The Author’s Corner with Richard Pointer

Richard Pointer is Professor Emeritus of History at Westmont College. This interview is based on his new book, Pacifist Prophet: Papunhank and the Quest for Peace in Early America (University of Nebraska Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Pacifist Prophet?

RP: As sometimes happens, this book, and more specifically Papunhank, found me rather than the other way around. I was doing some research on Pennsylvania-Native American relations in the 1750s and ‘60s and he kept popping up in a range of Quaker, Moravian and government source materials. I also began to notice his name briefly mentioned in a few recent secondary accounts. But it quickly became clear that no one had yet put together the various pieces of his life. Two considerations eventually persuaded me to attempt a biography: first and foremost, I discovered his to be an utterly fascinating and important story that should change some of what we think about Indigenous peoples in early America; and second, reconstructing his life offered a chance to put a small dent in the ongoing preoccupation of early American biography with white men.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Pacifist Prophet?

RP: In a mid-eighteenth century world filled with political turmoil, racial hatred, and deadly violence, Papunhank, like most Native Americans, sought a secure homeland for his people. But unlike most Indigenous leaders and prophets, he rejected warfare and promoted a principled pacifism that kept hundreds of his followers alive and contributed to a longer and wider Indian peace tradition.

JF: Why do we need to read Pacifist Prophet?

RP: In reconstructing Papunhank’s remarkable story, Pacifist Prophet reveals a heretofore largely overlooked Indigenous peacemaking tradition and in the process, widens our vision of the possibilities and limits Native peoples encountered in pre-Revolutionary America. In other words, it recovers an essential piece of Native American heritage and American history. As we consider our own cultural moment, Papunhank’s leadership model of self-sacrificial, dignified, morally-grounded service may be worth a look, especially in a world so much in need of being reminded that as Papunhank himself put it “when God made Men he never intend[ed] they should kill or destroy one another.” Moreover, the typical impression in the popular mind continues to be that Indians everywhere and always (or at least until 1890) were warlike. Either by nature, cultural inclination, or political necessity, they had to be. But it turns out that most Native peoples across the long span of early American history avoided war whenever they could. Instead, they, more quietly, pursued peaceful ways to cope with the new realities facing them after the Europeans’ arrival. Few did more or tried harder along those lines than Papunhank. His life, though extraordinary in the choices he made, was far more typical of what most Natives experienced in early America than the handful of Indians from this era (think Pocahontas and Squanto) familiar to Americans today.

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

RP: When asked this question, I always point back to childhood family vacations to historic sites along the East Coast that left me equating history and fun. That seed was then nurtured by excellent junior high and high school American history teachers, enough so that I went to college certain that I wanted to major in history. There my love of the subject and especially early American history grew. Completing a major research project on seventeenth-century Connecticut during my senior year gave me a much better idea of what historians actually do and helped persuade me to pursue graduate school in history. So, too, did the example of my older brother, Steve, who by that point was working on a PhD in history. When the opportunity came along for me to study at Johns Hopkins University, I grabbed it, not quite knowing what I was in for or where I was headed but convinced that a life in academia teaching and writing American history would be a worthy calling.

JF: What is your next project?

RP: Well, I’ve just retired in the last few months from my faculty position at Westmont College so my main project at the moment is figuring out what retirement will look like. So far it is feeling very good, even in the midst of the pandemic. The latter, of course, is making research much more difficult. But I have begun preliminary work on the question, how did the Seven Years’ War shape or re-shape religion in America? Over the past couple of decades, early American historians have come to see that war as far more pivotal in “making America” than previously thought. I’m curious to see if that was true for religion as well. Historians of religion in mid-eighteenth century America have tended to be preoccupied with the First Great Awakening and then the American Revolution, typically skipping over the Seven Years’ War. Yet I suspect that long conflict did much to set the trajectory of religion in America toward disestablishment, anti-Catholicism, evangelical expansion, racial exclusivity, and apocalyptic hope. Perhaps someday we’ll even say that it was the war that “made American religion.”

JF: Thanks, Rick!

Court evangelical Eric Metaxas threw a punch at an anti-Trump protester on Thursday night. What did he say about it today?

Nothing specifically.

In case you missed it:

But if you listen carefully to his radio show today, you will pick-up several veiled references to the incident amid the obsessive fear-mongering that is a daily staple of the show.

In hour one, Metaxas has a conversation with his regular guest, right-wing commentary John Zmirak.

Listen here (Part 1):

At the 9:35 mark, Metaxas facetiously introduces Zmirak this way: “…the dude is sawed-off, so I am just telling you, get ready, you gotta go into your protective stance, he’s going to try to run you over with a bicycle, he’s very threatening, he has a rap-sheet a mile long, he’s a scary dude, I just want you to be poised. John Zmirak is coming-up.”

I’m not sure what this means, but it certainly seems like a reference to what happened last Thursday night, especially the part about the bike.

At the 13:15 mark, Metaxas talks about the streets of Washington D.C. following the last night of the GOP convention. He complains about “vileness directed at women…from the mouths of what they like to call ‘protesters’.” Sounds like a chivalry defense.

At the 25:50 mark, Metaxas talks about rage: “When we give into rage, we don’t know what it is we’re giving into.” Indeed.

At the 31:20 mark, Metaxas starts using the Bible, Christianity, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to defend violence. “There is a place for self-defense,” he says. Zmirak says that the non-violence/pacifist reading of the Bible is a “primitive and childish reading of the Gospels.” This discussion makes me wonder if Metaxas and Zmirak are talking about 1930s Germany or last Thursday night in Washington.

During this part of the conversation Metaxas comes very close to making a direct connection between today’s Democratic Party and the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust. Smirak tries to make a biblical and Christian defense of Kyle Rittenhouse’s recent actions in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

At the 38:41 mark, Metaxas identifies court evangelical Bishop Harry Jackson as the man he and his wife Susanne were walking with on Thursday night when he took a swing at the protester. He says that he and his wife were just trying to “shepherd” Jackson to his Uber amid “threats of violence and danger.” Again, nothing about the punch.

Metaxas also says that Christians should pray for their enemies, but at the same time fight for what is “true.” This is ironic coming from a guy who threw a punch at his enemy on Thursday night and supports a president who is a serial liar. Please Eric, don’t start talking about truth until you devote an entire episode of your Christian radio show to the endless falsehoods propagated by this president. You are propping-up a man who is misleading millions of people. One might think a Christian radio show that deals with contemporary issues might be concerned about this.

In Part 2 of the show, the discussion continues with Zmirak. At the 2:00 mark, Metaxas once again starts talking about his night in Washington D.C.: “Our lives were threatened…but we don’t want to talk about that.” Later in the hour, Metaxas interviews Jackson about his new book, but they do not talk about what happened on Thursday evening.

What is the Difference Between Liberty University and Messiah College?

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The covered bridge on the campus of Messiah College

Yesterday in my Created and Called for Community class at Messiah College we discussed different kinds of Christian colleges. We thought about the things a Christian college requires all faculty to affirm, the issues a Christian college “privileges” (but does not necessarily require faculty to agree with), and the issues on which a Christian college does not take an official position.  (Most of our discussion built on the work of Messiah College provost Randy Basinger).

Faculty at Messiah College must be Christians.  All faculty must affirm the Apostles Creed.  We thus have Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox faculty.  Other Christian colleges require faculty to affirm more than just the Apostles Creed.  For example, faculty at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan must affirm the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt. Wheaton College and Gordon College do not hire Catholics.

Messiah College privileges social and religious positions that line-up with the school’s historic Anabaptist, Wesleyan, and Pietist roots.  For example, as a college with Anabaptist roots, Messiah privileges pacifism. As a school with Anabaptist and Wesleyan roots, the college privileges the ordination of women.  But a faculty member does not have to be a pacifist or believe in the ordination of women to teach at the college.  We have faculty who are advocates of a “just war” position and we have faculty from denominations (traditional Catholics and Orthodox, conservative Presbyterians, and complementarian evangelical churches) that do not ordain women.

And there are all kinds of issues on which Messiah College does not have a position.  For example, the college does not take a position on political candidates or parties.

All of this makes for a vibrant and diverse Christian intellectual community.

During our conversation in class, a few students brought up Liberty University.  What does Liberty require of faculty?  What positions and issues does Liberty privilege? What are the issues on which the university does not take a position?

For example, last month we highlighted Jerry Falwell Jr.’s leadership of VEXIT, a movement started by Virginia counties and localities who want to leave the Commonwealth and join the state of West Virginia. Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, is not happy with proposed legislation to restrict gun rights in Virginia.

VEXIT is getting a boost from Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, a think tank created to “equip courageous champions to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, to advance his kingdom and American freedom”:

The Falkirk Center is connected to Liberty University.  In a January 20, 2020 piece at the Liberty Champion, student journalist Hattie Troutman writes: “The idea for the center was presented by [co-founder Charlie Kirk] when he pitched the idea to Falwell last year. [Executive Director Ryan] Helfenbein said Falwell received the idea well, knowing that if Liberty was to be in a partnership with the center, it must be rooted in the Gospel and represent Liberty University’s missional values.”

So there you have it.  The Falkirk Center is an extension of the mission of Liberty University.  The Falkirk Center promotes VEXIT.  It thus appears that Liberty University privileges VEXIT.

A quick read of the Falkirk Center Twitter feed suggests that the university also privileges gun rights, BREXIT, Donald Trump, free markets, and a pro-life position on abortion. If Messiah College is rooted in the historic Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan traditions, Liberty University is rooted in the (very short) history of the Christian Right.

At Messiah College, we also have “centers” that support beliefs that the college privileges:

  • We have a center for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan studies that promotes issues related to peace, reconciliation, heart-felt conversion, and personal and social holiness.”
  • We have a Center for Public Humanities with a mission to promote the study of the humanities and “partner with our broader community in meaningful inquiry, conversation, and action.”
  • We have a center devoted to the work and legacy of former U.S. Commissioner of Education and Messiah graduate Ernest L. Boyer.  The Boyer Center “advances educational renewal for the common good.”
  • We have a center called The Collaboratory for Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research.  This center has a mission to “foster justice, empower the poor, promote peace and care for the earth through applications of our academic and professional disciplines.”

Because Messiah College is a Christian college informed by the history and theology of the Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan movements, the college supports centers that reflect the things the college privileges.  Liberty University also has a center that supports the things Liberty University privileges.

Not all Christian colleges are the same.  High school students and their parents should be aware of this.

The Created and Called for Community course continues next week with some additional exploration of Messiah College’s Christian identity.  Follow along here.

The Disarming of New Jersey Quakers, 1776

Shrewsbury

Friends Burial Ground, Shrewsbury, NJ

Earlier today I was reading the Journal of the Votes and Proceedings of the Convention of New Jersey (Burlington, NJ: Isaac Collins, 1776).  This is essentially the minutes of the New Jersey Provincial Congress) in the weeks leading up to and following the Declaration of Independence.  (The NJ Provincial Congress is the body that sent delegates to the Continental Congress, endorsed independence, and wrote the New Jersey State Constitution)

On July 1, 1776, the minutes state:

Whereas by a regulation of the late Congress the several committees in this colony were authorized and directed to disarm all the non-associators and persons notoriously disaffected within their bounds.  And whereas it appears that the said regulations hath not been carried into effect in some parts of the colony; and it being absolutely necessary, in the present dangerous state of publick affairs when arms are much wanted for the publick defense, that it should be instantly executed.  That the several colonels in this colony do, without delay, proceed to disarm all such persons within their districts, whose religious principles will not permit them to bear arms; and likewise all such as have hitherto refused and still do refuse to bear arms; that the arms so taken be appraised by some indifferent person or persons; that the said colonels give vouchers for the same, and that the appraisement and receipt be left in the hands of the person disarmed.  (Italic mine).

For those blog readers who know a thing or two about the American Revolution, have you ever seen a case in which a state legislature (or some other body, such as a local committee of safety) confiscates guns from those with a religious conviction against bearing arms (in this case, New Jersey Quakers)?   And if you have seen something like this before, were they reimbursed with vouchers or something similar?

Is Rand Paul a Pacifist?

PaulRand Paul is out of the presidential race, but he is still a United States Senator from Kentucky.  He is also historian David Swartz‘s Senator.  Swartz, the author of the excellent Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, teaches at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky.

In an ongoing series at his blog titled “Unexpected Sites of Christian Pacifism,” Swartz turns his attention to Paul.  I love how Swartz frames this post. He knows that virtually everyone is going to be mad at him for pointing to Rand’s pacifist streak, but he definitely seems to be on to something.

Here is a taste:

This post on politician Rand Paul, the latest in a series that has included Pentecostals, holiness groups, and Charles Spurgeon, will probably perturb everyone. Conservatives will object because they won’t want to be linked to the “liberal” position of pacifism. Libertarians will object because theirs is not a principled pacifism, but a fiscal one. Pacifists will object because theirs is a not a fiscal one, but a principled one. Progressives will object because they, though perhaps admiring Paul’s rhetoric of peace, don’t want to be linked to the right wing. But Rand Paul is a person, not a platonic ideal, and he, even more than most people, defies easy categorization.

Back in May 2013, Paul, a Kentucky senator and likely presidential candidate in 2016, gave an extended interview to the Christian Broadcasting Network. (You can watch the entire 28-minute feature here.) It didn’t get much press at the time, but Paul, as he is prone to do, pushed back against established narratives. Concerned about the Republican enthusiasm for international conflict, he contended that Jesus “wasn’t really involved in the wars of his days.” He continued, “Part of Republicans’ problems and, frankly, to tell you the truth, some in the evangelical Christian movement I think have appeared too eager for war. . . . I think you need to remember that [Jesus] was the ‘Prince of Peace.’”

Paul has persisted in this anti-violence refrain. In June at the Freedom and Faith Conference, he articulated a strong pro-life message on abortion (pro-life groups say he has a 100% pro-life voting record on 8 votes in the Senate). He also declared, “Jesus reminds us what our goal should be when he proclaims, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God,’ . . . It’s unacceptable to have, and appoint, leaders who really show no reluctance for war.”

Read the entire post here.

Pacifism and the Brethren in Christ Church

Brooke Strayer in action

As some of you know, the college in which I teach has historic connections to the Brethren in Christ Church, a denomination informed by strands of Wesleyanism, Pietism, and Anabaptism.  Though Messiah College no longer has a direct connection to the Brethren in Christ Church, it still enjoys what some describe as a “covenant relationship” with the denomination.  The Brethren in Christ denominational headquarters is located on the campus of Messiah College, the school supports an institute devoted to the study of the three strands of Christianity mentioned above, and the college does not fly a flag on campus (with the exception of the sporting facilities–flags are required by the NCAA) out of respect for an Anabaptist tradition that values the Kingdom of God over the nation-state.  I do not come from the Brethren in Christ tradition, but I have tried to learn as much as possible about the denomination during the twelve years I have been teaching at Messiah College.

Today I attended a presentation on the Brethren in Christ peace tradition.  The speaker was Brooke Strayer, a Messiah College senior who double-majored in History and Peace and Conflict Studies. (I also got the privilege of being her academic adviser, although I did not advise this project).  Her lecture was the culmination of a year-long project on the way that the Brethren in Christ Church has largely abandoned what was once a very strong commitment to pacifism, non-resistance, and non-violence.  I could go on, but I think I will just direct you to my Twitter stream: #strayerpeace.  I have posted my Storified tweets below..  You can also get a synopsis of the event at Devin Manzullo-Thomas’s Brethren in Christ blog, The Search for Piety and Obedience.

Brooke did the Messiah College History Department proud today.  Her presentation was characterized by poise, a mastery of her subject, solid historical thinking, and much conviction.  It was a perfect blend of two of Brooke’s passions:  history and peace studies.  Nice work.

What Happened to Pentecostal Pacifism?

You would never guess from folks like John Ashcroft and Sarah Palin that the Assembly of God denomination has pacifist roots, but over at The Anxious Bench blog David Swartz introduces us to a new book revealing that Pentecostalism has a long tradition of pacifism.  The book is edited by Jay Beaman and Brian Pipkin and it is entitled Pentecostal and Holiness Statements on War and Peace.  

Here is a taste of Swartz’s post:

This twenty-first-century iteration of Pentecostalism, however, would have been utterly foreign to movement progenitors. In the wake of the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906 and at the founding of the denomination in 1914, the Assemblies of God were officially pacifist. As late as October 1940, the Assemblies of God still claimed that “military service is incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that a Christian cannot fully follow the teachings of his Lord and Master if he engages in armed conflict.” Several scholarly works have already recovered this forgotten history. Robert Mapes Anderson’s Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism (1979) and Grant Wacker’s Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (2003) treated this lightly. More recently, Paul Alexander narrated a full-scale account of Pentecostal pacifism in Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God (2009).

ut Beaman and Pipkin’s book Pentecostal and Holiness Statements on War and Peace (2013) offers something new: hundreds of fascinating primary sources showing the pacifist orientation of the Pentecostal movement. Take, for instance, this 1938 column from the Foursquare Church, founded by the colorful Aimee Semple McPherson: “Should a Christian take up arms in time of war? The question is perhaps, a little late. It already has been answered—IN THE BIBLE. Until the Ten Commandments are repealed the Christian has no alternative but to stay aloof from war and its consequent destruction of human life. Should one be drafted? Well, prayer changes things. And the God who saved Noah from the flood, and preserved Daniel in the lions’ den and his brethren in the fiery furnace, surely can ‘handle’ so inconsequential a thing as a little draft-board. Prayer, wisdom and the proof of patriotic loyalty on our part, couple with a willingness to serve our country in non-combatant service should turn the trick for any obedient child of God.” Beaman notes that the Foursquare Church grappled with the pacifist impulse until WWII, when it capitulated (or came to its senses, depending on your theological persuasion) and embraced the use of lethal force and the preservation of a “Christian America.”

Constantinianism Debated

Over at The Anxious Bench David Swartz of Asbury University calls our attention to an ongoing debate within evangelicalism over whether the earliest Christians were pacifists.  Much of this debate surrounds the 2010 publication of Peter Leithart‘s Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom.  It seems that many pacifist-minded anti-Constantinians are rushing into print to counter Leithart’s argument, which is directed against neo-Anabaptist theologian John Howard Yoder and his disciples.

Swartz sorts it all out for us.  Here is a taste:

The rebuttal to Leithart is on. The book immediately sparked lively conversations online here and here andhere and here. The October 2011 issue of Mennonite Quarterly Review offered quick and substantive responses from four critics. John Nugent argued, in a theological vein, that God calls his people away from imperial identities—whether that is Roman, German, or American—to lives ‘of vulnerability, trust, and service to all those created in God’s image.” Alan Kreider offered a historical criticism, contending that Leithart’s sources on Christian participation in the military were sparse and questionable compared to evidence against involvement in state-sponsored violence. Constantine’s reign did indeed signal a fundamental shift: “from the gestalt of early Christianity to another gestalt—Christendom.” Responding in the same MQR issue to this battery of criticism, Leithart was unrepentant. “Because Christ is king,” he wrote, “kings should be Christians and exercise their earthly dominion in a righteous manner.” Leithart raised the stakes theologically. “The rub,” he declared, is that “we do not agree on the Gospel.”

The debate continues as a small avalanche of books rolls off the press. Last year Ron Sider released The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment. Also in 2012 Wheaton professor George Kalantzis published Caesar and the Lamb: Early Christian Attitudes on War and Military Service. And now Goshen College’s John Roth, author of Choosing Against War, is releasing a more direct rebuttal of Leithart entitled Constantine Revisited: Leithart, Yoder, and the Constantinian Debate. It is an edited volume featuring an impressive lineup of Anabaptist theologians and ethicists including Stanley Hauerwas and Mark Thiessen Nation. Together, these books argue, in the words of Kalantzis, against “recent scholarship [that] accepts as axiomatic that there was ambivalence among the earliest Christians. . . . I do not believe that such a conclusion is borne by the literary evidence.” They marshal writings by Pliny the Younger, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian of Carthage, Lactantius, and others. Jesus Christ, they say, inaugurated “a new call to non-violence, unrecognizable by the culture around them, for it took the form of civil disobedience as the mark of a transnational community bound together with the bonds of baptism. A community that honored Caesar by disobeying his commands and receiving upon their bodies the only response a state based on the power of the powerful could meet—an imitation of Christ.” The bottom line: “With remarkably univocity they speak of participation in the Christian mysteries as antithetical to killing, and the practices of the army.”

Swarthmore Students Force Commencement Speaker to Withdraw

Robert Zoellick is a 1975 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Swarthmore College.  He was also deputy secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration and was nominated by Bush as president of the World Bank. He is a neoconservative.

According to this article at Inside Higher Ed, some students at Swarthmore think that Zoellick’s support of the Iraq war is at odds with the college’s Quaker (pacifist) roots.  Apparently the criticism was enough to force Zoellick to withdraw as the 2013 commencement speaker.  In a letter to Rebecca Chopp, the president of Swarthmore, Zoellick wrote: “I don’t want to disrupt what should be a special day for the graduates, their families, and friends.”

I could write a rather snarky post about how Swarthmore College, this educational bastion of diversity and open-mindedness, has succumbed to liberal fundamentalism, but I won’t do that. Instead, I will take things in another snarky direction.

I am glad to see that so many Swarthmore students are interested in defending the college’s “Quaker roots.” In the future I am fully expecting  the college to start cracking down on students who “marry out of meeting,” imbibe too much “spirituous liquor,” and reject the belief that the Bible and Inner Light are the inspired words of God.

Remembering the Dead on Independence Day

Richard Kauffman, the book review editor at The Christian Century, feels “out of step with the rest of American culture” on the Fourth of July.  I will let him explain:

The fourth of July joins Memorial Day and Veterans day as the three times a year I feel out of step with the rest of American culture. While I’m grateful for my country’s freedoms and opportunities, and I want to mourn with those who mourn the losses of war, I cannot participate in rituals that glorify war.

Eamon Duffy, who teaches the history of Christianity at Cambridge University, has helped me to better articulate my own discomfort with memorializing war. Remembering the war dead is a highly tribal act, Duffy argued in a speech he gave for Remembrance Day 1998 in the UK (a speech included in his collection Walking to Emmaus). We are remembering our own war dead. There’s no room in our rituals for remembering others’ losses, especially not those of our enemies.

The dead themselves are silent; we hijack them and use them for our own purposes. “They become ventriloquist’s dummies,” says Duffy, “through whom we utter the words we think we need to hear.” Behind all the trappings of the ceremonies is a nostalgic longing for the moral clarity of a nation united around war, in which divisions are silenced and people have a clear sense of right and wrong. Or rather, of who is in the right and who is in the wrong—of our enemies’ uniform as the embodiment of evil.

Most of the people killed in war aren’t heroes. Most of them are victims of war. Though they were fallible, sinful human beings, we make them into secular saints by virtue of them having been killed in war. Of course, the ones who actually fight the wars often have their own misgivings.

Read the rest here. Thanks, Richard.