On the Road This Fall

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Stop by and say hello is you are in the area:

On October 4, 2019, I will give a plenary address at the Lee University Symposium on Christians and Politics.  This year’s theme is “Power, the Liberal Arts, and People of Faith.”

Two days later, October 6, I will be at Fort Roberdeau, Pennsylvania where I will be speaking about Philip Vickers Fithian and the American Revolution to the American Revolution Round Table of Central Pennsylvania.

On October 21, 2019, I will be the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Kansas Council for History Education.

Click here for information on how to book a lecture or seminar.

My Post-*Believe Me* Speaking Plans

Believe Me 3dSeveral of you have asked me if I will still be doing public lectures after the Believe Me book tour winds down.  Yes, I am planning to continue to speak and lecture as long as the invitations keep arriving.

While my last stop on the Believe Me tour is in April at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in the Boston area, the paperback version of the book is scheduled for January 2020 and I thus imagine I will do some more speaking as part of that release.  Stay tuned.

Of course I am also available for lectures on my other books.  In addition to those books, I am currently at work on a book about the American Revolution in New Jersey and am also hoping to co-author a young adult biography of Philip Vickers Fithian.

I also have some additional news on this front.  Most of my speaking engagements will now be handled by my assistant Christine Walter.  You can learn how to contact her about a possible lecture by heading over to the Speaking page on this website.  Christine will be the point person for travel arrangements, receipts, honorariums, and just about everything else related to my schedule. She is happy to work with your institution to make something happen.

See you on the road!

PA Turnpike

Summer is Almost Here


I hope to spend a little time this summer on the back deck

It is Messiah College graduation weekend.  I am looking forward to spending some time with our history graduates and their families.

This is also the time of year when people ask us about how we will be spending the summer.  So here goes:

I have pushed aside most speaking invitations for the summer in order to focus on several things:

  • In June I will be taking an 8-day bus tour of historical sites related to the Civil Rights Movement.  Stay tuned for more details.
  • I need to complete several smaller writing projects, including book reviews and conference papers.
  • I will be spending most of the summer trying to a complete a book on New Jersey and the American Revolution which I need to deliver soon to Rutgers University Press.  A few trips to the archives will be necessary.
  • Once again, I will be spending a week at Princeton University leading a Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar on colonial America for teachers.  This is always a highlight.
  • Prepare for my Fall 2017 course: “Teaching History.”

I hope to get back on the road in the Fall.  I am thankful to Messiah College for freeing up time so I can speak to a host of different public audiences during the course of the academic year.  Several things are tentatively in the works right now, but let’ talk if you or your church, college, school, or organization are interested in hosting a lecture, seminar or campus visit of some type. You can get a sense of some of my recent engagements here.

On the Road: Fall 2016


OnTheRoadHere is where I am heading this Fall.  If you are in the area stop by and say hello!

September 23, 2016
Kincaid Lecture: Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, TN
The Bible and Moral Reform in the Early American Republic

September 26, 2016
Donald Yerxa Lecture: Eastern Nazarene College, Quincy, MA
Why Study History?

October 6, 2016
Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, 7:00pm
Lecture: “The Bible Cause: 200 Years of the American Bible Society”

October 27, 2016
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL
Book Discussion with Ph.D Students : “The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society

October 28, 2016
Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL
Chapel Presentation: “The Bible Cause: 200 Years of the American Bible Society”

October 31, 2016
Centre College, Danville, KY
Lecture: “The Bible Cause: 200 Years of the American Bible Society.”

November 19-22, 2016
Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, San Antonio, TX
Session on The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society

November 27, 2016
Derry Presbyterian Church, Hershey, PA
Adult Forum: Presbyterians and the American Presidency

December 3, 2016
Derry Presbyterian Church, Hershey, PA
Adult Forum: Empathy and the Meaning of American Democracy

Speaking Clips: Secularism on the Edge

I have been spending some time today adding some clips to The Way of Improvement Lead’s Home page devoted to speaking engagements.

As many of you know, we are in the midst of our Bible Cause/Christian America tour. (Learn more about the tour and how to get involved here).  In order to stir the pot a bit, I will try to post a few of the videos here.

Here is a clip from my keynote conversation with religious studies scholar Jacques Berlinerblau at the “Secular on the Edge” conference in February 2013 at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

The Bible Cause at National Presbyterian Church

As many of you know, I have been taking my new book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society on the road this year. (I would love to come to your church, school, college/university or organization.  Learn more here and let’s try to work something out).

This morning I was in Washington D.C. at National Presbyterian Church.  I am thankful to Rev. Dr. Quinn Fox who invited me to participate in their Adult Sunday School Summer Speaker Series.  A few highlights:

  • Holly Novak, a member of the church staff, showed me the prie-dieu that Dwight D. Eisenhower knelt upon when he was baptized (as an adult, in 1953) into the Presbyterian Church.
  • I met Clyde Taylor, the former United States ambassador to Paraguay.  Clyde’s father was a former board member of the American Bible Society and director of the National Association of Evangelicals.  I write about Clyde’s Sr.’s relationship with the ABS in The Bible Cause.
  • It was good to see former student Paul Kio, a history teacher in Maryland.  Paul not only showed up for the talk, but even asked a question!

Here are some pics:


The Eisenhower kneeler (see post). God meets country

Ike Plaque

National Pres

After my talk I hung around and worshiped with the congregation in this amazing sanctuary

Speaking at the 2014 New Jersey Forum

I am honored to be giving one of the plenary addresses at the 2014 New Jersey Forum, held this year at Kean University in Union, New Jersey on November 21 and 22.

The conference theme is “New Jersey at 350: Innovation, Diversity, Liberty.” My talk will be at 9:30am on Saturday, November 22 and it is entitled “New Jersey’s Presbyterian Rebellion.”

I am looking forward to the lecture, but I am also thrilled to see so many outstanding scholars who are connected to the conference, either through organizing it or presenting at it.  They include Ronald Becker, Sara Cureton, Larry Greene, Timothy Hack, Mary Rizzo, Brooke Hunter, Joseph Klett, Maxine Lurie, Jonathan Mercantini, Richard Veit, Graham Hodges, James Gigantino, Alison Isenberg, Spencer Crew, Jonathan Sassi, Jean Soderlund, Jonathan Lurie, Brian Greenberg, and Neil Maher.

I hope to see many of you next weekend!  This is going to be a great conference.

How Loud Was George Whitefield?

I have a loud voice.  My voice just seems to carry.  I once broke a speaker system lecturing at the David Library of the American Revolution.  When I whisper to my wife in church to make a semi-critical remark about the sermon she insists that I can be heard by everyone in the sanctuary. My seminar-mates in graduate school used to say that my voice was loud and it would get even louder when I was trying to make a point.  I am pretty sure my students make fun of me for the same reason, but I have no proof. (Does anyone want to admit this?  Students?) I have a regular gig speaking at a local retirement home.  One day a resident told me that I was her favorite speaker because I was the only one she could hear from the back row without her hearing aid.

I may have some volume to my voice, but I don’t think I can hold a candle to George Whitefield, the eighteenth-century revival preacher best known for leading the eighteenth-century religious movement known by historians as the “First Great Awakening.”  (Mandatory Jon Butler scare quotes included. Sorry, but only my early American historian friends will get that one, though I am happy to explain).

Whitefield appears several times in Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography (which I teach every year). My favorite reference to Whitefield is the passage in which Franklin tries to calculate the number of people that can hear Whitefield’s booming voice.  Here is Franklin describing Whitefield:

He had a loud and clear voice, and articulated his words and sentences so perfectly, that he might be heard and understood at a great distance, especially as his auditories, however numerous, observ’d the most exact silence. He preach’d one evening from the top of the Court-house steps, which are in the middle of Market-street, and on the west side of Second-street, which crosses it at right angles. Both streets were fill’d with his hearers to a considerable distance. Being among the hindmost in Market-street, I had the curiosity to learn how far he could be heard, by retiring backwards down the street towards the river; and I found his voice distinct till I came near Front-street, when some noise in that street obscur’d it. Imagining then a semi-circle, of which my distance should be the radius, and that it were fill’d with auditors, to each of whom I allow’d two square feet, I computed that he might well be heard by more than thirty thousand. This reconcil’d me to the newspaper accounts of his having preach’d to twenty-five thousand people in the fields, and to the antient histories of generals haranguing whole armies, of which I had sometimes doubted.

As this passage indicates, Franklin estimated that Whitefield could be heard, without a microphone, by 30,000 people.

It turns out his estimation was correct.  Recently two researchers at New York University’s Music and Audio Research lab reproduced Franklin’s experiment and generally confirmed his conclusions.

Here is a small taste of this fascinating report:

As can be seen from the results, in the Moorfields and Mayfair areas, the largest reported crowd sizes would not have been able to hear Whitefield’s voice even under optimistic acoustic conditions, and if the crowd was noisy or Whitefield was feeling hoarse, the maximum number of listeners would decrease sharply. However, at Kennington Common, the most wide-open of the three sites, it is projected that the largest reported crowd of 50,000 could have heard Whitefield’s voice under optimal conditions.

It will be noted that if Franklin’s more generous density figure is used, these crowd size estimates will be more than doubled. However, Franklin’s maximum intelligible area calculation yields about 23,000 square meters, which is close to the values simulated here for some of the sites. This shows that Franklin’s overall method of estimating the acoustic range of the voice was actually fairly accurate. His primary error was his overly large density calculation, which would have predicted a crowd size of about 125,000 listeners. A crowd of that size packed so densely would probably find it difficult to be silent and might even run the risk of a stampede.

However, Franklin reported a more modest figure of 30,000 listeners, possibly because he believed that the higher estimate was far-fetched, and also because the majority of Whitefield’s crowds were reported as 30,000 or fewer. The largest crowds were only reported during the summer of 1739 in London, after which Whitefield’s celebrity waned somewhat. Similarly, these computer simulations are also useful for evaluating the more modest crowd sizes that were reported: most of his large crowds in Britain and America were estimated at 20,000 to 30,000, and based on these simulations those numbers seem acoustically reasonable. Without a time machine, we will never know these crowd sizes exactly, but by applying scientific techniques to historical data we can still discover new pieces of the past that had previously been lost.

My Day at Monmouth College

I spent the day on Wednesday at Monmouth College, a small liberal arts college in Monmouth, IL.  First, let me say that I love these small liberal arts colleges in the midwestern heartland.  They remind me of my days at Valparaiso University.  Many Monmouth faculty walk to work. The neighborhood surrounding the college is filled with green lawns and charming Victorian homes.  From what I was able to glean during my visit, Monmouth is serious about its liberal arts mission.  It is indeed a place where the “rural Enlightenment” continues to thrive.

I was in town to give an evening lecture on Was America Founded as a Christian Nation, spend time with some history department faculty and students, and teach a class.  The evening lecture was filled with very engaged faculty and students.  I lectured for about 50 minutes and then had 40 minutes or so of vibrant Q&A.  Many of the students in attendance were taking courses focused on citizenship, public engagement, and American religious history.  I think many of us lost track of time as we wrestled with questions related to church and state, the religion of the founders, and the way we use history in public debate and discourse.  These kinds of conversations are good for our democracy.

Earlier in the day I taught Fred Witzig’s course on the history of Illinois and got to spend some time with Fred and my host, Tim Lacy.  Fred and I share a lot of common interests in early American history, American religious history, and the relationship between faith and intellectual life.  We joked about how we were able to sustain a deep conversation about current books in the field, the relationship between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution, and the challenges and opportunities of teaching at a liberal arts college all while driving to the Quad Cities airport at 5am!  I hope he gets a chance to publish his dissertation on the eighteenth-century anti-revivalist movement.

Many of you know Tim Lacy as a regular commentator on this blog and the founder of the award-winning US Intellectual History blog.  Perhaps more than any other scholar, Tim has spearheaded a revival in American intellectual history. (I am sure Tim would give credit to others as well, but from where I sit he has provided a lot of the organizational and visionary firepower).  He successfully turned his blog into a full-blown organization which now hosts a national conference attended by some of the top intellectual historians in the country.  Kudos.

It was good to finally meet Tim face to face.  I was kidding him about how this great resurgence in American intellectual history is being spearheaded by a historian from the rural heartland.  Again, the “rural Enlightenment” lives! Tim is finishing a two-year visiting position at Monmouth. While I don’t understand why Monmouth is not snatching him up for a longer or more permanent term, I am sure that Tim will land somewhere else soon.

Thanks to Tim and Fred for a great visit.  It was too short.

On the Road in March and April 2012

As I noted in a post yesterday, I am on Spring Break.  This means that when I return to the office on Monday I will be starting the headlong rush toward the end of the semester.  Part of that rush will be a few speaking engagements and other events.  Let me know if you will be anywhere close to any of these places, perhaps he we can grab a coffee.

March 21:  Lecturing at Monmouth College in Monmouth, IL on Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

April 14: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation will be the topic of discussion at the Cushwa Center Seminar in American Religion at Notre Dame.  Mark Noll and Lauren Winner will be commenting.

April 16:  I will be doing a talk on Christianity and the Civil War at the North Jersey Civil War Roundtable meeting in Morristown, NJ.

April 21-22:  I will be in Chicago for the board meeting of the Lilly Fellows Program in Arts and Humanities.

April 29:  Just added!  I will be speaking on Was America Founded as a Christian Nation at the Goochland Historical Society in Goochland, VA.

Click here to see my entire speaking schedule or to book a lecture, discussion or talk.  If you have an idea for an engagement let me know.

An Evening with Berks County Ministers

Last night I had the privilege of speaking about Was America Founded as a Christian Nation with the United Church Christ Ministerium of Berks County, PA.  The meeting was held at Phoebe Berks retirement center, so the audience was filled with members of that community as well.  Both the Phoebe group and the United Church of Christ clergy were very knowledgeable about the history of American religion and the founding and they asked some very insightful questions during the thirty-minute question and answer period.  It was one of the better post-lecture conversations I have experienced since I have taken to the road to promote this book.

Thanks to Rev. Sterling Fritz for inviting me to speak.

On the Road in November

It’s been a busy fall, but I have met some wonderful people and have had the opportunity to talk about history, the place of religion in the American founding, and the ways in which the study of the past can transform us and contribute to a more civil society.  Here is what I am up to in November:

On November 3, I will be at the David Library of the American Revolution in Washington Crossing, PA doing a public lecture on the role that religion played in the framing of the United States Constitution.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

On November 6, I begin a four-week Sunday School class on Was America Founded as a Christian Nation at the West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA.  The classes are free and open to the public.

On November 9, I will be giving a lunch talk on The Way of Improvement Leads Home to the members of the Olde Towne Cumberland Association in New Cumberland, PA.

On November 10, I will be in Savannah, Georgia for a Gilder-Lehrman Institute/Teaching American History Seminar with school teachers from Savannah.  I will be lecturing on the Enlightenment in America.

My family and I are looking forward to being with the Messiah College History Club on November 12. I will be leading a tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield.

November 17 will be a very busy day.  In the morning I will be in Brooklyn doing a Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar on Was America Founded for a group of teachers from the Archdiocese of New York.  Then in the evening I will be back in the Harrisburg area for a lecture on William Penn’s view of religious pluralism.  This lecture is part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission‘s 2011 “Religion” theme.  The Penn lecture is free and open to the public. Check the blog for more details.

On November 29th I will be video teleconferencing, via Skype, with a group of Assembly of God pastors from Springfield, MO.  The topic will be Was America Founded as a Christian Nation.

Finally, on November 30, I will return to Brooklyn for another Gilder-Lehrman Institute session with Catholic school teachers from the Archdiocese from New York.

8th Annual Seminar on the American Revolution at Fort Ticonderoga

It has been a long day.  At 1pm I lectured on the American Enlightenment in my U.S. Survey course.  This is always a fun lecture.  I get to historicize the idea of “self-improvement” and talk about Ben Franklin’s Junto and try to inspire the students to form one of their own.

At 2pm I led a discussion of chapters 4 and 5 of Sam Wineburg’s Historical Thinking and Other Natural Acts in my “Teaching History” course.  Unfortunately we got distracted watching Lendol Calder’s office hours so it looks like we will need to return to Wineburg on Monday.

After class I jumped in the car and drove for seven hours in the pouring rain to Fort Ticonderoga.  The rain was bad, but my rental car had Sirius-XM so I listened to E-Street Radio during the entire ride.  (Happy belated birthday Boss!). The station was replaying a 1974 Georgetown University concert.

I am writing tonight (or I guess it is now morning) from a Ticonderoga, New York Best Western where I am watching Jimmy Fallon and looking forward to tomorrow’s Seminar on the American Revolution at “the fort.”

A couple of years ago I came to this event and gave a lecture on some of my ongoing work on Presbyterians and the American Revolution.  This year I will be giving a lecture on the religious beliefs of the founding fathers drawn largely from the last several chapters of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

I don’t speak until Sunday morning (fitting for a lecture on the religion of the founders), but there is a full slate of presentations scheduled for tomorrow, including a book signing.  Here is the weekend lineup:

  • Richard Archer, Whittier College, on the economics, society, and politics of pre-revolutionary Boston.
  • Lawrence Babits, East Carolina University, on the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.
  • John Fea, Messiah College, on the role of religious beliefs among the founding fathers.
  • John Nagy, author, on Spycraft and the American Revolution.
  • James Nelson, author, on the Battle of Bunker Hill.
  • George Neumann, author, on George Rogers Clark’s western campaigns.
  • John Tobin, independent historian and attorney, on the Boston Massacre Trial.
  • Andrew Wehrman, Northwestern University, on the smallpox epidemic during the American Revolution.

For more information check out the seminar brochure.

I enjoy this event.  It is very informal and there is always a lot of opportunities for speakers to chat with the revolutionary-war buffs in attendance.  I will try to do some posts over the course of the weekend, but it may be hard since the fort does not have WIFI.  Stay tuned.

On the Air Today with John and Kathy at WORD-FM Pittsburgh

At 5:10EST I will be joining the John Hall & Kathy Emmons Show on Pittsburgh’s WORD-FM.  I will be discussing my latest Patheos article, “Remember the Pile-men.”

Addendum:  The previous guest on the show was Vince Bacote, my divinity school roommate, groomsman in my wedding, and theologian at Wheaton College.  Thanks to John and Kathy for letting me on the air to give him a hard time!

Ocean City Weekend

I just got home from a great weekend in Ocean City, New Jersey where I did some teaching on the themes I wrote about in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.  As readers of this blog know, I love Jersey shore boardwalk towns, so it was great to spend about 24 hours or so in Ocean City.

It was very hot this weekend, but the weather did not stop us from walking up to the boardwalk late Saturday afternoon to grab an early dinner at Mack and Manco’s Pizza.  Mack and Manco’s serves- up one of the top three or four pizza-pies I have ever tasted.  (We were there last month with the research associates of the Greenwich Tea Burning Project). 

I spent Saturday night at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church discussing Was America Founded.  Ocean City was founded in the late 19th century as a Methodist camp meeting and St. Peter’s was the flagship church of this seashore community.  I was invited by Rev. Brian Roberts, the pastor of the church, and George Franz, a member of the congregation and an American historian who taught for nearly forty years at Penn State-Brandywine.  (I had met George earlier this year during a lecture at the Chadds Ford Historical Society).  About forty people came out on a hot Saturday evening at the Jersey shore to learn more about religion and the American founding.  This was a well-educated and thoughtful audience who asked some very insightful questions.

It was also good to see Tim Beirne and his wife Laura.  They drove down from Burlington County to hear the talk and spend some time in Ocean City.  Tim is a former student of mine who now teaches AP US History at the Stony Brook School in Stony Brook, Long Island, New York.  After the lecture Tim, Laura, and my family wandered the Ocean City boardwalk a bit (it was packed) and got some famous Kohr’s custard.  I spent some time talking history with Tim.  We discussed the possibility of doing an early American history tour with Stony Brook students and he told me about his experience at a Gilder-Lehrman seminar at Monticello last summer with Peter Onuf and Francis Cogliano. 

Brian Roberts asked me if I would be willing to preach in two services on Sunday morning and I agreed to do it.  Brian has spent the month of July doing a sermon series called “Let Freedom Ring.”  He wants his congregation to be appreciative of American history, but he also wants them to realize that there is a fundamental difference between the United States of America and the kingdom of God.  Though preaching is a bit outside of my comfort zone, I thought the sermons went well. (I also ran into the mother of my college roommate.  I had no idea she attends St. Peter’s). Brian and I think in very similar ways about how Christians should navigate their memberships in what Augustine called the “City of God” and the “City of Man.”  He is doing great work at St. Peter’s United Methodist and it was a pleasure to meet his family as well.  His daughter Alison will be coming to Messiah College in the fall so I am sure I will see him again.

The church treated us to a great lunch at the Port-o-Call Hotel. We had some good conversations with a group of church members (including William Becker, the chair of the history department at George Washington University), who met as undergraduates in the 1960s at Muhlenberg College and have remained friends through the years.

My family and I want to thank all the folks at St. Peter’s, and especially Brian Roberts, for their hospitality this weekend.  It was a pleasure and blessing to spend time with the great people of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church.  We hope to return to this church the next time we are in Ocean City.

Friday Night Chautauqua

Now I know how William Jennings Bryan felt when he spent his summers on the Chautauqua circuit.  Tonight I did a lecture on Was America Founded as a Christian Nation at the Pennsylvania Chautauqua in Mt. Gretna.  I spoke in a large lecture hall called the “Hall of Philosophy.”  It was about 95 degrees and very muggy. The hall had no air conditioning.  Yet about 40 people showed up for the talk and most of them seemed to be interested.  Some even stayed a good 45 minutes following the lecture to talk about everything from Christian America to Presbyterians and the American Revolution to Messiah College to the history of American evangelicalism.  A great night with some great people, but I was thankful to get back in my air-conditioned car and drive out of the world of the late 19th century.

I hope it will be a bit cooler tomorrow in Ocean City, NJ.

Heading to Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown

As a school-kid I used to take field trips to Washington’s Headquarters and Jockey Hollow.  Now I get the privilege of returning there to speak about Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.

Tomorrow night, Thursday, June 9th, I will be speaking to the North Jersey American Revolution Round Table at 7pm in the Museum Auditorium at Washington’s Headquarters, Morristown National Historic Park.  (The date on this link is wrong. The talk is Thursday, not Friday).

The talk is open to the public. If you live in the Morris County, NJ area feel free to stop by and say hello.

In the days following the talk I will be engaged in an extremely important oral history project in Parsippany, NJ.  I will be interviewing my 100-year old grandfather.

An Evening with Atheists

Last Friday night I traveled to Pittsburgh to give a talk on Was America Founded as a Christian Nation to the Center for Inquiry, a group of atheists with the mission of “fostering a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.” 

I had dinner with the leadership of the organization at Jerome “The Bus” Bettis’s restaurant near Heinz Field and then headed off to the Carnegie Science Center for the talk.  (We shared the venue with a bunch of elementary schools students who were having a “sleepover” in the Center).

I did not change my talk in any significant way because I was speaking to atheists (after all, I was there to present historical evidence, not to convert them to Christianity), although I did have some fun with them.  In the middle of my talk a large screen began to lower on the stage behind me. I told them that I did not have any images to project that evening so the only explanation for the lowering of the screen was God or some other supernatural force.  (It got a good laugh).

The question and answer session was the longest I have experienced thus far on this tour.  They grilled me for about forty-five minutes with questions about deism, the Treaty of Tripoli, the Enlightenment beliefs of the founders, and the Christian Right.  I told them that if there was one thing they could take away from my book it was the fact that atheism has always been a counter-cultural movement in a nation that has been predominantly Christian and has, for the most part, always seen itself as a Christian nation.

Thanks to Bill Kaszycki and the rest of the leadership of the Center for Inquiry for the invitation to speak and for the gracious hospitality that they showed me (including the brief stop at the Mr. Rogers statue!) during my visit to Pittsburgh last weekend.

Tonight at the Fraunces Tavern Museum

On December 4, 1783, George Washington came to Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan and gave a farewell speech to his fellow Continental Army officers.  The tavern also served as home to the department of Foreign Affairs, Treasury, and War.
Tonight I took New Jersey Transit (the Mid-Town Direct line) into the city and headed down to the tavern for a lecture on my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.  I was pleased to see that there was a full house. The last time I spoke at the tavern, only two or three people showed up for a talk on The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  When I saw the chairs starting to fill I breathed a sigh of relief.

As far as the question of whether or not America was founded as a Christian nation, the crowd (at least the people who asked questions or talked with me after the lecture) were inclined to answer it with a resounding “no.”  (Such a response was expected in Manhattan).  There were, however, a few people who were not so sure, including one woman who wanted me to take off my “historian’s hat” and tell me what my personal convictions were on the subject.  Another person wanted to know what my religious background was, where I went to school, and what kind of school Messiah College was because this would help him to better understand my bias. 

I also met a guy (one of the two or three people who had come to my previous lecture a few years ago) who claimed to have had attended 6000 lectures at Fraunces Tavern.  When I said that he must have attended a lecture every day of his adult life, he did not answer.  Nevertheless, he said that I did a good job–high praise from a guy who has been to 6000 historical lectures!

Overall it was a fun night with a very stimulating audience.  Thanks to Jennifer Patton at the Fraunces Tavern Museum for inviting me and hosting me tonight! 

I now am taking some time away from the road until I speak at the end of the month to a group of atheists in Pittsburgh.

Christ Church and Colonial Williamsburg

I just got back from two great days in historic Virginia.  On Tuesday night I spoke at historic Christ Church in Weems, Virginia.  Thanks to Karen Hart of the Mary Ball Washington Museum and Camille Bennett of Historic Christ Church for the invitation.

On Wednesday afternoon I returned to Christ Church to get a private tour of the church with Camille, the executive director of the historical site. Christ Church was built in 1735 with funds provided by Robert “King” Carter, colonial Virginia’s most powerful planter.  This church has been described as the “most finely crafted Anglican parish in all of colonial Virginia” and perhaps all of colonial America.  I can’t disagree.  It is an architectural wonder.

I have been to a lot of eighteenth-century churches, but none of them have the kind of public history presentation or visitor center that Christ Church has.  Camille leads a full-time staff of four people who have designed a small museum on the site. It includes state of the art exhibits, touchscreen displays, a movie narrated by Roger Mudd, and all kinds of artifacts.  If you are in the Northern Neck of Virginia, this site is definitely worth your time– a real hidden historical treasure!  I want to bring students here.

On Wednesday night I was back in Colonial Williamsburg where I gave lectures on the topic of “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation” at the Hennage Auditorium in the Dewitt Wallace Decorative Art Museum. There was a nice turnout of folks who were very engaged with the subject. 

I met a Glenn Beck follower who wanted my opinion about “social justice” and the “collective.” (And was dissatisfied with my answer).  I also met a local pastor who lived in Africa with one of my college roommates.  And there was even a married couple there who knew Arthur Climenhaga, a former president of Messiah College.  I also got to meet Christopher Jones, a reader of this blog and a fellow blogger at Religion in American History. Christopher is about to embark on what I am sure will be a great dissertation on early Methodism under the direction of Chris Grasso at the College of William and Mary.

Thanks to Linda Rowe for the invitation to speak at Colonial Williamsburg’s “Religion Month.”

For those of you in the New York metropolitan area, I will be at the Fraunces Tavern Museum in lower Manhattan tonight for a 6:30 lecture.  Hope to see some readers there.