The End of White Christian America?

I am hoping to read Robert Jones‘s new book The End of White Christian America.  In this video he chats with Judy Woodruff of PBS:

This is very interesting, but something does not seem quite right. (Again, I need to the read the book).

I think it goes without saying that “white” Christian America is in decline.  The demographics bear this out.  But are the things that have long-defined “Christian America” (at least in the last half-century) fading away?  I don’t know.  It seems that in order to answer “yes” to this question we would need to make a case that non-white Christians do not care about core “Christian America” tenets such as the place of Christianity in public life, traditional marriage and families, opposition to abortion, a critique of the coarseness of popular culture, etc…  Since evangelicalism is booming in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere in the global South, can we really say immigrants arriving to America’s shores from these places are going to be any less “Christian” on these social issues?

This reminds me of a conversation I had recently with an immigration reporter for the Houston Chronicle who told me that many of the Latino immigrants she interviewed for a story were very conservative on social issues.  She was surprised how many of them were supporting Trump because they believed The Donald would deliver the Supreme Court.

The Anti-Christ in New Hampshire


If you have been following the GOP presidential race, you know that New Hampshire has fewer evangelicals than Iowa or South Carolina. But though evangelicals do not make a large swath of the population in the Granite State, it does have its fair share of born-again Christians.  One of them is apparently Susan DeLumus, a member of the state legislature. DeLumas is supporting Donald Trump.  She obviously has no problem with Trump’s recent squabble with Pope Francis because, after all, the Pope is the anti-Christ.

Here is a taste of an article on DeLumas:

In response to her own Facebook post of three snippets of scripture from the Geneva Bible, Rep. Susan DeLemus (R) wrote: “The Pope is the anti-Christ. [sic] Do your research.” In another response, DeLemus said “I’m not sure who the Pope truly has in his heart.”

She told Politico that she was generally referring to the papacy, rather than Pope Francis in particular.

“I was actually referencing the papacy. And what I wrote after that ‘do your research,’ if you read the Geneva Bible, which is the Bible I use when we study, the commentary is – actually by the founders of the United States actually, the Protestant Church – their commentary references the papacy as the anti-Christ,” DeLemus said.

DeLumus is correct about the Geneva Bible.  Here is a taste of the notes on Revelation 13:12 that appeared in the 1560 edition:

13:12 17 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein 18 to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. 

(17) The history of the acts of this beast contains in sum three things, hypocrisy, the witness of miracles and tyranny: of which the first is noted in this verse, the second in the three verses following: the third in the sixteenth and seventeenth verses. His hypocrisy is most full of lies, by which he abuses both the former beast and the whole world: in that though he has by his cunning, as it were by line, made of the former beast a most miserable skeleton or anatomy, usurped all his authority to himself and most impudently exercises the same in the sight and view of him: yet he carries himself so as if he honoured him with most high honour, and did truly cause him to be reverenced by all men. 

(18) For to this beast of Rome, which of civil Empire is made an ecclesiastical hierarchy, are given divine honours, and divine authority so far, as he is believed to be above the scriptures, which the gloss upon the Decretals declares by this devilish verse. “Articulos solvit, synodumque facit generalem” That is, “He changes the Articles of faith, and gives authority to general Councils.”
Which is spoken of the papal power. So the beast is by birth, foundation, feat, and finally substance, one: only the Pope has altered the form and manner of it, being himself the head both of that tyrannical empire, and also of the false prophets: for the empire has he taken to himself, and to it added this cunning device. Now these words, “whose deadly wound was cured” are put here for distinction sake, as also sometimes afterwards: that even at that time the godly readers of this prophecy might by this sign be brought to see the thing as present: as if it were said, that they might adore this very empire that now is, whose head we have seen in our own memory to have been cut off, and to be cured again.

The Author’s Corner with Antoinette Sutto

Antoinette Sutto is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Mississippi. This interview is based on her new book, Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists: Maryland and the Politics of Religion in the English Atlantic, 1630-1690 (University of Virginia Press, 2015).


JF: What led you to write Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists?


AS: I wanted to write about politics and religion in the early modern English world – how ideas about subversion and conflict and threats to law and order were shaped by ideas about religion and allegiance. Maryland was an ideal place to do this because in the seventeenth century, it was a colony run by Catholics that formed part of a growing empire ruled by Protestants. As I discovered in the course of researching and writing, the process of extending lines of authority across the Atlantic forced seventeenth-century people to confront the same questions about law, loyalty and confessional difference that caused a civil war and a revolution in the British Isles.


JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists?


AS: The book argues that the violent and colorful history of early Maryland is most intelligible when placed in the context of the troubled politics of religion of the seventeenth-century English Atlantic. Ironically, some of the most specifically American aspects of Chesapeake life – the challenges of diplomacy between Indian nations and Europeans, the ups and downs of the tobacco trade – proved so destabilizing because they seemed to fit within familiar European narratives of conspiracy and subversion.


JF: Why do we need to read Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists?


AS: This book explores the local, regional and imperial politics of Maryland (and to some extent Virginia) in the 1600s. But the scope of the book is larger than the Chesapeake itself. It’s about the history of ideas in the early modern world, and especially about how ideas and material circumstances – trade, disease, demography, economic expansion – are connected. Parts two and three of the book are about the interaction between the American continent and the English Atlantic and describe how the politics of the American continent and American people, many whose activities and concerns were not known to Europeans, meshed with the tensions of the English Atlantic to create a crisis in the Chesapeake. The book also grapples with the category of Atlantic history – whether and under what circumstances it is useful and how best to do it.


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


AS: When I took the PSAT in high school, the test included a questionnaire about your career plans. I remember filling in the bubbles for “history major” and “historian” for college plans and career, but I don’t remember why!  Later, I began my academic training as a history of early modern England, but I moved into early American history because I have always been fascinated by the moments at which Europeans’ plans and preconceptions about America (and Native Americans) encountered real people, landscapes and experiences.


JF: What is your next project?


AS: My next project will be about Puritanism in the colonial world and the United States. I want to write a book not about the Puritans themselves, but about how later colonists and Americans understood them. It’s a way to explore ideas about origins, nationality and changing understandings of how to write history.

JF: Thanks, Antoinette! 

Catholic Church Shopping

I guess I did not realize how Protestant I had become.

It was my first academic job after graduate school and I was sitting in one of those new employee orientation meetings that we have all had to endure at one time or another. I was seated next to another newbie–a philosophy professor who just finished his Ph.D at Notre Dame.

He was Catholic.

During one of the breaks in the meeting we got talking about religion.  I told him that since my family had moved to town we had visited a few churches  but had not yet decided on which one we would attend on a more permanent basis.

I then asked him a question:

“Have you found a church yet?”

My new friend gave me a rather odd look and then said something like “We’re Catholic.  We will be attending St. X Parish since it is just a mile or two away from the house we are renting and the other parish is on the other side of town.”

I initially felt bad for this guy.  His religious choices were so limited.  What if he didn’t like the priest at St. X Parish?  What if the parish did not have a strong religious education program for his children?

And then it hit me. St. X was a place where he and his family could attend mass, partake of the Eucharist, and hear a homily on the same scriptural texts that were read and preached upon at every other Catholic church in the world that weekend.  Each local priest would approach the weekly Gospel text differently, but that was not the point.  Catholicism is less about the homily and more about the sacrament of communion.

I should have known better.  I was born and raised in the Catholic church and did not leave until I was in high school.  I knew that it was rare for Catholics to go “church shopping.”  This was a Protestant thing, with roots dating back to the early 19th century when the separation of church and state forced churches and denominations to start competing with each other for membership and support.

My exchange with this philosophy professor took place about fifteen years ago.  I am not sure if his response to my question was representative of all Catholics at that time and I don’t know if today Catholics have become more or less consumer-oriented in choosing a parish.

But I did think about this story when I read Kaya Oakes‘s article on church shopping at the Jesuit America magazine, The subtitle of the article is “Why is it so hard for young Catholics to find the right parish.

Here is a short taste:

So with discernment and talk with my spiritual director, I started church shopping. In an urban area, this should be easy—there are dozens of Catholic churches in the East Bay Area, and even more in San Francisco. I started at one within walking distance, figuring saving gas would assuage my guilty conscience. When I arrived for the Sunday morning Mass, nobody was at the front door greeting people, so I wandered around for five minutes looking for a bulletin or a hymnal. By the time I found both, some 40 people were in the pews. The choir was good, but the homily lasted 35 minutes (I confess that I timed it) and seemed to have no central message. When it came time for singing, I was the only person within several pews pitching in—and I do not have a good singing voice. Other than one or two families with children, I was the youngest person in attendance by a couple of decades. Passing the peace was cursory, there were no social justice activities listed in the bulletin, and the priest shook one or two hands outside before disappearing.

If I didn’t know that Oakes was Catholic, and if her piece did not reference the “Mass,” it could have easily been written by a young Protestant evangelical.  Protestantism is a religion of the individual. This is why it has done so well in the United States.   Just as Americans–as individuals–make choices about their political candidates and their favorite brand of car, so American Protestants have always made consumer choices about their churches based on the preacher, the style of worship, the programs, etc….   

Oakes and the young Catholics she writes about seem to be doing the same thing.  She even notes how young Catholics like good preaching.   Catholics choosing parishes based on good preaching?  How Protestant is that?

All of this is just more evidence of the complete assimilation of Catholics into American culture.  The Pope can now speak in Congress and in front of Independence Hall.  And young Catholics have become religious consumers. 

The Author’s Corner with Heather H. Vacek

Heather H. Vacek is Assistant Professor of Church History at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. This interview is based on her new book, Madness: American Protestant Responses to Mental Illness (Baylor University Press, 2015).
JF: What led you to write Madness?

HV: I’m curious about how religious beliefs shape practice, and in particular, how Christians respond—or fail to respond—to suffering. Working as a student chaplain at a state mental hospital a number of years ago, I realized Christian reactions to mental illness seemed more complicated than, for example, reactions to minor surgery or cancer treatment.
Early in my research about the history of Protestants and mental illness, I began to frame this reality with the question, “Who gets a casserole?” Thinking about typical modern congregations, it appeared individuals and families navigating cancer diagnoses were much more likely to receive support in the form of casseroles than those navigating acute or chronic mental illness. If Protestants profess to care for the well-being of bodies, minds, and souls, why did those living with mental illnesses often receive minimal attention? I found myself curious to know if the different reactions to mental and physical illnesses had always been the case, and so I set out to uncover Protestant responses throughout American history.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Madness?

HV: From the colonial era to the twentieth century, two forces combined to inhibit American Protestants’ ability to fulfill their stated mission of caring for the whole person: 1) shifting professionalization sequestered clerical and lay Christian authority in the private, spiritual sphere, leaving healing—physical and mental—as the responsibility of secular medical professionals, and 2) the social stigma surrounding mental illness deepened, making churchgoers reluctant to engage sufferers lest they be tainted by association.  Both rising confidence in humankind’s ability to solve problems and the persistence of theological notions that connected mental maladies to sin deepened stigma and linked mental maladies with weakness and deviance, making Protestants reticent to respond. 
JF: Why do we need to read Madness?

HV: It can be easy to assume that particular religious convictions generate an expected set of responses. While that is sometimes the case, Madness demonstrates how and why reality is much more complicated. This is a story of how external factors—shifting clerical authority, the rise of medicine, the interaction between religion and medicine, the emergence of state institutions, and social stigma—formed the reactions of religious people in the face of a particular sort of illness. The book’s exploration of Protestants and mental illness demonstrates what appeared—and failed to appear—on clerical and congregational agendas.  It also offers insight about how Christians engaged suffering, particularly seemingly intractable distress. Though largely a historical account, for those who are members of Christian communities, the final chapter thinks theologically and explores hospitality that might be extended in the face of the suffering and stigma that often accompany mental illness.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

HV: I suspect I don’t fit the typical mold of how one enters the field of history. My work as a scholar of American religion is a second career. I first trained and worked as an engineer, employment that I loved and found invigorating. Then, after a decade in corporate America, I responded to a call to a different vocation and enrolled in seminary. Afterward, I entered a doctoral program in American Religious History. The object and purpose of my intellectual efforts shifted from the pursuit of corporate profit to exploring the past to shed light on the present. I found the skills I’d gained as an engineer—working to figure out how and why things work the way they do—translated nearly seamlessly into the work of a historian. The work of engineering and the work of history share common methods. In light of a central question, I pose a hypothesis, and then find, explore, and synthesize sources that will help prove or disprove that initial theory. I attend to the evidence, and finally, I hazard a claim about what that data reveals.
JF: What is your next project?

HV: The shape of my next project solidified during an interfaith prayer service following the tragic shootings at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June of 2015. As I looked around a chapel filled to the brim with the laments of members of my city from a variety of faith traditions, I was acutely aware of how theological heritage, demographics, and life events shaped experiences of suffering and ways the human and divine intervention that followed were voiced. Participants lamented together, but from distinct vantage points. Even the Christians in the room brought different postures toward that specific horrific event and the suffering it caused.
Given my curiosity about responses to suffering, my next project will explore more deeply how context has shaped experiences of, and responses to, suffering. Among other factors, theological convictions, frameworks of belief, the source of suffering (war, illness, oppression, and other forms of evil), race, class, and gender play a role in how suffering is experienced and described.
The colonial clergyman Cotton Mather narrated suffering as an expected part of the Christian life. Centuries later the modern preacher Joel Osteen seemed to name suffering as a failure of faith. What have other Americans thought? What have they agreed about? Where and why have their reactions differed? What changed (or remained consistent) in the American political, social, and economic landscape between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries to generate those differences? Some believers expected suffering. Others even sought suffering as a test of faith. Some Americans found their faith strengthened through distress, while others abandoned religion, finding God and radical suffering incompatible.
I’m early in the exploration of this new project, but anticipate that the racial context of the American landscape will figure prominently in the work. Between Mather and Osteen, thinkers including Sarah Osborn, Frederick Douglass, Harriett Beecher Stowe, James Baldwin, Dorothy Day, Reinhold Niebuhr, and others will populate the account of American Christian responses to suffering.

JF: Thanks, Heather!

The Author’s Corner with Timothy E.W. Gloege

Timothy Gloege is a historian and independent scholar based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This interview is based on his new book, Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism (University of North Carolina Press, April 2015).

JF: What led you to write Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism?

TG: It began, ironically enough, when I was taking a break from religious history. I had done a lot of research on conservative evangelicalism and, for a change, had taken up a more systematic reading in the history of The Gilded Age and Progressive Era, especially business and consumer culture. I was immediately struck with how this literature assumed a conservative evangelicalism that was at odds with the rise of modern capitalism, when I had seen the opposite at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and elsewhere. But even more striking to me were the many parallels that I saw between new ideas and techniques in business and conservative evangelical (or “fundamentalist”) belief and practice. I had been taught that fundamentalism was a reaction against modernity; now I wondered whether it might, in fact, be a product of modernity–modern business to be exact. 

I’ve always been drawn to work that brings disparate historiographies into conversation with each other (like Lisabeth Cohen’s combination of labor and consumer culture in
Making a New Deal). I thought that combining the histories of capitalism and religion held similar promise.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Guaranteed Pure?

TG: Guaranteed Pure explains how two generations of evangelicals at the Moody Bible Institute created a modern form of “old-time religion” using new business ideas and techniques. This smoothed the advent of consumer capitalism in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and transformed the dynamics of Protestantism in modern America.

JF: Why do we need to read Guaranteed Pure?

TG: I think my book offers a new way for us to understand conservative evangelicalism that better explains not only why it has survived in twentieth century America but also thrived. In so doing, it also lets us interrogate some of the categories that structure our histories of Protestantism: terms like “evangelical,” “fundamentalism,” “conservative,” “liberal,” and “modern.” And then finally, I think it demonstrates how entwined religious systems are in their social and cultural milieux. If fundamentalists–the supposed culture rejecters–cannot escape being profoundly influenced by this environment, it seems difficult to suggest any other group could do better. So then it’s also a call for religious historians (perhaps especially, historians of evangelicalism) to take these broader contexts into consideration. 
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
TG: I decided I wanted to become a historian when I was an undergraduate–and at time when my study habits suggested I had no business pursuing it. Still, I was attracted by two core tenets of the profession. First was empathy: the requirement (for me, it was the permission) to refrain from passing judgment on anything that I could not first explain on its own terms. Second was the idea that everything is capable of changing over time–from our most mundane habits to our loftiest ideals–and most likely has. 

Having grown up in a largely ahistorical context, I found history to be liberating and slightly dangerous. Empathy allowed me to enter into the worlds and lives of people far different from myself. It gave me a safe space to try on new modes of thinking. Change over time simply gave me a framework that made better sense of the world we live in. The world became less Manichean–a starkly divided world of good and evil–and something more subtle and wonder-filled. It was like the introduction of color to a black and white world: both breathtaking and disorienting. 

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be in a situation where I can continue these pursuits, both in my writing and in teaching when opportunities arise.

JF: What is your next project?

TG: There are two projects I’m pursuing at the moment. One, speaking of historical empathy, is a “life and times” biographical treatment of Reuben A. Torrey, an immensely important, but misunderstood, figure in the history of fundamentalism, pentecostalism, and (I’ll argue) the early social gospel movement in the late 19th century. His life demonstrates the fluidity of Protestantism during that time. The second project is also empathy centered: a reappraisal of the fundamentalist/modernist controversies (and its lead-up) through the perspective of the modernists, critically assessed.
JF: Both sound like great projects, can’t wait to see what you come up with. Thanks Tim!
And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with William A. Mirola

William Mirola is Professor of Sociology and Presiding Officer of the faculty at Marian University. This interview is based on his new book, Redeeming Time: Protestantism and Chicago’s Eight-Hour Movement (University of Illinois Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Redeeming Time: Protestantism and Chicago’s Eight-Hour Movement?

WM: When I was in graduate school in the late 1980’s, I was very much engaged in a variety of social movement protest activities. I had grown up very active in my faith community. I was very interested in the intersections between the two areas of my life. As I read more in the sociology of religion and of social movement activism, I discovered that there was a broad literature debating the role of religion as both a facilitator and obstacle to social change movements, especially the American labor movement. Perhaps because, as a person of faith, I wanted to save religion from Marx’s “opiate of the masses” thesis, I was encouraged to examine the role of religion in the labor movement. The chair of my dissertation committee liked this idea and recommended looking at the post-civil war era because not as much attention was paid to this question in that time frame. So I did…and in reading the histories, the eight-hour day kept returning again and again as the central issue of the period and more interesting still was that the reduction of the hours of labor was being argued over as a moral and religious issue. And so the study began. After my dissertation was complete, it was clear that this historical analysis was unlike many of the others in the field and gave a critical perspective to understanding the role of religion in the labor movement and in social change generally. It was this last point that kept me motivated to see it to publication in its current form.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Redeeming Time?

WM: Redeeming Time examines the role of religion in the fight for the eight-hour workday in 19th Century Chicago. I highlight the challenges faced by factions of the labor movement in attempting to use religion as an ideological and practical weapon in its fights with employers and as a way to build coalitions with Protestant clergy to achieve shorter hours.

JF:Why do we need to read Protestantism and Redeeming Time?

WM: Redeeming Time challenges much of what we know about the role of religion in labor history by focusing its role as a strategic weapon in labor’s arsenal during the battles over shorter hours in the second half of the 19th century. By focusing on the rhetoric used by different factions of the labor movement, by Protestant clergy, and by employers, one can see the evolution in the thinking of these different sets of social actors regarding the religious nature of work and the workday over a fifty-year time span. It also sheds light on how the labor movement viewed the strategic utility of building coalitions with clergy to achieve industrial reform. For labor, religious rhetoric played a prominent role in framing the eight-hour day but eventually it is replaced by economic rhetoric which resonated more with employers. Clergy generally opposed shorter hours for workers, fearing an increase in vice, but overtime, responding the in intensification of class conflict, began to embrace shorter hours as a morally desirable industrial reform but unfortunately not before labor shifts its strategy away from the religious realm. So the story is one of two ships passing in the night. Redeeming Time takes a more critical approach than many other past studies or religion and labor by questioning the instrumental utility of religion in achieving practical industrial reform.

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

WM: In point of fact, I am sociologist. However, there is a part of me that has always loved history. I didn’t set out to craft an historical study in graduate school but in the late 1980s, the study of history enjoyed resurgence in sociological analysis and I was fortunate to work with faculty who embraced it. I always tell my students that there is no way to understand contemporary life without understanding the past and so history and sociology are both entwined. I believe that you can’t be a good historian without thinking sociologically and visa-versa.

JF: What is your next project?

WM: I continue to be interested in the role of religion in social movements, past and present although my research now is more contemporary and examines the intersection of religion and social class differences in the United States. I may return to the 19th Century at some point however since there is so much that I left uncovered regarding the intersection of religion and the American labor movement.

JF: Can’t wait to hear more about it. Thanks Bill!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

Dispatches from the History Major: "What I Learned About Catholicism From Studying the Crusades"

I hope you are enjoying “Dispatches from the History Major.” Here is the next installment from Messiah College sophomore history major James Mueller.  –JF

In my Tudor-Stuart England class this semester we’re currently discussing the English Reformation. We are reading Eamon Duffy’s The Voices of Morebath and David Underdown’s Fire from Heaven. Both books examine how two small villages in the West Country of England reacted to the radical religious changes of the time.

Watching the topography of the English spiritual landscape rapidly shift during the end of the Tudor Era has caused me to think about Protestantism and Catholicism in totally new ways. Its also made me realize how much contemporary Christians rely on historical memory rather than historical inquiry when they talk or think about religion.

I recall first noticing this subtle disparity between memory and history last spring while studying the Crusading Movement. I probably grew up like most Protestant home-schooled boys of my generation. My parents educated me using faith-based textbooks which were blatantly anti-Catholic. I tried to challenge my Catholic friends’ beliefs about Purgatory, the veneration of Saints, and the Eucharist– Sola Scriptura style.  I grew up in a faith setting that focused heavily on individual spiritual development, thus I was pretty certain I already knew everything there was to know about the Crusades.

It went something like this:

1) The Catholics were terribly corrupt; especially the Pope.
2) The Pope and his imperialistic crusaders decided to start a war in the Middle East because of their material greed.
3) The Pope and his army of Crusaders were not true Christians.
4) Thank God for the Reformation.

Did you cringe? I hope so.

I started to cut the Pope some slack after reading Pope Urban II’s Call for the First Crusade and studying the social and spiritual problems which plagued Europe prior to the Crusading Movement. I started to rethink my opinion about imperialism and material greed when I read about all the land and power medieval lords like Godfrey of Bouillon and Raymond Count of Toulouse gave up so that they could participate in the First Crusade. It was hard for me to continue to call Catholics like Bernard of Clairvaux “unChristian” after I read some of his letters and realized that he was more devout of a believer than I feel like I’ll ever be.

I walked away from that class saying, “Hmm. Maybe I’ve been wrong about Catholics.” I walked away from that class recognizing that historical memory is narrow and superficial. I walked away form that class realizing that the true pursuit of historical causation and truth can make a person a whole lot more empathetic than I thought possible.

NOTE:  There was, of course, plenty of ugly history I learned about during that Crusades course–stuff that had the potential for much moral criticism of the Crusading Movement as a whole, but that isn’t the primary focus of my post).

So here I am, on Easter, the Christian season of remembrance. Thinking about Puritans and Catholics, Holy Wars and Reformations, and how badly Christians think, talk, and treat their brothers and sisters of different denominations. I’m glad I study history. Not because I think it replaces our need for Christ or for divine reconciliation. Not because I can use it to write feel-good blogs that give us such happy historical pictures. I’m glad I study history because it helps me to understand. And understanding can go further than you think. I know it helped me to appreciate and love a different, but still very valuable, aspect of Christianity.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #99

A small taste from the manuscript.  This comes from chapter seven: “The Bible is the Religion of Protestants”

ABS agents also reported stories of the “Bible doing its work” through dramatic confrontations with the Catholic laity.  As one agent working among Catholics along the St. Lawrence River put it, the Bible’s “pages, when read with prayer and attention…give no countenance and leave no excuse, to fatal errors that destroy the soul.” The leadership of the Young Men’s New York Bible Society added that “Wherever Catholics are induced to read the Scriptures, we soon discover a decrease in hostility, a willingness to read religious Tracts, and a readiness to send their children to Protestant Sabbath schools. Frederick Buel, the ABS agent in California, squared off against a Catholic priest he encountered in San Francisco in a fashion resembling the Old Testament showdown between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  When Buel informed the priest that he planned to distribute ABS Bibles “throughout the length and breadth of the land,” the priest encouraged him: “Go,” he said, “carry the Bible where you please and we will go after you, and the more Bibles you scatter, the more Catholics we will make.” Undeterred, and assured of the “power of Protestantism,” Buel welcomed the challenge.  “Let us scatter the truth to every family,” he wrote to the ABS leadership back in New York, “and if truth makes Catholics, let truth and error meet and grapple.”  He was confident that in a “free and open encounter” the truth of the Protestant message would prevail.

The Author’s Corner with Kyle G. Volk

Kyle Volk is Associate Professor of American History at the University of Montana. This interview is based on his new book, Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy?

KV: I’ve been interested in the place of religious and moral questions in American politics for quite some time. This general curiosity drove Moral Minorities, but more concretely, this book grew out of research. With early questions about church-state relations, I explored the history of Sunday laws (aka. Sabbath legislation or what many call “blue laws”) and discovered a flood of debates over them in the mid-nineteenth century. I was struck by how evangelical reformers turned to “majority rule” to defend Sunday laws and how Jews, Seventh Day Baptists, German immigrants, and others disparaged them as prime examples of majority tyranny and democratic despotism. I was somewhat surprised to find that dissenters organized and challenged Sunday laws in public and in court with arguments about minority rights. I had been reading Alexis de Tocqueville, John Calhoun, and John Stuart Mill and their thoughts on democracy and majority tyranny. My research led me to consider that it wasn’t just intellectuals and slaveholders who were concerned about minority rights in the mid-nineteenth century. Ordinary folks, it seemed, were ruminating about majoritarian democracy and developing ways to defend themselves as minorities. I found this proposition fascinating, and it didn’t fit with what I knew about nineteenth-century political life. So I set out to write a book that examined how a range of nineteenth-century Americans sought to protect minority rights. After researching many issues, I discovered that two other major moral questions of the day—alcohol and racial equality—worked alongside Sunday laws to prompt widespread grassroots minority-rights activism and influential debates about majority rule and its limits.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy?

KV: Moral Minorities argues that conflicts spurred by the rise of Protestant moral reform drove the emergence of America’s lasting tradition of popular minority-rights politics in the mid-nineteenth century. As officials heeded demands to regulate Sabbath observance, alcohol consumption, and interracial contact, a motley but powerful array of moral minorities—Jews, Seventh Day Baptists, black northerners, radical abolitionists, liquor dealers, German immigrants, and others—objected and reshaped American democracy by questioning the era’s faith in majority rule and pioneering lasting practices to defend civil rights and civil liberties.

JF: Why do we need to read Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy?

KV: I hope there are many reasons. For all readers, I hope Moral Minorities helps them contemplate the historical roots of phenomena that today seem to be almost natural parts of the political landscape. I show, for example, that moralized debates over gay rights, birth control, religion in schools, and racial prejudice are nothing new. Over 150 years ago, these types of issues burst on to the political scene and brought all sorts of people to take an active interest in public life. These issues and those who debated them—like they continue to do today—played essential roles in making the tension between majority rule and minority rights a hallmark of American democracy. For those interested in modern-day minority-rights activism—in how folks across the political spectrum organize to defend constitutional freedom and to achieve social justice—my book shows how this political tradition got started.

For historians, legal scholars, political scientists, and other academics, I hope Moral Minorities tackles some fundamental questions about the history of American political theory and practice. It explains, for example, how James Madison’s well-known concerns about majority rule became the concerns of a wide range of everyday Americans. Moral Minorities also offers a new perspective on the “golden age” of American democracy by detailing another foundational development beyond expanding voting rights and two-party politics—namely, the birth of grassroots minority-rights politics. More than a white man’s democracy worshiping at the altar of majority rule and party, I emphasize a public sphere energized by popular movements for moral reform and minority rights and by divisive questions of race, religion, and alcohol.

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

KV: I’m not sure there was a defining moment or concrete reason beyond passion for history. Much of that was instilled by my family and by inspiring teachers. I actually began my undergraduate days at Boston College as a political science major, but after taking an American constitutional history class my freshman year, I realized that my true interest was the history of politics and law. I switched to history and soon began discussing graduate school with two trusted professors, Alan Rogers and Lynn Lyerly. For a first-generation college student with no real knowledge of professional intellectual life it was a somewhat daunting proposition. Fortunately, Lynn and Alan provided guidance, my parents lent their support, and I found dedicated mentors and supportive friends at the University of Chicago.

JF: What is your next project?

KV: I have several projects in the works. But I’ve been teaching a course on alcohol in US history and have more to say about this topic than what appears in Moral Minorities. I expect to move in that direction and explore the place of alcohol in debates over the meaning of freedom in the long nineteenth century. I’m sure that moral issues and related questions of personal and popular liberty will long remain central to my research agenda.​

JF: Sounds great! Thanks Kyle.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with Matthew A. Sutton

Matt Sutton is Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of History at Washington State University. This interview is based on his new book, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Belknap Press, December 2014).

JF: What led you to write American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism?

MS: I have long been interested in the history of American evangelicalism as well as the role of premillennialism in it, especially in the twentieth century. Much of this interest is academic. But I also vividly remember going to a weekend seminar on the end times as a 14-year-old—the speaker convinced me that the Antichrist was alive and that his rise to global power was imminent. Maybe my research is a way to work through my teenage traumas?

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism?

MS: First, that what most differentiated fundamentalists and their evangelical successors from their liberal Protestant counterparts in terms of how they actually lived was the conviction that the world was rapidly descending towards the Biblical apocalypse, which shaped their views on the economy, politics, education, science, popular culture, morality, global events, and much more. Second, that for too long historians have succumbed to the rise (to 1925)-fall (Scopes trial to end of WWII)-rebirth (Billy Graham and the new evangelicals) narrative of twentieth century evangelicalism; instead, I argue that fundamentalists never withdrew from mainstream culture and that the similarities between interwar fundamentalism and post-war evangelicalism are far greater than people like Carl Henry have led historians to believe.

JF: Why do we need to read American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism?

MS: I hope it is a lively narrative that will change how we think about fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and the relationship between the two.

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

MS: I began college as a religion major but during my first semester I had a history class. Almost immediately I fell in love with history, and found it to be an effective way to get at questions of religion and politics.

JF: What is your next project?

 MS: After writing a book on Aimee Semple McPherson, this book, and a text on the rise of the religious right, I am now moving away from evangelicalism and tackling the relationships between religion and politics in a new way. I am doing research for a book on religion and American espionage and covert actions in World War II.

 JF: Thanks Matt!
And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with Bill Leonard

Bill Leonard is James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and Professor of Church History at Wake Forest University. This interview is based on his new book, A Sense of the Heart: Christian Religious Experience in the US (Abingdon Press, November 2014).

JF: What led you to write A Sense of the Heart​?

BL: An editor from Abingdon Press called me to ask if I would be interested in writing a new text that would survey American Christianity, or religious experience in the US. I chose the latter opportunity since for many years I have taught graduate seminars on Religious Experience in America. I have often thought of writing a text on the topic and this was just the incentive I needed. I have long understood religious experience to be an important resource examining the shape and diversity of American Christianity in its various forms. The phrase, “a sense of the heart,” comes from Jonathan Edwards’ work, A Treatise on Religious Affections, and describes something of the nature of religious experience within and beyond Edwards’ own understanding of religious experience and conversion.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A Sense of the Heart?

BL: The book explores the nature and diversity of religious experience in light of such distinct religio-cultural issues as pluralism, voluntarism, religious freedom, democratic idealism, and Protestant privilege in the US. This unique environment not only shaped the nature of experience with the Divine, but also provided a milieu in which multiple individuals and groups cultivated encounters with the Sacred.

JF: Why do we need to read A Sense of the Heart​?
BL: The book can be a helpful resource for several reasons: 1) It provides a one-volume survey of the history, theology and practice of religious experience in multiple contexts from the colonial period to the 21st century; 2) Americans have nurtured varying, often intense, religious experiences that informed spiritual identity, united and divided Christian communities, and made some type of “conversion” normative for all who would claim a relationship with Christ and the church; 3) Through it all, religious experience became one way in which the “objective” idea that God loves human beings and offers them salvation, becomes a “subjective” reality in the lives of specific individuals. This text pursues those issues. 

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
BL: I grew up reading and loving history. My father passed on to me his love of history, reading history to me before I learned to read for myself. As native Texans we read Texas history together from early in my life. I think I learned the heroes of the Alamo before the names of the Apostles! My interest in history was nurtured by multiple mentors at every phase of the educational journey–men and women who were themselves captivated by historical studies with different approaches and specializations. Dr. Alice Wonders, chair of the Religion Department at Texas Wesleyan University, was an important mentor who encouraged me to pursue historical studies with an eye toward teaching. Dr. William Estep, well know church historian from my seminary studies, shaped my interest in teaching Christian history; and Dr. Earl Kent Brown at Boston University helped me focus my work in areas of American religion. He guided my dissertation in elements of American Protestant mysticism. My own experiences among Baptists in the South–conversionism, revivalism, varying “plans of salvation” led to some of my earliest research into religious experience and my concern to communicate those studies to new generations of students. 

JF: What is your next project?
BL: Right now I am preparing a new edition of an earlier work entitled, Word of God Across the Ages: Using Church History in Preaching. It offers suggestions at to utilizing historical studies homiletically and provides a variety of sermons with focus on the theology and spirituality of certain historical figures from St. Paul to Sojourner Truth, to Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am also doing initial research for a study of religion in Appalachia, particularly as much of the region’s religious culture is being impacted by the impinging mass culture of the larger American religious and secular society.

JF: Good stuff, thanks Bill.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with T.J. Tomlin

T.J. Tomlin is Associate Professor of History at the University of Northern Colorado. This interview is based on his book, A Divinity for all Persuasions:Almanacs and Early American Religious Life (Oxford University Press, October 2014).

JF: What led you to write A Divinity for all Persuasions?

TT: I wanted to know how early American popular culture reflected or responded to changes in church membership between 1730 and 1820. Of course, much has been written about the causes and consequences of denominational shifts during this period. So I was curious to see if popular culture might add something new to the debate. I turned to almanacs because they were early America’s most widespread genre. I expected to find either critiques of upstart and “unrefined” denominations like the Methodists or populist attacks on Anglicans and other established churches. Instead I found Protestantism everywhere and denominational specifics almost nowhere. It became apparent very quickly that almanacs had much to say about “true religion” but were completely unconcerned with intra-Protestant competition. In fact, they argued that denominational rivalry was antithetical to authentic religion.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A Divinity for all Persuasions?

TT: Early American religious life is best characterized by the pan-Protestant sensibility articulated in its most ubiquitous popular genre. Most early Americans defined and organized their religious lives around Protestant “essentials” and “golden rule” morality rather than denominational specifics.

JF: Why do we need to read A Divinity for all Persuasions?

TT: Early American religious history remains largely centered on what was going on in churches. This book fills an important gap in the historiography by using popular print rather than church-based sources to answer core questions about early American religion. I also hope the book generates new interest in and appreciation of almanacs. Their annual sales figures are astonishing. I think they offer unique insight into the everyday concerns of early Americans and religion’s fundamental role in helping people make sense of life and death.

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

TT: Both of my parents were teachers, so I always assumed I would teach something. I began college as a secondary-education/ English major. Around my sophomore year, I realized I was more interested in the context of the literary works I was reading than the content. About the same time, I began taking history classes with some great professors. I remember reading Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity and thinking: “I want to do this.”

JF: What is your next project?

TT: I am working on a history of chance in early America. While researching A Divinity for All Persuasions, I came across an eighteenth-century lottery ticket at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Intrigued, I learned that state and local governments, Ivy League Universities, and churches relied on lotteries to raise funds. The word chance also shows up quite a bit in almanacs as a critique of Atheism—the argument is that Atheists rely on the foolish notion of “chance” rather than God to explain the created order. Some churches condemned card-playing, dice, and other games of chance as an insult to God’s providential oversight of human affairs. At the same time, Moravians and others were casting lots to decipher God’s will. I want to place changing formulations of chance in the context of eighteenth century intellectual, scientific, and religious debates.

JF: Can’t wait to hear more about it! Thanks TJ.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of the Author’s Corner.

Revisiting Herbert Gutman’s "Protestantism and the American Labor Movement"

Herb Gutman

I have not read Herbert Gutman since graduate school, but after reading Janine Giordano Drake’s recent post at Religion in American History I want to go back and look at Gutman’s 1966 American Historical Review essay, “Protestantism and the American Labor Movement.”  Drake wants us to think more deeply about the religious mind of workers in the so-called Gilded Age.  As she reminds us, Gutman argued that most of these workers were Protestants.  

Drake uses the post to pitch the new issue of Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas in which she joins Heath Carter, Ed Blum, and Jared Roll in the exploration of religion and labor in American history.  Here is a taste of her post:

I’ve tried to imagine what life was like in 1966 when Herbert Gutman’s landmark AHR article, “Protestantism and the American Labor Movement” arrived in historians’ mailboxes. I imagine that evangelical college groups using terms like “Followers of Jesus” and “Non-Denominational Christians” advertised all over campus, and historians stared at their posters with sincere puzzlement.

At the time, I imagine, most historians were less concerned with the questions we’re asking now [were these folks going to turn into Democrats or Republicans?] and were much more concerned with questions that animated their life cycles. Namely, what happened to the religious denominations?! Who are their religious authorities? Who is bankrolling this? And, what ethnic groups are driving this trend? If the historians showed up for the meetings (and I imagine the groups had fliers everywhere), I bet they’d remain puzzled. I can imagine slender male professors in bell bottom pants asking these young evangelicals, “Are your parents Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics? Are you WASPs, Irish or—no, you look German. Is that a German last name?” When the long haired young evangelicals responded with comments about how we’re all God’s children and none of that really mattered, I imagine the social historians–especially those who had been studying ethnic and racial segmentation–found that evasion encouraging, fascinating, and yet also terribly naive.

This is the world I imagine that Herbert Gutman had before him when he penned that famous article which he subtitled, “The Christian Spirit in the Gilded Age.” In it, Gutman argued that many of the newly urbanized working classes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were Protestants, even though they derived from a great variety of cultures. Many were, in fact, white Anglo Saxons who migrated from rural tenant farming and small landholding regions of the midwest and South, and brought with them small-town and socialist ethics of cooperation. Some were immigrants with Protestant and socialist ethics brought over from the “old world.” These folks, perhaps like some of Gutman’s college students, carried on a revivalistic faith that was not the same as that of their ministers. Like Gutman’s college students, Gilded Age workers were largely not confined by denominations. Some of Gutman’s subjects came from Holiness and Pentecostal revival traditions which had worked alongside and outside of denominations. Many brought with them a history of revivalism around Christian ethics– a set of Christian traditions that had been centered in guilds and barns, but not entirely in churches.

Can a Protestant be a True Conservative?

The Calvinists: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox

Darryl Hart wonders if Protestants belong in the conservative fold.  Here is a taste of his post at The Front Porch Republic:

Ever since I lived, moved, and had my being in conservative circles, I have encountered an unspoken ambivalence about Protestantism…At my first program with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, I met a female undergraduate from a conservative liberal arts college who told me she was Pentecostal but on her way to converting to Roman Catholicism.  Why? “To be a consistent conservative is to be a Catholic.”  An initial lesson in the corridors of intellectual conservatism was that I, as a Protestant, was an inconsistent conservative.

Read the rest here.

Can Someone Help Me Interpret This Springsteen Song?

The religious imagery in Springsteen’s “I’ll Work for Your Love” is so overt and powerful. I listened to this song over and over again on my ride from Washington D.C. to Harrisburg, PA yesterday and I still don’t understand all of it.

Is this a Catholic song (as opposed to a Protestant song)?  I imagine this could be one interpretation of the line “What others may want for free, I’ll work for your love.”  Is Springsteen saying that God’s grace is something to be worked for (Catholicism) and not something one receives “for free.” (Protestantism)?

Who is Theresa and what does she represent?   What about the references to the Book of Revelation, the Garden of Eden, 7 drops of blood, crown of thorns, piece of the cross, perdition, book of faith, and etc.?

Here are the lyrics:

Pour me a drink Theresa in one of those glasses you dust off
And I’ll watch the bones in your back like the stations of the cross
‘Round your hair the sun lifts a halo, at your lips a crown of thorns
Whatever the deal’s going down, to this one I’m sworn

I’ll work for your love dear
I’ll work for your love
What others may want for free
I’ll work for your love

The dust of civilizations and love’s sweet remains
Slip off of your fingers and come drifting down like rain
The pages of Revelation lie open in your empty eyes of blue
I watch you slip that comb through your hair and this I promise you

I’ll work for your love dear
I’ll work for your love
What others may want for free
I’ll work for your love


Well tears they fill the rosary, at your feet my temple of bones
Here in this perdition we go on and on
Now I see your pieces crumbled and our book of faith’s been tossed
And I’m just down here searching for my own piece of the cross
In the late afternoon sun fills the room with a mist in the garden before the fall
I watch your hands smooth the front of your blouse and seven drops of blood fall

I’ll work for your love dear
I’ll work for your love
What others may want for free
I’ll work for your love
What others may want for free
I’ll work for your love
What others may want for free
I’ll work for your love 

Here is the song:

Kevin Kruse on the History of Christian Libertarianism

Kevin Kruse, an American historian at Princeton, is writing a book entitled, “One Nation Under God: Corporations, Christianity, and the Rise of the Religious Right.”  We get a taste of his project in today’s New York Times.

Kruse examines the way anti-FDR Christians embraced capitalism and the free market during the New Deal  Here is a snippet:

During the Great Depression, the prestige of big business sank along with stock prices. Corporate leaders worked frantically to restore their public image and simultaneously roll back the “creeping socialism” of the welfare state. Notably, the American Liberty League, financed by corporations like DuPont and General Motors, made an aggressive case for capitalism. Most, however, dismissed its efforts as self-interested propaganda. (A Democratic Party official joked that the organization should have been called “the American Cellophane League” because “first, it’s a DuPont product and, second, you can see right through it.”) 

Realizing that they needed to rely on others, these businessmen took a new tack: using generous financing to enlist sympathetic clergymen as their champions. After all, according to one tycoon, polls showed that, “of all the groups in America, ministers had more to do with molding public opinion” than any other.

The Rev. James W. Fifield (pictured above), pastor of the elite First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, led the way in championing a new union of faith and free enterprise. “The blessings of capitalism come from God,” he wrote. “A system that provides so much for the common good and happiness must flourish under the favor of the Almighty.”

Christianity, in Mr. Fifield’s interpretation, closely resembled capitalism, as both were systems in which individuals rose or fell on their own. The welfare state, meanwhile, violated most of the Ten Commandments. It made a “false idol” of the federal government, encouraged Americans to covet their neighbors’ possessions, stole from the wealthy and, ultimately, bore false witness by promising what it could never deliver.

Mark Noll on Protestantism Today

With the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation about six years away, Notre Dame’s Mark Noll reflects on the current state of Protestantism in a piece at the Huffington Post.  Here is a taste:

…And today? Nearly 500 years after Luther’s initial provocation in Wittenberg, Protestants and Protestant-like movements are all over the map, both literally and figuratively. The recently published “Atlas of World Christianity” enumerates about 500,000,000 adherents to churches and denominations that trace their descent directly or indirectly from 16th century Protestant beginnings and several hundred millions more in “independent” churches with Protestant origins or strongly Protestant characteristics.

The dynamic recent changes in world Christianity that have been well described by Philip Jenkins, Dana Robert and other outstanding scholars have affected Protestants even more than other Christians. A century ago, roughly three-fifths of the world’s identifiable Protestants lived in Europe, with another third in the United States. Today, almost three-fourths of identifiable Protestants live outside of Europe and the United States. More Anglicans go to church regularly in each of Nigeria and Uganda than in Britain and America (as Episcopalians) combined. Ethiopia, Tanzania and Madagascar all have Lutheran denominations as large as the biggest Lutheran denominations in the United States. There are far more identifiable Pentecostals in Brazil than in the United States. Among the countries with the most rapid recent Protestant expansion have been Armenia, Cambodia, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Nepal and — most significantly — China. As observant students have noticed, the recent expansion of non-western Protestant churches has been driven much less by missionaries from Europe and America than by local believers establishing local movements in response to local needs.

It was a challenge when asked to write the “Protestantism” volume for Oxford University Press’s “Very Short Introduction” series to make sense out of a movement with very distinct origins in early modern Europe that now is predominately located where the preoccupations of that earlier time and place are not even a memory. How, in other words, to incorporate into one story both Martin Luther and David Yonggi Cho, the Pentecostal pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea, which with its nearly one million members has for many years been the world’s largest Christian congregation?