The Author’s Corner with Allison Fredette

Marriage on the BorderAllison Fredette is Assistant Professor of History at Appalachian State University. This interview is based on her new book, Marriage on the Border: Love, Mutuality, and Divorce in the Upper South during the Civil War (The University Press of Kentucky, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Marriage on the Border?

AF: I started this project because I wanted to understand the conflicted regional identity of people in the border South, both in the past and today. I was born in Indiana and then lived in southern California for eight years before moving to West Virginia at the age of 11. Having lived throughout the country before settling in the South (and yes, I think West Virginia is in the South), I was fascinated by the confusion with which West Virginians themselves might answer the question, “Are you from the South?” I wanted to understand how West Virginians’ identities got so complicated and messy. Knowing that I wanted to analyze this through the lens of gender, I initially looked at married women’s property laws before my father, an archivist in the West Virginia and Regional History Center in Morgantown, unearthed a box of divorce cases from Wheeling and sent me down an investigative rabbit hole.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Marriage on the Border?

AF: Marriage on the Border argues that the marriages and marital roles of mid-nineteenth-century white Kentuckians and West Virginians reflected the hybrid nature of the border on which they lived. As the Civil War approached, white border southerners sought marriages based on mutuality and individualism–and embraced theories of contractualism to end them when they failed to meet those standards–civil all while living in a society with a deeply racist, hierarchical slave system.

JF: Why do we need to read Marriage on the Border?

AF: Marriage on the Border is about a region of the country that is often overlooked. Historians of gender and marriage often focus on New England or the Deep South, and similarly, studies of southern households before, during, and after the Civil War usually take the plantation as their starting point. Studying the border South and thinking about the formation of a variety of types of southern identity is pivotal for understanding the entire region, as well as how we construct our own identities today.

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

AF: I probably decided, on some level, to be an American historian when I read the Little House books in the second grade. I loved getting lost in the past and learning about families that seemed so different from mine. Although I have read many books since then, I am still an American historian, and I am still a historian of the household.

JF: What is your next project?

AF: My next project, Murdering Laura Foster: Violence, Gender, and Memory in Appalachian North Carolina, revisits the infamous 1866 Wilkesboro murder case that inspired the ballad, “Tom Dooley.” I put Laura Foster, the victim, back at the center of the story by using gender analysis to study the murder, trial and folk song.

JF: Thanks, Allison!

Liberty University Will Go Completely Online

Liberty U

It looks like Jerry Falwell Jr. has finally surrendered. Here is the press release:

Lynchburg, VA (March 16, 2020)  Liberty University announced that in light of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s emergency ban on public gatherings of 100 people, it will transition most of its residential classes to an online digital format starting Monday, March  23.

University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., said, “We originally believed it was safest to return our students following their spring break instead of having them return following greater exposure opportunities from leaving them in different parts of the country for longer periods.  But, the Governor’s recent decision to limit certain gatherings has left us no practical choice because we have so many classes of more than 100 students.  We want to provide for the continuity of our students’ education while doing what makes sense to help slow the spread of the coronavirus to our university family and local community.”

If residential students choose to return to Lynchburg, most will be able to resume their classes in the online format or they can choose to remain where they are and complete their classes online.  Most classes will be able to finish out the spring term in an online format.  Certain programs, such as aviation, osteopathic medicine and nursing, and certain types of performance classes, like labs, will not be able to be offered online, however.  Students in those programs and classes will only be able to take them in person but no classes will involve gatherings of more than 100 people. 

Students negatively impacted by these new policies or the spread of the coronavirus can seek incompletes as academic accommodations and may use the university’s standard processes to seek other accommodations based on pregnancy, other medical conditions and disabilities.

“Many of our international students are simply unable to return to their home countries and other students don’t have a place to go, so we must keep our campus residence halls and dining services staffed anyway,” Falwell said, “although we will be modifying the way meals are picked up and consumed.”

Because of the limited number of students on campus, meetings of student clubs and intramural contests are cancelled.  Practices for NCAA and club sports teams will be decided sport-by-sport.  

Liberty University is a national leader in online learning, having paved the way since the mid-1970’s.  Liberty offers state-of-the-art digital resources that allow students to connect with their classmates, as well as access the best in academic resources, including a vast digital library.

The transition of residential courses to online format will be staggered and will begin Monday, March 23, the day after spring break.  Students will be getting communications from deans and professors over the next week with details about their classes, including any clinical, experiential, performance-based, or studio learning that may require alternative arrangements.  Students should closely monitor their Liberty email and Blackboard for these important messages.   

University will not hold events with more than 100 people as long as Governor Northam’s ban is in effect.  Some will be rescheduled and others will be cancelled.  College for a Weekend on April 2-5 is cancelled but tours and smaller scale interactions will be made available.  No decision has been made yet about commencement currently scheduled for May 9.

The coronavirus outbreak worldwide has created great uncertainty.  “Please keep the elderly and the others at high risk with this virus in your prayers,” Falwell said.  “Liberty is taking into account the sometimes conflicting orders and guidance of government officials and public health experts regarding higher education and our unique population.  As this dynamic situation changes again, the university will continue to reassess.”  Updates and current information will be found on the university’s website.    

Two quick thoughts:

  1. Kudos to Jeff Brittain
  2. I am glad Falwell is submitting to Northam. For a minute there I thought he was going to appeal to the ideals of the American Revolution, pack-up the campus, and move to West Virginia in protest.

🙂

What is the Difference Between Liberty University and Messiah College?

37ec3-messiahcoveredbridge11

The covered bridge on the campus of Messiah College

Yesterday in my Created and Called for Community class at Messiah College we discussed different kinds of Christian colleges. We thought about the things a Christian college requires all faculty to affirm, the issues a Christian college “privileges” (but does not necessarily require faculty to agree with), and the issues on which a Christian college does not take an official position.  (Most of our discussion built on the work of Messiah College provost Randy Basinger).

Faculty at Messiah College must be Christians.  All faculty must affirm the Apostles Creed.  We thus have Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox faculty.  Other Christian colleges require faculty to affirm more than just the Apostles Creed.  For example, faculty at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan must affirm the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt. Wheaton College and Gordon College do not hire Catholics.

Messiah College privileges social and religious positions that line-up with the school’s historic Anabaptist, Wesleyan, and Pietist roots.  For example, as a college with Anabaptist roots, Messiah privileges pacifism. As a school with Anabaptist and Wesleyan roots, the college privileges the ordination of women.  But a faculty member does not have to be a pacifist or believe in the ordination of women to teach at the college.  We have faculty who are advocates of a “just war” position and we have faculty from denominations (traditional Catholics and Orthodox, conservative Presbyterians, and complementarian evangelical churches) that do not ordain women.

And there are all kinds of issues on which Messiah College does not have a position.  For example, the college does not take a position on political candidates or parties.

All of this makes for a vibrant and diverse Christian intellectual community.

During our conversation in class, a few students brought up Liberty University.  What does Liberty require of faculty?  What positions and issues does Liberty privilege? What are the issues on which the university does not take a position?

For example, last month we highlighted Jerry Falwell Jr.’s leadership of VEXIT, a movement started by Virginia counties and localities who want to leave the Commonwealth and join the state of West Virginia. Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, is not happy with proposed legislation to restrict gun rights in Virginia.

VEXIT is getting a boost from Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, a think tank created to “equip courageous champions to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, to advance his kingdom and American freedom”:

The Falkirk Center is connected to Liberty University.  In a January 20, 2020 piece at the Liberty Champion, student journalist Hattie Troutman writes: “The idea for the center was presented by [co-founder Charlie Kirk] when he pitched the idea to Falwell last year. [Executive Director Ryan] Helfenbein said Falwell received the idea well, knowing that if Liberty was to be in a partnership with the center, it must be rooted in the Gospel and represent Liberty University’s missional values.”

So there you have it.  The Falkirk Center is an extension of the mission of Liberty University.  The Falkirk Center promotes VEXIT.  It thus appears that Liberty University privileges VEXIT.

A quick read of the Falkirk Center Twitter feed suggests that the university also privileges gun rights, BREXIT, Donald Trump, free markets, and a pro-life position on abortion. If Messiah College is rooted in the historic Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan traditions, Liberty University is rooted in the (very short) history of the Christian Right.

At Messiah College, we also have “centers” that support beliefs that the college privileges:

  • We have a center for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan studies that promotes issues related to peace, reconciliation, heart-felt conversion, and personal and social holiness.”
  • We have a Center for Public Humanities with a mission to promote the study of the humanities and “partner with our broader community in meaningful inquiry, conversation, and action.”
  • We have a center devoted to the work and legacy of former U.S. Commissioner of Education and Messiah graduate Ernest L. Boyer.  The Boyer Center “advances educational renewal for the common good.”
  • We have a center called The Collaboratory for Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research.  This center has a mission to “foster justice, empower the poor, promote peace and care for the earth through applications of our academic and professional disciplines.”

Because Messiah College is a Christian college informed by the history and theology of the Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan movements, the college supports centers that reflect the things the college privileges.  Liberty University also has a center that supports the things Liberty University privileges.

Not all Christian colleges are the same.  High school students and their parents should be aware of this.

The Created and Called for Community course continues next week with some additional exploration of Messiah College’s Christian identity.  Follow along here.

Why Does Jerry Falwell Jr. REALLY Support VEXIT?

jerry-falwell-696x362

Get up to speed here.

Here is Matt Ford at The New Republic:

In a statement posted on Twitter, Falwell gave the most comprehensive reason for the proposal. He largely blames Virginia Democrats and their policy choices. “Democrat leaders in Richmond, through their elitism and radicalism, have left a nearly unrecognizable state in their wake,” he explained. “Despite a spate of scandals over the past two years, the Democrats control every statewide elected office throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as both chambers of the State Legislature—and they are using their power to strip away the God-given rights held by every person in the state, despite their due protections under the U.S. Constitution.”

What he elides is that Virginia Democrats didn’t seize control of the state government by magic but because a majority of voters in the state wanted it that way. For Falwell, democracy is part of the problem. Virginia’s changing electorate has transformed it from a reddish-purple state into a solid blue one over the past two decades. Now he sees radical solutions as the only viable path forward. “The threat from the radical left is real, and it’s spreading across the country and tearing our national family apart at the seams, but we have a rare opportunity to make history in our time by pushing back against tyranny in Washington and in Richmond,” he warned.

Unfortunately for Falwell, that “tyranny” also makes his proposal virtually impossible. The Constitution forbids the creation of new states or the transfer of one state’s land to another without each state’s consent, as well as the approval of Congress. Since Democrats currently control the House and the entire Virginia state government, that consent is unlikely to be forthcoming any time soon.

But Falwell’s concerns aren’t limited to tyranny and democracy. He also placed Liberty University’s revenue streams among the top reasons for what he calls “Vexit.” In last month’s budget proposal, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a list of changes he would seek to Virginia’s in-state tuition program. “For those at private institutions, we’re raising the annual amount of our Tuition Assistance Grants to $4,000 per student,” he told state lawmakers in December. “We will focus those grants on students attending brick-and-mortar classes.”

The brick-and-mortar provision would directly affect Liberty’s most lucrative source of funding. Last week, the university complained that Northam’s proposed changes would bar those grants from being used to pay for online college courses. Liberty said in a statement that the measures would affect more than 2,000 of its online students each year. Falwell and other university officials insisted they would be able to cover the grants gap through private funds, claiming that they were worried about smaller private schools in the state that might not be able to do the same.

Read the entire piece here.

Is Jerry Falwell Jr. Leading a Secession Movement?

West Virginia

Last week we published a post on Jerry Falwell Jr.’s response to legislation proposed by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the state General Assembly that would place restrictions on the purchase and use of firearms in the commonwealth.  In that post I referenced a Falwell Jr. appearance on the Todd Starnes radio show in which the president of Liberty University referenced an upcoming act of “civil disobedience” that he was not yet ready to talk about.  I think Falwell was referring to his press conference today with West Virginia governor Jim Justice.

They are calling it “Vexit.”

Here is WSLS News:

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said he would support efforts for Virginia counties and localities to leave the Commonwealth and join the state of West Virginia.

“We need a state government that is not elected by federal workers in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., that will protect our God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and I believe West Virginia will do just that,” Falwell said.

“That’s why, while I will be campaigning for my good friends President Donald Trump and Gov. Jim Justice this election year, I’ll also be supporting any efforts to let the people decide the question of Virginia counties joining the State of West Virginia.”

West Virginia is the only state to be formed by seceding from a Confederate state.

Some Virginia border counties were given the choice to become part of the new state if their residents approved. Berkeley and Jefferson counties gave their nod, siding with the Union.

Justice said West Virginia would welcome any Virginian who joined West Virginia.

West Virginia became a state in 1863 after delegates decided to secede from Virginia and form a new state.

Watch Falwell here.  He is upset that the “liberal elites” employed by the federal government are skewing Virginia state elections.  Then he claims that the founding fathers intended federal contractors and government officials to live in the District of Columbia and not in Virginia or the neighboring states.  He wants the boundaries of the District of Columbia to extend to the entire D.C. metro area so that people living in counties close to the federal capital will not vote in Virginia.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour in West Virginia

CHarleston 1We had a spirited group last night in Charleston, West Virginia.  It included Trump supporters, mainline Protestant ministers, and teachers at a conservative evangelical Christian school.  (And those were just the folks who introduced themselves).  We talked about everything from gay marriage and Christian America to church-state separation and the Kanawha County textbook controversy.

Progressive Episcopalian Rev. James Lewis, one of the key players in the aforementioned textbook controversy, was present.  He shared his story of dealing with the Christian Right in the city of Charleston.  (I did not know who he was until I looked him up after the event).  We talked about Anabaptism, Messiah College, sexual politics in the church, and the evangelical left.  It was a real honor.

Those in the room had some serious differences about politics and social issues, but things remained civil and we worked hard to find as much common ground as possible.  I left encouraged.  Thanks to Taylor Books for hosting this stop on the tour.

Today we will be in Lynchburg, Virginia at Givens Books.  I hope to see you there!

Some more pics:

Charleston 2

Charleston 3

It was also great to meet Melanie Phelps!