestic supporters who might never leave their home communities. By the 1830s, missionary promoters were convinced that it was only American ignorance about the world that prevented the mission movement from receiving the high levels of support that they felt it deserved. The solution to such a quandary was for the foreign mission movement to continue to educate the country about the world at large. Geographic, ethnographic, and political information about the world made up much of the published materials of the mission movement of this era.

This educational role reveals the ways that missionaries saw themselves as important mediators between the world and the nation. Like trade and commercial networks of the same era, the foreign mission movement connected the United States to a much larger world. If we want to understand the mental map of early 19th century Americans, the foreign missions movement provides us with a helpful point of entry. And if we want to understand the diplomacy of the early republic, we ought to think more about these missionaries.

Read the entire post here.

Steven Hackel on Junipero Serra

One of the more “Catholic” things that Pope Francis did during his visit to the United States was to canonize 18th-century Spanish missionary Junipero Serra.  In my post last week on Serra, I referenced Steven Hackel’s biography, Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father.


I was hoping Hackel, an early American history professor at the University of California-Riverside, would offer some commentary on Serra’s canonization.  And he did.

Hackel sees the canonization of Serra as having to do more with Francis’s views on immigration than on anything having to do with the missionary’s views on Indians.  Here is a taste of his post at Process, the blog of the Organization of American Historians:

This national amnesia about the ways in which immigrant Catholic missionaries shaped much of what is now the United States has had deleterious effects on our nation’s character. The ill effects are evident today in the words of bigots, racists, and political opportunists who seek to safeguard an imaginary Anglo-Protestant America from an exaggerated Latino immigrant threat. Yes, those who criticize Serra’s treatment of Indians are right to do so. But debates about Serra’s Indian policy miss a fundamental message that the Pope intends to deliver through Serra’s canonization: our nation’s current wave of anti-immigration rhetoric flies in the face of America’s deep Hispanic and Catholic roots, and sadly it draws on a rich vein of anti-Catholicism in American history. Serra’s life tells us that American history from its beginnings was diverse and multiethnic and that our national creation story is not just one of thirteen English colonies united in 1776 but that it extends far deeper into our past and includes Spanish missionaries and the Native Americans they encountered. Clearly the Pope believes that if Americans can embrace what is Spanish and Catholic in America’s past, they can become more accepting of our nation’s growing Latino and Catholic populations, irrespective of their origins. Time will tell.
Those who wonder about this canonization and the proper place of founding fathers like Junípero Serra in American history should know that Serra rarely lost a fight, even when he faced enormous challenges. Against all odds—when he was old and in poor health from fatigue and a chronically ulcerous leg, with the Spanish military in California turned against him—Serra persevered to found more missions. Just this year he survived an attempt by some California legislators to remove his statue from the U.S. Capitol. In Serra’s defense, Governor Jerry Brown stated that “The Pope is right in recognizing his sanctity.”
The Catholic Church says that Serra worked miracles. Perhaps he will soon work another. This man who is soon to be a saint might just be the symbol that Americans have long needed to more fully recognize another aspect of the complexity of our nation’s origins. As told by the Pope, Archbishop Gomez, and Dr. Carriquiri, Serra’s story—sailing across the Atlantic, venturing deep into Mexico on foot, journeying far north to California—is not just a life of Catholic heroism. It is also a reminder to our nation’s Nativists that Catholics and Hispanics have a long claim to American soil and its history. America is a land of immigrants, and among the first and most important were missionaries like Serra. Many came overland from the south, spoke Spanish, and practiced Catholicism. They left a lasting mark on American history and they will continue to shape its future. It is in honor of them, and future generations of Latinos, that the Pope is canonizing Serra against the wishes of those who rightly claim that Serra’s missions adversely affected California’s indigenous peoples.
Read the entire post here

The Author’s Corner with Emily Conroy-Krutz

The Author's Corner with Emily Conroy-Krutz

Emily Conroy-Krutz is Assistant Professor, Department of History, Michigan State University.  This interview is based on her new book Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic (Cornell University Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Christian Imperialism?

ECK: 
It started with a story about Americans in the British Empire. In 1812, when the first American foreign missionaries reached India, the War of 1812 had just begun and eight American men and women now found themselves in British territory, ordered to return to the United States, and placed in police custody. They did not leave, but spent the war years divided into smaller groups, some fleeing the police and trying to find alternate mission locations and others trying to convince the local governments in India that they were not an American threat, but Christian allies in the task of converting India to Christianity and “civilization.” I came across that story when I was working on a seminar paper in graduate school and was fascinated by the boldness of the missionaries who asserted their right to be in India and played with the questions of their identity as Americans and as Christians. For some of their British missionary allies, the Americans were maddening in their lack of a plan and unwillingness to follow the rules of the East India Company in determining where they would go and what they would do.

These early American missionaries felt that they were following Providence and fulfilling their duty to take part in the conversion of the world, even as the power of their country to help them do that work was severely limited. I wanted to know much more about them and to try and figure out what inspired this movement that they were part of and what it could tell us about national identity in the early United States. I wanted to know what they thought they were doing in India in 1812, and how they found their way to open mission stations around the world by the mid-1840s.

The project grew out of these linked questions of why the foreign mission movement began when it did and where Americans wanted to go as missionaries. In 1810, when the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was founded, the ambitious global scale of the ABCFM’s plans are quite surprising, and so I wanted to think about what their decisions about where to go and what to do when they got there can tell us about how early 19thcentury American Protestants thought about the role of their country in the world. The result is a book that traces American missionaries in Asia, Africa, North America, the Pacific, and the Middle East in the years before 1848 as a way of thinking about ideas about race, religion, civilization, and empire in the early republic.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Christian Imperialism?

ECK: In the early 19th century, the American foreign mission movement was motivated by an idea that I have termed Christian imperialism, a claim that America and other supposedly Christian nations such as Britain should spread Anglo-American civilization and Protestantism to the peoples of what they called the “heathen world” as a way of fulfilling their duty to spread the gospel. As they went about four decades of missionary work, they asserted the centrality of this role even as the political realities of the world around them ultimately did not conform to this vision of an American international role.

JF: Why do we need to read Christian Imperialism?

ECK: Christian Imperialism takes a broad-scale view of the foreign mission movement as a way of thinking about the US in the world during the first decades of the nineteenth century. If you are interested in how Americans have thought about the role of their country in the world, this is an important part of that story. Missionaries were some of the earliest Americans to live abroad, and their writings about their experiences were influential to how Americans at home understood the peoples of the world. They worked alongside imperial and colonial projects around the world—including the British East India Company, the Colonization Society, and the U.S. government—and had an important perspective on how religion and politics ought to relate to each other. By looking at missionaries in Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands, North America, and the Middle East within the same study, I try to reconstruct the foreign mission movement as it would have been thought about at the time: a project with truly global ambitions that emerged at a moment of American political weakness on a global scale.  Thinking about how those two things fit together can reveal a lot about the place of America in the world. In light of these difficulties, missionaries had to prioritize where they went and what they did, and their decisions are revealing of their thinking about race and “civilization,” and of how that thinking shaped and was shaped by their religious beliefs and political and economic structures. The book should be of interest to readers who want to know more about not only the history of missions, but of the role of the US in the world, of American imperialism, and of religion and race.

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


ECK: 
I was lucky to have some really great history teachers in high school and college that helped me to see how exciting it could be to become a historian and try to answer big questions through a careful reading of primary source documents. In my first semester as an undergraduate at Columbia, Alice Kessler-Harris introduced us to E.H. Carr and to the idea that how we frame our questions matters, and where we go looking for our answers matters. It was that training in women’s history that really inspired me to think about history as a career. Once I started exploring archives and discovering the fun ways that research can take you in new directions you weren’t expecting, I was hooked.

JF: 
What is your next project?

ECK: 
I’m starting work now on a project looking at women and transatlantic reform before 1840. In part, this is emerging out of some research on women in the foreign mission movement that I did for this project but I’m planning on moving beyond missions to think about the ways that men and women in the US and Great Britain were talking about women’s participation in reform movements—particularly religiously motivated movements—in the decades between the Revolution and the 1840 World’s Antislavery Conference in London. It’s very early stages, but I’m having a lot of fun with it so far.

JF:
Thanks Emily!  Sounds like a great new project!

Michael Limberg on Day 2 and Day 3 of the Spring Meeting of the American Society of Church History

Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Paul, Minnesota
Michael Limberg, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut and a seasoned correspondent for The Way of Improvement Leads Home (check out his posts from the 2015 meeting of the American Historical Association), is in Minneapolis this week for the Spring Meeting of the American Society for Church History.  Here is second and final post from the conference.   You can read his first post here.  –JF

It’s been a busy couple of days at the American Society for Church History Spring Meeting.  Between the graduate student reception and practicing for my presentation last night, I didn’t have a chance to write a post for Friday.  I won’t try to recap all the panels from the last two days, but here are a few notes on interesting developments from the panels and conference events.

Missions, race, and immigration have been recurring themes in the sessions I’ve attended.  Many of the papers on missions have been concerned with figuring out a new historiographic paradigm for missionary work, somewhere between celebrating missionaries as heroic figures and castigating them as exploitative agents of imperialism.  In every panel on overseas missions, the comments pushed for more inclusion of sources that would convey the voices of the missionized as well as the missionaries.  Papers in my panel by Andy Dibb and Andrew Russell took good steps in that direction by including voices from a series of revival movements in Africa and a Swedenborgian church movement started by black South Africans.  Many of the papers, ranging from early American topics to contemporary church movements, focused on how and why churches reached out to racial outsiders.  Phillip Gollner’s paper on Swedes participating in the anti-Mormon movement during the late 1800s and Mark Grandquist’s work on Lutheran churches in Minnesota working with African immigrants were two of a number of examples.  Immigration history was tied into that question.

A brown-bag lunch on Friday with Robert Ellison and Keith Francis introduced an expanding set of resources for pursuing sermon studies as a growing sub-field with the help of online databases.  (Marshall explains what the term and field include and accomplish here).  They argued for the importance of sermons as a way to understand events or trends in the larger society, but acknowledged the difficulty of sorting through the haystack of published sermons.  Ellison demonstrated the capacity of the searchable database with links to digitized sermons he will soon launch through the Marshall University’s Center for Sermon Studies.  Clearly this is a project that will require some crowdsourcing to begin to encompass all the possible sources, so look for the website to go live soon and look for a call to help expand the catalog.

James Laine’s plenary session on meta-religion and Christianity looked very interesting, but I skipped it in favor of a different kind of exercise in church history.  After my panel on Saturday morning, I heard about an ecumenical service for victims of the Armenian Genocide taking place at the St. Paul Cathedral.  I’ve been writing about the Armenian Genocide and the U.S. humanitarian response this spring as part of my dissertation, so I took the chance to go.  Archbishop Nienstedt  spoke, as did the leaders of a number of other Twin Cities denominations.  It was a moving service.   I got the chance to step back from my academic historian perspective and get a different look at this tragedy. The Cathedral is another of my favorite places to visit in the Twin Cities, so I took a few minutes to wander around and admire it again as well.


I won’t be attending the conference events today, so this marks the end of my first ASCH meeting.  I appreciated the welcome I received.  Getting to talk early twentieth century missions and religiously-influenced social movements with Christopher Schlect, Paul Putz and others gave me some new ideas for my research.  I also heard a little of some ongoing informal discussions about the future of ASCH.  The rapid rise of religious scholarship connected to other historical fields (such as the “religious turn” among foreign relations historians that helped bring me to this conference) means that ASCH is no longer as unique and might need to rethink its specific identity or mission.  However those discussions play out over the next months, I hope to attend another ASCH meeting soon.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #67

Did Adoniram Judson’s wife own a $1200 coat?

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

Days like these are rough.  I am trying to get in 3-5 hours a day on the ABS project, but some days my schedule at Messiah College makes it difficult.  For example, today I had an 8:30am meeting, which means I had to get up an hour earlier to do my ABS work.  I have not yet had a cup of coffee.

My morning was spent on two tasks:

1.  Organizing my notes in preparation for writing my chapter (Chapter Four) on the “General Supply” (ABS attempt to provide a Bible for every American).

2.  Reading through The Reformer, a religious periodical published by a Philadelphia anti-mission Baptist (or at least I think he is a Baptist–not completely sure yet). 

I would have never been aware of the existence of this periodical if an ABS agent in frontier Illinois did not mention it in an 1828 letter. The publisher of The Reformer, James Rakestraw, is staunchly opposed to benevolent societies and missions organizations that are interdenominational in nature. He is particularly hard on the American Bible Society because he thinks the ABS is only concerned with making money from the sale of Bibles.  There is a strong populist flavor to The Reformer.  The writers publish scathing attacks on Christians who they believe have succumbed to wealth and materialism.  In one issue I read this morning the editors attacked the wife of missionary Adoniram Judson for wearing a coat from India which they believe was worth $1200.

The Reformer was popular among Primitive Baptists in the Midwest during the 1820s.  These Baptists often hindered ABS attempts at supplying the region with Bibles.  Stay tuned.

OAH Panel Wrap-Up: Religion and Transatlantic Print Culture in the Early Republic

Noah Webster: Anti-Jacobinist

This morning I had the privilege of chairing a session on “Religion and Transatlantic Print Culture” at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. Actually, I was pinch hitting for Kyle Roberts of Loyola University-Chicago, who could not make it to the conference.  My responsibilities? Introduce the panelists and read Roberts’s comments.

I expected a solid panel, but I did not anticipate learning so much.

Jonathan Den Hartog of Northwestern College (St. Paul) began the festivities with a paper on religion, Anti-Jacobinism, and print culture.  (For those unfamiliar, Anti-Jacobinists were 1790s intellectuals who opposed the political ideas associated with the French Revolution). From a religious perspective, Anti-Jacobins opposed French irreligion, Paine’s Age of Reason, and the dangers of the Illuminati.  Den Hartog focused on four American Anti-Jacobin writers: grammarian Noah Webster, clergyman Timothy Dwight, printer William Cobbett, and novelist Sally Sayward Wood.

Lily Santoro of Southeast Missouri State presented a paper on the ways in which American Protestants used British texts across the Atlantic “border” to shape a distinctive discussion of science and religion in the early republic.  She focused on intellectuals such as Yale professor Benjamin Silliman and Baptist minister Thomas Staughton who used the study of the natural sciences to support their republican and Christian faith.

Ashley Moreshead of the University of Delaware (both Ashley and Lily are/were Christine Heyrman students) talked about British contributions to American missionary periodicals.  Missionary magazines created a sort of imagined community of Protestants that transcended national boundaries.  Her paper reminded me of the work by Susan O’Brien, Frank Lambert, and others who have written similar things about the First Great Awakening.

(I hope these descriptions do some justice to the three papers).

I should also add that this panel was a model for how to present complicated ideas in a compelling, passionate way.  There were no bells and whistles (Powerpoints, handouts, etc…), but all three papers were presented in a way that was very accessible to the non-specialists in the room.  I don’t think I have ever heard names and phrases such as “William Paley,” “Edmund Burke,” “natural religion,” and “heathen millions” uttered in such an enthusiastic way.

In his comments, Kyle Roberts asked Den Hartog to think harder about how (and if) less popular Anti-Jacobin works were disseminated.  He wondered whether Santoro’s intellectuals and science writers were distinctly “American” in nature.  And he asked Moreshead to examine how magazine editors repurposed European content to suit their needs.

Den Hartog, Santoro, and Moreshead are doing some great work.  I look forward to reading their forthcoming works.  Happy to be a pinch-hitter. (I have always been a big fan of Manny Mota and Rusty Staub).