Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Back in 2015 I joined George Marsden, Mark Noll, and Tracy McKenzie to discuss this topic at a conference on racial reconciliation hosted by Wheaton College.  You can watch the conversation here:

I wrote about this conference in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Here is what I wrote:

In early 2013, I received an email from Rev. Ray McMillan, the pastor of Faith Christian Center, a conservative evangelical and largely African American congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio.  McMillan was writing to ask me if I might be interested in participating on a panel at an upcoming conference on evangelicals and racial reconciliation, to be held later that year on the campus of Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college in western suburban Chicago.  I was initially surprised by the invitation.  I cared about racial reconciliation, but I had never spoken at a conference on the subject.  I was not an expert in the field, and even my own historical work did not dive explicitly into race or the history of people of color in the United States . I was even more confused when Rev. McMillan asked me to be part of a plenary presentation on the subject of my recent book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?.  I thought I could probably say a few things about race and the American founding, but I also wondered if someone more prepared, and perhaps more of an activist in this area, might be better suited to speak in my time slot.  After a follow-up phone conversation with Rev. McMillan, I began to see what he was up to.  He told me that he and other Cincinnati pastors were noticing a disturbing trends in their African American and interracial congregations.  Many of their parishioners had accepted the idea, propagated by the Christian Right, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation . McMillan believed that such an understanding of history was troubling for African American evangelicals.  The promoters of this view were convincing many African Americans in Cincinatti that they needed to “reclaim” or “restore” America to its supposedly Christian roots in order to win the favor of God.  McMillan could not stomach the idea that a country that was committed to slavery, Jim Crow laws, and all kinds of other racial inequalities could ever call itself “Christian.”  Why would any African American want to “reclaim” a history steeped in racism?  If America was indeed built on Judeo-Christian principles, then its Founders would one day stand before God and explain why they did not apply these beliefs to African Americans.  And if America was not founded as a Christian nation, McMillan needed to tell his congregation that they had been sold a bill of goods.

More on the Billy Graham Archives Move from Wheaton to Charlotte

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Religion News Service is running another piece on the Franklin Graham’s decision to move the Billy Graham Archives from Wheaton College to the Billy Graham “Library” in Charlotte.

Back in March, I weighed-in as part of another RNS piece on this topic.  At that time I said this: “By taking the papers away from Wheaton, where access is open, Franklin Graham and the BGEA can now control access and can thus control the narrative of his father’s life in terms of who gets to read them….Evangelicals must come face to face with both the good side and bad side of their history by taking an honest look at people like Billy Graham.  I am not sure this will happen in Charlotte.  The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte is not a library.”

I also wrote a post here.

Here is a taste of Tim Funk’s recent RNS piece:

This week, at Wheaton College in Illinois, specially trained movers will begin organizing, preparing and packing 3,235 boxes of paper items, 1,000 scrapbooks of news clippings dating back to the 1940s and more than 1,000 linear feet of videos, cassettes, reels, films and audio.

All of it documents the life and ministry of evangelist Billy Graham, the Christian college’s most famous alumnus. And soon, all of it will be headed to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte, N.C., Graham’s hometown.

The big transport trucks that will haul the valuable cargo won’t make the nearly 800-mile trip until mid to late June. But the controversy over moving the Graham materials all began more than two months ago. That’s when it was announced that, after June 1, the materials would no longer be housed at Wheaton’s highly regarded Billy Graham Center Archives.

Since it opened with Billy Graham’s blessing in 1980, more than 19,000 scholars, journalists and other researchers from around the world have spent 67,000 hours doing work there.

The BGEA’s Charlotte site does include the 12-year-old Billy Graham Library, but it was not designed as a research facility. Instead, it is a presidential-like museum celebrating the life of Graham, who died last year at age 99, and is a brick-and-mortar continuation of his worldwide evangelism efforts.

“The so-called (Billy Graham) Library is not a library,” said Edith Blumhofer, a longtime history professor at Wheaton who is now completing a study of the music of the Billy Graham Crusades. “It has no archives. It has no archivist.”

Read the entire piece here.

More on the Billy Graham Papers

Billy Graham LibraryAdelle Banks has a piece on this at Religion News Service.   I was happy to weigh-in.  I also covered this here.  This is yet another example of evangelicals trying to control their historical narratives.  This is similar to what I experienced in writing the history of the American Bible Society.

So I wonder, is Franklin Graham worried that scholars and historians will find more unflattering things about his father?  Let’s face it, evangelicals need good history more than ever.  We need to look into the mirror of the past and see what we have done well and where we have failed.  I am afraid that this will not happen if more and more evangelical institutions try to control access to records in this way.  History will become hagiography.

Franklin Graham Wants to Transfer the Billy Graham Papers from Wheaton to Charlotte

Billy Graham Library

Here is the official Wheaton College statement:

Wheaton College has received a request from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) to transfer Dr. Billy Graham’s papers and the BGEA’s organizational records from the Billy Graham Center Archives on the campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., in order to consolidate Dr. Graham’s historical records.

College leaders are in communication with the BGEA regarding its planned consolidation. Wheaton College affirms its longstanding respect for the BGEA and looks forward to continuing the positive relationship that the College and the BGEA have enjoyed for decades.

Wheaton College is grateful for the life and legacy of Dr. Graham, who graduated from Wheaton in 1943 and received an honorary doctorate in 1956. His relationship with the College spanned eight decades, including 27 years as a member of the Board of Trustees, after which he was a Trustee Emeritus for the rest of his life. His vision for global evangelism continues through events, initiatives and academic programs of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

Forty years ago, Dr. Graham entrusted his papers and other materials to Wheaton College. Since then, Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center Archives has had the honor of curating and making available primary sources regarding Dr. Graham and the BGEA, as well as organizational records, personal papers, and oral histories from other sources documenting the history of evangelism and missionary activity of North American nondenominational Protestants. More than 19,000 scholars, journalist and other researchers have spent 67,000 hours in the Billy Graham Center Archives since it opened, producing dozens of books, articles and papers annually.

Wheaton College remains committed to the vision that Dr. Graham articulated at the dedication of the Center in 1980: “I hope and pray that the Billy Graham Center will be a world hub of inspiration, research, and training that will glorify Christ and serve every church and organization in preaching and teaching the Gospel to the world.”

The Billy Graham Center will continue to house the archives of numerous organizations and individuals central to American evangelism and missionary work worldwide, including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Lausanne Movement, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, R. A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, and Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, in the building that bears Billy Graham’s name.

Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois) is a coeducational Christian liberal arts college noted for its rigorous academics, integration of faith and learning, and consistent ranking among the top liberal arts colleges in the country. For more information, visit wheaton.edu.

I don’t have horse in this race, but I do hope that scholars will have the same access to the Graham papers now that they are with Franklin.  Will the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte have a professional archivist to care for the papers? What kind of research facilities do they have? How will the papers be managed?

Right now, it appears that the “Billy Graham Library” in Charlotte is little more than a museum, Christian bookstore, snack shop, and prayer garden. The website says nothing about research.  Meanwhile, the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College has the most extensive archive collection in the country devoted to American evangelicalism.

Marilynne Robinson and Rowan Williams Talk “Faith, Imagination, and the Glory of Ordinary Life”

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Marilynne Robinson

Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.  Williams is the former Archbishop of Canterbury.  They were at Wheaton College recently for a conference celebrating Robinson’s work.  Christian Century has published some of their exchange.  Here is a taste:

The novel Gilead presents us with life in its ordinariness. But in our celebrity-obsessed culture there’s almost a disdain for the ordinary. Could you help us to think about how to give more attention to ordinariness and more value to ordinary life?

Williams: It’s a version of the earlier question about time. Sometimes we want the immediate sense of glamor, gratification, or drama. We can’t understand that the prosaic, the everyday, always accumulates toward glory, because we want the glory now, we want the fix.

I think of Augustine in the Confessions saying, in effect, “The problem isn’t that God’s not here. The problem is that I’m not here.” I’m everywhere but here in this moment, in this particular prosaic, ordinary, physical environment. Part of the function of really effective art is to slow us down and bring us to that particularity.

Robinson: When I think about the ordinary—and that’s a word apparently that I use a lot—I think about the strange miracle of one’s self-ness. When I’ve been away from home for a while, I come downstairs in the morning and I put together what I consider to be the perfect breakfast, which has a lot to do with toast and butter. Combining the sense of the ordinary or the habitual with the sacramental—that’s very strong in my mind.

We talk ourselves into things, like that we’re interested in a celebrity. Very few people over the age of 14 identify in a serious way with a celebrity. But they are distractions, they are the shiny objects. We get told things like “we’re interested in celebrities” and this makes us pay more attention to the magazines at the checkout of the grocery store. But in terms of how people actually live and what they feel, it is: “How do I get along with my children? What do I do with a problem that looks like a looming problem that will require all the understanding that I can muster?” I think people live at that level and maybe take a certain amount of relief from the fact that there is always a new magazine cover.

Read the rest here.

An African-American Evangelical on the Brett Kavanaugh Nomination

 

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President Donald Trump announces xxxxx as his Supreme Court nominee, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, July 9, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

John C. Richards, the Managing Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, is not overjoyed about Donald Trump’s pick of Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retired Anthony Kennedy.  Here is a taste of his piece at Christianity Today:

This tenuous relationship between judicial appointments and partisanship is why I am less excited about Kavanaugh’s nomination—especially when couched in terms of conservatism. While a more conservative court may be good for America, it hasn’t always been good for Blacks in America.

For many Black Christians, conservative strategies have historically had a disparate impact on our communities.

In Dred Scott vs. Sandford, a conservative court previously held that people of African descent could not be U.S. citizens. For the record, in the history of the Supreme Court, the Dred Scott case is regarded as the court’s worst decision.

Conservative strategies created the War on Drugs in the 1990s that has led to the U.S. far outpacing any other nation in the world in mass incarceration rates—which has resulted in a disproportionate amount of people of color in prisons across our country.

The truth is that many Black Christians aren’t so much looking for a more conservative court as they are looking for a more fair and neutral court—devoid of political influence.

Tempered Celebration

Ultimately, I want to encourage my White brothers and sisters in Christ to temper their celebration a bit. To be fair, many Black Christians would render a hearty amen to right to life and religious freedom issues that led many White Evangelicals to vote the way they voted in November 2016.

But let me be clear here. If there’s any concern about the Black exodus from Evangelicalism, we need to be sure that right to life is a womb-to-tomb issue—valuing human life and rights from conception to death.

We need to be sure that religious freedom and free speech extends to athletes who silently protest social issues in public spaces. We need to call out the hypocrisy of NFL owners who ask athletes to “just play football” and turn around and endorse federal judicial nominations on team Twitter accounts.

To make this nomination about Roe and dough (i.e. the religious freedom highlighted in the Christian baker case) ignores other essential issues Christians should care about—including immigration, health care, and labor laws.

Read the entire piece here.

Why No Billy Graham University?

Returns to Alma Mater

Billy Graham at Wheaton

A great question from Adam Laats, author of the recent Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Edcuation.  Here is a taste of his recent blog post:

Moody had Moody Bible Institute. Billy Sunday had Winona Lake. William Bell Riley started Northwestern. Bob Jones had, well, Bob Jones. The list goes on and on. Falwell-Liberty; Oral Roberts-Oral Roberts; Robertson-Regent.

So why is there no Billy Graham University?

One possibility is that Wheaton has functioned as the de facto BGU. The Billy Graham Center is there, and the connection is pretty tight.

Maybe we’ll see a repeat of the Bryan University story. Back in 1925, after the sudden death of William Jennings Bryan in the immediate aftermath of the Scopes trial, fundamentalists rallied to open a college in Bryan’s memory. Some wanted it in Chicago; some wanted it to be a junior college. In the end, Bryan’s widow won the day with her plea to open the new school in Dayton, Tennessee. The junior-college idea was rejected in favor of a traditional liberal-arts university.

Read the entire post here.

Alan Jacobs: Christian Intellectual

jacobsCheck out David Michael’s piece on Baylor humanities professor Alan Jacobs.  A taste:

Early in his career, Jacobs experienced what might be called an extended crisis of audience, a crisis he recalled when I interviewed him in February. At the time a professor of English at Wheaton College, an evangelical school outside of Chicago, he was publishing scholarly work within his field but was increasingly devoting time to writing essays and theological pieces for Christian magazines and journals. Switching back and forth could be disorienting, and he spent several years debating and praying about which audience he should focus on. “At one point, I just had an epiphany: You don’t get to choose.You’re gonna have to write for your scholarly peers, and you’re gonna have to write for your fellow Christians because you have things to say to both audiences. So, that means, you gotta learn to code switch.”

Since making that decision, Jacobs has published 15 books on literature, technology, theology and cognitive psychology and has written for such disparate publications as The American Scholar, First Things and Harper’s. His résumé is nine pages long without his book reviews (approximately 75) or online writing (hundreds of articles and blog posts). It calls to mind David Foster Wallace’s comment about John Updike: “Has the sonofabitch ever had one unpublished thought?”

Jacobs is now 59 and teaches humanities at Baylor University, a Baptist school in Waco, Tex., with the delightful motto “Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana.” He has kind eyes beneath mantis-like glasses and a warm, mischievous smile framed by a trim salt-and-pepper beard. He looks and dresses less like an academic than a middle-aged middle manager at a tech company—which is to say, both cool and not.

In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Jacobs grew concerned over what he was witnessing. “I was watching the country come apart. I felt that, across the board, there was this failure to think. There was also a failure of charity, and I wanted to address that.”

So he quickly wrote How to Think: A Guide for the Perplexed, a short and engaging book that offers strategies for thinking more clearly and charitably at a time when the media fosters agitation and discourages thinking. The New York Times columnist David Brooks called it “absolutely splendid.”

Read the entire piece here.  See our posts on Jacobs’s work here.

The President of Fuller Seminary’s Speech at the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism

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As many of you now know, evangelical leaders of the non-court evangelical variety met at Wheaton College earlier this week to discuss the future of evangelicalism.  See our coverage here.

One of the evangelical leaders in attendance at the meeting was Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a flagship evangelical institution in Pasadena, California.  On Fuller’s historic role as a vanguard of the 20th-century evangelical movement I strongly recommend George Marsden’s Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminar and the New Evangelicalism.

Labberton has spent most of his career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), but as president of Fuller (replacing evangelical icon Richard Mouw) he has become a prominent anti-Trump evangelical.  He is the editor of Still Evangelical: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning.

Labberton spoke at the Wheaton gathering.  Here is a taste of what he said:

This is not a recent crisis but a historic one.  We face a haunting specter with a shadow that reaches back further than the 2016 election—a history that helps define the depth of the sorrow, fear, anger, anxiety, and injustice around us. Today’s egregious collusion between evangelicals and worldly power is problematic enough: more painful and revealing is that such collusion has been our historic habit. Today’s collusion bears astonishing—and tragic—continuity with the past.

Right alongside the rich history of gospel faithfulness that evangelicalism has affirmed, there lies a destructive complicity with dominant cultural and racial power. Despite deep gospel confidence and rhetoric, evangelicalism has been long-wedded to a devastating social self-interest that defends the dominant culture over and against that of the gospel’s command to love the “other” as ourselves.  We are not naïve in our doctrine of sin that prefers self over all, but we have failed to recognize our own guilt in it.

Our professed trust in Jesus has not led evangelicals to die to ourselves, but often to justify our own self-assertion—even when that means complicity in the suffering and death of others. The scandal associated today with the evangelical gospel is not the scandal of the Cross of Christ, crucified for the salvation of the world.  Rather it is the scandal of our own arrogance, unconfessed before the Cross, revealing a hypocritical superiority that we dare to associate with the God who died to save the weak and the lost.

In order to be concrete about this, let me choose what I believe to be the top four arenas in which this violation of spiritual and moral character has shown itself:

Read the rest here.

I am glad that Labberton sees this as a historical problem.  I assume this is why Mark Noll was at the Wheaton consultation.

CBN Reports That “Several Christian Leaders” Walked Out of the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism

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Rumor has it that those who left the meeting made their way to this Wheaton, IL establishment (just kidding)

Here is a taste of Jenna Browder and David Brody’s report:

WASHINGTON – CBN News has confirmed that at least a few people walked out of an intense invite-only evangelical meeting this week at Wheaton College after the affair turned into “crazy Trump bashing.”  

The two-day gathering involved a group of faith leaders and was billed as a discussion of the evangelical movement in light of Trump’s presidency. But it became more than that.

Two sources with intimate knowledge of the meeting say the first day turned into a lot of “one-sided venting” against President Trump and the majority of evangelicals who voted for him.

Both sources confirm that the issue of sin came up in discussing how evangelicals could vote for Trump. “The conversations were difficult,” according to one source who attended both days of the meeting. “There was a lament.”

After that first day, a few people felt so uncomfortable with the rhetoric against Trump they left, forgoing the last day of the conference.

It’s important to note that no members of President Trump’s faith advisory group were present or ever officially invited.  

If this report is accurate, some of the leaders at Wheaton discussed whether or not voting for Trump might be considered a sinful act.  Frankly, I am glad this topic was discussed.

Read the entire article here.

Was John Kasich at the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism?

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If you are not familiar with what I am calling “the Wheaton consultation on evangelicalism” get up to speed here.

According to The Wheaton Record, Ohio governor and 2016 GOP presidential candidate John Kasich was present for these conversations about evangelicalism in the age of Trump.

Here is a taste of Giselle Gaytan’s reporting:

The meetings took place Monday afternoon until evening and Tuesday morning in the Wilson Suite on the fourth floor of the Billy Graham Center, and many of the people in attendance were the leaders Keller spoke about.

According to the program, the attendees included Governor of Ohio John Kasich, author and pastor John Ortberg, pastor Charlie E. Dates, historian and professor Mark Noll and editor and writer Katelyn Beaty. The sessions opened with “Framing the Issue Before Us: ‘Still Evangelical?’” Eight different “issue groups” were discussed in session four, including “‘Islam, Public Virtue — Beyond Abortion and LGBTQ’ and ‘Who Leads? Partisan Media or Pastors?’”

Chaplain Timothy Blackmon told the Record that evangelicals in attendance included leaders from National Latino Evangelical Association, Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and Christianity Today. Presidents of CCCU schools, pastors, authors, denominational leaders and public theologians also attended, coming from a diverse range of nations such as Croatia, Slovenia, Malaysia, China and Brazil.

Read the entire article here.

 

“Red Evangelicals” and “Blue Evangelicals”

Evangelicals met at Wheaton College this week to talk about the future of evangelicalism in the age of Trump.  We have written about this here and here.  The meeting took place behind closed doors, but we are starting to learn a bit about more thanks to participant Katelyn Beaty‘s twitter account:

Some quick observations based on Beaty’s tweets:

  1.  I am glad to see that Mark Noll is there.  This is a historical problem.
  2. A major realignment of American evangelicalism seems more realistic than ever.
  3. From the tweets, it does not appear that this meeting is about trying to reconcile with the court evangelicals.  It appears that this group is critiquing court evangelicalism and the 81% and trying to move in another direction.

Court Evangelicals: How Dare These Other Evangelical Leaders “Steal the Microphone” From Us!

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Wheaton College

CBN News is reporting that some of the court evangelicals are not particularly happy that evangelicals leaders who do not frequent the court of Donald Trump met at Wheaton College this week.

Here is a taste of Jenna Browder’s piece:

Those at the meeting held at Wheaton College indicated they wanted to make sure political allegiances to Trump don’t get in the way of the gospel message but it didn’t sit well with some evangelicals who support Trump’s policy initiatives.

Johnnie Moore, an unofficial spokesman for the Faith Advisory Council, was among the many pro-Trump evangelicals not invited.

“We don’t take it personally; we just pray for them,” Moore said in a statement to CBN News. “I’ve said it many, many times, but I’ll say it again: we have been honored to fight to protect religious liberty that even extends to protecting the rights of those who disagree with us on religious grounds, even when they are unkind.”

Robert Jeffress is another advisor not included.  

Richard Land also questioned the weight of the meeting given the absence of some well-known names. 

“Any definition of ‘thought leaders’ and any definition of evangelicalism that excludes the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Franklin Graham is a pale imitation – anemic and incomplete,” said Land. 

Other members of Trump’s Faith Advisory Council spoke to CBN News off the record, one voicing his concern over what he sees as this group of evangelicals trying to steal the microphone from those who support Trump. He pointed to the fact that many invited to participate are part of the anti-Trump movement and hold more progressive views on public policy than traditional evangelical Christian voters who supported Trump in 2016.

“It’s a meeting that will have very little impact on evangelicalism as a whole,” Jeffress told CBN News. “Many of them are sincere but they are having a hard time understanding that they have little impact on evangelicalism.”

Read the entire piece here.  The response of the court evangelicals speaks volumes.  They seem legitimately bothered that this other meeting has taken place.

As I wrote in The Washington Post on July 17, 2017: “The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments.”

What Do You Get When You Google “Evangelicals”

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Wheaton College

“When you Google evangelicals, you get Trump.”

This is what Doug Birdsall, the honorary chair of the evangelical Lausanne Movement, recently told Washington Post reported Sarah Pulliam Bailey.  (Birdsall also had a very brief stint as CEO of the American Bible Society.  I chronicled it here).

Is Birsdall correct?  Yes.  Earlier today I typed the word “evangelicals” into Google and these were some of the top hits:

Christian Host: Evangelicals Back Trump Because His Oval Office is Scandal-Free 

For many, Christianity and Trumpism are synonymous.  These evangelicals are pushing back

President Trump gets a Stormy Daniels bump with evangelicals

Evangelicals are planning a high-profile meeting with Trump

An Anti-Trumper Evangelical Weighs in on Trump’s True Believers

Evangelicals and Trump

A group of evangelical anti-Trumpers is planning to meet at Wheaton College next week to address this issue.  Maybe I should get Eerdmans to send all of them an Advanced Readers Copy of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. 🙂

Those attending are Tim Keller, A.R. Bernard (former court evangelical), Birdsall, Darrell Bock, Jenny Yang, Mark Labberton, Ed Stetzer, Jo Anne Lyon, Harold Smith, and Gabriel Salguero.

Here is a taste of Pulliam-Bailey’s piece:

About 50 top leaders of major evangelical institutions will attend an invitation-only gathering next week to discuss the future and the “soul” of evangelicalism at a time when many of them are concerned their faith group has become tainted by its association with divisive politics under President Trump.

The diverse group, which includes nationally known pastors such as Tim Keller and A.R. Bernard, is expected to include leaders of major ministries, denominations, colleges and seminaries. The gathering will take place at Wheaton College, an evangelical college outside of Chicago, according to organizer Doug Birdsall, honorary chair of Lausanne, an international movement of evangelicals.

The gathering, which has been in the works for several months and was discussed at evangelist Billy Graham’s funeral last month, will take place before the expected meeting of a separate group of evangelicals who advise, defend and praise Trump. Those leaders, which include members of Trump’s informal advisory council, are considering convening at Trump International Hotel in Washington in June.

Read the rest here.  Let’s remember that not all “evangelical leaders” are court evangelicals.

On Religious Exemptions

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Wheaton College is featured in this article

I found this article helpful.  The author is Patrick Hornbeck, chair and associate professor of theology at Fordham University.

Here is a taste of “The Tragedy of Religious Freedom”:

It’s clear that for at least the foreseeable future, religious exemptions will remain the subject of hotly contested battles in courts and legislatures. There is no easy solution, since as legal scholar Kent Greenawalt has noted, the two Religion Clauses of the First Amendment often stand in tension with each other and, as a result, “a good bit of the prevailing law is genuinely confusing.” The question I have been raising here—who, if anyone, should be the arbiter of whether a behavior is sufficiently grounded in religious conviction to qualify for an exemption that might be available—is just a starting point.

Read the entire piece at Religion Dispatches.

Congratulations to Crystal and David Downing

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Photo credit: Wheaton College

My Messiah College colleague Crystal Downing will be leaving us next year.  She and her husband, C.S. Lewis scholar David Downing, are headed to Wheaton College.  This is a huge loss for Messiah, but I can’t think of a better couple to share the Marion E. Wade Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton.  Congratulations!

Here is the press release:

The Marion E. Wade Center is delighted to announce the appointment of Dr. Crystal Downing and Dr. David C. Downing as co-directors and co-holders of the Marion E. Wade Chair of Christian Thought. As Lisa Richmond, Director of Library and Archives at Wheaton College, explains, “The opportunity to have two such distinguished scholars leading the Wade Center is very exciting and holds great promise for continuing the Wade’s strong legacy of work on the seven authors. We are thrilled that the Downings are joining Wheaton in this role.” As co-directors, the Downings will share administrative responsibilities, and as a joint appointment they will also have significantly more time to invest in writing and research on the Wade authors. They will take up their responsibilities at the Wade Center on July 1, 2018.

Dr. Crystal Downing is currently Distinguished Professor of English and Film Studies at Messiah College, PA. She has published on a variety of topics, with much of her recent scholarship focused on the relationship between cultural theory and religious faith. Her first book, Writing Performances: The Stages of Dorothy L. Sayers (Palgrave Macmillan 2004) received an international award from the Dorothy L. Sayers Society in Cambridge, England in 2009. The thought of Sayers and C.S. Lewis is evident in Crystal’s next two books, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith (IVP Academic 2006) and Changing Signs of Truth (IVP Academic 2012). The success of her fourth book, Salvation from Cinema (Routledge 2016) has led to her current book project, The Wages of Cinema: Looking through the Lens of Dorothy L. Sayers. Crystal has received a number of teaching awards and was the recipient of the Clyde S. Kilby Research Grant for 2001 from the Wade Center. She holds a PhD in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Dr. David Downing currently serves as the R.W. Schlosser Professor of English at Elizabethtown College, PA. He has published widely on C.S. Lewis, including Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy (UMass 1992), The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith (IVP 2002), which was awarded the Clyde S. Kilby Research Grant for 2000, Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis (IVP 2005), and Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles (Jossey-Bass 2005). David is also the editor of C.S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress: The Wade Annotated Edition (Eerdmans, 2014). A prolific speaker and writer, David has spoken extensively throughout the U.S. and internationally. He has received numerous teaching awards and holds a PhD in English from the University of California at Los Angeles.

The Downings are the first to be jointly appointed to the Wade directorship in the more than 50-year history of the Wade Center. They follow Wade founder and first director Clyde S. Kilby (1965–1980), director Lyle W. Dorsett (1983–1990), and director Christopher W. Mitchell (1994–2013).

Let’s Remember That Young Evangelicals Have Never Been a Moral Majority

183a7-wheatonThe Economist “Lexington” columnist visited Wheaton College and this is what he/she found:

...One of America’s foremost Christian institutions, it was founded by abolitionists in 1860 and doubled as a stop on the Underground Railway. These days its leafy campus also houses a museum dedicated to a famous alumnus, Billy Graham, “America’s pastor”, in the admiring phrase of George H.W. Bush. And in the political-science class to which Lexington was welcomed, the students, 14 evangelical sophomores from across America, seemed mindful of that dual legacy.

They were contemptuous of the acquiescence, or worse, of their co-religionists to Mr Trump’s racial divisiveness. “Evangelical Christianity is supposed to be about love thy neighbour,” said Tim, a uniformed soldier from Ohio. “It gave me a sense of betrayal,” said Jessica, a Mexican-American from San Diego. “It was like our own community turned against my family.” Like Mr Graham, the students also worried that the church had become too political and too partisan. “We’ve become over-identified with a political party,” said Drew, from Pittsburgh. Only two of the students had voted for Mr Trump (though most of their parents had). Nine said they were now uneasy about being identified as evangelical.

Read the entire piece here.