Episode 58: The Reverse Underground Railroad

PodcastAmericans are undoubtedly familiar with the harrowing journey made by freedom seekers escaping enslavement that we have termed the “Underground Railroad.” Sadly, historians are only now becoming equally aware of a “Reverse Underground Railroad,” in which free black people from the North were kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South. Historian Richard Bell tells the story of one such kidnapping in his new book Stolen, and joins John Fea to talk about it on this week’s podcast.

21st-Century Kids Watch Mr. Rogers

Last weekend I saw the film A Beautiful Day in the NeighborhoodI went with my family and we all loved it.   As I left the theater, I asked one of my daughters if she thought the television show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” might attract young kids today.  “Yes, definitely,” she said.  But my daughter is 22-years old.  What about the children of today who are bombarded with video games and other kinds of electronics?

With all this in mind, I was encouraged by Mary Pflum Peterson‘s recent piece in The Washington Post: “What happened when I showed vintage Mr. Rogers to my 21st-century kids.”  Here is a taste:

I had been crushed before by their lack of appreciation for the icons of our youth. I wasn’t going to let them do that to Mister Rogers.

So into my bedroom I retreated to watch Mister Rogers alone. And that’s when something magical happened.

Within a half-hour of my bingefest, our youngest two children, then ages 5 and 7, came to ask me to help them with some homework. They sat down on the bed beside me and peered at the television as I looked over their worksheets.

In the episode I was watching, Mister Rogers had gone to a restaurant in Pittsburgh to show his young viewers how restaurants work.

“Mommy,” asked my young daughter. “Who is that nice man?”

“It’s Mommy’s friend, Fred,” I explained.

“I like his voice,” said my 7-year-old son.

“I like his clothes,” said my daughter.

“Can we watch with you?” my son asked.

I was skeptical but nodded. And so it began.

I held my breath, waiting for them to tell me that the episode was too slow, to implore me to fast-forward to a moment when something more interesting happens.

I waited for them to abandon ship and seek out an iPad or a snack in the other room, to seize control of the remote and turn the television to the Cartoon Network.

But they didn’t do any of those things. And when that episode was over, they asked for another. And then, shockingly, another.

Read the entire piece here.

What is Happening at DePauw University?

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I visited the campus of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana last September.  I was in Greenville for a volleyball tournament and came away greatly impressed with the campus and the quaint downtown area.  But like many, many other liberal arts colleges, DePauw is struggling.  Much of what I read in Lili Wright’s Indianapolis Monthly piece sounds very familiar.  Here is a taste:

For years, DePauw ran at a deficit, drawing from its flush $730 million endowment to meet the gap, but last year trustees got serious about balancing its books. Meager 1 percent raises were followed by a mid-year switch to a cheaper healthcare plan. Morale plummeted. Frustrated by what some perceived as President Mark McCoy’s lack of communication, transparency, and vision, the faculty passed a no-confidence vote. Then the real shocker: In a “restructuring,” DePauw laid off 56 full- and part-time administrators and staff, and offered a voluntary buyout to more than 100 tenured faculty, some as young as 50. Administrators jumped ship, including the academic vice president and the dean of faculty. Come spring, the admissions department announced more bad news. The incoming class was 200 students short of its usual 630 target, creating a $5.4 million tuition shortfall. Within weeks, McCoy resigned.

“It was a tough year,” says Gary Lemon, who has taught management and economics at DePauw for 44 years. “A perfect storm.”

DePauw’s struggles are personal for me. I came to Greencastle in 1999 as part of the hiring spree the college is now trying to remedy. My husband is also a tenured professor here. We raised our children in Greencastle. Some former students are now parents and have careers that have surpassed my own. Within weeks of my arrival, DePauw received what was then the biggest donation ever made to a liberal arts college, $128 million from the estate of Philip Holton and Ruth Clark, who made a fortune from cardboard boxes. On opening day, faculty was asked to jot down ideas for how best to spend the new largesse. DePauw was on a roll.

So what happened? That, like the solution, depends on whom you ask.

Read the rest here.

Not *The Onion*

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Here is President Donald Trump yesterday (HT: McSweeney’s):

We’re doing things. The lightbulb: They got rid of the lightbulb that people got used to. The new bulb is many times more expensive. And I hate to say it, it doesn’t make you look as good. Of course, being a vain person, that’s very important to me. (Laughter.) It’s like a — it gives you an orange look. I don’t want an orange look. (Laughter.) Has anyone noticed that? (Laughter.) So we’ll have to change those bulbs in at least a couple of rooms where I am in the White House. (Laughter.)

But we’re going back to the — it’s a double standard. We have a standard of the new bulbs, and we have the old bulbs. And they’re already making the old bulbs. Many people were complaining that the new bulbs were much, much more expensive. Many times, in some cases, more expensive. And the other thing, they’re considered a hazardous waste that, because it’s largely a gas technology, when the bulb is disposed of, you’re supposed to bring it to a hazardous waste site. I said, “How many people do that?” “No- — nobody does it.” And, you know, that’s a bad thing.

“It’s going to take lots of energy for us to grapple with the challenge we’re facing, and some of it is on vivid display in these pages.” —Bill McKibben

So you probably heard about it. You probably read about it. And you’ll be able to buy lightbulbs that actually are better lighting, in the opinion of many — and, I tell you, in my opinion — and for a lot less money. And so we’re doing that. But you’ll also be able — if you want, you can buy the other bulbs also. And I’ll tell you, even the bulb companies are very happy about that.

But together, we’re defending the American workers. We’re using common sense. We have a situation where we’re looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms where you turn the faucet on — in areas where there’s tremendous amounts of water, where the water rushes out to sea because you could never handle it — and you don’t get any water. You turn on the faucet; you don’t get any water. They take a shower and water comes dripping out. It’s dripping out — very quietly dripping out. People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once. They end up using more water. So, EPA is looking at that very strongly, at my suggestion.

You go into a new building or a new house or a new home, and they have standards, “Oh, you don’t get water.” You can’t wash your hands, practically, there’s so little water comes out of the faucet. And the end result is you leave the faucet on and it takes you much longer to wash your hands. You end up using the same amount of water.

So we’re looking at, very seriously, at opening up the standard. And there may be some areas where we’ll go the other route — desert areas. But for the most part, you have many states where they have so much water that it comes down — it’s called rain — (laughter) — that they don’t know — they don’t know what to do with it.

A band of intrepid chickens leave behind the boredom of farm life, joining the crew of the pirate ship Pitiless to seek fortune and glory on the high seas. Led by a grizzled captain into the…

Trump’s Lawyer Writes to Jerry Nadler

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announcing that the House will move forward with the impeachment of Donald Trump

Yesterday Donald Trump’s White House lawyer Pat Cipollone sent a letter to Jerry Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee.  Here it is:

Dear Chairman Nadler:

As you know, your impeachment inquiry is completely baseless and has violated basic principles of due process and fundamental fairness. Nevertheless, the Speaker of the House yesterday ordered House Democrats to proceed with articles of impeachment before your Committee has heard a single shred of evidence.

House Democrats have wasted enough of America’s time with this charade. You should end this inquiry now and not waste even more time with additional hearings. Adopting articles of impeachment would be a reckless abuse of power by House Democrats, and would constitute the most unjust, highly partisan, and unconstitutional attempt at impeachment in our Nation’s history. Whatever course you choose, as the President has recently stated: “if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business.”

Several thoughts:

1.  House Democrats have heard plenty of evidence.  The suggestion that there is not a “single shred of evidence” is disingenuous.  It actually sounds like Trump wrote that sentence.  Moreover, this impeachment is not “baseless.”  Even Jonathan Turley, the GOP-chosen lawyer who testified earlier this week, agreed that there were things uncovered by the hearings that needed to be explored more fully.  But how can the House go any further when Trump won’t let people like Bolton, Pompeo, Giuliani, and others testify?  This is obstruction of justice.  Last time I checked, obstruction of justice was a crime.

2. While Cippolino is technically right when he says that “House Democrats” are impeaching Trump, it is actually the House of Representatives as a body that will impeach the president. The Constitution says that the House of Representatives have “the sole power of impeachment.”  It does not say that “House Democrats” or “House Republicans” have the power of impeachment.  There will be a vote and the results of that vote will represent the will of the House of Representatives on impeachment.   Plain and simple.

Many pro-Trumpers are saying that the impeachment process is undermining or delegitimizing the 2016 election.  There are many, many problems with such a suggestion.  For example, if you want to talk about undermining elections, one could say that such a belief undermines the midterm elections of 2018.  Let’s face it, in November 2018 the people spoke.  Now the member of the House of Representatives who were elected by the people are doing what they think is best for the republic.

3.  Cippolino complains that this impeachment is the most partisan impeachment in U.S. history.  However we rank the level of partisanship in this impeachment, it is important to remember that partisanship characterized the Johnson and Clinton impeachment as well as the attempt to impeach Nixon. Hamilton even commented on the partisan nature of impeachment in Federalist 65.  I encourage you to read it.

4. Cippolino says that the impeachment of Trump is “unconstitutional.”  This is impossible.  All impeachments are constitutional. The House always has the constitutional right to impeach the president.  It is part of their job description.

5. Let’s face it,  Donald Trump will be the third U.S. president to be impeached.  He will join Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton in the history books.  He will be named in future classroom lectures and multiple choice tests.  There will be no asterisk next to his name.  Whether or not he is removed from office or not, this will be his legacy.

What is the Fairness for All Act?

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Yesterday Utah congressman Chris Stewart introduced the Fairness for All Act.  The bill would protect LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.  Fairness for All has the support of the Church of Latter Saints, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

Unlike the Equality Act, Fairness for All provides exemptions for religious organizations.

Here is a taste of Dan Silliman’s piece at Christianity Today:

Smith (sic) proposes the Fairness for All Act in Congress Friday. Advocates of the idea of finding common ground for religious liberty and LGBT rights, led by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), have spent three years planning, discussing, and strategizing for this moment.

The law would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation, including retail stores, banks, and health care service providers. Currently, under federal law and in the majority of states, LGBT people can be evicted from rental property, denied loans, denied medical care, fired from their jobs, and turned away from businesses because of their sexual orientation.

The Fairness for All law would offer LGBT people substantially the same protections as the proposed Equality Act, a bill LGBT advocates have long promoted and Democrats in the House passed earlier this year, only to see it stall in the Senate. The Equality Act, however, includes no exemptions for religious organizations.

“The Equality Act was written in such a way that a religious person like myself couldn’t vote for it,” said Stewart, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “[Democratic legislators] wrote it so that they could say to LGBT people, ‘No Republican voted for it; they don’t care about people like you,’ which just isn’t true.”

The Fairness for All Act exempts religious groups—both churches and nonprofits—from the anti-discrimination rules. Churches wouldn’t be required to host same-sex weddings. Christian schools wouldn’t have to hire LGBT people. Adoption agencies could receive federal funding even if they turned away same-sex couples looking to raise children. The law would also protect the tax-exempt status of religious groups that condemn homosexuality.

The anti-discrimination rules would not apply to for-profit businesses with 14 or fewer employes, excluding them from the definition of “public accomodation.” This would mean small-business owners such as the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony in 2012 would have the right to refuse service on religious grounds.

Read the entire piece here.

Members of the LGBTQ community don’t like the bill because it provides religious exemptions that appear to discriminate.  Conservative evangelicals don’t like the bill because it gives rights to members of the LGBTQ community.

Here is Silliman again:

Leaders from more than 90 evangelical groups signed a statement rejecting any legislation protecting sexual orientation or gender identity after the CCCU started to advocate for a Fairness for All law in 2016. The list of signers included The Gospel Coalition president D. A. Carson, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly, First Things editor R. R. Reno, and Southern Baptist leaders Russell Moore and Al Mohler.

“Christians cannot support [Fairness for All] for this overarching reason: It is grounded in an unbiblical conception of the human person,” Owen Strachan, director of the Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Seminary, wrote in September. “The Scripture will not allow us to see any ungodly ‘orientation’ or ‘identity’ as essential to our humanity, as directed toward our flourishing, and thus enshrined in law as a protected category.”

Others evangelical leaders, however, including pastor Tim Keller, legal scholar John Inazu, and CT editor in chief Mark Galli, have argued that a both/and approach is possible. The Fairness for All idea has also received support from some legal scholars, and it has been endorsed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A similar law has been enacted in Utah, with the support of the LDS church.

The “similar law” Silliman mentions is the so-called “Utah Compromise.”

A piece at Deseret News by Kesley Dallas and Matthew Brown is also worth a read.

I believe in religious liberty for institutions that uphold traditional views of marriage. I believe that all human beings in a democratic society should have basic civil rights regardless of sexual orientation.  (If I read Owen Strachan correctly, he seems to believe that a person somehow loses his or her dignity as a human being if they are gay.  And based on this belief, Strachan does not believe that LGBTQ men and women deserve civil rights in a democratic society).

Fairness for All represents the kind of political compromise necessary to sustain a robust pluralist society.  I support it.

 

Michael Gerson on Fear, Hope, and Advent

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In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump I wrote:

Fear has been a staple of American politics since the founding of the republic.  In 1800, the Connecticut Courtant, a Federalist newspaper that supported President John Adams in his reelection campaign against Thomas Jefferson, suggested that, if the Electoral College chose Jefferson, the founding father and religious skeptic from Virginia, the country would have to deal with a wave of murder, atheism, rape, adultery, and robbery.  In the 1850s, the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant American Party, commonly known as the “Know-Nothing Party,” was infamous for its American-flag banner emblazoned with the words “Native Americans: Beware of Foreign Influence.”

In modern America, campaign ads keep us in a constant state of fear–and not always from right-wing sources either.  I still get a shiver up my spine when I watch “Daisy Girl,” the 1964 Lyndon Johnson campaign advertisement that opens with a little girl standing in a quiet meadow picking the petals off a daisy.  Midway through the ad, an ominous countdown begins, and the camera zooms into the girl’s eye, where we the viewers see the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion.  As the ad closes, we hear the voices of sportscaster Chris Schenkel reading the following words on the screen: “Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd…The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”  This ad played an important role in Johnson’s landslide victory over his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, the conservative Arizona senator who made reckless statements about the use of nuclear weapons.  Fear is a powerful political tool.

Political fear is so dangerous because it usually stems from legitimate concerns shared by a significant portion of the voting population.  Thomas Jefferson did question many supernatural elements in the Bible.  Barry Goldwater did support the use of atomic weapons in Vietnam.  Today the growing number of Muslims living in the United States does raise important questions about how religious identity intersects with American values, or how we should defend the religious liberty of the millions of peaceful Muslims while still protecting Americans fro, the threat of murderous Islamic terror groups.  The United States States does have a problem with undocumented immigrants entering the country illegally.  And it is clear that television and social media make it easier for politicians to define our fears for us.  They take these legitimate concerns, as political theorist Corey Robin puts it, and transform them “into imminent threats.” 

And here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump about hope:

Can evangelicals recover [a] confidence in God’s power–not just in his wrath against their enemies but in his ability ability to work our his purposes for good?  Can they recover this hope? The historian Christopher Lasch once wrote this: “Hope does  not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity.  Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to most who lack it.”  I saw this kind of hope in every place we visited on our [history of the Civil Rights bus tour].  It was not mere optimism that things would get better if only we could elect the right candidates.  Rather, it was a view of the world, together with an understanding of the world to come, forged amid suffering and pain.  Not everyone would make it to the mountaintop on this side of eternity, but God’s purposes would be worked out, and eventually they would be able to understand those purposes–if not in this life, surely in the world to come….

But too often fear leads to hopelessness, a state of  mind that Glenn Tinder has described as a “kind of death.”  Hopelessness causes us to direct our gaze backward toward worlds we c an never recover.  It causes us to imagine a future filled with horror.  Tyrants focus our attention on the desperate nature of our circumstances and the “carnage” of the social and cultural landscape that they claim to have the power to heal.  A kernel of truth, however, always informs such a dark view of life.  Poverty is a problem.  Rusted-out factories often do appear like “tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”  Crime is real.  But demagogues want us to dwell on the carnage and, to quote Bruce Springsteen, “waste our summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets.”  Hope, on the other hand, “draws us into the future,” and in this way it “engages us in life.”

If I ever met Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, I think we would have a lot to talk about.  Here is a taste of his recent column on hope, fear, and the Advent season:

This is the time of the Christian year dedicated to expectant longing. God, we are assured, is at mysterious work in the world. Evil and conflict are real but not ultimate. Grace and deliverance are unrealized but certain. Patient waiting is rewarded because the trajectory of history is tilted upward by a powerful hand.

None of this is to deny the high stakes of politics and elections. But the assurance at the heart of Advent is the antidote to fear. No matter how desperate the moment, we are told, time is on the side of hope.

Such hope does not come naturally to human beings. On the evidence of our senses, despair is perfectly rational. Entropy is built into nature. Decay is knit into our flesh. By all appearances, the universe is cold, empty and indifferent. There is a certain bleak dignity in accepting the challenge of a hopeless cause.

But most of us can’t be content in this state. We fill the void with cries of protest, or hymns of thanksgiving, or demands for justice. This search for answers seems essential to our humanity. It is possible, of course, that our deepest longings are actually cruel jokes of nature. But it is also possible and rational that our longings are hints of a reality beyond nature. Perhaps our desires exist because they are meant to be fulfilled.

Read the entire piece here.

Fear not.

Getting Writing Done With a 4/4 Load

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Some helpful thoughts here from Deborah Cohan, a sociologist at the University of South Carolina Beaufort:

One of my beloved colleagues with whom I exchange a lot of office banter often quips, “Gosh, Deb, do you ever sleep? Are you ever not writing?” Another dear friend tells me, “You’re like a publishing machine.”

It was not always this way. For too many years, I was cobbling together contingency employment across state lines, zigzagging all over Massachusetts and Connecticut seeking an elusive tenure-track position. People encouraged me to write and publish as much as I could in order to have a better chance on the job market.

But the truth is, you do the best you can when you are just trying to survive, landing visiting gigs and trying to get settled in a new place while already applying for a job for the next year to ensure you can feed yourself, pay your rent and utilities, repay student loans, get some health care, and keep your CV looking like it is in forward motion. Gap years are highly recommended for students after high school, but they look treacherous on a CV of someone with a doctorate.

So I really couldn’t get into much of a writing routine until I landed my current job. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, writing is not at the foundation. That said, fast-forward and I now see my writing life as, in fact, foundational — a measure of how well life is flowing and feeling.

I have learned some things along the way that have helped me write more regularly and publish with greater frequency, even on a 4/4 load with over 110 students in a semester, summer teaching and no teaching or research assistants or dedicated administrative assistance. I want to pass along my hard-won lessons to you.

No. 1: Let go of the tyranny of perfectionism. All my life I’ve been plagued by this. There are ways it served me well, but when it comes to regularly getting work out, it is detrimental. Perfectionism is not just a thief of the present and the future; it is also a thief of creativity. It keeps us stuck.

Getting our work out there means we are vulnerable. We may change our minds, our data, and our perceptions of concepts and trends may shift and evolve over time, and we need to be OK with letting our work go even as it is in progress. All intellectual and creative thought — if it is indeed intellectual and creative — is shifting and evolving, and it is fine to write and publish and later be open to new ideas that subtly or profoundly alter our perspective. And if we wait for our ideas to feel so rock solid, so right (whatever that even means), they may actually lose some currency and become stale.

Read the rest at Inside Higher Ed.

Has Christianity Always Led to White Supremacy?

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Jessica Criales is a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University.  In her recently published piece at The Panorama she shows how native Americans used Christianity to fight white supremacy and racial prejudice.  Here is a taste:

Hidden throughout early American history are many other stories similar to the foundation of Holy Apostles, that defy the easy association of Christianity with white supremacy. My current research project focuses on Indigenous women who embraced Christianity as a tool of resistance to colonialism and racial prejudice in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Far from being white or conservative, these women used Christian identity to exert their own agency in defense of Indigenous sovereignty. Specifically, I study women who were members of “Christian Indian” tribes, such as Brothertown and Stockbridge in New York, both founded around 1785. When I explain my research topic, most people are surprised at the very existence of tribes that formed around Christian identity, not to mention the strong involvement of indigenous women. (In fact, women outnumbered men in the early decades of both tribes.) The next question is often: Why did these women so strongly identify as Christian?

For starters, I think Christian doctrine offered Native women a method of dealing with the psychological stress of colonization. For example, facing white settler expansion in New York, a portion of the Stockbridge tribe decided to move west to Indiana in 1819. A letter from a Stockbridge woman named Mary Konkapot demonstrates her belief that Christianity could help overcome the pain of being separated from family. “You do not love to have me go into this new country,” she wrote to her father, who had remained in New York, “but the same Lord is here that is there, and if you will pray every day, I will pray too, so we shall meet the same Lord together.” Through being supernaturally reunited with her family members through the Christian concept of resurrection, Konkapot expressed her hope that dispossession from their native lands would not be the end of the story for the Stockbridge.

Read the rest here.

Could we use the term “evangelical” to describe the Christianity that Criales describes?  If Darryl Hart is right, all pre-20th-century Protestants were “evangelicals.”

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

  1. Liberty University Falkirk Center Announces “Falkirk Fellows”
  2. Eric Metaxas Doubles-Down on His Belief That Those Who Oppose Trump are “Demonic”
  3. What It’s Like to Talk With Pro-Trump Evangelical Family Members
  4. Liberty University Opens a Think Tank to Stop the Media from Converting Americans to Socialism
  5. Theologian N.T. Wright on the State of the American Church
  6. More on the Liberty University’s Falkirk Center and How It Will Approach American History
  7. Evangelical Theologian Ron Sider Wants to Ask the Democratic Candidates a Few Questions
  8. Randall Balmer on the “Other Evangelicals”
  9. Liberty University’s Falkirk Center Now Has a Website
  10. Ladies and Gentleman: The President of the United States

Historian Saul Cornell on Originalism and the Impeachment Process

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Fordham University historian Saul Cornell asks, “How should the Constitution’s provisions on impeachment be interpreted?”  I am glad to see a historian weighing-in here.

Here is a taste of Cornell’s piece at The New Republic:

Another problem with originalism’s approach to history is its static (which is to say, decidedly ahistorical) view of the past. American legal and constitutional history did not pause in freeze-frame when the Constitution was ratified in 1789. And constitutional meaning has likewise not remained frozen over the course of American history, a point that the Founding generation well understood. Even James Madison came to recognize that constitutional meaning would evolve, both through the decision of the courts and through actions taken by the people themselves beyond the formal jurisdiction of the courts. In the 1790s, Madison vigorously opposed Alexander Hamilton’s belief that the Constitution allowed the federal government to charter a bank, but by the era of the War of 1812 he had come to realize that such an institution was a necessity—and all branches of the federal government and the American people had also embraced the federally chartered financial system in a host of ways by then.

Finally, in contrast to originalists, liberal legal scholars need to recognize that interpreting the Constitution inevitably requires some form of translation—taking concepts rooted in the realities of the eighteenth century and trying to make sense of them in our own. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the importance of translation to the entire enterprise of constitutional interpretation is to look at a claim made by the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, during that committee’s impeachment inquiry last month. Nunes claimed that Trump’s efforts to use Rudolph Giuliani to conduct a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine were no different from George Washington’s decision to dispatch John Jay to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain in the 1790s.

In his flat-footed historical analogy, Nunes suggested that his House Democratic colleagues likely would have impeached Washington for dispatching Jay. Of course, any comparison between Giuliani and Jay is preposterous on multiple levels. Jay was a co-author of The Federalist, chief justice of the Supreme Court, and had extensive diplomatic experience, notably stemming from his tenure as the secretary of foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation. He was not only one of the most distinguished lawyers of the Founding generation but was one of the most experienced diplomats in the new nation. Moreover, at the time that Washington turned to Jay to negotiate a treaty, there was nothing even remotely resembling the modern State Department. The original State Department consisted of six employees. (By 1824, the department’s staff had more than doubled, to a size of 13.) The geopolitics of the Jay overture were also strikingly different from those of the Ukraine affair: Jay was then negotiating for America from a position of weakness with the most powerful nation on earth. In 2019, America was the most powerful nation on earth, and Ukraine was in a position much weaker than America was at the time of the Jay treaty. Finally, and most importantly, Jay was advancing American interests and acting as an official representative of the American nation; he was not a private actor furthering Washington’s personal interests (and his own).

Moreover, if Nunes had dug deeper, he would have learned that many Americans did demand that Washington face impeachment. (Effigies of Jay were burned in cities across the new nation, a fate that Giuliani has thus far avoided.) Washington rebuffed demands from the House of Representatives that he turn over documents related to Jay’s instruction: Indeed, Washington’s decision laid the groundwork for the idea of executive privilege that the Trump administration has repeatedly asserted over the course of today’s impeachment proceedings. (The concept of executive privilege claims no originalist pedigree to speak of. It appears nowhere in the text of the Constitution and can’t be sanctioned by a strict originalist theory of interpretation.) Yet once he’d asserted this privilege, Washington himself expressly conceded that if Congress requested such materials in the context of an impeachment inquiry, he would have to produce them. Thus, a genuine examination of the relevant history here not only undermines Nunes’s facile analogy, but also sets up the foundation for another impeachable offense. The refusal of the Trump administration to turn over documents critical to the House’s impeachment inquiry is itself an example of a high crime and misdemeanor and hence an impeachable offense.

Read the entire piece here.

Peter Wehner Interviews Tim Keller at *The Atlantic*

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Two evangelical Christians talk about faith, reason, and politics at, of all places, The Atlantic.   The Christian Right claims that the “secular media” does not respect people of faith, but stories like this remind me that such media outlets are more open to discussing issues of Christian faith than they were two decades ago.

Here is a taste of Wehner‘s piece on his conversation with Keller:

I asked Keller about the relationship of the Church, and in particular evangelicalism, to politics. The upshot of Keller’s position is that whereas individual Christians should be engaged in the political realm, the Bible makes it impossible as a Church to hitch your wagon to one political party, especially in these times. “For Christians just to completely hook up with one party or another is really idolatry,” Keller said. “It’s also reducing the Gospel to a political agenda.” (He pointed me to an address by Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University, called “The Political Captivity of the Faithful,” with which he concurs.)

Keller noted that this danger isn’t new. As is his wont, he cited a book to help me more fully understand his argument—H. Richard Niebuhr’s The Social Sources of Denominationalism, which holds that denominationalism is primarily a social phenomenon that tends to be captured by different political and social classes. Keller observed that because Christianity properly understood is not a legalistic religion—“there is no New Testament Book of Leviticus,” he told me—it can be a part of almost any culture. In that sense, it’s a fairly flexible faith. “Christians are always more incarnate in the culture—and the danger of that is that they get captured by it. That’s always been a problem,” he said. There’s ever the danger of “cultural and political captivity.”

When I pressed the point further, Keller admitted he believes that “most Christians are just nowhere nearly as deeply immersed in the scripture and in theology as they are in their respective social-media bubbles and News Feed bubbles. To be honest, I think the ‘woke’ evangelicals are just much more influenced by MSNBC and liberal Twitter. The conservative Christians are much more influenced by Fox News and their particular loops. And they’re [both] living in those things eight to 10 hours a day. They go to church once a week, and they’re just not immersed in the kind of biblical theological study that would nuance that stuff.” Too often, he believes, there’s no relationship between a proper Christian ethic and the way it translates into political and cultural engagement. It’s not the doctrine that’s at fault, Keller would argue; it’s the way people are taught and interpret it. It’s a failure of imagination and hermeneutics.

Read the entire piece here.

The American Solidarity Party

Carroll

Over at The Front Porch Republic, Jeff Bilbro interviews Brian Carroll, the American Solidarity Party‘s 2020 nominee for President of the United States.  Here is a taste:

JB: The American Solidarity platform includes planks that, at least in the American context, have long been seen as contradictory. For instance, it combines a distributist emphasis on local control and subsidiarity with a commitment to using the federal government to tackle big problems like environmental degradation and poverty. What core commitments enable this party to so radically reimagine political possibilities?

BC: Rather than offering a batch of new ideas, the American Solidarity Party offers a new combination of ideas. We believe that government does have a legitimate role in American life, but the strategies for different issues are best addressed by different levels of authority, starting with individual families, and extending to treaties between sovereign nations. The UN has no business forcing abortion on its member nations, but it does have a role overseeing the rules of ocean-fishing. A city council—even for a city adjacent to a national border—cannot set immigration policy, but it should be able to set zoning laws, with some oversight from the state legislature. Parents and a local school board should have the first say about curriculum decisions. The Federal government grew when no state government was big enough to control the railroads. The nature of the problem should dictate the appropriate way to address that problem.

Read the rest here.  I have never heard of Brian Carroll, but at least he is not a magician.

Do You Want to Write for the Public?

d40d9-writing-center

Are you an academic who wants to write for the public?  If so, you should take a look at Katie Rose Guest Pryal’Chronicle of Higher Education piece “10 Questions Every Academic Should Ask Before Writing for the Public.”  Here is a taste:

Here are 10 questions that every academic should ask before writing for the public.

No. 1: Who is my public? Chances are, you already write for “a public.” If you are a faculty member, you might write articles for journals or give talks at conferences. If you are an administrator, you might write reports for various stakeholders, including the general public. If you are a graduate student, you might already be presenting at conferences or publishing in journals.

But here we’ll talk about expanding your definition of “public,” understanding who that audience might be, and then making sure you know how to best write for your new readers.

For now, consider “the public” to mean this: educated people who read popular magazines and websites that you also like to read. What venues do you turn to for your daily commentary on world events, large and small? The readers of those venues compose your public audience. For now.

No. 2: Why do I want to do this? Some people start writing for popular publications because they think they’ll earn money. Some do it because their institution encourages public engagement. Others do it because they want to make sure their research is accessible to as many readers as possible. Whatever your motivations, you need to have a clear idea of what they are before you get started. Your reasons might change as you go along, and that’s fine.

Read the entire piece here.

Whose Afraid of the 1619 Project?

1619

Interviews with historians James McPherson, Gordon Wood, and James Oakes at a socialist website are firing-up the political critics of The New York Times‘s 1619 Project.  The latest to attack the project is Max Eden of the conservative Manhattan Institute.  In his City Journal piece “A Divisive, Historically Dubious Curriculum” Eden concludes:

To understand their country, students should read America’s Founding documents and the works of great figures like Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, and grapple with history’s circumstantial and moral complexities—not “reframe” history to make it fit partisan purposes. They should be taught about the moral abomination of American slavery—but not that “slavery is our country’s very origin,” or that its legacy is baked into all our social institutions, allegations that cannot stand up to any fair-minded examination of American history. The themes and messages of the 1619 Project are not only historically dubious; they will also lead to deeper civic alienation. Conscientious teachers should file the 1619 curriculum where it belongs: in the waste bin.

Read the entire piece here.

Ramesh Ponnuru, an editor at The National Review, got so excited about Eden’s piece that he quoted the above paragraph at his blog with no commentary.

The 1619 Project is not perfect.  Some of it is not very good.  But why are people like Eden so afraid of this project?  For all its flaws, the themes of the 1619 Project are things that students need to wrestle with in the classroom. And they need to wrestle with them critically.  And they need to wrestle with them under the guidance of a skilled history teacher.  Eden believes that if students read the 1619 Project they will somehow be indoctrinated into a mode of “civic alienation.”  But this is not how a history classroom works. In fact, most good history teachers would find Eden’s piece offensive. Good history teachers teach the past to help their students think critically (and historically) about the world.  The study of the past teaches students how to understand the complexity of the human experience, change over time and continuity, causation, and contingency.  Students learn how detect bias in sources. They learn how to empathize with different voices.  They learn how to read more deeply.  These are the things that will make them better citizens.

I would jump at the chance to teach the 1619 Project.

  1. The 1619 Project forces us to comes to grips with the African-American experience in America.
  2. The 1619 Project appeared in The New York Times and has been getting a lot of attention lately.  Because of the reach of The New York Times and the ongoing debate over the Project, it begs consideration in the history classroom.  Do we really want to pretend that The 1619 Project doesn’t exist?  Do we want to shield students from it? No, we want to engage it.
  3. I would use the 1619 Project alongside primary source and second source material (like the World Socialist Website interviews) to teach my students the skills of the historian.  Instead of telling them that the 1619 Project is good or bad, I want to give my students the skill to be able to draw their own conclusions.

Eden’s piece has nothing to do with the teaching of history.  It has everything to do with politics.

The Author’s Corner with Trenton Cole Jones

captives of liberty.jpgTrenton Cole Jones is Assistant Professor of History at Purdue University. This interview is based on his new book, Captives of Liberty: Prisoners of War and the Radicalization of the American Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Captives of Liberty?

TJ: When I began to study history professionally in 2007, the United States was deeply mired in the seemingly unending “War on Terror.” What had begun as largely conventional conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq had devolved into complex counterinsurgencies in which the enemy did not abide by the laws of armed conflict as codified in the Third Geneva Convention of 1949. In a war against a tactic—terrorism—instead of a nation state, enemy prisoners posed thorny political questions. To treat Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters as prisoners of war eligible for exchange would implicitly acknowledge their legitimacy. Instead, U.S. forces held them indefinitely as illegal combatants. While the American populace responded in horror to news of abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay detention centers, official policy towards enemy captives remained unaltered.

This was the political context in which I began to think about America’s first war—the Revolutionary War. At the time, historians and pundits drew a stark contrast between contemporary Americans’ conduct of war in the Middle East—especially their treatment of enemy captives—and the apparent “humanitarian” actions of the “Founding Fathers.” I was intrigued by this juxtaposition and wanted to learn more. How had the American Revolutionaries negotiated the political and military challenges posed by prisoners? The answers I uncovered in the archives challenged my preconceived notions about the American Revolution and the war waged to secure it.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Captives of Liberty?

TJ: By analyzing the treatment of prisoners of war, Captives of Liberty recovers a revolutionary transformation in the conduct of the war that created the United States. Over the course of the struggle, British atrocities and loyalist resistance—both more often imaginary than real—galvanized ordinary Americans to wage an extremely violent war for vengeance that the decentralized revolutionary government could not contain.

JF: Why do we need to read Captives of Liberty?

TJ: Captives of Liberty is a cautionary tale about the power of revengeful rhetoric to escalate violence. The over 17,000 British and allied prisoners who suffered in American hands testify to the dangers of dehumanizing political opponents and to the fragility of law in the face of emotion. Revolutionary Americans had entered their conflict with Great Britain determined to demonstrate to the world that “Americans are humane as well as brave.” They failed to live up to this lofty aspiration of limiting war’s violence, but that does not mean that we should jettison their ambition. Instead of trying to live up to the standards set by the founding generation, we should strive to do better.

I also hope that my book restores the war, and its attendant suffering, deprivation, and death, to the political history of the American Revolution. Tearing down monarchical governance and establishing a republic came at a terrible cost that historians are only recently beginning to emphasize. American politics and society were profoundly shaped by the eight-years of civil war: a struggle every bit as revolutionary in character as its European successors. It is time, I think, for historians to abandon the antiquated and inaccurate title “The War for Independence” and to start calling the conflict what it really was: “The American Revolutionary War.”

JF: Why did you decide to become an American historian?

TJ: I grew up in the Hudson River valley of New York, surrounded by small vestiges of America’s colonial past. I have been fascinated by the American Revolution for as long as I can recall. The popular narrative of “Good American Patriots” versus “Bad British Redcoats” always troubled me. The causes, conduct, and consequences of the Revolution seemed so much more complicated than those platitudes suggested. I carried my interest in the Revolution into college where I caught the bug for historical research. After doing archival research on both sides of the Atlantic and loving every minute of it, I committed to the Ph.D. program in early American history at Johns Hopkins University. I count myself very fortunate to be able to read, write, think, and teach about American history for a living.

JF: What is your next project?

TJ: I am currently at work on two projects. The first is a short book, under contract with Westholme Press, that examines the opening stages of the Revolutionary War in North Carolina, culminating in the climactic battle at Moore’s Creek Bridge in 1776. The second more substantial project is a history of the war west of the Appalachian Mountains, currently entitled Patrick Henry’s War: The Struggle for Empire in the Revolutionary West. In short, it is a history of the rise and fall of Virginia’s empire during the era of the American Revolution.

JF: Thanks, Trenton!

CBC Ideas: “The Pulpit, Power & Politics: Evangelicalism’s Thumbprint on America”

Trump court evangelicals

I recently joined Jemar Tisby and Molly Worthen on Canadian Broadcast Corporation’s “Ideas.”  You can listen here.

Here is a taste of the accompanying article:

John Fea has written an entire book about the apparently contradictory relationship of evangelicals and Donald Trump, basing the title on one of Trump’s oft-repeated catch phrases: Believe Me.

He sees the championing of Donald Trump by evangelicals through two lenses — as an historian, and as a committed evangelical himself.

Historically, evangelicals began courting agents of secular power in the Reagan era. The trouble he finds in this trajectory is that the evangelical church’s fixation on abortion, appointments to the Supreme Court, and supporting politicians they see as a means to a theological end, opens up the risk of losing credibility both to a generation of younger believers, and their own capacity to bear witness authentically.

The root of “evangelical,” he points out, means “good news, which in turn means a commitment to social justice and harmony. He dubs those seeking to curry favour and influence with the president “court evangelicals.”

Christian belief, he posits, doesn’t entail posing for a photo op and aligning oneself with power, but — like the prophet Nathan — telling the truth to it. 

Read the entire piece here.

Liberty University Falkirk Center Announces “Falkirk Fellows”

Liberty U

What is the Falkirk Center?  Get up to speed with these posts.

This new center at Liberty University, which is designed to promote a Christian nationalist view of the United States, has now chosen its first group of “Falkirk Fellows.”  They are:

Erika Lane Frantzve: She was Miss Arizona USA.  I am not sure what qualifies her as a “fellow” at a think tank.

Josh Allen Murray: He apparently was a winner on the ABC reality show “The Bachelorette.”

Antonia Okafor Cover: She runs a non-profit organization that teaches women how to use guns and advocate for their Second Amendment rights.

David Harris Jr.: He is the author of a book titled Why I Couldn’t Stay Silent: One Man’s Battle as a Black Conservative

Jaco Boovens: Runs a film company

I am sure all of these people are good Christians and generally nice people with some degree of influence in their given professions, but if these are the five inaugural “fellows” of the Falkirk Center I would probably stop calling it a think tank.

The bottom line is this: no serious Christian intellectual would sign-up to work in such a think tank because it is built on a faulty view of the American founding and its implications for contemporary American life.

There will also be 60 “ambassadors” who “have joined the project to educate high school and college-age students about the “inseparable intersection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and American first freedoms and liberties.”

“Inseparable?”  I think it’s time for a third edition of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

Learn more at the Lynchburg News & Advance.

ADDENDUM: After I published this post I came across a similar one from Adam Laats.  Read it here.

The Faith of Harriet Tubman

Tubman

Colorado State University history professor Robert Gudmestad reflects on the Christian faith of Harriet Tubman. Here is a taste of his piece at “The Conversation”:

A horrific accident is believed to have brought Tubman closer to God and reinforced her Christian worldview. Sarah Bradford, a 19th-century writer who conducted interviews with Tubman and several of her associates, found the deep role faith played in her life.

When she was a teenager, Tubman happened to be at a dry goods store when an overseer was trying to capture an enslaved person who had left his slave labor camp without permission. The angry man threw a two-pound weight at the runaway but hit Tubman instead, crushing part of her skull. For two days she lingered between life and death.

The injury almost certainly gave her temporal lobe epilepsy. As a result, she would have splitting headaches, fall asleep without notice, even during conversations, and have dreamlike trances.

As Bradford documents, Tubman believed that her trances and visions were God’s revelation and evidence of his direct involvement in her life. One abolitionist told Bradford that Tubman “talked with God, and he talked with her every day of her life.”

According to Larson, this confidence in providential guidance and protection helped make Tubman fearless. Standing only five feet tall, she had an air of authority that demanded respect.

Once Tubman told Bradford that when she was leading two “stout” men to freedom, she believed that “God told her to stop” and leave the road. She led the scared and reluctant men through an icy stream – and to freedom.

Harriet Tubman once said that slavery was “the next thing to hell.” She helped many transcend that hell.

Read the entire piece here.