When “someone trying to attack American democracy heads to Gettysburg searching for a dramatic victory…”

Twitter is reporting that Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani will be in Gettysburg later today.

Here is more from Jeremy Diamond of CNN.

Nothing I can say here can top Yoni Appelbaum’s tweet:

Or Paul’ Harvey’s tweet:

UPDATE (11:22 EST): Now it looks like Trump will not be attending.

Episode 76: Howard Thurman: Theologian, Mystic, Activist

Howard Thurman was a mid-20th century theologian, writer, activist, and mystic who had a profound influence on the leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Thurman’s writings–especially his 1949 work Jesus and the Disinherited–provided an intellectual and spiritual guide to those trying to make sense of an era of racial and social unrest. Our guest in this episode is historian Paul Harvey, the author of Howard Thurman & The Disinherited: A Religious Biography (Eerdmans, 2020).

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The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Report on Racism and Slavery is Well-Done and It is a Big Step in the Right Direction


In case you haven’t heard, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville recently issued a 66-page historical report on its long history of supporting slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, racial inequality, Lost Cause mythology, and white supremacy.  The scholars who composed the report produced an excellent work of institutional history.  I have known professors Gregory Wills, Matthew Hall, and John Wilsey to be first-rate historians and honest scholars.

A wise friend once told me that when it comes to dealing with race and racial reconciliation in America all of us (especially white people) are on a journey.  When we engage the darkness of race relations in the United States we are always going to encounter people who are at various stages on that journey.  What I have learned in recent years is that we must walk beside one another on this journey and help each other along the way.  As I see it, it is the only way forward.

I say this because I have been disappointed by the response the SBTS statement has received by those who seem to believe that they are further down the road on the question of race relations in America.  Rather than seeing this statement as a MAJOR step in the right direction for SBTS–a step that should be commended by all those concerned with racism in the Christian community–most of the coverage has attacked the statement as not going far enough.

For example, I think Rod Dreher, bombast aside, is generally correct in his criticism of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove‘s piece in the Washington Post.  Here is a taste of Dreher:

The gist of his column is that because the leaders of SBTS are theologically conservative, and because many white Southern Baptists are politically conservative, they are not much different from their slaveholding and white supremacist ancestors. If they were really sorry for slavery and white supremacy, Wilson-Hartgrove’s column says, then the Southern Baptists would become Social Justice Warriors like — golly! — Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

It’s an extraordinarily graceless piece of work. It’s important for this reason. Today I blogged about the Fairness For All proposal, an attempt by some Evangelical leaders — conservatives among them — to find middle ground on the struggle between LGBT rights and religious liberty. Already some conservative Evangelicals are calling it a sellout of principle that will in any case not be respected by liberals and progressives. Part of their argument is that progressives do not negotiate in good faith, that if you yield even a bit, they’ll take advantage of the opportunity to smash you.

A column like Wilson-Hartgrove’s gives ammunition to the “no compromise” side. To be clear, I don’t believe for a second that SBTS president Albert Mohler ordered the appraisal because he sought any kind of political advantage, whatever that might look like. I believe he did it because it was, and remains, the right thing to do. But those on the religious right who oppose initiatives like this on grounds that it will allow progressives to weaponize confession and repentance will cite Wilson-Hartgrove’s column as evidence that the Evangelical left is interested only in scoring points against their enemies.

Read Dreher’s entire post here.  I wonder if Wilson-Hartgtove, whose work I admire, just missed an opportunity to walk alongside SBTS as they embark on this journey.

And here is historian Alison Collis Greene, a historian I know and respect, at National Public Radio:

Notwithstanding the seminary’s new openness about its pro-slavery past, the detailed chronology ends in 1964. “In the decades following the civil rights movement, the seminary continued to struggle with the legacy of slavery and racism,” the report concludes, but without further elaboration.

“Making a statement about Confederate monuments might be a next step,” says Alison Greene, a historian of U.S. religion at Emory University in Atlanta, “or taking a stand on questions of voting rights in the 21st century. That would be really significant.”

Greene, who was raised as a Southern Baptist, found the seminary report lacking in its failure to acknowledge any consequence of the denomination’s recent association with conservative politicians and the policies they have promoted.

“It papers over a generation of hand-in-glove cooperation with efforts to roll back every single social program that served African-Americans or promised to rectify, even in the smallest ways, the gross economic and social effects of enslavement and segregation and inequality on black communities,” Greene says.

Greene’s criticism here is fair.  But rather than see the statement for what it doesn’t do, I prefer to see it for what it does do.

I know Greene has not been at Emory University very long.  Perhaps she will be able to help Emory add to its own statement about the school’s connection to slavery.  It is nowhere near as thorough as SBTS’s statement and it stops at 1962.

NBC’s coverage quotes my friend, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs professor Paul Harvey: “The Southern Baptist Seminary, and by extension the denomination leaders…did a very good job of reckoning with the past, and a not-so-good job of reckoning with the present.”  Again, this is a fair criticism.  SBTS has a long way to go on this issue.  Perhaps a model for moving forward might be what is happening at St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond, the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.”  (Listen to episode 43 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).  But in the meantime, I am glad to see that SBTS has begun the journey.  As someone on my Facebook page noted, “Let’s hope they keep walking.” Yes!  We will be watching.

I hope future coverage of this statement will be more balanced.  For example, why hasn’t The Washington Post, NPR, or NBC talked with African-American leaders within the Southern Baptist Church?  Where are the interviews with Fred Luter, Thabiti Anyabwile, Byron Day or anyone in the National African Fellowship or the Black SBC Denominational Servants Network?

I also hope other southern schools–seminaries, colleges, and universities–will do the kind of historical work SBTS has done as a necessary starting point to address their own racist pasts.  I am thrilled to see the way these SBTS professors are using the study of history to work toward justice.

Cushwa Center Seminar on Judith Weisenfeld’s *New World A-Coming*

Here is a taste of Ben Wetzel’s summary of the event:

The Seminar in American Religion convened on March 24, 2018, to discuss Judith Weisenfeld’s prize-winning book, New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration (NYU Press, 2016). About 80 people attended the seminar, which was moderated by Thomas Kselman, professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame.

Weisenfeld is the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor in the department of religion at Princeton University and has written several other major studies analyzing African American religious experiences in the early 20th century. The seminar’s commentators included Paul Harvey, distinguished professor and presidential teaching scholar in the department of history at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs; and Jennifer Jones, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame.

In 2017, New World A-Coming received the Albert J. Raboteau Book Prize for the best book in Africana religions. Raboteau (Weisenfeld’s colleague at Princeton, now emeritus), while studying most facets of African American religions, tended to focus on Protestant and Catholic Christianity. New World A-Coming, by contrast, highlights smaller religious groups like the Nation of Islam, the Moorish Science Temple, the Ethiopian Hebrew congregations, and the Peace Mission of Father Divine. These movements merged religious and racial identity, offered stark contrasts to mainstream Christianity, provided hope and vision to their adherents, and flourished in the urban north during the Great Migration even while they remained on the margins of American religious life as a whole.

Read the entire piece here.

The Paul Harvey Fan Club

A strange new movement has formed at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Denver this weekend.  It seems that something called “The Paul Harvey Fan Club” is taking the conference by storm.

No, not that Paul Harvey.

This is a fan club devoted to the noted historian of American religion and race.  Harvey is a Professor of History at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. (See our Author’s Corner interview with him here).  I know from reading his books that he is a gifted scholar. I hear that he a gifted teacher.  I also hear that he has a weak jump shot.  Oh yes, and did I mention that he founded one of the most influential blogs in the American history blogosphere?

Evidence of this movement is cropping up all over the place:


Harvey seems to be embracing the movement


Harvey mixes among the fan club’s most committed members (his grad students)


Even historians of American religion have embraced the movement

The Author’s Corner with Paul Harvey

boundsoftheirhabitationPaul Harvey is Professor of History and Presidential Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado. This interview is based on his new book, Bounds of Their Habitation: Race and Religion in American History (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Bounds of Their Habitation?

PH: First, I was approached by the historian John David Smith, editor of a particular series called “American Ways” published by Rowman & Littlefield (in this series is also a wonderfully fun book called How America Eats, basically a history of American foodways, that I highly recommend for holiday serious/fun reading). He asked me if I wanted to write a book for the series. Previously I had published a book called Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity with Rowman & Littlefield, so I was pleased they wanted me to do another.

At the same time, I was beginning work on an edited volume for Oxford University Press on race and religion in American history. I thought writing this book, a “long-range” view of race and religion in American history, alongside editing the Oxford Handbook of Race and Religion in American History, which involves corralling 35 authors doing various essays, would be a fun and interesting experiment. And so it was/has been, and continues to be as we (my co-editor Kathryn Gin Lum and myself) finish up the Oxford volume. I wrote up a book proposal for Bounds, it was enthusiastically accepted, and it is now published pretty closely to how it was conceived in the first place.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Bounds of Their Habitation?

PH: Religious ideas created racial categories and imposed race upon individual human bodies – what scholars refer to as “racialization.” But religious ideas also helped undermine racial hierarchies.

JF: Why do we need to read Bounds of Their Habitation?

PH: In this book, I aim to show how the terms “religion” and “race” (both highly malleable terms undergoing constant change), while always contested, ultimately solidified into social formations that fundamentally shaped American life. However constructed “race” may be, it acts as a real force in history; and however much the term “religion” is always being redefined and reformed, it has been a central ordering force in the most basic conceptions of American nationalism. My book tries to translate this story through piecing together the individual biographies of diverse people over four centuries. In this way, I hope it “translates” higher-order scholarly discussions of religion and race into narratives that any ordinary reader could pick up and understand.

Racial constructions remain a central ordering fact of religious life. Americans remained united by an unusually high association with faith, with religious belief, but divided by faith since the institutions reflecting those beliefs are still largely divided by race, culture, and politics. Given the history of race and religion in America, it is hard to see how it could be otherwise. And yet, given that history, it is possible to envision it being otherwise.

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

PH: I was for 2 years a biology major in college, intending to go to law school (don’t ask). One day I was perusing the college catalog, and the light from Damascus hit me – I was going to be an historian. I can’t explain it, other than it was just blindingly obvious. I have pursued that love ever since, in college, graduate school, postdocs, periods of unemployment, and now as Chair of a History Department. My colleague at the University of Colorado, when asked if we could offer a particular course that a visiting person could teach, said “sure, of course, I’m in favor of the history of anything.” I totally accord with that – I find the history of virtually anything to be fascinating.

JF: What is your next project?

PH: I want to write a book on the history of race, religion, and citizenship in American history, from 1790 to the present. The last election campaign obviously brought those issues up in full force, but the long history of how citizenship has both a narrow legal and a broadly social component in its definition is of great interest to me. I’ve also been asked to write a short (200 p.) biography of Martin Luther King Jr., for Rowman & Littlefield’s African American Lives biography series. I might take that one on next year, but I haven’t decided for sure yet.

JF: Thanks, Paul!

Paul Harvey Reviews *The Bible Cause*

Bible Cause CoverCheck out his thoughtful and nuanced review at Religion Dispatches.

Here is a taste:

…A work of history is often about what its sources are about. And when the sources come directly from the archives of the institution, the language of the text inevitably recapitulates some of that voice. Fea places his story in a broad national context. He does so particularly effectively in earlier portions of the book, which cover the ABS’s early glory years. He ties the aims of the ABS to the broader culture of early nineteenth-century Federalist sympathizers who created national organizations in part to unite the new Republic and create the “Christian nation” they longed to see, but knew was not there, at least not yet.

The historical distance from the subject lessens at precisely the point when humanizing anecdotes appear. The emotional narratives of people collapsing in joy at receiving the promised texts, cherishing and never misusing them and so forth, raise questions of interpretation difficult to answer from within the requirements of the genre of institutional history. The answers that might emerge would have to come from questions and interpretive choices that necessarily breach the historical decorum required to produce an institutional history.

Put more simply, you are not supposed to bash the institution you have been commissioned to write a history about. Except that, actually it is possible. Fea critiques the ABS skillfully in parts of the text. For example, Fea describes the “Colored Agency” that emerged in the late nineteenth century. It was to replace a failed local auxiliary system that by definition could not work to supply Bibles to African Americans. But in doing so, the ABS “also revealed its willingness to embrace the status quo of a ‘separate but equal’ America.” I would say “separate and unequal,” but the point is well taken.

Another example comes from the passages in which Fea traces the various permutations the ABS has undergone as an organization. It has been all societies for all people at various times—a benevolent society in the nineteenth century, a service organization for much of the twentieth century, a business always because it sells Bibles, and today branding itself as a “ministry,” modeling the language of contemporary evangelicals. Throughout, and regardless of the type of organization it conceived itself as, the goal has been to spread the gospel through distributing Bibles, and “to build a Christian civilization.”

At its 150th anniversary meeting in 1966, Billy Graham spoke on the need to “Return to the Bible,” and endorsed the ABS’s historic raison d’être of distributing scriptures. The ABS subsequently moved into a new building in New York City, and resumed its work: “Scriptures needed to be distributed. Morality needed to be restored. And the United States needed to be returned to its biblical heritage.” Into the 1970s, the ABS sought to “reassert its historical connection to Christian nationalism” by realigning itself away from mainstream Protestants and more towards conservative evangelicals. This is Fea at his best—narrating a story effectively, and implicitly interpreting itprecisely by adopting the voice of the institution’s founders and followers but retaining a gently ironic distance in style….


David Barton Is "Pulling Us All Back In"

Paul Harvey, one of the deans of the ever-growing field of American religious history, wondered back in 2012 if David Barton’s influence among evangelicals and the Republican Party was on the wane due to the failure of his book The Jefferson Lies. 

Here is a taste of what he wrote at Religious Dispatches:

And yet, perhaps the summer of Barton’s discontent suggests a cresting of his influence, and the ability of legitimate writers and scholars of various political persuasions to come together in defense of basic norms of reason and credibility in a way that seems increasingly impossible in the political realm.

Now, about three years later, Harvey laments how Barton still appears to be going strong.

Here is a taste of his recent piece at Religion & Politics:

Last Thursday, Bloomberg Politics reported that David Barton will be heading a super PAC supporting presidential candidate Ted Cruz. Named “Keep the Promise,” the political action committee and its affiliated groups already have a highly successful track record of raising money (reportedly $38 million thus far)…Keep the Promise issued a statement saying that “Barton’s involvement is an important step signaling that the effort will not be run by a D.C. consultant but by a grassroots activist.” 

Given Barton’s close relationship to former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, some expressed surprise that he had cast his lot so fully with Cruz. But the Texas connection here between Cruz and Barton is strong, and Cruz has made appearances at conferences organized by Barton through his organization WallBuilders. Moreover, in the early primary scrimmaging it appears that Cruz has outmaneuvered Huckabee in securing a place as the frontrunner in the implicit primary of the evangelical right. Cruz is unlikely to move far enough beyond that base to threaten seriously the frontrunners for the nomination, but he is securing a significant stake in the Republican political future. 

And Barton has emerged as central to that long game. What might that suggest about the future of the Republican right? 

For one thing, it certainly means a doubling down of the Christian Nation rhetoric on which Barton has built has career as an ideological warrior, and on which Cruz… is staking his career as a political warrior…Whether it can ever translate much outside of that world remains a question. But the adoption of the rhetoric of religious liberty, in court cases against the Affordable Care Act and elsewhere, seems a promising vehicle to carry this struggle. 

But all this may have a more limited valence within that world than the politician Cruz or the ideological entrepreneur Barton may think. For one thing, while Cruz built a reputation earlier in his life as a serious constitutional scholar, Supreme Court clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and lawyer who made nine appearances before the Supreme Court, his association with Barton threatens to undermine his credibility among serious conservative thinkers and scholars who have dissociated themselves from Barton and urged Christians to do likewise.* The well-connected evangelical scholar John Fea, on his blog, has intimated that he has been receiving messages from veteran Christian conservatives precisely to this effect. 

On the other side, Barton will be making an appearance with Huckabee at an event sponsored by “The American Renewal Project” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth this fall, suggesting his continued networks of influence (not to mention the significant influence of David Lane, one founder of the Project and a Christian right activist within the Republican party). And with his association now with big-time money coming into the super PAC supporting Cruz, the comeback is in full evidence. Barton is making Banquo’s ghost look like a quitter. 

Some of that is because of the skill of Barton and WallBuilders at ideological entrepreneurialism. Barton’s intent is not to produce “scholarship,” but to influence public policy. His game is to inundate public policy makers (including local and state education boards as well as Congress) with ideas packaged as products that will move policy. In the past, Barton’s proof-texting, by contrast, supplies ready-made (if sometimes made-up) quotations ready for use in the latest public policy debate, whether they involve school prayer, abortion, supply-side economics, the Defense of Marriage Act, or the capital gains tax. The more recent controversies over religious liberty seem to have provided new issues for the cause. Cruz has an intellectual view ready-made for presenting a position strongly appealing to Christian conservatives on these present-day controversies, and Barton has the historical analogies (some true, many not) to buttress the case. 

And so Ted Cruz’s candidacy—along with Hobby Lobby, Kim Davis, and debates over the Affordable Care Act—have given David Barton new life in the public eye, and new political relevance. Cruz brings intellectual credentials and conservative fire to the table, but he also brings a strong faith in original textualism and the desire for his party to nominate a “true conservative.” 

The irony, of course, is that Barton’s lack of respect for the contingency and complexity of the past is the opposite of what would be held by any “true conservative.” As long as David Barton has nine (or more) lives, Edmund Burke will be rolling over in his grave. Historians and many thoughtful conservatives want him out, but Barton keeps pulling us back in. 

"Letter to the Editor" of the Day

John Schlembach of Victoria, Texas is not happy that David Barton was mentioned by his hometown newspaper, the Victoria Advocate.  I have posted his letter to the editor below.  Frankly, I had no idea that Randall Stephens was a “prodigy historian.”  Congrats, Randall.

Editor, the Advocate,

To my dismay as both a historian in training and a member of the community interested in the truth, two recent letters, “Reader finds same-sex marriage ruling wrong, immoral” by Stan Reinke on July 6 and “Writer says we need to go change our course” by Nic Harrison on May 13 have mentioned David Barton and his organization, Wallbuilders.

For those who are unaware, Barton is known for “teaching” history.  However, his degree is a bachelor of arts in religious education, and by his own admission, does not consider himself to be a historian.  While in some instances, non-academic experts have excelled in fields outside of their learning, Barton is not one of them.  His self-reflective assessment is echoed by professionals.

For example. Christian historian John Fea, writing at Patheos, has said, “He is not [a historian]…Christians should think twice before they rely on David Barton for their understanding of the American founding.”

Likewise, professor and author Paul Harvey, in a piece for Religion Dispatches noted, “Barton’s intent is not to produce ‘scholarship,’ but to influence public policy.”

Similarly, historical prodigy Randall J. Stephens, at Religion in American History declared, “Nearly any trained historian worth his or her salt who takes a close look at Barton and his hyper-politicized work will see glaring gaps in what he writes and talks about.  In history circles this is what we call “bad history.”

For a penultimate example, Baylor University professor Barry Hankins, as quoted by Warren Throckmorton, remarked, “David Barton’s history of the American founding is out of step with even the most conservative, Bible-believing, evangelical historians in the Christian college world.  It is sad that anyone in the evangelical world would continue to promote his work.”

Last, we can’t forget that one of Barton’s recent books was pulled by his publishers because “basic truths just were not there.”

It is not my intent to discourage people from examining Barton’s ouevre.  On the contrary, only by looking at is in a broader academic context can it be understood just how deep are the flaws in his work.

John Schlembach, Victoria

Paul Harvey on "Lincoln," Race, and Civil Religion

Paul Harvey, historian of race and religion at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and blogmaster at Religion in American History, shares his thoughts on Spielberg’s Lincoln at Religious Dispatches.  Here is a taste:

But there is another level to consider here, as well—the civil religious myths that the film invokes, and the very limited growth in public understanding of those myths that the film ultimately suggests.

After the emotion evoked by the film subsides,  sober consideration begins here: why, in the supposedly “post-racial” age of Obama, is there no space in movies to imagine the historical story of African Americans creating the conditions of their own emancipation?

Is it because in the context of our civil religion of “great white men who end up doing the right thing,” we as a culture cannot yet imagine such a thing?

Historian Kate Masur, among others, has pointed out that the story historians have dug out of the archives—the story of African American actions which virtually forced enlistment in the army, emancipation, and reconstructing the Union with blacks in the polity—finds almost no place in the film.