Out of the Zoo: Stories Matter

Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie writes about how she is putting her love of C.S. Lewis to good use in the community.—JF

The first chapter book I ever read in elementary school was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I watched the movie version first, which came out when I was six years old. A year or so later, I read the book–followed by the rest of the series. And so began my Narnia craze (which, to be honest, hasn’t completely gone away). Throughout my childhood, I read the Narnia books again, and again, and again. When the film version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe came out on DVD, my family borrowed fur coats from a friend and dressed up for a Narnia movie night at our church. I had all the Narnia merchandise you could imagine; I carried my bible in a Narnia bible case until the strap broke, put a Narnia paperweight on my desk and kept a tattered Narnia poster on my bedroom wall until I graduated high school. I still hang up my Narnia stocking and Narnia Christmas ornaments with pride every holiday season. While my Narnia obsession has died down slightly over the years, the story still holds a special place in my heart. It has strengthened my faith, inspired my imagination, and comforted me on some of my hardest days.

Every education major at Messiah is required to take a class called “Teaching English Language Learners in K-12 schools. The class, taught by Dr. Tina Keller, comes with a 20 hour cross-cultural requirement meant to encourage us to gain hands-on experience with English learners outside the classroom. At the beginning of the semester, Dr. Keller compiled a list of schools, churches, and organizations still holding English classes and encouraged us to sign up as a volunteer. After a few email exchanges with Anna Halbersma, the Director of Intercultural Ministries at Immanuel Christian-Missionary Church,  I agreed to co-teach a book club for English learners over Zoom on Thursday mornings. As you can probably imagine, when she told me we would be going through none other than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe I was beyond thrilled. 

I was pretty nervous on my first day of English teaching, but now Thursday morning is the best part of my week. For one, I’m getting a taste of what it will be like to be a teacher someday as I make lesson plans, write discussion questions, and attempt to coach students through technical difficulties. On top of that, I get to read my favorite book of all time, re-discovering the amazing story I love alongside my students who have never heard it before. Through the class I’ve met amazing people from all different places and cultures with unique stories of their own. I got to call a couple of them after class last week and they shared even more stories with me—about their families, their home countries, and their experiences learning English. I know it’s cliche for teachers to say that they learn more from their students than their students learn from them, but in the case of my English class the cliche is 100% true.

Stories are so powerful. They’re important too, and there are so many of them to learn. They teach us more about the world and all the different people living in it. Discovering people’s stories is one of my favorite things in the whole world. I think that’s why I love history so much. After all, as historians, it’s our job to learn about people’s lives—who they were, where they were from, and what mattered to them. The world is full of interesting people with fascinating lives, just waiting to share their experiences with anyone who will listen. In fact, it always has been. There are stories all around us just waiting to be uncovered. So let’s pick up a shovel and start digging.

Out of the Zoo: Do Better

Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie considers lessons she has learned from studying the history of dueling in early America—JF

A little less than a year ago, I wrote a blog post about Alexander Hamilton’s “deathbed conversion.” Ten and a half months later, I’ve returned to researching the faith of our ten-dollar founding father. I’m particularly fascinated by the religious implications of dueling–the means by which Hamilton met his tragic end. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, dueling was an established method by which men could settle their disputes and restore their honor. Though it was illegal in many places, challenges were still made and accepted. Men still perished on the dueling grounds–including Hamilton’s own son Phillip. Christian ministers often spoke out against the practice. One minister, Reverend Benjamin Moore, even denied Hamilton’s initial request for communion from his deathbed, solely because he had fought in a duel.

This past week, I’ve been sorting through Lyman Beecher’s sermon, “The Remedy for Dueling.” The sermon is extensive–55 pages in length–and cannot be easily summarized in a few sentences, or even a 600 word blog post. Beecher equates dueling with murder and exhorts all who practice it to change their ways. Further, he calls Christians to take a stand against the cult of honor by refusing to vote for duelists. He voices his distress regarding the flawed character of public men, but also chides Americans for not encouraging them to do better. Beecher writes, “But how has it come to pass (if true) that so many public characters are immoral men? It is because we, the people, have not even requested them to behave better. We have never made it necessary for them to be moral.” Beecher condemns the behavior of duelists, but his sermon does not end there. He concludes by challenging men of honor to change their evil ways. He spurs his congregation–and even the duelists themselves–toward love and good deeds.

A couple summers ago, I worked my first summer at a traveling day camp called Springhill. Every day–and sometimes twice a day–all of our campers gathered for high-energy large group sessions. We danced, sang songs, played games, and ended each session with a skit. The heroes of the story that year–Agent M and Double J–were top-secret spies on a mission in the jungle; they wore badges and carried blasters. Meanwhile Dr. Con–the villain of the story–tried to keep Agent M and Double J from finishing their mission. Dr. Con spoke in a nasally voice and wore a yellow polo shirt–complete with white knee-high socks, glasses, and a fake mustache. 

As counselors, my coworkers and I tried to make large group sessions as exciting as possible. We yelled and danced and jumped around, and interacted with the skit so our campers would be engaged.  So at first, we thought it might be a good idea to boo Dr. Con whenever he shuffled onstage–after all, he was the bad guy. It didn’t take long for our campers to catch on and start booing with us. But things quickly got out of control–the boos got so loud that they distracted from the important gospel story the skit was supposed to tell. Some kids gave up booing entirely and just started screaming–so loud that no one could hear any of the lines. It was obvious that something needed to change. So, instead of booing Dr. Con, we decided to shout “Do better! Do better Dr. Con!” I can’t say the booing immediately ceased, but soon enough our campers began to follow our example. Instead of screaming whenever Dr. Con showed up, they called him to do the right thing rather than continue in his old devious ways–to choose good instead of evil.

It might seem rather strange to compare an early 19th century sermon with a skit from a summer camp written over 200 years later, but I think both can speak into the moment we’re in right now. It’s now the middle of October, and the 59th Presidential election is less than three weeks away. It seems like almost every commercial that pops up on my television is a political advertisement. I’m still waiting for my absentee ballot, but millions have already voted. Many Americans see a clear hero and a clear villain in this chapter in our country’s story, while others aren’t too thrilled about either of the men on the ballot.

Yet before we sulk that “so many public characters are immoral men” we should ask ourselves if we “have even requested them to behave better.” Have we really called for change, or are we enabling complacency? Does character really matter to us? Do our votes reflect that? At the same time, even if there is a clear “bad guy” in our personal political narrative, we should not boo them off the stage. We shouldn’t yell so loud that we can’t hear anything they have to say. Instead, we should offer encouragement. We must urge them to do the right thing rather than continuing in their old ways, to choose good instead of evil. Instead of “boo,” let us say, “Do better!”

The Author’s Corner with Carla Pestana

Carla Gardina Pestana is Professor of History, Department Chair, and Joyce Appleby Endowed Chair of America in the World at the University of California, Los Angeles. This interview is based on her new book, The World of Plymouth Plantation (Belknap Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write The World of Plymouth Plantation?

CP: The simple answer, and one I allude to in the book’s acknowledgements, is that I participated in an NEH funded workshop at the living history museum Plimoth Plantation some years ago. During that multi-day meeting, I was struck by how Plymouth appears isolated from the wider world. Immediate interactions, especially those with the area’s original residents, received the focus of attention in conversations there and, I subsequently realized, in the literature around Plymouth as well. I felt inspired to think systematically about what connected Plymouth to a world beyond the neighboring Wampanoag peoples and the immediate location.

On another level, this project represents a return to my roots. My original research centered on New England; and though I have kept it in my sights in a number of more broadly framed projects, this is the first time I have returned to consider the region on its own. This return had not occurred to me, until a number of friends pointed it out.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The World of Plymouth Plantation?

CP: Plymouth Plantation was connected from its inception to other places, and those connections shaped its early history in ways both basic and profound. (That is one!)

JF: Why do we need to read The World of Plymouth Plantation?

CP: I realize this is my chance to make my own case, but I am not sure I would use the word “need”! (Obviously, I could be better at self-promotion.)

The World of Plymouth Plantation offers a readable account of everyday life as well as of what we might call their world view. It is organized around some basic categories that have shaped Atlantic history, specifically things, ideas, and people that circulated into and through the outpost. It uses those categories to shape 18 short chapters that each begin with a vignette (although not the usual ones) and consider an element from one of the three categories. So, it’s organized in an interesting (if subtle) way. It also reflects knowledge gained from many years of teaching and researching, without being didactic about it. My intended readers are not only scholars and students but also the wider public, so it is relatively short, not to mention nicely illustrated and written in an accessible style.

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

CP: I stumbled into the study of history in that I went to graduate school largely on the recommendation of my undergraduate faculty and without a clear idea of what I would find there. As an undergraduate, I had felt especially drawn to early American history so I continued in that vein, making me technically an American historian since the colonial period is treated as the first (and often least significant) chapter of US history. I stumbled across the Quaker executions in Massachusetts Bay Colony in the first months of my graduate career and quickly became obsessed with explaining them. I wanted, on the most basic level, to understand how Perry Miller’s The New England Mind: From Colony to Province and Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down could both be legitimate representations of an era (and some closely connected people during it) when their subject matters and findings seemed so vastly at odds. In a way, my dissertation and first book were an attempt to answer that question.

Since that time, I have wandered out into Atlantic, Caribbean, and even British topics, but I have always taught early American history. I continue to consider myself a historian of early America, even though now I am interested in that and more.

JF: What is your next project?

CP: Sadly, I am uncertain. Like most historians, I am missing the access to archives and libraries brought on by the pandemic. I want to get back into the Jamaican archives to answer some questions left hanging from a previous book. I want to think more deeply about maritime topics, and I would have been in the National Records Office in Kew looking at High Court of Admiralty records this summer had that been possible. I may put together an edited collection of articles by other scholars on the early modern global Caribbean, since I have been facilitating conversations around that topic for some time.

JF: Thanks, Carla!

The Author’s Corner with Hannah-Rose Murray

Hannah-Rose Murray is Early Career Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She is also the creator of a virtual Black Abolitionist tour of London, highlighting six important sites where African American activists made an impact on the UK landscape. This interview is based on her new book, Advocates of Freedom: African American Transatlantic Abolitionism in the British Isles (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Advocates for Freedom?

HM: The book developed from my PhD project, which focused on Black abolitionism in the British Isles during the nineteenth century. When I first started my research, I collated thousands of newspaper articles about Frederick Douglass’ visit to Britain and Ireland between 1845-1847, and after reading the pioneering works of Richard Blackett and Audrey Fisch realized that there was a wealth of material and sources to search through and uncover the larger story behind this transatlantic movement. I was fascinated to learn why Douglass was so famous and I developed a framework, adaptive resistance, which explores the reason why some activists were more successful than others: broadly, it’s a triad that rests on performance, antislavery networks and exploitation of print culture. For example, one of the reasons why Douglass was so successful in 1845 was due to his oratorical skill, his connections to William Lloyd Garrison’s antislavery movement and friends across Britain and Ireland, who in turn befriended newspaper editors and published pamphlets and materials to maximise support for Douglass and the abolitionist cause. Others, like Moses Roper, were maligned in the press by newspaper correspondents and by some abolitionists; he often had to make his own way around Britain without such concrete networks of support. Through excavating British newspaper articles, I could analyze their performances, their testimony and how they were received by the press and public across the nineteenth century, and how certain events–like the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the American Civil War impacted their missions. Additionally, I created a mapping project that attempts to record as many African American speaking locations as possible. So far, I’ve mapped 4,700 sites in 1,550 locations across Britain and Ireland. As well as being a handy visualization tool for my research, it also presents numerous analytical patterns: why certain activists spoke in some locations rather than others and even how some followed early railway routes for ease of transportation. This filtered into the book too.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Advocates for Freedom?

HM: I argue that by sharing their oratorical, visual, and literary testimony to transatlantic audiences, African American activists galvanised the antislavery movement and highlighted not only their death-defying escapes from bondage but also their desire to speak out against slavery and white supremacy on foreign soil. Using a framework I term adaptive resistance, I uncover the reasons why some activists were more successful than others, why they visited certain locations, how they adapted to the political and social climate, and what impact their activism had on British society.

JF: Why do we need to read Advocates for Freedom?

HM: The politicized and radical journeys undertaken by African Americans to the British Isles are crucial to understanding their testimony and future careers, but also the antislavery movement and the Black Atlantic as a whole. For the first time, my book reveals new testimony and archival discoveries surrounding the stories of Moses Roper, Frederick Douglass and Josiah Henson (to name a few) and uses digital mapping to analyze their antislavery missions as well as a theoretical framework to determine why some activists were more successful than others. In this detailed study, I examine how in Britain and Ireland, thousands of slave narratives and abolitionist pamphlets were sold, petitions were signed, hundreds of pounds were raised for societies or given directly to help purchase individuals or their family members from slavery. Thousands more attended meetings at chapels, town halls, school rooms and lecturing halls, who often queued for hours beforehand and millions of words were written in response to Black activists and their stories of slavery. These activists challenged misconceptions of slavery, advanced the cause of abolition and mobilized public opinion. Through their interventions with the press, correspondents published Black abolitionist letters, speeches and commentaries, and their message was spread often beyond their immediate reach or where they had lectured. Their tireless activism often created and sustained antislavery momentum across the transatlantic, and their international missions inspired further action as well as apoplectic rage in the United States.

My work is also timely: as the Black Lives Matter protests continue to take place around the world, it’s important to recognize that the activists I discuss were declaring that their Black lives mattered nearly two centuries ago. It’s well documented that the movement has strong historical roots, but my chapter on Ida B. Wells’ lynching campaign in Britain in 1893 and 1894 is particularly prescient when we consider the modern lynchings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The book highlights not only the trajectory between activists in the c19th and today, but also how far we still have to go to accomplish their anti-racist missions.

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

HM: I have always loved learning about U.S. history since I was a teenager and was very lucky to visit America a few times when I was studying in secondary school. I started working on Frederick Douglass’ experiences in Britain ten years ago, achieved my PhD in 2018 and haven’t looked back since! My work centres around the rediscovery and amplification of African American testimony–including from Frederick Douglass–to ensure that their lives, histories and memories are no longer invisibilized. Their testimony can also shine a new light on their courageous and inspiring activism on both sides of the Atlantic and remind us that antislavery agitation had a fundamental transatlantic element. Activists like Douglass believed that their missions abroad would have very real consequences for enslavers, proslavery defenders, and racists back home.

JF: What is your next project?

HM: I envision Advocates of Freedom as part of a trilogy: this current work is quite broad and extends from the late 1830s to the early 1890s, so the project I’m working on now is a focused study between 1840-1870. I’m studying the ways in which African Americans used visual and performative testimony in the British Isles to convince the transatlantic public about slavery. For example, Moses Roper exhibited whips, chains and manacles on the Victorian stage and even demonstrated how they worked to his audiences. Henry ‘Box’ Brown, the infamous activist, lecturer and entertainer who escaped slavery by posting himself in a box from Richmond to Philadelphia, starred in a play based on his own life in Kent, England. Other activists like James C. Thompson wrote his own poetry and performed it to his audiences and exhibited paintings of his life in slavery. It’s fascinating to consider how activists used growing technological and visual mediums to inform audiences and entice them to their lectures.

The third book in this ‘trilogy’ (if it does get that far!) will focus on African American postbellum activism in the British Isles. Activists continued to travel to Britain and Ireland and followed in the footsteps of their forebears to raise awareness and educate transatlantic audiences on global racism. Additionally, they campaigned around the fact that, contrary to popular belief, U.S. chattel slavery had never actually died. Instead, its foul spirit had mutated and evolved into practices such as lynching and the convict lease system, which preserved the legacies of centuries of oppression. While antebellum slave narratives and speeches distinctly served the purpose of abolition, post-war testimony–particularly in oratorical form–was specifically shaped around abolition’s broken promises. They continued to denounce white supremacy, challenge Lost Cause narratives and white domestic terrorism up to the early twentieth century.

JF: Thanks, Hannah-Rose!

Out of the Zoo: Coronavirus Diary

Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie gets us up to speed on coronavirus at Messiah University—JF

A month and a half into the semester, Messiah University has settled into a new kind of normal. We’re getting used to shouting answers to discussion questions so that others can hear us from behind our mask. We know now to check our emails regularly in case a professor decides to meet over zoom last minute–due to COVID exposure or otherwise. We’ve become unphased by the strange microphone headsets our professors wear, relatively unconcerned with the ever-fluctuating number of students who tune in to class remotely. We’re finding creative ways to connect with our families and friends when we can’t go home over fall break or see them in person. Certainly none of these situations are ideal, but we’re getting used to them anyway.

After a spring and summer of live-streaming church, I’ve finally returned to in-person worship. The church that I attend when I’m at school has been holding all of its services outdoors in a huge field, which makes social distancing much easier to maintain. While this season has shown me that the Church is so much more than a place, it felt good to be back, singing with other believers and listening to a sermon in church clothes instead of pajamas. Doing Young Life ministry this year has been challenging in many ways, but my team has been making it work. We’ve been hosting all our Young Life events outside–at parks, around campfires, and in backyards–and require students to bring a mask. We’ve lucked out in terms of weather so far, but we’re making preparations for when the weather gets colder and we may not be able to gather in large groups. 

We’re expecting to get an email sometime this week about changes to Messiah’s COVID restrictions. There have been 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on campus since the beginning of the year–17 students and 2 employees. Our numbers are still relatively low, but the slight uptick in cases has many on edge. Nonetheless, we’re still hoping that Messiah will keep loosening-up the rules to give us more things to do on campus. Since we can’t go into each other’s apartments or dorms right now (even with masks on) students have been taking trips off-campus to hang out. We’re all hoping that Messiah will decide that increased visitation is the lesser of these two evils.

In the meantime, Messiah’s campus has been abuzz with political fervour. Some students are certainly more passionate than others, but political conversations abound nonetheless–before class, during meals, and on social media. We talk about the issues that are important to us–issues like criminal justice reform, abortion and education. We talk about the pandemic. In other discussions, I listen to my friends and mentors express their concern about a lack of empathy and understanding on both sides of the political spectrum. We reveal our voting plans too, whether we’re voting by mail, in-person, or hand-delivering our envelopes on election day. I’ve been checking my mailbox periodically for my absentee ballot. My sister (who studies journalism at Northwestern University) got hers last week, so I think mine will come soon. I’m excited to vote in my first Presidential election, even though I won’t get a patriotic  “I voted” sticker to show for it.

Last Tuesday, I watched the first presidential debate. My housemate Chloe (another history major) and I shared a bag of popcorn as we watched Trump and Biden duke it out on stage, the script of the Declaration of Independence’s Preamble displayed on a blue backdrop behind them. Our housemate Rebecca, who grew up overseas, joined us too. She was born in the states, but had never watched a presidential debate. I told her she should at least watch the first 10 minutes of the debate so she would be able to understand Saturday Night Live’s parody video of it a few days later. To my surprise, she watched the whole thing. “It’s just so fascinating!” she said.

Six months into the coronavirus pandemic and a month and a half into school, much remains uncertain. Will COVID cases go up any more on campus? Will my friends continue to stay healthy and safe? Will we be able to keep Messiah open for the rest of the semester? Will I still be able to connect with my Young Life students when it’s too cold to meet in someone’s backyard? Will my absentee ballot come on time? If I’ve learned anything about this COVID-19 season, it’s that every answered question will be replaced by a new unanswered one. We grow, we adapt, we adjust, but there’s always one new thing to get used to. Uncertainty has become the new normal, change a strong and constant force.

Court evangelical Eric Metaxas on Trump: “Is there anyone like unto him?”

In the early years of the Trump campaign, Christian author and radio host Eric Metaxas tried to explain his support of Donald Trump in a somewhat nuanced way. Consider, for example, this interview with Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt. Metaxas suggested that the president should “repent of everything we know that he has done and is too proud to admit.” Metaxas said he regretted his claim in a 2016 Wall Street Journal op-ed that God will hold non-Trump voters accountable.

Two years after this interview, Metaxas is not nuanced any more. He is now all in for Trump. I am surprised he is not wearing a MAGA hat to his radio studio. I have no doubt that he would be willing to speak at a Trump rally if the president thought he had a large enough profile.

Nearly ten years ago when I offered a balanced take on the question, “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?,” I quickly realized that talk radio hosts are not interested in nuance. Nuance doesn’t attract listeners or sell ads. No one wants to donate to people and organizations who make nuanced arguments. The purpose of talk radio–Christian or otherwise–is to paint the world in black and white. Shades of gray do not bring ratings and when your ratings are high there is a lot of money to be made.

Here is one of Metaxas’s latest tweets:

First, it is worth noting that Trump has not “beat Covid” yet. Did you see him sucking wind earlier tonight?

Second, Metaxas describes Trump using language applied to the “beast” of Revelation 13:4. Here is that verse in context (King James Version):

And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.

And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?

And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.

Most biblical commentators interpret the “beast” to be something akin to a false prophet.

UPDATE: Thanks Alan Cross for pointing out that Metaxas may be referring to Psalm 113. This makes more sense:

But I do think the Revelation 13 reference is really interesting.

In the end, I think it may all come down to this:

The Author’s Corner with Louis DeCaro, Jr.

Louis DeCaro, Jr. is Associate Professor of Church History at Alliance Theological Seminary. He has also kept a blog on John Brown since 2005. This interview is based on his new book, The Untold Story of Shields Green: The Life and Death of a Harper’s Ferry Raider (NYU Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write The Untold Story of Shields Green?

LD: The short answer is that I have been a student of the life and letters of John Brown for over twenty years and in 2018 it was announced that a popular movie was being produced about one of John Brown’s black Harper’s Ferry raiders, Shields Green. Originally, I intended only to write an article in advance that I hoped to have published when the film was released. When I began to gather my sources, things began to catch my eye that I had overlooked, and the first draft of my “article” turned out to be nearly one hundred pages. This led to a conversation with the amazing Clara Platter at NYU Press, who encouraged me to consider a book. The funny thing is that the movie, “Emperor,” which was finally released not too long ago, ends with a fictive conclusion about Shields Green’s son writing a book about his father. So while the fictional story in the movie brings forth a book, the movie itself prompted me to write a real book.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Untold Story of Shields Green?

LD: The story of John Brown has been misunderstood and misrepresented in conventional histories, but even sympathizers have overlooked his young raiders, especially the black raiders. The black raider Shields Green is the most challenging to find in the historical record of the Harper’s Ferry despite his storied role and yet his legacy provides insight into depth of racism in the United States.

JF: Why do we need to read The Untold Story of Shields Green?

LD: This work offers layers of historical consideration: (1) what it means to try to reconstruct a man’s story based on scattered and limited evidence; (2) what the story of Shields Green reveals about a kind of self-made black abolitionist, even as historians are starting to appreciate the antislavery story that is more appreciative of black leadership; (3) what Shields Green as a both a protagonist of justice and a victim of injustice reveals about the real nature of the United States in the antebellum era; (4) a challenge to the hackneyed, conventional narrative of John Brown and the Harper’s Ferry raid; (5) a consideration of the significance of how black people were portrayed in Brown’s time, especially Shields Green, whose image only survives through sketches made by white men; and (6) a consideration of how Green’s story was stylized, first by Frederick Douglass, and then relayed by historians down to recent history.

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

LD: From childhood I was always enamored by history, especially in biography (and particularly that of Abraham Lincoln), and I suppose the most compelling biographies for me were “American” stories (with the exception of my extended flirtation with the life of the Renaissance monk, Girolamo Savonarola). However, my academic and seminary training was largely centered upon European history and Reformed theology. What brought me back to the history of the United States was a passionate interest in African American history and racial justice, especially the study of Malcolm X, which yielded my first publications. Ultimately, Malcolm made me think about “American history” again, and in a sense, pointed me toward John Brown.

JF: What is your next project?

LD: I’m not sure. I’m in conversation with my editor about that now. Certainly, I intend to revisit John Brown, especially his role in Kansas and possibly prepare a narrated collection of his letters and primary documents. But I have other irons in the fire that reflect my interests in history and religion.

JF: Thanks, Louis!

The U.S. just recorded the most coronavirus cases in nearly two months

COVID-19 has claimed 200,000 lives. For those who have are still living, our lives have changed drastically. Meanwhile our leaders parade around the White House without masks. There are many who still believe masks do not help stop the spread of the virus, including many in my own evangelical community. (Just look at my Facebook Author page).

While rank-and-file Americans wear masks out of a commitment to citizenship, care for their neighbors, and religious stewardship, those at the Amy Coney Barrett event last weekend in the White House–senators, representatives, White House officials, and so-called “evangelical leaders”–walk around without masks.

Take, for example, Jerry Prevo, the interim president of Liberty University. While other Christian colleges are doing everything in their power to control the virus, Prevo parades around the Rose Garden without a mask.

Franklin Graham, who tested negative after the event, schmoozed with Trump aide Kelly Anne Conway and Attorney General Bill Barr. Ralph Reed is seen shaking hands. No one is social distancing or wearing masks.

This is what happens when Christians enter the court. Just ask Father Jenkins of Notre Dame, who wrote a letter of apology to the university students and staff after lowering his moral guard amid the social pressure of the court. I wonder if Jerry Prevo will issue a similar apology? (This gives a whole new meaning to Liberty University’s quest to become the “evangelical Notre Dame.”)

Is Ralph Reed contact tracing all the evangelicals who showed-up at his Faith and Freedom Coalition event this past week?

Meanwhile, the coronavirus is not going away. Here is Jay Cannon at USA Today:

The news of President Donald Trump and members of his inner circle testing positive for COVID-19 has sent shock waves across the country, but it’s not just the White House dealing with an onslaught of cases: Friday’s nationwide case count was the highest daily total in nearly two months.

There were 54,441 positive cases of the coronavirus reported on Friday, the highest single-day case count since Aug. 14, when the country recorded just over 64,000 cases, per Johns Hopkins University data. 

The country’s daily cases peaked on July 16, when 77,362 positive tests were reported. 

Meanwhile, deaths have held relatively steady in recent weeks, as the weekly average is down a bit from a flare-up in late July and early August. Still, 906 Americans were announced dead from COVID-19 on Friday.

Read the entire rest here.

Commonplace Book #184

1928: In a day of specialists and experts there ought to be room for a specialist in moral and spiritual values. But think of commanding a large salary because you are a better preacher than someone else! Isn’t that putting a market value on the ability of a man to help people find God? Fortunately it is the rhetorical rather than the spiritual gift that usually creates the different prices in the preacher market

Reinhold Niebuhr, Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, 142.

The Author’s Corner with Paul Matzko

Paul Matzko is Editor for Tech and Innovation at the Cato Institute. This interview is based on his new book, The Radio Right: How a Band of Broadcasters Took on the Federal Government and Built the Modern Conservative Movement (Oxford University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write The Radio Right?

PM: The idea came to me while reading Lisa McGirr’s Suburban Warriors for a graduate seminar. I realized that many of the Southern Californians in her book had unmentioned ties to a fundamentalist radio preacher in New Jersey named Carl McIntire. As it so happened, I lived in Philadelphia at the time and McIntire’s archives were housed just up the road at Princeton Theological Seminary. As I started digging in, I realized that McIntire was just one part of a very large, informal network of right-wing radio broadcasters who sprung up almost overnight on national airwaves by the early 1960s. The story of their sudden rise to political significance—as well as the surprising lengths to which their political and theological opponents were wiling to go to silence them—has never been fully told before.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Radio Right?

PM: Conservative, religious broadcasters in the 1960s played a vital but mostly overlooked role in the creation of the New Right. The best indicator of their influence is the sweeping censorship campaign organized against them by the John F. Kennedy administration, the Democratic National Committee, and the National Council of Churches.

JF: Why do we need to read The Radio Right?

PM: It challenges the over-intellectualized, male-focused, top-down, received narrative of the rise of the New Right. You’ll read about suburban housewives boycotting Polish ham imports, a protest ‘funeral’ for free speech conducted in Revolutionary Era garb on the green behind Independence Hall, a converted World War Two minesweeper blasting pirate radio off the coast of Cape May, and an Oval Office tape linking the sitting president to the most successful censorship campaign of the past half century. 

I would also argue that historians of the period tend to overweight personalities and underweight the importance of structure, the submerged political, economic, and cultural institutions which create the incentive structures that then drive human behavior. To borrow Marx’s terminology, I wanted to focus on the phenomenal rather than the epiphenomenal. Thus this book emphasizes shifts in the supply of conservative ideas rather than, as is more common, changes in the demand for conservative ideas.

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

PM: In college, I intended to become a Byzantinist specializing in imperial interactions with crusaders. (I blame an early teenage reading of Robert Payne’s lovely The Dream and the Tomb.) A glancing encounter with Greek and French instruction convinced me I didn’t have the requisite linguistic aptitude. 

But while at Temple University, a professor challenged me to not run away from my past when looking for research projects, that my odd background could be an asset to be mined rather than a problem to be avoided. “Write what you know,” he said, and what I knew was the history of American fundamentalism and conservative politics. That was the same semester as the grad seminar where I read McGirr and made the McIntire connection. 

JF: What is your next project?

PM: I would like to write a sequel to The Radio Right. One of the people named on the Oval Office tape I mentioned above—and thus implicated in the anti-Radio Right censorship campaign—was US Senator John Pastore. Pastore is perhaps best known for chairing the congressional committee hearings in 1969 where Fred Rogers testified in favor of government support for public media. There’s a connection, to put it bluntly, between the creation of National Public Radio / Public Broadcasting System and the censorship campaign I’ve already described. And while in this book I teased the importance of radio to Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980, there’s much more to be written about how the Carter and Reagan administrations’ demolition of the Fairness Doctrine led to the rise of conservative talk radio in the 1980s.

JF: Thanks, Paul!

Out of the Zoo: Joan of Arc

Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie reports on her class on the trial of Joan of Arc—JF

I loved The Lord of the Rings movies growing up. I watched them for the first time with my mom in elementary school–she skipped all the parts that were too scary or gross. I didn’t really know what was going on, but when I watched them again a few years later I understood more. After that, the Lord of the Rings saga became a staple in our family–for sick days, movie nights and especially long car trips in our Dodge minivan with built-in television screens. My cousin Abby, who is now a children’s librarian in the Grand Rapids area, even took my siblings and I to see a midnight showing of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug when we were in eighth grade.

One of my favorite parts in The Lord of the Rings movies is a scene from The Return of the King. As Frodo and Sam draw ever nearer to Mount Doom, Legolas, Gimli, and several other familiar faces are left to defend Minas Tirith from a giant army of orcs. In the middle of the heated battle, the evil Witch-King shows up and picks a fight with Eowyn, a noblewoman from Rohan who disguises herself as a man to defend Middle Earth. “You fool, no man can kill me,” the Witch-King rasps, with Eowyn in a choke-hold. “Die now.” A few seconds later, Eowyn escapes from the his grasp and rips off her helmet to reveal long golden hair. “I am no man!” she exclaims, thrusting her sword forward and striking the Ringwraith with a fatal blow.

As a self-proclaimed tomboy in elementary and middle school, I wanted to be like Eowyn when I grew up. I probably could have quoted her battle scene in my sleep. She was bold and strong and brave–the ultimate example of girl power. I think I liked watching Eowyn because I saw some of myself in her–but I also saw the kind of person I wanted to be.

At Messiah University this semester, I’m taking a class about a young woman who reminds me a lot of Eowyn–Joan of Arc. She wasn’t a noblewoman from Rohan, but a peasant girl from Domrémy, France. To be frankly honest, I didn’t know much about Joan before my class started, and I still  have a lot to learn. But in the month that I’ve studied her thus far, I’ve encountered a devout, loyal, fearless young woman who cast aside gender norms, listened to God’s voice, and tirelessly sought the greater good of France. Like Eowyn, Joan was brave, and she wore men’s clothes into battle too! There’s no magic ring or Witch-King in Joan’s story, but she did live in a world that looks a lot different from our own. To someone who loves history–and even to someone who doesn’t–Joan’s life is just as intriguing as a fantasy novel. Like Eowyn, I see some of myself in Joan of Arc–in her stubbornness and her passion for justice. Yet in Joan I also see the kind of person I want to become–someone who is bold, courageous and full of faith.

I am grateful to my professor, Dr. Joseph Huffman, for introducing me to Joan of Arc this semester. As we progress through the transcript of her trial in the coming weeks, I hope I will better comprehend with greater fullness the woman she was–a task which may never be completely achieved. Because unlike movie characters, historical figures are complex and ever-changing. They can’t be easily captured in a few words on a page or a few minutes on a movie screen. Nonetheless, we still have lots to learn from them.

What Matthew 4 REALLY says about Christians and power

Recently an evangelical pastor who was a college of classmate of mine wrote to me praising Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett as Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement on the Supreme Court. He seemed very excited about the nomination and was surprised when I was not as excited as he was.

As I have argued, I think what McConnell did was wrong in 2016 when he refused to give Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing and a vote in the Senate. As many of you recall, McConnell claimed that since it was an election year the American people, through the ballot box, should decide who would replace the late Antonin Scalia on the bench. Trump won in 2016 and he nominated Neil Gorsuch. The GOP-controlled Senate confirmed him.

2020 is an election year. In fact, the election will take place in about a month. McConnell now seems to have no problem with confirming a Supreme Court justice in an election year. He is hard at work pushing Barrett through the system.

This evangelical pastor friend did not see any problem with McConnell’s blatant hypocrisy. Actually, I don’t even think he understands what McConnell did as a form of hypocrisy. As my old college acquaintance put it in his note to me, we now have a Republican president and a Republican Senate and “elections have consequences.”

Based on other exchanges I have had with this pastor, I highly doubt he would have said “elections have consequences” if the same thing happened with a Democratic president’s nominee and a Democratic-controlled Senate. He would instead be making an appeal to the Constitution or perhaps the scriptures. But I digress.

The GOP is licking its chops to confirm Barrett. Its members thus need some kind of argument to save face and explain that they are not hypocrites. Most of these GOP Senators and pundits believe that the Constitution should be interpreted based upon the original intent of the framers. But they are not consistent in this belief. They only claim original intent when it meets their needs. There is nothing in the Constitution that says a Supreme Court nominee in an election year can only get a Senate hearing if the president making the nomination is of the same political party as the party controlling the Senate. The GOP just made this up.

And if the GOP really believes the original intent of the founders is important, they should be talking about how the founders would be appalled at the rank partisanship driving this whole nomination and confirmation process.

But perhaps most revealing is the way this pastor reconciles 2016 (Obama and Garland) and 2020 (Trump and Barrett) with an appeal to raw power. Again, notice that he did not appeal to the Constitution, the Bible, or some other moral code to defend McConnell’s decision. The exact words he used to justify Barrett’s nomination were “Republicans in power. Elections have consequences.” In a single sentence he confirmed a major part of my argument in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Of course Jesus had a chance to obtain worldly power as well.

I recall that passage in Matthew 4 when Satan offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if he would just bow down and worship him. When Jesus turned down Satan’s offer (“away from me Satan!”) God sent angels to attend to him. Jesus rejected worldly power and God was there to offer comfort and assurance in the form of the angels. The rest of the Gospel story, of course, is God showing how he would carry out his plan in another way–The Way–a way that did not require the kind of earthly power Satan was offering to Jesus.

But most people don’t know that in the 1980s Jerry Falwell Sr., while conducting a Moral Majority Holy Land tour, discovered early manuscripts of the Matthew 4 that show Jesus actually taking Satan’s deal. According to these ancient manuscripts, Jesus drove a hard bargain with Satan. In this manuscript Jesus specifically defined the “kingdoms of the world” as the future United States and demanded that Satan bring “splendor” to this kingdom by one day raising-up a morally bankrupt pagan leader (similar to King Cyrus of old) who would have the opportunity to appoint three Supreme Court justices. Satan agreed to deal, but fitting with his cunning spirit, took over 2000 years to fulfill his promise to Jesus.

What? You’ve never heard this before? It’s all there in the Lynchburg scrolls. The reason people don’t know about these scrolls is because the fake media won’t report on them.

🙂

*The New York Times* gets access to Trump’s tax returns and it’s not pretty

Well, now we know why Trump does not want us to see his tax returns. The New York Times has uncovered them and this evening released the first of several reports about what they found.

Some highlights:

Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017. By the way, the average American pays between $6,837 a year (West Virginia) and $19,977 a year (New Jersey).

Trump paid “no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years–largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.” Everything about this report reveals what we already knew:

The tax returns reveal a failed businessman “who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes.” In 2018, he lost $47 million.

Trump now relies “more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.”

Trump “has been more successful playing a business mogul than being one in real life.” In this context, Trump’s run for president in 2015 may have been an attempt to “reanimate the marketability of his name.”

In the next four years Trump will need to pay back $300 million in loans.

Trump properties “have become bazaars for collecting money directly from lobbyists, foreign officials and others seeking face time, access or favor….”

He made $5 million a year from new memberships at Mar-a-Lago following the announcement of his candidacy in 2015. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which is run by court evangelical Franklin Graham, paid $397,602 dollars to Trump’s Washington D.C. hotel for a 2017 conference on persecuted Christians.

In his four years in office Trump has made licensing deals with the Philippines ($3 million), India ($2.3 million), and Turkey ($1 million).

Trump’s golf courses have lost $315.6 million since 2000. His Washington D.C. hotel lost $55.5 million between 2016 and 2018. His real estate company, “Trump Corporation,” has lost $134 million since 2000.

Trump Tower in New York is Trump’s only major success as a businessman. It has brought in $336.3 million since 2000.

Trump has failed to pay back $287 million in loans since 2010.

Trump paid 70,000 in haircuts during his years as the star of the NBC reality show “The Apprentice.” (I could have set him up with Vladimir at the Camp Hill Barber Shop for a lot less! :-))

You can read the entire piece here.

In an appearance on CNN, Trump biographer Tim O’Brien said, “you have in these numbers a portrait of a president as a con man and a long-term grifter. Donald Trump is probably the most successful con-man in modern history and he’s wound-up in the White House.”

Here are some of my favorite tweets so far:

Local coverage of the South Bend People of Praise community, 1977

Sun, Aug 7, 1977 – 30 · The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) · Newspapers.com

Later today Trump is expected to announce his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. There has been a lot of discussion about Barrett’s religious community, the People of Praise in South Bend, Indiana. I wrote about it earlier today.

If you want to dig a little deeper into the history of the South Bend People of Praise group, the August 7, 1977 issue of The South Bend Tribune devoted several articles to it. I have copied two of them below:

Here is Whitney Smith’s piece: “Charismatics: United or hell-bent for schism?”:

To some, the Charismatic Renewal has “the best potential for uniting Christians in and out of the major denominations. To others, certain practices destine the movement hell-bent for schism.

Such is the conflict facing many Christians who are concerned for the future of their faith.

Critics have raised some of the most ardent questions about a religious movement since Rev. Sun Myung Moons Unification Church. They are concerned not only because the renewal has revitalized religion for millions of Christians, but because serious conflicts have arisen out of the Charismatic communities.

“There is definitely the potential for a very serious factionalism within the movement, said Rev. Dan Danielson, C.S.C., vicar for Catholic Charismatics for the Diocese of Oakland, Calif. This is even more legitimate a concern than it was a few years ago when criticisms were first made.

At first, hard-line Catholics balked at accepting the movement

Traditionalists said the swaying bodies, waving hands and verbal outbursts of praise from worshippers seem more of an emotional response to Cod than an internal one, and therefore seem more Charismatic than Catholic.

But as Catholics are becoming more familiar with the movement, gradually they are accepting it. Pope Raul VI himself and many bishops have adopted an attitude of what Rev. Danielson called cautious optimism.

Indeed, the focus of criticism has changed.

Most criticism today is aimed at residential Charismatic communities, rather than the worldwide movement from which the communities have emerged.

Former community members claim “authoritarianism in communities such as South Bend’s 800-member People of Praise is in some ways unhealthy for its members.

Catholics attack community prayer practices as unacceptable replacements for time-honored traditions such as the private confessional.

Still others attack as unsound a fundamentalist attitude toward women, which they said results from a “too-literal interpretation” of male and female roles defined in Scripture.

Community members claim much criticism of the Charismatics stems from unfamiliarity with what the community is and what their lives are like. South Bends People of Praise community, for example, has been a puzzle to many local residents.

That’s unusual, considering People of Praise has been used as a model for other communities like it across the country, and that South Bend is communications headquarters for the worldwide Charismatic movement.

Few know about the community because the members are content to “live and let live.” When they do talk about the community to outsiders, its like listening to attorneys plead a case before a judge. They weigh every word.

They’re careful to the point of being defensive and tight-lipped to the point of convincing you they have something to hide. Even if they don’t.

Charismatics have been lambasted for everything from getting excited about God to exorcising evil spirits–a practice they call “deliverance.” So strong has been the onslaught of criticism that the Charismatics have become calloused, almost unresponsive to it.

Asked why they have remained so aloof, Tom Noe. community member, responded they are only interested in fulfilling their commitment as a community: to put the Christian tenets a lot of persons talk about into -practice in their daily lives.

According to Charismatic Conference Coordinator Tony Rowland, critics take potshots at the People of Praise out of ignorance of what it is really like. Still, some of the most ardent critics were once Charismatics themselves.

An example is Brad (not his real name), who left a People of Praise household after living there for nearly a year. 

Brad, 20, quit the community because, among other reasons, “it restricted my lifestyle.”

When Brad wasn’t working, community prayer sessions, recruitment meetings and other activities crowded his free time. Brad and the rest of the Charismastic family pooled their paychecks in the household fund for food and lodging expenses, but received only $8 each week for outside expenses.

The evil spirit of pride” was exorcised from Brad, he said, in a required “deliverance” session before a room full of others at the LaSalle Hotel.

For a year, he was not permitted to date anyone outside the community, he said. If he chose to date inside the community, it had to be “with the intention of looking for a wife,” and he had to receive permission from his “head” (spiritual advisor.)

“They wanted me to quit my job, which I really enjoy, to come to work for them in the LaSalle building. I think I should decide things about my career and marriage. In a sense, they tried to control my life.”

Such practices have been called “authoritarian” by Dr. William G. Storey, a Notre Dame theology professor who left the movement in 1970.

Another Notre Dame faculty member, Dr. Josephine M. Ford, has written more than 30 articles and books explaining and criticizing the Charismatics. Her most outspoken objections concern the treatment of women in the communities.

Dr. Ford, an associate professor of theology who is now on sabbatical in California, was expelled from the movement six years ago for being disruptive. There is an incredible subordination of women in the communities,” said Dr. Ford.

“There are male and female roles which community members interpret too literally from New Testament scripture, particularly Paul.

“You would think that Adam and Eve are more fundamental to their faith than Jesus Christ Himself.”

Rowland admitted that “a lot of our beliefs go contrary to what is going on (with women’s liberation) today. Scripture says the man is the head of the household, and that women are to support their husbands. A lot of people are apt to take this loosely.

Besides, Rowland added, a relationship in which the wife supports the husband in work does not mean she is inferior. But Dr. Ford insists that the People of Praise and Word of God (Ann Arbor) communities do treat women as inferiors.

She cited as an example a community practice that women may not step outside the traditional female roles when seeking jobs. A South Bend woman I know of wanted to become a doctor, but it was recommended instead that she become a nurse,” she added. 

Rev. Danielson and other critics of the Charismatics stress they have “a very positive attitude about the potential of the movement,” but “maintain significant differences with current leadership.” 

Communities in South Bend, Ann Arbor and elsewhere often leave discordant voices no choice but leaving the movement.

Considering that the current leadership an eight-member National Service Committee fills its own vacancies, there seems little chance for a change in philosophy that would overcome current conflicts.

Rev. Danielson and others say the only hope is for the Charismatics to work more closely within the church structure, and for the (ad hoc) committee of bishops and local diocesan bishops to become familiar enough with the communities to help overcome conflicts.

“Otherwise, the potential for a very serious factionalism is very great,” he said. I, for one, and many of the Charismatics are dissatisfied with many of the decisions that have been made, and feel it is time for a new voice to bo heard.”

Here is Kathleen Harsh’s piece, “Charismatics live together, sharing faith, good times”:

Dinners over. While that’s the time most American families clear away the dishes and tune in Walter Cronkite, the family at 1304 Hillcrest moves to the living room and tunes in the Lord.

This is not your ordinary American household.

The home on Hillcrest is one of more than 30 households in the 800-member People of Praise Community, an extension of the Charismatic Renewal.

Outside’ the spacious brick house are clusters of shade trees. Inside, 18 persons put to practice the Christian principles a lot of other people just talk about.

“You came at a very bad time,” said Mrs. Colette Rowland, the wife of the head of the household, as she bustled through the dining room in a bright yellow caftan.

Everyone in the household and that includes her family of eight, four Notre Dame students and a second grade teacher rushed about as they prepared to leave for the Charismatic Renewal Conference in Kansas City. Mrs. Rowland’s husband and a few other residents were on their way to the conference.

As if that wasn’t enough to disrupt the unusually routine household, the Rowland family is preparing to move to Belgium, where they will help organize international Charismatic prayer groups.

Despite empty chairs and the sense of change that pervaded the atmosphere of the household, life continued as if everything were normal.

Most days, the family follows a rigid schedule: prayer at 6 a m. and breakfast at 7. During the day, they separate for work or household chores. Residents are “encouraged” to spend their free time together.  They are given only one free night each week, according to household head Tony Rowland. They meet every night for the evening meal.

In the minutes before dinner started, Chris Meehan, a senior at Notre Dame, explained why he moved into the household over a year ago.

“I like the environment a lot better here than at Notre Dame,” he said, .leaning comfortably on a piece of furniture in the dining room. “Drinking is a big thing at Notre Dame, and you’re nowhere if you don’t have a girlfriend. Here, there’s  more of a family-type atmosphere.”

Chris handles all finances in the household. Although members are not all related, they pool their pay-checks each week and are given personal allotments based on need. Chris then pays the rent, utility, and food bills for the family.

Finances in households in the People of Praise Community vary, depending on the consensus reached by the members. But, usually finances are handled in a manner similar to the Rowland household. When the paychecks are pooled, a certain percentage is set aside in a fund to be used if the individual decides to leave.

The family type atmosphere Chris finds so appealing was apparent as the unusual assortment of people gathered round the dining room table. Before the household sat down to dinner, the air was filled with the whispering of 13 simultaneous conversations with the Lord. Then together they broke into a prayer, spoken almost routinely.

At dinner, Mrs. Rowland apologized because it was not served punctually at 5:30, as is household custom. Chicken, rice, green beans and peaches were served on unmatching plates and saucers–the everyday set was on its way to Belgium.

After dinner the household moved from the dining room to the air-conditioned living room to pray. The living room was even more sparsely furnished than the dining room. All that remaimed was a piano and one red sofa, on which Mrs. Rowland seated herself. The rest of the members formed a circle on the floor.

Chris, the 18-year-old son of the Rowlands, took his guitar out of the case and began tuning it. They sang from worn prayer books strewn on the floor. Some members lifted their hands up and swayed back and forth, as if in a trance, while others just closed their eyes and praised the Lord.

Alleluia, Lord Jesus,” and “we give you praise and glory,” and “I love you Lord” hummed through the air on that hot summer night as the members chanted their individual prayers.

Next they selected passages from scripture, relating what they read to problems and experiences in their everyday lives. The prayer session ended with a spirited singing of “Alleluia” complete with maracas.

One by one, they left the room.

Seated alone on the carpet was Mrs. Rowland, who with her soft French accent, told of how she came to be a Charismatic. She said the first time she attended a prayer meeting, five years ago, she felt a “very genuine authenticity of the presence of God.

“I’ve heard scripture all my life, but before it was just words. Now it has come alive.”

Mrs. Rowland said it was not a hard decision choosing to live a life in common with other people. “Once you give your life and your heart to the Lord, you naturally live according to the scripture.”

Although the role of women in the Charismatics life is something most members are reluctant to talk about, Mrs. Rowland discussed It, but not without carefully choosing each word. She added that it was a very touchy subject.

The women in the Charismatic household are given charge of cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children. Tony Rowland said they follow literally the roles for men and women set forth in the scripture.

“What my husband and I do is talk things over and make a decision together. Nevertheless, the father has the responsibility of raising the family,” Mrs. Rowland said.

Although critics have attacked Charismatics for requiring women to submit to their husbands and heads of household, Mrs. Rowland said there is a lot of misunderstanding about the word “submission.”

“The key to it is unity,” she said slowly. “My husband and I are of the same mind and heart to serve the Lord. I know his mind so well that I can make a decision without his presence.” Mrs. Rowland explained that this is submission.

Betty Raven, another household member, also discussed her views concerning the roles of men and women. Betty, a Notre Dame graduate student who has an electrical engineering job at Bendix Corp., said she thinks a lot of the women’s liberation movement–specifically their stance on abortion–is “crazy. She added she did not think a person should pursue a career just for the sake of pursuing a career, saying she would quit work if she got married.

After prayers at the Charismatic household, all was quiet. The dishes were done and some members were outside in the backyard trying to make the heat bearable by talking, laughing and enjoying each others company.

Glancing over her shoulder at the joyful household, Mrs. Rowland said, They really do have a good time.” 

Trump doubles down on the racism, nativism, and unhealthy nostalgia in Pittsburgh

Watch Trump on September 22, 2020 in the Pittsburgh area:

Trump is talking about Ilhan Omar, a Black Muslim congresswoman who represents Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. She won nearly 78% of the vote in her district in 2018.

Trump is playing both a racist and nativist card here. “She’s telling us how to run our country,” Trump says. Who is “us?” What does Trump mean by “our country?” He then makes a remark about “where she came from.” For the record, Omar is was born in Somalia and has lived in the United States twenty-five years. She has been a United States citizen for twenty years. Who is the divisive one here?

But Trump doesn’t stop there. After saying that Omar is destroying our country, he then illustrates perfectly the close connection between “Make America Great Again” and racism. Trump says: “From ten years ago it’s like a different world and we want to keep our world the way it was.” It is as if the racial unrest plaguing American cities this summer never happened. In the context of his previous comments on Omar, this is blatant racism.

And then there are the Trump followers cheering all of this.

The kind of nostalgia Trump is peddling here can be a powerful political tool. A politician who claims to have the power to take people back to a time when America as “great” stands a good chance of winning the votes of fearful men and women.

The practice of nostalgia is inherently selfish because it usually focuses on one own’s experience of the past and not the experience of others. For example, people nostalgic for the world of Leave it to Beaver may fail to recognize that other people, perhaps even some of the people living in the Cleaver’s suburban “paradise” of the 1950s, were not experiencing the world in a way that they would describe as “great.” This kind of nostalgia gives us tunnel vision. Its selective use of the past fails to recognize the complexity and breadth of the human experience–the good and bad of American history.

The Author’s Corner with Benjamin T. Arrington

Benjamin T. Arrington is Site Manager at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio. This interview is based on his new book, The Last Lincoln Republican: The Presidential Election of 1880 (University Press of Kansas, 2020).

JF: What led you to write The Last Lincoln Republican?

BA: Well, the simplest answer is that the University Press of Kansas asked me to write it. They first approached a friend/colleague/mentor of mine, Heather Cox Richardson, to see if she’d be interested in writing it. Fortunately for me, her plate was already full, and she was kind enough to send them my way.

I was excited to take on the project for a couple of reasons. First, I knew about the University Press of Kansas’s excellent series on presidential elections and had long hoped they would get one out about 1880, when James A. Garfield ran as the Republican candidate. I’ve lived and breathed Garfield for over eleven years now while working at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.

Secondly, I was intrigued by the prospect of having a format to work out the thesis I’d been developing for a while about Garfield as the last of the original, “first generation” Republicans to be elected president and what that meant for where the Republicans were going as a party and where it might have taken the country had Garfield lived.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Last Lincoln Republican?

BA: The Republican and Democratic parties were both in transition in 1880. James A. Garfield represented the last of the original Republicans who viewed their party as one dedicated to civil rights and at least some degree of equality—racial, economic, political—for all.

JF: Why do we need to read The Last Lincoln Republican?

BA: James Garfield is, like a lot of post-Civil War presidents, considered little more than a footnote in American history. I hope people will read this book and get a better sense of who he was and what he stood for, and why he might have been a great president had he lived.

The loss of Garfield was of course tragic for his family, but I think it was tragic for the nation as well. The Democratic Party at this point was all-in on re-establishing white supremacy in the South, and voters rejected that vision for the country’s future (albeit very narrowly) in 1880. So what Garfield—vocally anti-slavery before the Civil War, a Union general during it, and a longtime advocate for the civil rights of the formerly enslaved while in Congress—might have been able to accomplish to keep the country moving forward on civil rights instead of regressing is, to me, one of the greatest “what ifs” in American history. He had all the makings of a strong and excellent president.

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

BA: I am an American historian, focusing on nineteenth century politics and especially the early Republican Party. I got very interested in history as a teenager because of where I grew up: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. History was the only subject in school that interested me or in which I had any talent at all. I went to college as a history major, but frankly unsure what I wanted to do for a career. In the summer of 1994, between my junior and senior years of college, I did a fulltime, unpaid internship at Gettysburg National Military Park in my hometown. From that day on, I knew I wanted a career in the National Park Service, which I’ve been lucky to have now for the past twenty-one years. For the first ten years of that career, I worked at a park in Nebraska, where I was very fortunate to have a boss who encouraged me in my effort to get a Ph.D. in history. So, while working I also attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and got my doctorate.

History is still the only academic subject that really grabs me and for which I have any aptitude. My children know that I’m of no help when they have questions about science or math homework; fortunately, my wife is much smarter than me and can help in those subjects. I’ve loved my career in the National Park Service and as an American historian and can’t imagine doing anything else.

JF: What is your next project?

BA: I’m not sure yet. I’ve been thinking about tackling a new birth-to-death biography of James A. Garfield. The last one was published over forty years ago (Garfield, by Allan Peskin) but is still quite good. I’ve also toyed with the idea of a project that explores how different parts of the country mourned Garfield after his death.

JF: Thanks, Benjamin!

Out of the Zoo: The Stoning of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie reflects on the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and how some evangelical responded to news of her death. —JF

On Friday evening, my phone buzzed. I was in the middle of writing a book review of Speaking of Siva, but I was glad for a distraction. “Did you see about rbg??” My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. I searched “Ruth Bader Ginsburg” on my phone, even though I knew deep down what probably happened.  It didn’t take long for Google to confirm my worst suspicions. The infamous 2020 had taken another life.

I went upstairs and shared the news with my roommate Rachel, who had been reading Henry V for her Shakespeare class on one of four couches in our upstairs living room. When my housemates Emily and Chloe got back from a late night Walmart trip, we mourned the nation’s loss together. An hour later, the four of us cuddled up in blankets and watched On the Basis of Sex together in her honor. We had a discussion afterward about the barriers that we will never have to overcome because she knocked them down for us. We talked about the challenges women in our country still face.

Whenever the world loses a celebrity, the internet gets a rapid facelift. I still remember when Robin Williams died in 2014 and Facebook was plastered with sketches of a tearful Genie hugging a cartoon Robin with the caption reading “We ain’t never had a friend like you.” Just a few weeks ago, the world said goodbye to King T’challa and beautiful artwork depicting Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther dominated the web. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death proved no exception to this phenomenon. Yet between what seemed like hundreds of photographs, quotes, and condolences in her honor, I scrolled past a Facebook post that caught me off guard.

The status update, which had nearly 5,000 comments and twice as many shares, held nothing back in calling down God’s wrath on Ruth Bader Ginsburg (and the American Christians who supported her). Peppered with scripture, the post compared her to King Herod and Hitler. For her support of abortion, her rulings on homosexual marriage, and her apparent attack on religious liberties the post names her Jezebel, a woman who suffered “on a sickbed that GOD himself threw her on!” Towards the end of the post the author writes, “Ginsburg has now discovered that there is a court higher than the one called ‘Supreme’ and she does not sit in the seat of the judge, but as the defendant… The justice of God knows no delay, and the law of God knows no limits.”

I choose to believe that the man who wrote this post comes from a place of sincerity. He seems to disagree with many of the decisions that have defined Ginsburg’s career—and he has the right to.  He genuinely sees her as the personification of everything that is unrighteous and ungodly, a true and worthy enemy. In many ways I do agree with what he wrote. While I recognize the issue is incredibly complex, I am unashamedly pro-life. I affirm a traditional view of marriage. Like the author of this post I believe that God cares deeply about justice. I believe that we will all have to stand before the judgement seat of God someday. Without the saving grace of Jesus covering my sins, I know that the Judge would certainly not rule in my favor. Yet I will not pass judgement on Ruth Bader Ginsburg because it is not my place to do so.

It is not my place to pass judgement on a woman God created. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is hardly my enemy, but there’s no denying that many Christians view her as such. However as I understand it, the Bible doesn’t say to damn your enemy, call her Jezebel, and rejoice when she draws her last breath. It says to let God, the king and author of the universe, be the judge. It reminds us to forgive, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. There’s a story in the Bible—in John 8—about another woman a lot of religious people didn’t like very much. Except she wasn’t the second female justice on the Supreme Court–she was an adultress caught in the act. When defending this woman from the Pharisees who were about to stone her to death, Jesus himself said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Minutes later, every stone dropped to the floor.

Ed Ayers on Trump’s White House history conference

Here is University of Richmond historian Ed Ayers at The Washington Post:

Despite the sustained offensive by those who would save America’s honor, the insidious enemy apparently endures, as dangerous today as ever, worthy of frontal attack by the president of the United States and a new 1776 Commission “to promote patriotic education,” to inject an antidote to the “ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together.”

These charges concern and puzzle me because they suggest I have been obtuse and perhaps even deluded. As it turns out, I have practiced history for most of the half-century in which these wars over history have been waged — and I have yet to meet anyone who works to destroy the United States. It makes me wonder whether I have been going to the wrong conferences and reading the wrong books, whether I have been left out of exclusive circles where plans are shared.

If this critique had merit, I should have been in the room when the plans were hatched. After all, I sought out the subjects often attacked as the nest of dangerous ideas. I have written books about crime and punishment in the South, about the rise of segregation and disfranchisement, about the Civil War and Reconstruction. Those topics deal with Black people, enslaved and free. They wrestle with lynching and chain gangs. They confront secession and the waging of war against the United States.

I haven’t hidden this work. Over the course of four decades, I have been fortunate to teach thousands of students, to work with museums of many sizes and missions, to help host television and radio shows and podcasts about American history, to work with the National Archives and the Library of Congress, to serve on commissions about African American history and Confederate monuments.

I have done that work because I care about my nation, my people. I do it because I love my native South, where I have chosen to live and to help raise our children. I do it because the United States has indeed been given a great opportunity, enjoyed by few nations in the history of the world, to create its history for itself. To live up to that opportunity, we owe it to ourselves to face the past honestly and fearlessly.

In all that work, I have yet to meet anyone who matches the description posted by the would-be defenders of our history. Instead, I meet people, from all kinds of backgrounds, who care about America, who are fiercely devoted to its institutions, rights and future. I meet people who long to share the freedom of our nation more broadly and more equitably, to explore injustice to lessen injustice.

Read the entire piece here.