The Author’s Corner with David King

God's internationalists.jpgDavid King is Karen Lake Buttrey Director at the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving and Professor of Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. This interview is based on his new book, God’s Internationalists: World Vision and the Age of Evangelical Humanitarianism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write God’s Internationalists?

DK: As a scholar always seeking to bring an international lens to American history, I have long been intrigued by the untold story of World Vision. Beginning in 1950 as a small missionary agency, the relief and development agency has now grown to become one the world’s largest Christian humanitarian organizations. I felt that World Vision’s story illustrates the role that major faith-based NGOs now play not only in foreign policy and humanitarian work but also in shaping the global imagination of millions of Americans. In many ways, they have taken the public role once occupied by western missionaries. How that transition occurred and what it means, I felt, was important and underexplored.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument for God’s Internationalists?

DK: In chronicling the organizational transformation of World Vision from 1950 to the present, I am making the case that American evangelicals changed in the ways they saw themselves and their world in the period following World War II in ways that push scholars beyond a singular focus only on politics and popular culture. Chronicling the evolution of World Vision’s practices, theology, and institutional development, I also hope to demonstrate how the organization re-articulated and retained its Christian identity even as it expanded beyond a narrow American evangelical subculture illustrating the complexities of faith-based humanitarianism that do not presume the scientific and secular dominance of the humanitarian and philanthropic sector.

JF: Why do we need to read God’s Internationalists?

DK: First, I believe readers will enjoy some of the colorful characters in the pages of God’s Internationalists. World Vision founder Bob Pierce was a larger than life character that traveled the world jumping out of helicopters on the front lines of the Korean and Vietnam wars. Yet, as World Vision grew, Pierce refused to grow with it. After he quit in a fit of rage, he would later go on to start another organization, Samaritan’s Purse, and he mentored Franklin Graham who took over once Pierce passed away. These intertwined histories are obviously still relevant today.

Beyond the immediate relevance of exploring the histories of organizations that still shape the global outlook of many American Christians, I believe it is also important to make the case that American Christians spend far more resources on global missions and international relief and development than they do on domestic politics. While religion and politics get our overwhelming attention for obvious reasons, I believe it is important to broaden our field of vision. Religious relief and development agencies like World Vision demonstrate a complex but oftentimes healthy set of working relationships that mix government, local congregations, private philanthropy, and a wide variety of religious or secular agencies partnering together. In our particular moment, seeing how these partnerships have developed and how they might lead us to common ground, I believe, is worthy of our time. Finally, I believe God’s Internationalists forces us to expand our field of vision beyond domestic issues to see how Christians at home and global Christians abroad have led to new ways of engaging with the world.

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

DK: I majored in history at Samford University and fell in love with the history of civil rights which came alive to me as I explored that history through oral interviews and site visits right there in Birmingham, Alabama, where so much of that history took place. I later focused on American religion with a particular interest in missions history through my work with Grant Wacker at Duke. After I finished a PhD in American religious history at Emory University, I continued to find a way to keep writing as a historian even as my own academic interests have continued to evolve over time taking me now into philanthropic studies, an interdisciplinary field, where I am presently rooted at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

JF: What is your next project?

DK: Speaking of philanthropy, I have just finished an edited volume with Philip Goff of IUPUI, on Religion and Philanthropy in the United States that looks at a variety of religious traditions and particular case studies over the long twentieth century up to the present that will be out with Indiana University Press in 2020. I am also excited to be writing with my colleague Eric Abrahamson a history that intertwines the lives of evangelical philanthropist, Howard Ahmanson, Jr. and evangelical civil rights icon John Perkins. In framing their improbable friendship with one another, we believe the book opens up many untold stories such as the history of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) as well as Ahmanson’s funding of controversial initiatives such as intelligent design and Christian reconstructionism to key global missions such as the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. Like Gods Internationalists, we hope it will open up another lens to explore American evangelicalism.

JF: Thanks, David!

Chris Gehrz’s Open Letter to Billionaires and Millionaires Who Want to Give to Christian Colleges


In case you haven’t heard, an investor named Bill Miller just gave $75 million to the Johns Hopkins University philosophy department.  The money will be used to double the size of the department and create nine endowed professorships.  Money will also go to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.  Read all about it here.

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz has written an open letter “to anyone with $75 million to give to Christian colleges.

The letter asks such a donor to consider two things:

  1. Give preference to the arts, humanities, and sciences
  2. Give preference to people, not buildings.

Here is a taste:

So consider endowing scholarships. Make it possible for at least a few students to come to their school of choice and pursue the studies that most closely align with their gifts, passions, and calling. Free them of the lifelong burden of feeling like they need to deny their vocation in order to maximize their salary and minimize their debt.

Or endow faculty chairs. Make it possible for at least a few professors to do their work — as teachers and scholars — without living in perpetual anxiety about how many students are taking their classes or how hard it is to demonstrate the practical value of their research. Make it possible for universities to keep their core disciplines somewhat insulated from the market pressures that tempt us away from our mission.

Miller’s gift to Johns Hopkins’ philosophy department, for example, will endow nine chairs, allow for the near-doubling of the philosophy faculty, and help graduate students and postdoctoral fellows continue their work.

If you’re in a position to do something at all similar to that… I’m not asking for a $75 million gift to the Bethel University Department of History. (Though I wouldn’t turn it away. Our development folks can be found hereOr email me to schedule a time to talk — believe it or not, I can say much more than what I’ve written here!)

Pick five such schools, or fifteen, and make smaller, still-transformative gifts that will allow them to fulfill their mission long into the 21st century. You will change the lives of students, and through them the world.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you with grace and peace, with wisdom and discernment.

Read the entire letter here.

Episode 23: Giving in America

podcast-icon1When we historians say, “everything has a history,” we mean it. Even charity and philanthropy have rich histories and have changed over time. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling explore this history in an American context, touching on everything from robber-baron philanthropy to more recent trends like all-night college dance marathons and the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge.” They are joined by the David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Amanda Moniz (@AmandaMoniz1).

Thinking Historically About Donating Your Time and Money

MonizAmanda Moniz is the Associate Director of the National History Center and the author of From Empire to Humanity: The American Revolution and the Origins of Humanitarianism. (Some of you may recall that she recently visited The Author’s Corner to discuss this book).

Over at the blog of Oxford University Press, Amanda has published a fascinating post about how her study of the history of philanthropy influences her decisions about how to donate her time and money in the present.  It is a great model for the way historical thinking can inform these kind of everyday decisions and moves beyond some of the far-reaching historical analogies that are often used in public discourse.

Here is a taste:

I approach questions about humanitarianism both with my historian’s mindset and with contemporary concerns. For a time, the two ways of thinking led to intellectual – and moral – paralysis. I eventually realized that the question I had been asking is how can historical perspectives help with decision-making? In my role at the National History Center of the American Historical Association, I think about this question in relation to policy conversations. I believe that understanding the history behind today’s policy challenges can meaningfully inform public decision-making. It was when I sought to apply this belief to my own life that I had to think more carefully about what I meant.

A reason for my dilemma, I realized, was that I initially considered questions about contemporary philanthropy by making analogies to the past. In the late eighteenth century, doctors played leading roles in the spread of innovative charitable institutions around the Atlantic world thanks to their strong networks. Recognizing doctors’ role and the professional imperatives that shaped it is important for understanding eighteenth-century humanitarianism. Analogizing from it to ask how a novel charitable movement today had spread across the United States, however, proved unhelpful. The contexts are too different for the parallels to be meaningful.

Once I quit trying to draw analogies, I was able to reflect more holistically and found that my exploration of leading American and British philanthropists of the eighteenth century helped me think about where I wanted to make a contribution. The men I study acted both locally and globally. They founded and ran charities in their cities and collaborated with far-flung friends to advance medical charity, anti-poverty efforts, antislavery, prison reform, and other causes around the Atlantic and beyond. They were motivated by sincere concern for the well-being of humanity. In the years after the American Revolution, Americans and Britons also used their correspondence about beneficent projects to feel out their new relationship to one another. Transatlantic philanthropy helped them contribute to transnational conversations. Thinking about that dimension to my subjects’ activities helped me realize that I feel most equipped to participate in local conversations about poverty, gentrification, and inequality. As a result, I have chosen to focus my energies on local organizations.

Read the entire post here.

University of Texas History Department Receives $6.6 Million Gift

We in the Messiah College History Department would be happy to take 1/10th of such a gift.  Interested alum can reach me through the blog.  (Only half-kidding about this).

Here is a taste of an article in the Austin American-Statesman:

Gardner Marston earned his history degree at the University of Texas in 1953. His studies in Austin must have been deeply fulfilling, as evidenced by a $6.6 million bequest that the history department has received from his estate.

Marston, who died in 2011 at the age of 86, was a native and longtime resident of La Jolla, Calif. He traveled widely and had a lifelong curiosity about history, geography and current events — interests that no doubt were fueled by his time in Austin.

Gifts of this size to a single academic department are fairly unusual. And in this case, university officials were expecting a much smaller bequest. Marston told them in 1999 that he had included a $1 million donation in his will.

“It was a nice surprise,” Kathleen Aronson, assistant dean for development in the College of Liberal Arts, said Tuesday.

The money will be used to fund scholarship and travel for undergraduate and graduate students.