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!

When Weapons of War Become Idols: How Christians Should Respond to Donald Trump’s Military Parade

 

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This guest post comes from my friend Byron Borger, proprietor of Hearts & Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, PA.  If you like Byron’s post (or even if you don’t) head over to the Hearts & Minds website and buy a few books from him.

Zechariah 4:6 may not be on most people’s minds on the 4th of July, but it has long been an important verse for me. Perhaps more firmly, now, we should invoke the law and the prophets who warn against Moloch, rebuking any and all who use weapons of mass destruction. (Those who stand in the serious just war tradition, the rational rubric helping discern if any given war and battle strategy is ethically justifiable will surely agree. Mass killing is always wrong.) This haughty Trump parade, in my view, is an abomination; prideful, showing our trust in the weapons of war. We want these technologies to save us. We will do anything, as long as we think they make us safe. It is what the Bible calls idolatry.

Trusting the weapons of war has always been (along with the power of money) a chief idol in the Bible. It’s why young King David said that the point of the famous Goliath story was “this shows that the Lord does not save with sword and shield.” (1 Samuel 17:47.) When ancient Israel trusted their military might or made alliances with pagan nations, they lost! If you know your Bible, you know it is true. (On the other hand just think of the Gideon story — God decreases the number of soldiers until they couldn’t possibly win through military strength. How about Gideon as head of the Department of Defense? Or maybe the Apostle Paul who said in Romans 12 if “if your enemy is hungry, feed him.”)

The most lethal military advancement in the time of the 8th century BC Hebrew prophets was the horse-drawn chariot (apparently invented by the Assyrians) and God forbade Israel from using it. Micah 1:13 says “it was the beginning of sin for you” which is an indication that their militaristic idol worship started in Laschish where they stockpiled these advanced weapons. Most serious Christians have read Psalm 20:7 and Psalm 44:6 and know we dare not trust our weapons.

(I would suggest that the famous “Be still and know that I am God” [Psalm 46:10] might actually be a call to resist making weapons. The King James translation gets it right, translating it as “cease striving.” In the context of the poem about international geo-politics, it is saying to stop an arms race — that is, cease striving to keep up with your global enemies. It seems not to be about private spirituality — it’s a passage more for a peace protest sign than a contemplative retreat. But I digress.)

One does not have to be a complete Christ-like pacifist (committed to nonviolence a la 1 Peter 2:21) to agree that we must never turn our nation’s military into an idol. Given our vast, vast tax expenditures going to the Pentagon (and to those making our weapons) and the hubris with which we usually talk about our military might, it surely is such. Both mainstream parties are guilty; nobody has heeded the warning of General Dwight D. Eisenhower when he warned about the “military industrial complex.” This costly parade is just making evident what our nation stands on and for. In a way, it’s a good thing, honoring the idols of war (what Leviticus calls “the gods of metal”?) so extravagantly. Even if we don’t bow down, it’s clear. Where are the “gospel-centered” teachers who are so helpful in rooting out personal idols? The just-war theorists? Those who critique the “cultural liturgies.” What about this? How far is too far?

Mennonites, Israel, and Palestine

West Bank

Lisa Schirch is a Mennonite who runs the Tokyo-based Toda Peace Institute and serves as a senior policy advisor at the Alliance for Peacebuilding in Washington D.C.   Over at The Mennonite, Schirch has written a very interesting piece about Mennonites and Israel.  Historically, Mennonites have supported Palestinian rights and have criticized Israel as an “abusive colonial power.”  Schirch, however, calls her fellow Mennonites to task for taking such a narrow position.  Here is a taste:

Many Israelis and Palestinians are eager for outsiders to demonize the other side. Mainstream media and Christian Zionists often portray Israeli policies as unquestionably noble. News media project images of Palestinians as terrorists and often fail to provide any history to help understand Palestinian grievances.

Mennonites have done important work to support Palestinian rights. Unfortunately, many Mennonites have significant gaps in how they understand Israel, Jews and Judaism. Too often Mennonite advocacy for Palestinian rights carries antisemitic tones that portray Israel as simply an abusive colonial power. Portraying Jews as only voluntary colonialists delegitimizes the millions of Jews who came to Israel as refugees fleeing persecution. In most Mennonite churches I have observed, little to nothing is taught on Mennonite roles in the Holocaust and antisemitism, how Jews understand Israel, or on Judaism or Jesus as a Jewish rabbi.

The 2017 MC USA Resolution on Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine identified important steps in addressing Mennonite participation in a long history of antisemitism and in seeking justice for Palestinians. This more balanced approach recognizes the truth and trauma in both Palestinian and Jewish narratives and writes Mennonites into the story of Israel and Palestine.

Read the entire piece here.

 

When Evangelicals Bring Peace

GanielGladys Ganiel is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast.  She is the author of Evangelicalism and Conflict in Northern Ireland and Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland.

Over at Democratic Audit, Ganiel writes about the role of evangelicals in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

Here is a taste:

An organisation called Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI) is perhaps Northern Ireland’s best example of how faith-based activists contributed to peace. ECONI was formed in the mid-1980s as a direct counter to ‘Paisleyism.’ In my own research, I spoke to people who said that the ideas they first heard through ECONI led to changes in their identity and a commitment to engage in peacebuilding. ECONI encouraged people to first be self-critical of their own religious tradition – and then to use resources from within that tradition to change it.

There’s an old slogan within the Protestant community, which could be said to reflect the ideal relationship between church and state within covenantal Calvinism: ‘For God and Ulster.’ ECONI’s first public act turned that slogan on its head. It was an open letter in the Belfast Telegraph titled ‘For God and His Glory Alone’. ‘For God and His Glory Alone’ was later distributed as a booklet, with five printings and more than 10,000 copies. More than one-third of all Protestant congregations in Northern Ireland participated in ECONI initiatives.

‘For God and His Glory Alone’ illustrates how ECONI was self-critical of the evangelical, Calvinist tradition. ECONI capitalised on evangelicalism’s high regard for the Bible by justifying its critique of Northern Irish versions of covenantal Calvinism through fresh interpretations of scripture.

ECONI also developed religious ideas that were relatively unique within Northern Irish evangelicalism. It was inspired by engagement with the Anabaptist tradition – including figures like John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas – and drew on the Anabaptist tradition to argue for a separation between Protestantism and Unionist political power, and to advocate pacifism or non-violence in almost all circumstances.

Finally, ECONI’s self-critical reflection on Northern Irish evangelicalism led to repentance – not asking the ‘Other’ to repent but rather confessing the ‘sins’ of its own community. This opened doors for relationships with people from Catholic backgrounds.

ECONI’s effectiveness rested in part on its credibility: ECONI’s evangelical identity provided it with a legitimacy that some ecumenical peacebuilding organisations lacked. It might be assumed that policy makers and secular peacebuilding NGOs should engage with moderate religious groups that are attempting to transcend sectarian identities – like ecumenists. Such a strategy would have excluded ECONI.

Read the rest here.

Ernie Boyer for Peace

You cannot spend any length of time at Messiah College without hearing about Ernest L. Boyer.  Boyer was a Messiah alumnus, the Commissioner of Education in the Carter Administration (this was before the creation of the cabinet position known today as the “Secretary of Education”), the Chancellor of the State University of New York system, and the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.”

As Devin Manzullo-Thomas notes at his excellent blog, “The Search for Piety and Obedience,” Boyer was also a member of the Brethren in Christ Church.  Manzullo-Thomas has posted a clip of an interview with Boyer in which he discusses the importance of peace.  I am guessing it was conducted sometime in the early 1980s.