Evangelicals Come to Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

Wait–I thought evangelicals were racists and white supremacists?

Here is a taste of Josh Shepherd’s piece at Christianity Today:

Rising 825 feet over the skyline of Atlanta, Stone Mountain is the most-visited destination in the state of Georgia. On its north face, a carving in the granite wall depicts three figures central to the Confederacy: Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson.

Against this backdrop, observers might have puzzled over the scene unfolding on a recent Saturday at the top of the monument. An ethnically diverse crowd of more than 3,000 people, the majority under age 30, sang as a full rock band led the crowd in Christian praise songs.

Nearly all lifted their hands, shouted, and even danced as pop-rock worship music blasted from speakers. Then a black man in a bright red shirt with white letters reading Reconcile took the mic.

“Heaven is among us,” said Jonathan Tremaine Thomas, a young pastor from Ferguson, Missouri. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Thomas was followed by civil rights leader John Perkins, who was followed by apologies from Christian leaders to two Jewish leaders for the history of Christian anti-Semitism, who were followed by declarations of forgiveness for Dylann Roof by family members of Charleston church shooting victims. And this was all in the first 150 minutes.

Read the rest here.

An Evangelical Megachurch in Ohio Is Trying To Do It Right

Crossroads

Crossroads Church is a massive evangelical megachurch with nearly a dozen campuses in the greater Cincinnati area. It has an average Sunday attendance of 38,000.  According to Harhie Han, a professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the church is pro-life and largely white.

But Crossroads appears to be a different kind of megachurch.  Han explains in this piece at The New Republic.  A taste:

Just as it charts a new path for a church, Crossroads charts a new path for politics. Today, many grassroots organizations on the left define themselves by difference, relying on implicit ideological purity tests to determine who belongs in these groups. Imagine the suspicious looks someone would get if they arrived at a Greenpeace meeting in hunting gear and a gas-guzzling pickup truck. Crossroads, in contrast, accepts all people, no matter what they wear, eat, drive, or say. It is more interested in forging a shared identity that transcends the differences that normally divide Americans—race, partisanship, and even faith. Although Crossroads adheres to the teachings of the Christian Bible, it welcomes people who do not. With this philosophy, it has built up a base of political activists that is far more durable than anything Democratic campaigns can create through blast emails and algorithmic wizardry. In a moment when the left is riven with debates over how to hold together contentious coalitions of women, millennials, environmentalists, constituencies of color, and many more, Crossroads offers powerful lessons about the way commitments to a community translate into commitments to a political agenda.

In April 2015, when cases of police brutality against black men dominated headlines around the country, a black pastor at Crossroads, Chuck Mingo, delivered a sermon about race. “He stood up onstage and said, ‘I feel like God is calling me to be a voice of racial reconciliation in Cincinnati,’ ” Elizabeth Hopkins, a biracial Crossroads congregant, recalled. “And I swear, my heart exploded inside of my chest. I wanted to stand up and be like, ‘Me too, Chuck, me too!’ I emailed him right afterwards. He probably got 4,000 emails.”

Soon after, Crossroads launched Undivided, a “racial reconciliation” program that drew 1,200 participants to its first session. Over the course of six weeks, members took part in racially mixed groups of eight to ten people with two facilitators, one white person and one person of color. Each group explored Cincinnati’s history on race, research on implicit racism and empathy, and their own experiences of race. “When I walked into that first meeting about Undivided, I was as cynical as you could be that this would be a watered down, me-and-my-friend-of-color experience that tries to keep everything as noncontroversial as possible,” said Troy Jackson, then the executive director of the AMOS Project, a faith-based organizing network in Cincinnati that partnered with Crossroads on the Issue 44 campaign. “But it’s been the most interesting, challenging, exciting, perplexing organizing work I’ve done.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with William D. Green

William D. Green is Associate Professor and Sabo Senior Fellow at Augsburg College. This interview is based on his book, A Peculiar Imbalance: The Fall and Rise of Racial Equality in Minnesota (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2007).

JF: What led you to write A Peculiar Imbalance: The Fall and Rise of Racial Equality in Minnesota?
WG: I was interested in understanding why so many leaders of the modern civil rights movement (Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, to name a few), had formative connections with Minnesota, which historically had one of the nation’s smallest communities of African Americans. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it also was in Minnesota where Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells joined other black leaders at the state capitol to debate a new agenda for civil rights; and residence of a black St. Paul attorney-Fredrick McGhee, chief counsel for Washington’s organization and close friend of DuBois-who first mentioned the need for the Niagara Movement, which, for some, was a precursor to the NAACP. I set out to determine whether this was mere coincidence or something else altogether, whether the “Land of Sky-Blue Waters” (a loose translation of the Dakota word from which the state derived its name) truly provided fertile ground for “radical” racial politics? To answer the question, I went back to what I believed was the beginning-1837. I soon realized that this book would become the first of more such efforts to come. 
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A Peculiar Imbalance?
WG: Situated, during the antebellum years, in what then was the far northern corner of organized America, it was the political reform-minded leadership coming largely from upstate New York and New England states, who steered the territory away from the rigid caste system of “black codes” that had spread westward through midwest states. Even when the racism of Jacksonian America settled in Minnesota, it was possible for disenfranchised blacks, largely due to the patronage of political and business leaders, to gain access to economic opportunities that certain enfranchised whites–immigrants, in general; Irish Catholics in particular-did not have, thereby creating “a peculiar imbalance” among the residents of antebellum Minnesota. 
JF: Why do we need to read A Peculiar Imbalance?
WG: Though the book examines the evolution of political equality for black Minnesotans, it does so within a backdrop in which the conventional lines that designated race in antebellum America were blurred on the Minnesota frontier. Being “French” meant being racially-mixed, and a slave at Fort Snelling could become a man of property and respect as a resident of French-speaking Pig’s Eye (soon to be “St. Paul”). The race-infused lines that designated cultural identity could take peculiar twists and turns. Caucasians of Anglo-American descent residing in pre-territorial Minnesota were not considered “white” by the Anglo-Americans who later became their neighbors. Light-skinned men of African descent were designated “M” for “Mulatto” in the first census and “N” for “Negro” in the second. To be Catholic was to always be viewed as a foreigner. And a person’s political standing likewise shifted in time. An Indian was eligible to vote in 1851 “if he had adopted civilized habits” (meaning, at least, wearing pants), but lost the right in 1857 if he did not speak and read English. In contrast, the language requirement did not apply, for example, to German immigrants who could only speak in their native tongue. A Peculiar Imbalance navigates this little understood history of a territory with a racially- and culturally diverse population as it became a state that would, in sort order, become predominately white. And yet, this book examines ultimately what it means to be Minnesotan through a construct of race and the vision of a few determined leaders who would not countenance a society that would otherwise seek to stratify free men. 

This is, indeed, a Minnesota story. But it is as well a story about the American West, for the book sheds light on the impact of civilization as it envelopes a society already in transition, documenting the uneasy process by which one pluralistic community became part of a nation indivisible. A clear example of this is reflected in the Eliza Winston case, a fugitive slave set free in a Minneapolis courtroom. In the aftermath Minnesotans were poised to launch their own fratricidal conflict over the issue of slavery. But upon receiving news of Fort Sumter, just a few months later, they rushed to enlist thereby making their state the first to send volunteers into the federal army after Lincoln had issued his call to arms to preserve the Union. In this, fundamentally, A Peculiar Imbalance is an American story. 
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
WG: My interest in becoming an American historian began when I was very young. Born in Massachusetts, and growing up in Nashville and New Orleans, I was always mindful of history. My parents enabled my interest by taking me to different historical sites every year. Years later, during a time in my life that I called “my detour”-I was a lawyer at the time-I published my first article in history. It was after a long evening in the law library when I returned to my office to find a stack of reprints that had been left on my desk. At that moment, I knew I wanted to return to the academy to teach and research history. 
JF: What is your next project? 
WG: The sequel to this book, titled Degrees of Freedom: The Origins of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865-1912, will be coming out this May. I am presently finishing another project that documents why four Lincoln Republicans left the campaign for black equality in the 1870s.
JF: Looking forward to seeing it! Thanks Bill.

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

INHABIT Wrap-Up: Race and the "Christian America" Question

This weekend I was at Wheaton College (IL) for the “Inhabit” conference sponsored by Pastor Ray McMillian‘s organization Race to Unity.  I sat on a plenary panel with Mark Noll and George Marsden (moderated by Tracy McKenzie, chair of Wheaton’s History Department) on the question: “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”  I also joined Noll and Marsden for a breakout session on race, religion and politics.

It was amazing to see so many Wheaton College students show up on a Friday night and Saturday to discuss racial reconciliation on their campus and in the church.  My experience confirmed everything I have heard about Wheaton students.  They are bright, thoughtful, and dedicated.

I must admit that when Pastor Ray first asked me to speak at this conference I was unsure if I would have anything to offer.  I did not fully understand why a conference on diversity wanted to devote an entire plenary session to the Christian America question.  But it did not take long to see what Pastor Ray had in mind.  On Friday evening I was inspired by the Wheaton Gospel Choir and messages by Pastor Ray, Chris Beard of Peoples Church in Cincinnati, and Bryan Loritts, the pastor of a multiracial church in Memphis.  (Loritts is a big Jonathan Edwards fan and was very excited to meet Marsden.  He had just finished Marsden’s biography of Edwards and was now reading some of Noll’s work). The evangelical African-American community is deeply offended by the notion, made popular by Christian nationalists such as David Barton, that the United States needs to somehow “return” or “go back” to its so-called Christian roots.  They view America’s founding as anything but Christian.  Many of the founding fathers owned slaves.  When the founders had the chance to choose the nation over the end of slavery (1776 and 1787) they always chose the former.  Slavery is embedded in the Constitution. Indeed, the entire debate over whether the United States is a Christian nation is a white Protestant evangelical issue.  One would be hard pressed to find an African-American evangelical who wants to return to what Christian Nationalists often describe as the golden age of American Christianity.

Beard’s Peoples Church seems to have made the most striking reversal on the Christian America question.  As a member of the Assembly of God denomination, Beard taught his congregation that the founders were Christians, that America was a Christian Nation, and that patriotism was almost inseparable from the Kingdom of God.  He even had David Barton speak at his church.  But after reading folks like Noll and Marsden, and looking more closely at the historical record, Beard changed his mind.  He made a deliberate attempt to reject Christian nationalist teaching, build an international and multiracial congregation, and subordinate his patriotism to the Kingdom of God.  He lost a lot of his church in the process, but he has rebuilt it into an even stronger congregation.  The story of Peoples (no apostrophe) Church give historians like me hope.  McMillian (another Cincinnati area pastor) and Beard have found the work of Noll, Marsden, and my own Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? to be helpful in correcting false views of history that have done damage to the universal Christian church.

I was honored to be part of this conference and hope to work more closely with Pastor McMillian and his Race to Unity team in thinking more deeply about the racial implications of the idea that America was or is a Christian Nation.

It was also a real highlight to get to hang out with two of my historian heroes–Noll and Marsden.

"Inhabit" at Wheaton College

Later this month I will be heading out to Wheaton College in Illinois for a unique conference on racial unity sponsored by the college and Pastor Ray McMillan’s organization, “Race to Unity.”  Here is a description of the “Inhabit” conference:

The mission of the Inhabit conference is to inspire racial unity by bringing together Wheaton College students, faculty, and staff along with local churches and local Christian organizations to respond to the challenge of promoting racial unity in the body of Christ: That they all may be one (John 17:20-23).

This conference is designed to explore the pattern and potential of racial and ethnic inclusivity in the body of Christ.  Together we want to advance a conversation about the ways that grace, love, compassion, justice, and inclusion are expressed in Christian community.  We hope to answer questions like these: How do we imagine inhabiting the multicultural reality of the Kingdom of God? How should Christians pursue racial unity?

I will be on a panel with Mark Noll and George Marsden discussing the current state of the “Christian America” debate.  Other speakers include Tony Evans, Sam Rodriguez, Robin Afrik, Wayne Gordon, and a performance by the Harlem Gospel Choir.  Here is the schedule of events.  You can register for the conference here.

From all reports, Pastor McMillan is known for his powerful, inspiring, educational, convicting, and challenging conferences that go a long way toward promoting racial unity among evangelicals and evangelical churches.  I am glad and honored to be a part of this.