Posted by Paul Harvey
Another triumph for one of the prolific authors in my "class" of the Young Scholars in American Religion program: in the next couple of months, Tisa Wenger's work We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom will be available, hardback and paper, from University of North Carolina Press. The work covers one of the more fascinating episodes of how American culture has defined and delimited the term "religion," thus defining and delimiting who has religious freedom, and who doesn't. More on the book below from the work's webpage.
We Have a Religion
The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom
By Tisa Wenger
For Native Americans, religious freedom has been an elusive goal. From nineteenth-century bans on indigenous ceremonial practices to twenty-first-century legal battles over sacred lands, peyote use, and hunting practices, the U.S. government has often acted as if Indian traditions were somehow not truly religious and therefore not eligible for the constitutional protections of the First Amendment. In this book, Tisa Wenger shows that cultural notions about what constitutes "religion" are crucial to public debates over religious freedom.
In the 1920s, Pueblo Indian leaders in New Mexico and a sympathetic coalition of non-Indian reformers successfully challenged government and missionary attempts to suppress Indian dances by convincing a skeptical public that these ceremonies counted as religion. This struggle for religious freedom forced the Pueblos to employ Euro-American notions of religion, a conceptual shift with complex consequences within Pueblo life. Long after the dance controversy, Wenger demonstrates, dominant concepts of religion and religious freedom have continued to marginalize indigenous traditions within the United States.
About the Author
Tisa Wenger is assistant professor of religious studies at Arizona State University in Tempe.
"Although the debate is not well remembered today, the Pueblo Dances affair is one of the most important legal and political conflicts over religious freedom in American history. In this well-researched study, Tisa Wenger does a fine job of describing the affair and vividly highlights the cast of activists on both sides."--Philip Jenkins, author of Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality
"Wenger's book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the strange career of 'religion' by doing a superb and unmatchable job of recovering the full complexity of how that idea related to the Puebloan dance controversy."--Joel Martin, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Posted by Paul Harvey
Facts, Fundamentals and Foreign Policy
by Jeffrey Scholes
Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State was notable not because there was much doubt in the outcome but for what she said. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99290981&ft=1&f=1003
In it we find not so much a brazen, novel path to be forged by the new administration into foreign lands but more a statement of contrast to the approach of the Bush administration.
Here’s a quote from Clinton: “The president-elect and I believe that foreign policy must be based on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology. On facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice. Our security, our vitality, and our ability to lead in today's world oblige us to recognize the overwhelming fact of our interdependence.”
On the surface, heads nod unconsciously to this statement. Yet it is code for, “The Bush administration acted with emotion and prejudice fueled by a rigid ideology in a spirit of utter American independence.” She is largely echoing Obama, especially on the “facts and evidence” part that is based on the popular belief that the Bush administration deliberately glossed over facts and evidence (lack of WMD in Iraq) with the aid of a neo-con ideology that pushed the declaration of war.
Several thoughts: On one level, this point of contrast made by Clinton is overstated. Facts and evidence, of course, mattered to the Bush administration—it is nature of the interpretation that bothers the left. But no one is naïve enough to think that the Obama administration will only deal with raw, unmediated facts and evidence. It will interpret on an ideological grid too. In addition, the other theme of Clinton’s hearing is that there will be a restoration of American values regards foreign policy (diplomacy not commands, interrogation without torture, etc.)—a card from generally played off of the Republican deck.
Most interesting about the “just the facts, ma’am” rhetoric is that it plays on a hundred and fifty year historical divide between Evangelicals and liberal Christians/secular modernists. With evolution forcing each group into separate camps in the later 19th c., the “facts” of evolution were largely subordinated or dismissed altogether by Evangelicals and later fundamentalists in favor of acting on a clear moral conscience. The “world” came be identified with scientific facts and its burgeoning ideology when set of principles that can guide action was all that was necessary. Then, the external results, which translate quickly into facts, are far less important than the internal foundation off of which decisions were made. It is this “internal moral conscience vs. external facts” that constitutes the core of Clinton’s remarks and speaks to frustration of those on the left when Bush defends results by saying, “I merely acted on principle.”
Posted by John Fea
Is the Catholic Church taking a turn to the right and, in the process, leaving the Vatican II reforms in the dust? It's a question that many Catholics are asking after Pope Benedict's decision to rescind the excommunications of four bishops of the "Society of Pope Pius X." The New York Times reports:
Pope Benedict XVI, reaching out to the far-right of the Roman Catholic Church, revoked the excommunications of four schismatic bishops on Saturday, including one whose comments denying the Holocaust have provoked outrage. The decision provided fresh fuel for critics who charge that Benedict’s four-year-old papacy has increasingly moved in line with traditionalists who are hostile to the sweeping reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s that sought to create a more modern and open church.
On the "traditionalist movement" and anti-Semitism, John Allen of the NCR reported:
A troubled history with Judaism has long been part of the Catholic traditionalist movement associated with the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre — beginning with Lefebvre himself, who spoke approvingly of both the World War II-era Vichy Regime in France and the far-right National Front, and who identified the contemporary enemies of the faith as “Jews, Communists and Freemasons” in an Aug. 31, 1985, letter to Pope John Paul II.
Jewish groups are expressing everything from outrage to disappointment. And it looks like Benedict could end up cancelling his May visit to Israel. But left-leaning Catholics are also jumping in, asking why more efforts aren't being made to mend fences on their side of the aisle. Hans Kung seems to think that Benedict is out of touch, and “does not see that he is alienating himself from the larger part of the Catholic Church and Christianity. . . . He doesn’t see the real world. He only sees the Vatican world.” As such, perhaps a leaner Catholic Church will be Benedict's legacy. It all makes me wonder just how long the Hans Kungs of the church will hang around.
Posted by Paul Harvey
I'm very happy to announce that my colleague in the Young Scholars program, Katherine Carte Engel, has just published her new book Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America. A while back, Kate guest-blogged for us about the conference on Markets and Morality, held last November. Sometime in the near future, I hope to host here a blog interview with Kate on the new book. Until then, here's the information from the U. Penn web page:
Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America
Katherine Carté Engel
304 pages 6 x 9 17 illus. Cloth 2009 ISBN 978-0-8122-4123-5 $39.95s £26.00. A volume in the Early American Studies series
The Moravians, a Protestant sect founded in 1727 by Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf and based in Germany, were key players in the rise of international evangelicalism. In 1741, after planting communities on the frontiers of empires throughout the Atlantic world, they settled the communitarian enclave of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in order to spread the Gospel to thousands of nearby colonists and Native Americans. In time, the Moravians became some of early America's most successful missionaries.
Such vast projects demanded vast sums. Bethlehem's Moravians supported their work through financial savvy and an efficient brand of communalism. Moravian commercial networks, stretching from the Pennsylvania backcountry to Europe's financial capitals, also facilitated their efforts. Missionary outreach and commerce went hand in hand for this group, making it impossible to understand the Moravians' religious work without appreciating their sophisticated economic practices as well. Of course, making money in a manner that be fitted a Christian organization required considerable effort, but it was a balancing act that Moravian leaders embraced with vigor.
Religion and Profit traces the Moravians' evolving mission projects, their strategies for supporting those missions, and their gradual integration into the society of eighteenth-century North America. Katherine Carté Engel demonstrates the complex influence Moravian religious life had on the group's economic practices, and argues that the imperial conflict between Euro-Americans and Native Americans, and not the growth of capitalism or a process of secularization, ultimately reconfigured the circumstances of missionary work for the Moravians, altering their religious lives and economic practices.
Katherine Carté Engel teaches history at Texas A&M University.
Posted by Paul Harvey
Following up on my post of a few days ago, about Chris Beneke's new book Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism: Beneke and Christopher S. Grenda are in the process of completing an anthology on the interplay between religious tolerance and intolerance in early America. In reviewing Beneke's book, I mentioned that I might place more emphasis on the whiteness of the eighteenth century's proto-pluralism; and he subsequently has given me these thoughts in response:
I think that you're absolutely right about the importance of looking at the meaning of religious freedom for African Americans and Native Americans. We asked Jon Sensbach and Rick Pointer, respectively, to do just that for the anthology on tolerance and intolerance that I'm editing with Christopher Grenda. . . .As for religious "pluralism," I believe that they had it in the late 18th c., but it was more of the Charles Taylor variety, than the Diana Eck variety, and that's where some of the confusion may come in.
Chris was kind enough to send along a table of contents for the anthology that he's editing, which should come out sometime in the near future with Penn. So, here it is, and looks like it's going to be a great treat:
The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Religious Intolerance in Early America
Edited by Chris Beneke and Christopher S. Grenda
Forthcoming from U. Pennsylvania Press
Table of Contents
Chris Beneke and Christopher S. Grenda
Amalek and the Religious Rhetoric of Extermination
Suffering Saints: Prejudice, Intolerance, and the Prosecution of Dissent in Early America
Practicing Toleration in Dutch New Netherland
Joyce D. Goodfriend
Persecuting Quakers? Liberty and Toleration in Early Pennsylvania
Andrew R. Murphy
Reason, Faith, and Enlightenment: The Cultural Sources of Toleration in Early America
Christopher S. Grenda
Native Freedom?: Indians and Religious Tolerance in Early America
Richard W. Pointer
Slaves to Intolerance: African-American Christianity in Early America
Parkman’s Paradigm: Catholics, Protestants, and the Clash of Civilizations in Early America
Anti-semitism, Toleration, and Appreciation: The Changing Relations of Jews and Gentiles in Early America
The Episcopate, the British Union, and the Failure of Religious Settlement in Colonial British America
The “Catholic spirit prevailing in our country”: America’s Moderate Religious Revolution
The Boundaries of Toleration and Tolerance: Religious Infidelity in the Early American Republic
On behalf of all the little people who have helped me (and who pay taxes), I'd like to accept my 2009 Inspiration Award -- bestowed here and here. You like me; you really like me! [Admittedly, one of the award-givers also happens to be a graduate student of mine, but hey, like I told him previously, flattery will get you everywhere].
The rule for this award is that you pay it forward with awards of your own. Here are some of my blog inspirations. These mostly have nothing to do with the subject of this blog, and include people I've never met, spoken to, or even corresponded informally with, but bloggers that I would not want to live without.
- Tim Burke, Easily Distracted: One of the sharpest, most thoughtful blog commentators on all things academic, on African history, on life in academia, on video games, and whatever else strikes his fancy.
- Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory: anybody who can teach high school, engage actively in scholarship, and squash stupidly reactionary neo-Confederate and "black Confederate" pet theories all at the same time deserves a special place in blog heaven.
- Baldblogger: My contributing editor here pulls off a similar feat of multi-tasking as does Levin: teaching, writing, publishing, blogging in multiple places, and featuring the work of authors (memorably that of Ed Blum, in a multi-part interview) in a way that brings out the best of someone else's work.
- Tenured Radical: the irrepressible Claire B. Potter has way too much fun in life and blogging; see my previous entry on her "Twelve Days of Christmas, University Cutbacks Version."
- PhD in History: Somebody needs to make that guy President of the AHA. He fills up some of the void left by the late and lamented "Invisible Adjunct." Even when I disagree with him, his arguments are formidably data-driven.
- It's a New World Every Heartbeat: My dear college friend Margaret Ellen Martin's episodic and artistically rendered reflections on life, love, and literature. Also has the best (and undoubtedly only) line of poetry written about me, from those days: "fur feathers flying from his winter coat." Captured my cheapskate quality exactly and precisely.
- A Historian's Craft: Rachel Leow is a graduate student, originally from Malaysia, who posts pictures of beautiful libraries under the heading "bookporn," and lately is posting about research in Indonesian archives. Since I remember my days sauntering through Indonesia, Thailand, and other locales in SE Asia with an almost pungent nostalgia, reading her blog helps me live that again a bit, vicariously; it's also just fun to sense her excitement as she makes her way through life, travel, research, and historical thought.
Religion Dispatches gets an honorable mention. It's not really a blog, more like an online magazine, full of outstanding short thought pieces from many of the most outstanding American religion scholars of the day. They have included plenty of work from my contributing editors and guest posters; I sort of feel like the farm team for them, and happy to do so.
For those who want to accept the award and pass it on, here are the rules that seem to be passed down: (1) put the logo of the award on their blog if you can make it work with their format (the painting of Marie Antoinette); (2) link to the person from whom you received the award; (3) nominate 5-7 other blogs; (4) put the links of those blogs on your blog.
Kathleen Sprows Cummings, one of our contributing editors, just had her first book, New Women of the Old Faith: Gender and American Catholicism in the Progressive Era, published by the University of North Carolina press. New Women of Old Faith places Catholic women at the center of the narrative to highlight how Catholic women were active defining Catholicism as well as their place as "New Women." This book has topped my reading list, and it will prove useful by complicating the portrait of women's participation in the Catholic Church and in American culture.
Here the description from the University of North Carolina press:
American Catholic women rarely surface as protagonists in histories of the United States. Offering a new perspective, Kathleen Sprows Cummings places Catholic women at the forefront of two defining developments of the Progressive Era: the emergence of the "New Woman" and Catholics' struggle to define their place in American culture.
Cummings highlights four women: Chicago-based journalist Margaret Buchanan Sullivan; Sister Julia McGroarty, SND, founder of Trinity College in Washington, D.C., one of the first Catholic women's colleges; Philadelphia educator Sister Assisium McEvoy, SSJ; and Katherine Eleanor Conway, a Boston editor, public figure, and antisuffragist. Cummings uses each woman's story to explore how debates over Catholic identity were intertwined with the renegotiation of American gender roles. By examining female power within Catholic religious communities and organizations, she challenges the widespread assumption that women who were faithful members of a patriarchal church were incapable of pathbreaking work on behalf of women.
Cummings emphasizes, though, that her subjects understood themselves to be far more marginalized as Catholics than they were as women. Whatever opportunities arose for American women in the early twentieth century, these Catholics pursued them not as "New Women" but as daughters of the "Old Faith." Cummings's analysis makes a strong argument for the need to devote more attention to religious identity as a factor in interpreting women's lives.
I recently obtained a copy of the long-awaited first volume of the Joseph Smith Papers: Journals (1832-1839), published by the newly created Church Historian's Press. This is a major project, projected to eventually comprise a generously annotated and illustrated forty-volume edition of Smith's journals, revelations, letters, etc. The next volume scheduled for release is the first in a series of Smith's Revelations and Translations. In terms of both staff and money, the church has invested heavily in this project.
Several things strike me as interesting about the JSP and this first volume. For starters, the market for Mormon history -- official (as in this project), semi-official (as in the Mountain Meadows Massacre project), and critical (as in recent works by Will Bagley and David Roberts) -- is astounding. The MMM book sold out its first printing and was probably 2008's best-selling book in American religious history. The first JSP volume sold out its 11,000 first printing almost immediately, and I imagine the second printing will go quickly as well. This reflects the incredible importance Latter-day Saints attach to their history and how critical it is to their faith. In that light, it is perhaps not surprising that church members rush to obtain a majestic edition of their founding prophet's first writings. I cannot imagine a similarly successful project for any other figure in American religious history, perhaps save Martin Luther King, Jr. (who most Americans revere as a political rather than a religious leader). We Presbyterians wouldn't exactly overwhelm amazon.com to purchase John Calvin's papers.
Smith's journals -- mostly kept by scribes and clerks -- have been published previously, in edited volumes by Scott Faulring and Dean Jessee, so the material presented here is not new. However, I find the new edition a significant improvement over those previous publications. Faulring's edition had very few annotations; JSP Vol. 1 contains generous background information, abundant annotations (recommending a variety of primary and secondary sources), illustrations, and maps. To give one example, on July 27, 1838, Smith's clerk George Robinson wrote "we have a company of Danites in these times," referring to a secret "paramilitary" organization that not very gently encouraged dissenters to leave the area. Needless to say, this has been a contested topic within Mormon history. The editors included a photograph of the page from the journal. Readers can see that the July 27 entry was scribbled through and obscured at some later date. The editors explain this, but it's illuminating to see the actual journal page.
Undoubtedly, as was the case with the MMM book, scholars will wonder about the ability of insiders to introduce and annotate the controversial issues of early Mormonism head-on and fairly. While those questions are unavoidable within this subfield of American religious history, these volumes -- may I live to see the release of the entire series -- will be indispensable for the next generation of scholars on Mormon history. While this first volume included journals previously published and therefore already accessible to scholars, some of the future volumes (including the upcoming Revelations) will publicize previously inaccessible sources. In an era in which many academic presses are shying away from expensive editions (it would have been difficult for the Jonathan Edwards papers to get off the ground with Yale in today's environment) or switching to online editions, I'm grateful for this project.
I have wondered for some time what Robert Bellah might think of President Obama's civil religious tone. Alas I have an answer. A segment of his "This is Our Moment, This is Our Time," from The Immanent Frame:
There is another element in Obama’s thinking that needs comment: his concern for America and its historical promise. It has been hard for his opponents to call Obama unpatriotic when he speaks so glowingly of our nation and its heritage. It is the eloquence with which he did that in his keynote address in 2004 that first told me that a remarkable new presence had arrived on the American scene. But what Obama has stressed is the promise of America, one that is still unfulfilled. It is our task as he has so often said to help create a more perfect union because this one is so imperfect. Obama has rejected the idea that supporting the Iraq War is a measure of patriotism. He has said, in effect, that the true patriot will oppose such a war.
Already in 2004 this reminded me of what I wrote in my most frequently reprinted article, “Civil Religion in America,” which was a call to see that the best of our tradition required opposition to the Vietnam War, not support of it. Too many have read that article as describing American civil religion as “integrating,” or “Durkheimian,” in a way that doesn’t appreciate the radicalism of Durkheim. Some friends who do understand what I had written in 1966 told me they thought Obama had read it. I have no reason to think he has. He doesn’t need me to see that the promise is the core we must celebrate, not the often desperately disappointing reality, which he notes when he promises to close Guantanamo and renounce torture as American policy. That one can see America as a beacon of hope, even, in Lincoln’s words, as “the last best hope of earth,” while also recognizing that America has committed the gravest of crimes from the colonial period to the present, seems to escape critics from the left and the right. Obama would never speak like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but he knows, as any serious American knows, that Jeremiah Wright was telling the truth, even if not the whole truth, and that denial of the terrible side of our history is no more healthy for us than it would be for Germany or Japan.
Posted by Paul Harvey
First, Amos Jones's " 'Think With Me Today': The Roots of Martin Luther King, Jr's, Greatest Speech," provides an engaging review of a new book by a well-known scholar of African American literary history: Eric Sundquist, King's Dream (Yale University Press, 2009). One great passage from the review:
Posted by Paul Harvey
Religion's Role in the "New Era of Responsibility"
by Jon Pahl
Barack Obama's inaugural speech signaled a fascinating new twist on an old role for religion in American culture. Platitudes of civil religious discourse, exploited so effectively by recent administrations--"sacrifice," "God's gift of freedom," and the ritual invocation of God's blessing on America--were present, but muted. Obama's chief theme was that religions provide people with spiritual strength to be responsible citizens; to work for the common good.
This was not a speech about mystical union with some millennial destiny. Indeed, Obama's clear articulation that "God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny" means that history is up to us. What America will be depends upon what we do, not what some hidden hand might provide.
This was a speech about the spirituality of work. "What is required of us," the 44th President intoned, "is a new era of responsibility--a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task." The President here argued that it is through our common work that humans find spiritual fulfillment, this side of eternity.
No less than ten times Obama invoked "work," "works," or "workers." "Everywhere we look, there is work to be done." It is not in "worn out dogmas" that one can find the American spirit, he asserted, but "the faith and determination of the American people" is evident in "the kindness to take in a stranger . . . the selflessness of workers . . . [a] firefighter's courage." "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."
The last line--an oblique reference to a Langston Hughes poem, might seem to invoke the old Horatio Alger version of the Protestant ethic. In fact, Obama's religious foundation was intentionally pluralistic. 'We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus--and non-believers." Such a "patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness." But if and when people of faith commit to work together with unbelievers toward a vision of a more just and virtuous common good, we might see how "old hatreds shall someday pass;" how "lines of tribe shall soon dissolve;" how "our common humanity shall reveal itself;" and how "America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."
There is in such a vision plenty of the old American millennialism. But the stronger voice was this practical assertion: "greatness is never given. It must be earned." And this pragmatic question: it is "not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works."
The world Barack Obama addressed with this speech was not just the American nation and its future. Invoking George Washington's words at Valley Forge, it was "the future world" broadly envisioned that he had in mind. And that meant that Americans needed to "set aside childish things," in the words of Paul's First Letter to the Church at Corinth. It was time to get to work enacting the substance of faith, hope, and love--beyond mere rhetoric of sounding gongs and clanging cymbals that had merely sustained the wealthy--"those who prefer leisure over work"--under a cloak of religious pretense.
A quick reminder that the submission deadline for the 3rd annual North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion and Philosophy is February 13, 2009. I put up the CFP in a previous post. You can also visit the conference website for details, or just contact me directly. If you are reasonably close to western/central PA and have an undergrad or two who would like to present, this is a terrific opportunity. If not, then enjoy some Old Crow Medicine Show...
Posted by Paul Harvey
Important papers are also housed at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Archive at Boston University. The Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center has just digitalized an important collection of King papers. Volumes of the published MLK papers are here, here and elsewhere.
Posted by Paul Harvey
It’s always annoying when one’s standard classroom shtick on some topic gets upset by new scholarship, compelling the sacrifice of a long-repeated chestnut; I hate it when reading something on a topic disables the ability so blithely to oversimplify long periods of history as easily anymore. It also forces you to move a lecture to the recycle bin and start over, just when you were ready to rely on the proverbial yellowed notes (now I guess the equivalent would be the Word 97 formatted word processed file) for the next thirty years.
One of these nuggets of compression that I had long relied on was this: religious freedom in American history has moved on a long arc from “toleration,” to “diversity,” to “pluralism,” and this generally can be followed or divided up into 18th, 19th, and 20th century components. In the eighteenth, [white] Americans learned that Presbyterians could (grudgingly) tolerate Baptists, and vice versa; in the nineteenth, that diversity of religious expression was a reality of the religious marketplace, and in the twentieth that pluralism ensured freedom of religious expression for those outside the Christian consensus.
Way too simple a narrative, to be sure, but at least in terms of looking at Protestant thought and establishments, it sort of worked, at least as a hanger on which to put stories for classroom consumption and discussion. It also worked to set up for examination those cases where the story did not work, or where it seemed to work in reverse (as in the rise of particular religious bigotries in the nineteenth century, after the more hopeful rhetoric of the eighteenth; Jefferson could blithely dismiss religious difference with his famous reference that contrasting beliefs neither picked his pocket nor broke his legs; many nineteenth-century white Protestants felt quite otherwise about, for example, Catholicism and Mormonism).
One of my longstanding, will-I-ever-finish-it projects has been to complicate that narrative by looking at the history of religious freedom from the standpoint of those who largely did not experience it in American history, especially Native peoples, African Americans, and others. Looking at their stories broadens our understanding of how Americans came to define religious freedom, and thus freedom itself, over the centuries. Others, notably Tracy Fessenden and more recently John Modern’s new long piece in Church History (“Evangelical Secularism and the Measure of Leviathan”), have attacked this narrative arc from other perspectives. Modern suggests, for example, how antebellum religious benevolent organizations unwittingly created secularity by (among other things) quantifying religion. I’m still digesting his long and very difficult piece, so will save more comment on that later. It’s in the latest issue of Church History, and presages a larger project that’s going to present a picture of nineteenth-century American religious history fundamentally at odds with the story arising from books that focus on the evangelical consensus. It appears to be a smart bomb aimed at Noll et al.
From another, and perhaps more fundamentally optimistic side, Chris Beneke’s recent Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism finds a much earlier origin for more capacious ideas of freedom of religious expression. He argues that “toleration” is much too limited a way to understand eighteenth-century discussions of religion, for many already had moved “beyond toleration.”
The ironically named chapter “The End of Toleration,” for example, traces the demise of the limited concept of “toleration” into the sturdier practice of “religious liberty,” part of the overall story of how “Americans learned to live with differences in matters of the highest importance to them.”
In the eighteenth century, as now, Beneke suggests, “inclusion, equality, and cooperation among different groups mattered deeply. But then, unlike now, it was religious inclusion, religious equality, and religious cooperation that concerned people. Though still practiced inconsistently in the late eighteenth century, these ideals had become incontestable. The history of their controversial emergence is the history of America’s first great attempt to accommodate diversity, its first experiment with pluralism.” To put it another way, Beneke’s book totally cracks open the classroom nugget of compression that has served me, if not my students, so well. I hate it when people mess with my classroom M.O.
The bulk of this book traces this story of proto-pluralism through richly detailed case studies of controversies during the Great Awakening, Protestant unification during the threats posed by the French and Indian War, James Madison’s interventions in the religious liberty debate in Virginia, and various other controversies and episodes in particular colonies. All these particular stories are not new; the way Beneke puts them together to craft a large narrative is the true contribution of the book. The prose is lively and sprightly, the stories interesting and well-chosen, the argument engaging.
A couple of objections immediately come to mind -- certainly to my mind -- and to his credit Beneke deals with them forthrightly. One is that this is a story of whites, and white Protestants more particularly. Beneke argues that, by the nineteenth century, arguments for white supremacy no longer could really be based on religion (at least as applied to African Americans), precisely because the language of religious liberty and diversity was so well ensconced in the national discourse by that time. Consequently, defenses of white supremacy hinged more on pseudo-biological notions of race.
The point here is somewhat reminiscent of Colin Kidd’s The Forging of Races, which argues that the biblical narratives consistently undercut theories of polygeny, hence the secularization of racist constructions over time. To that, Beneke adds the following:
Since the 1950s, we have seen a shift in public language regarding race that was matched only once in American history -- by the shift in public language regarding religion that occurred during the eighteenth century. WE can be as thankful that terms such as ‘colored’ and ‘negro’ have most disappeared from our vocabularies as late eighteenth-century liberals and evangelicals were that terms such as ‘sectaries’ and ‘heretics’ had mostly disappeared from theirs. We decry the racial bigot, just as they decried the religious bigot. In both cases, the principle that weighs against exclusivist and implicitly hierarchical language is equal recognition. In both cases, integration helps to ensure that uncharitable language is confined to private life.
The second major objection is the harsh reality of anti-Catholicism in the nineteenth century, the rise of which appears to contradict the major thrust of this book. This simply stands as a glaring exception to the story, and Beneke acknowledges the point: “Emboldened by their numbers and chastened by a surge of Protestant bigotry, the Catholic leadership rejected the established formula of religious pluralism in the United States. Full integration would simply have required too many unforgivable concessions. Decades passed before either they or the Protestant majority were fully ready to once again treat Catholicism as just one of many denominations.”
Later he addresses the story of the persecution of Mormons, and again finds that “When it came to antebellum Catholics and Mormons, the Protestant formula of equal rights for private judgment and social integration largely failed. . . . Mainstream Protestants had extended the canopy of ecumenism so broadly that they may have had a hard time understanding why anyone would refuse to take refuge beneath it. What reason could be given for such recalcitrance? When the answer was excessively complex or sufficiently unappealing, Protestants blamed Catholic missionaries and secret Mormon rituals; they blamed the pope and they blamed Joseph Smith. Whenever possible, they refrained from blaming anyone’ s particular beliefs, just as they refrained from blaming their own.”
Beneke’s lively and smartly optimistic book leaves me with a few thoughts. First, the story of Protestant pluralism traced here is more important than I have given it credit for. It was not easy to achieve; it was far in advance of most of the rest of Europe in practice (even if Locke provided many of the theories); and it provided some essential preconditions for pluralisms to come later. Second, the whiteness embedded in the particular concept of pluralism traced in this book remains central; Beneke repeatedly acknowledges this, but I would stress the point further. Finally, it makes me wonder if this is sort of Whig history in reverse. The more somber assessment provided in the epilogue chapter, in which groups outside the Protestant canopy found little or no protection from the rain (pun intended) of intolerance , suggests how Americans who had moved beyond toleration pretty soon thereafter moved back well on the other side of that ideological divide. Perhaps my classroom chestnut had it exactly backwards. History could repeat itself, as it were, twice: the first time as triumph, the second time as farce.
The Mormon History Association is pleased to announce two award competitions for exceptional student work exploring the history of those religious traditions originating with Joseph Smith, Jr. The Juanita Brooks Undergraduate and Graduate Paper Awards will be given to the best unpublished papers written in 2008 by an undergraduate and graduate student, respectively.
All submissions must be sent electronically (as either a "WordPerfect," "Word," or ".pdf" document) to J. Spencer Fluhman, Brigham Young University: fluhman AT byu DOT edu.
Submissions should include a cover sheet detailing the student's biographical information: name, department, institution, and undergraduate or graduate major, etc. Submissions must be received by March 1, 2009, to be considered. One submission per student, please. Awards will be presented at the MHA annual meeting in Springfield, Illinois, in May 2009.
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: MORMON HISTORY ASSOCIATION ARTICLE AWARDS
The Mormon History Association (MHA) is pleased to announce awards for exceptional published scholarship exploring the history of those religious traditions originating with Joseph Smith, Jr. The T. Edgar Lyon best article award and j. talmage Jones Awards of excellence will be given to the best articles published in 2008. Any member of the Mormon History Association may submit or nominate an article for consideration. Publishers/editors can submit up to five articles. All submissions must be sent electronically (as either a "WordPerfect," "Word," or ".pdf" document) to Michael N. Landon: landonmn AT ldschurch DOT org. Submissions must be received by February 15, 2009, to be considered. Awards will be presented at the MHA annual meeting in Springfield, Illinois, in May 2009.
I know rather little about Father Richard John Neuhaus, who died last week. He was, however, a seminal figure in the recent evolution of politically conservative Catholicism and an even more seminal figure in the forging of ecumenical ties between religious conservatives of various ecclesiastical stripes. Along with Charles Colson, Neuhaus was a prime mover behind Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which called for an end to proselytization between the two groups (the latter position angered a large number of evangelicals and created a backlash against some evangelical ECT signers) and created a framework for mutual public engagement. Neuhaus also gained prominence through founding of First Things, an ecumenically religious conservative periodical.
While writing a review of Jon Shields's forthcoming The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, I came across Neuhaus's review of the same. It must be one of the very last things he wrote, as the First Things website identifies it as a January 2009 publication.
Can any of our readers help assess his significance in modern American religion, the Christian Right, etc.?
Please pause for this special announcement. We'll be back right after this break.
Colorado's state legislative session just started, and we're looking at over $600 [update: now revised upward to $800 million to $1 billion] million in state budget cuts, the vast majority of which have to come from higher education (since health care mandates, prisons, and K-12 are for various reasons constitutionally untouchable).
We just went through this in the early 2000s, when the University of Colorado took a 38% budget hit over about three years time. Then, because of our state's Orwellian "taxpayer bill of rights" law, and its infamous "ratchet-down" effect on state finances (meaning, after a severe economic hit, state revenue is ratcheted down to a much lower level and is only allowed to grow 6% or less from that level -- and, since tuition counts as "state revenue," tuition raises automatically offset state funding towards higher ed, in a kind of quiet and un-discussed but nonetheless forced privatization of state enterprises), the university remains far below state levels of financing in 2000 (meaning, funding has gone down dramatically while student populations have grown, actually almost doubling at my university), and the state of Colorado remains mired exactly in last place -- 50th -- in per student funding in higher education. As we say here, hope you like those mountains.
Obviously other states have their own versions of this during the current economic crises. Here's the clearest explanation I have seen of how cries for "college affordability" can be a "wolf in sheep's clothing" when they serve as a substitute for an honest discussion of public dis-investment in state higher education. A little excerpt:
The outcry over rising tuition in public colleges has been overblown. Political leaders, faced with declining budget resources, especially in the states, are tempted to point the public toward tuition increases as the root of the affordability problem because it deflects attention from public disinvestment in higher education, which is the real cause of rising tuition. Progressive reformers join the tuition bandwagon because it gives their cause a populist political base, but if history is any guide, the populist assault on rising tuitions will be the enemy of progressive reformers, not their ally.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Posted by Paul Harvey
Don't miss Christopher Grasso, "Skepticism and Faith: The Early Republic," in the new Common-Place. Earlier we blogged about his piece "Deist Monster: On Religious Common Sense in the Wake of the American Revolution," Journal of American History 95:1 (June 2008): 43-68. The Common-Place piece is a more personal reflection on what forces shape one's historical questions, how they are related to present questions but not bound by them, and indeed often start long before current preoccupations became preoccupations. He writes:
I'm reminded of a colleague who recently published a book on warfare and American history from the colonial period to the late twentieth century. Reviews discussed the study as if it had been inspired by the Iraq war. The author certainly did not claim to live in a cultural vacuum, unaffected by the current state of affairs; still, his project began two decades ago and is based on exhaustive research. Histories, though written in a particular time and place and from a particular point of view, may inspire op-ed pieces but shouldn't be confused with them.
His project came out of exploring the papers of Ezra Stiles (Congregationalist minister and president of Yale College in the late eighteenth century), including Stiles's own very secretive and closeted struggles with doubt and skepticism.
By retracing my steps to my encounter with Ezra Stiles in the library, I don't mean to suggest that the project was incubated entirely in the archives. No research is completely unconnected to personal experience. That doesn't mean religious history, any more than other kinds of history, entails one of those confessional prefaces in which the author discloses his or her personal relationship to the faith tradition being examined. Perry Miller's atheism and George Marsden's evangelicalism no doubt influenced each man's studies of the Protestant theologian Jonathan Edwards, but the evaluation of their books should aim at the cogency of their interpretive arguments in relation to the available evidence rather than at the scholars' biographies. The historian's own religious belief or doubt is one of many factors shaping his or her particular perspective, a point of view that provides moments of both blindness and insight when trying to imagine the past.
Grasso's story focuses on a period usually characterized by the triumph of evangelicalism, moral movements inspired by it, and the demise of the skeptical Enlightened tradition. My own work (and that of many others) questions this story from the "underside of that millennium" [sorry, a little self-quotation], focusing on Native peoples, African Americans, and others. The focus here is different, for Grasso has dug into the archives of white Americans whose skepticism engaged in a constant dialogue with the rise of "America's God." As he explains,
But the story of the relation of skepticism and faith is more than the tale of a few marginalized freethinkers and artificially induced moral panics. Religious skepticism touched—and in some cases transformed—more lives than we might expect in the early American republic.
This is really an affecting, and an effective, piece, both for its history, its historiography, and its personal reflections on how we come to the topics we do, and how we think about those topics within our own personal and institutional contexts.
UPDATE: John Fea and Brad Hart have blogged further on this piece.
The current issue of Newsweek tips us off to the forthcoming Alexandra Pelosi documentary, The Trials of Ted Haggard, now being advertised by HBO. Wow... If Pelosi's whimsical Friends of God and Journeys with George are any indication, this should be a real treat. Set your DVRs. I've used Friends in my Religion and American Culture class, and it's worked very well.
In the not-so-recent-film category. . . I encourage blog readers to get a copy of Marjoe, an Oscar-winning 1972 documentary that will knock your socks OFF!!! I had not seen it until recently. What a revelation. A sleeper, for sure, the movie is about a one-time child pentecostal preacher who, as a jaded twenty-something, starts to test the boundaries of authenticity and holy-rolling antics. Marjoe Gortner later achieved some fame as a B movie actor--he starred in Earthquake, a classic disaster film from the Me Decade. But this picture takes us back to his days as a conflicted evangelist . . . “Should I stay or should I go now.” Marjoe's Mick Jagger-esque chicken dancing down the aisles in tent meetings and tabernacles is something to behold. The music that accompanies the former kid preacher’s Leap-of-Faith swagger could melt the heart of even the most stolid atheist. This one merits in-class viewing, for sure.
What is it with child preachers anyhow? It’s like watching very precocious/frightening child actors, right?
Posted by Matt Sutton
As a graduate student I read R. Laurence Moore’s brilliant Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans. Moore argues that religious groups have historically gained cultural power by positioning themselves as outsiders, even when they were/are not. Apparently the tradition of playing oppressed minority despite all evidence to the contrary is still going strong. The Christian Anti-Defamation Commission (I didn’t realize that such a group existed) has compiled a list of “top ten Christian-bashing incidents” of 2008. Coming in at #10 was the Jack Black video that I blogged about here. In the top three spots are:
#3: Barack Obama Defames Christianity
According to research into President Elect Obama's own statements about faith, and an examination of Obama's position on moral issues, CADC has determined that by any biblical and historic Christian standard, Barack Obama is not a Christian, although he claims he is a "devout Christian."
[You can also see their list of seven reasons why Obama is not a Christian here]
#2: Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin Is Attacked
Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin, came under sharp attack by some in the mainstream media because she self-identifies as a Christian. The Washington Post published a cartoon by Pat Oliphant mocking Palin because she has a background as a Pentecostal/Charistmatic Christian. A suspicious arson fire at Sarah Palin's home church recently caused over $1,000,000 in damage.
#1: Radical Homosexuals Assault Prop 8 Marriage Supporters in California
During and after the November campaign stories flooded in of pro-Prop 8 signs being taken, people verbally and physically assaulted, church property and private automobiles vandalized, and person's jobs and pastor's lives threatened simply for exercising their right to campaign and vote in support of traditional marriage.
Apparently we should quit picking on Sarah Palin, pick on Barack Obama a whole lot more, and work to protect our most vulnerable and oppressed members of society, our pastors, from hate crimes. Hmmm…..
Posted by Paul Harvey
Of Historiography and Constitutional Principle: Jefferson's Reply to the Danbury Baptists, by Ian C. Bartrum, Vermont Law School and Irving S. Ribicoff Fellow, Yale Law School. It appeared in the Journal of Church and State (2008).
Here's the abstract:
This article examines the ways that the Supreme Court has used Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists ("a wall of separation between church and state") as a rhetorical symbol. It finds the letter at the heart of the Court's debate over competing theories of religious neutrality. The article then explores the treatment the letter has received in several leading academic histories, and concludes that professional historians have largely tailored their arguments to match the Supreme Court's ideological divide. The article concludes that, because the goals of historical argument and legal argument are fundamentally different, this "incestuous" kind of relationship between historiography and constitutional principle is potentially destructive.
Posted by Paul Harvey
The Southern Seminary & the History of American Christianity Conference will be held at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, on February 18th - 19th.
Click here for more information.
Mark Dever, Gary Dorrien, Timothy George, Darryl Hart, R. Albert Mohler, RussellD. Moore, Thomas Nettles, Stephen Nichols, Greg Wills.
The Office of Event Productions
2825 Lexington Road
Louisville, KY 40280
Phone: (502) 897-4072
Conference Schedule (PDF)
Posted by Phil
As some readers may have heard, the Library of Congress is in the process of compiling an oral history of sermons, speeches, and other orations relating to the inauguration of Barack Obama. It is formally called Inauguration 2009 Sermons and Orations Project, and will be part of the LOC's American Folklife Center. The center is only taking oral materials delivered between Friday, January 16 and Sunday, January 25, 2009.
This collection will obviously be of interest to historians and other scholars of religion in America, and the assembly of this collection is certainly interesting in light of the role pastors and sermons played through the campaign season (and since).
Oral religious history (and a sort of corollary, sensory history) has received some attention on this blog before (among others, John Turner's book employs oral history, for example, Paul Harvey commented on this, and the JSR Katrina issue has a bit of oral history). From those in the know I'd love to hear more about the state of the field, or any other thoughts related to religion and oral history (including bibliographic suggestions/leads).
Perhaps a place to start on the blog is Mike Pasquier's insightful methodological post from last September that discusses what he calls "religion-in-the-moment" as well as Rebecca Carter's notion of "spiritual dwelling" and Thomas Tweed's concept of "crossing and dwelling."
Third Annual Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture
Thursday, October 8-Saturday, October 10, 2009
The question of faith's place in modern intellectual life never has seemed more pressing in academia or popular culture. While specialists have abandoned simplistic versions of the "secularization thesis," which predicted that religion would crumble inexorably under the weight of advancing science and reason, best-selling atheistic critics still lament religion's influence, deny its philosophical viability, and predict its ultimate demise. Meanwhile, scholars have demonstrated the surging strength of both Christianity and Islam in non-western parts of the world, and the persistent religiosity in the United States. Accordingly, this symposium will consider religion's place in modern thought and culture from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century.
We invite papers that explore the intellectual tensions between the revival and decline of faith, not only in the Anglo-American West, but around the world. Among the confirmed plenary speakers are David Bebbington (Stirling/Baylor), Michael J. Buckley (Santa Clara), José Casanova (Georgetown), Philip Jenkins (Penn State), Rodney Stark (Baylor), and Frank Turner (Yale).
Possible themes to be explored include the following, though other paper or session proposals on specific topics, questions, or books are encouraged:
The Enlightenment and its critics
Romanticism and its implication for faith, art, politics, and culture
Evangelical, charismatic, or fundamentalist revival
Democracy and religion
Ethics and religion
The New Atheism
Resacralization vs. secularization theory
Gender, race, and class dynamics of secularization and revival
Religion as a colonial or indigenous force
Globalization and religion
Religion and the modern university
Faith and reform movements
Faith and the arts in contemporary culture
Abstracts of 500-750 words should be submitted by June 1, 2009, and should include name, affiliation, address, and e-mail address. Please submit proposals to the Institute for Faith and Learning, Baylor University, One Bear Place #97270, Waco, TX 76798-7270, or by e-mail to IFL@baylor.edu
For more information, visit http://www.baylor.edu/ifl
Tonight, in the BCS National Championship, the Florida Gators will lose to Oklahoma by 10 points (at least, that's what I want to happen). Leading them to this big disappointment will be Tim Tebow, a self-professed evangelical who has captured the attention and affirmation of the sports media (especially UF homers Todd Blackledge and Kirk Herbstreit) through his play on the field and demeanor off it.
Posted by Paul Harvey
This one goes out especially for you grad. students out there, but perhaps veterans would have some responses as well.
Historiann has a typically engaging post on "Modern Graduate Studies and the Value of Historiography." I recommend it to all.
(Since we're historians, a little history: This post follows up on a discussion initiated last year, in which I participated a bit, on our annoyance at the cult of assessment and some of the rhetoric [not all, by any means] that emanates on occasion from teaching and learning centers [which inspired a rant of my own, "Why the More Time I Spend Doing Assessment, the Worse I Become as a Teacher, and Vice-Versa"]. Having just filled out another of those reports, I'm ready to rant again, but will restrain this time; don't get used to that).
Historiann's latest reflections occasion two thoughts here. First, the best teacher I ever had -- my graduate advisor Leon Litwack -- broke every rule in the "teaching and learning center" handbook; so did one of my other beloved teachers, the late Russian history scholar Martin Malia, who was about as far afield ideologically, personally, pedagogically, and professionally from Prof. Litwack as it is humanly possible to be. When we had a conference to honor Litwack some years back, I reflected on this very fact, asking the question, "how do you emulate the un-emulatable"? The answer, of course, is that you don't; but the answer also is that great teaching is singularly related to (albeit not guaranteed by, more on that below) absolute mastery of a field.
That's not to say the rules in those how-to-be-a-good-teacher-books and workshops don't have a lot of useful suggestions, nor that attending teaching/learning workshops isn't a good thing, nor that others who also break all those rules also happen to be horrible teachers (although I can only think of one that I ever saw at Berkeley who fit the stereotype of the fabled superannuated professor reading off outdated yellow notes to audibly bored undergraduates; it was impossible to restrain laughter at seeing such a stereotype so perfectly enacted in person). It's just to say that teaching liberal arts is an awfully mysterious and wonderfully personal art. May it ever remain so, even when we have to quantify "outcomes"; nay, especially when we have to do so. One of my goals is to foster confusion and ambiguity, and I have yet to figure out how to quanitfy that "learning outcome." Like Mario Savio and Charlie Chaplin, a little throwing of our bodies onto the machine is a good thing, as long as you get off in time.
Historiann's post also made me reflect on what kinds of "training" people have to teach American religious history. Anybody care to comment? Here's the training I had: none, nada, zilch. I was doing American history, and southern history, and back in the day we didn't really have anything, at Berkeley anyway, called religious history. Some other places probably did, even then; a lot more do now, either as separate programs, as sub-units within larger American history departments, or within ye olde Department of Religion or Religious Studies.
I have no idea what discussions are like among those training to research/teach American religious history, and whether there are moves afoot to fundamentally change something about graduate study in the field (especially along the lines of linking training more directly to teaching). Anybody want to share experiences in this regard. Rants welcome; for once, I've turned off my rant-o-tron. Does training to teach American religious history (or studies, or whatever) look like training for any other field of history? How about in Religious Studies?
Update: Last year Deg did a great series on his "uncoverage" approach to American religious history. Today, Historiann issues her own "Manifesto Against Coverage," this more generally in the American history survey. So in addition to the invitation for comments on the post above, feel free to talk about how you deal with the devil of "coverage" in the American religious history context.
Posted by Phil
It is crossposted at From the Square, NYU Press's blog.
Numerous journalists, political pundits, and scholars are discussing and debating Barack Obama’s decision to invite California pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural prayer, particularly in the context of Warren’s support for California’s Proposition 8.
E.J. Dionne’s New Republic column, for example, titled “Big Tent,” (HT: John Fea) a thoughtful analysis of the Obama-Warren issue, reports that some wonder to what extent Obama has betrayed his liberal politics, while others embrace Obama’s decision and call for a more enlightened liberal politics. Christianity Today, the leading magazine of evangelical thought and culture, features some writers who are asking if Warren is the next Graham, or if he’s transcended the aged leader’s stature. Another voice of the religious right, Steve Brody’s blog at the Christian Broadcasting Network, “The Brody File,” (HT: Get Religion) features e-lamentations about Warren’s decision to pray at the inauguration. Alan Wolfe’s New Republic piece “Obama’s New Pastor Problem?,” (HT: John Fea) offers further contextualization about Warren and the religious right. And corroborating Steve Brody’s blog, Rachel Zoll’s article points out that some of Warren’s toughest critics are those on the religious right. Sociologist Gerardo Marti offers a brief history of Warren his Southern California context, what he calls “Warren-ology.” Religious studies scholar Anthony Pinn provides precise analysis of theology, political compromise, and the presidency, and historian of religion Anthea Butler contends that president-elect Obama misgauges Americans’ religious convictions.
Obama’s choice of Warren to pray at the inauguration—and in particular the range of responses this choice has elicited—gives us occasion to reflect on Protestant evangelical religious leaders we call “holy mavericks,” five of whom we discuss and analyze in Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace.
We contend that Rick Warren is a holy maverick. Simply put, a holy maverick is an enterprising religious leader who crafts his or her ministry to a particular niche (or niches) in the spiritual marketplace. Holy mavericks are talented and savvy spiritual suppliers we call innovators, efficiently successful at recalibrating their messages and ministries toward the existential needs and tastes of church-going America. Houston minister Joel Osteen, for example, effectively marketed messages and books titled Your Best Life Now (2004) and Become a Better You (2007). Osteen’s brand of self-help spirituality reaches millions, and gains new followers each day.
Holy mavericks can be a fascination to the general public, and command wide audiences with messages of purpose, empowerment, and uplift. Rick Warren, for instance, took his purpose driven message to professional sporting events, political meetings, and to pastors in Africa. He also recently addressed the Muslim Public Affairs Convention in southern California. Holy mavericks can also exist as a thorn in the flesh of gatekeepers of church traditions who chide innovators for casting wide nets and polluting the gospel with “watered-down” versions of Christianity. Holy mavericks can elicit both intense loyalty and venomous contempt from clerical peers and congregants.
Another distinguishing mark of a holy maverick is his or her ability to sense how historical moments and opportunity structures shape their messages and marketability and help to bring their individual initiatives to fruition. Holy mavericks possess social, cultural, and spiritual dexterity. Put another way, holy mavericks are brilliant at surfing spiritual waves, a practice in which spiritual leaders discern where God is moving in one’s cultural milieu, and then prepare their churches and themselves to cooperate with the movement. Here’s Rick Warren: “Three key responsibilities of every pastor are to discern where God’s spirit is moving in our culture and time, prepare your congregation for that movement, and cooperate with it to reach people Jesus died for. I call it ‘surfing spiritual waves.’”
Warren knows that of which he speaks. Consider these snapshots from his recent activities: not many other preachers are friends with the president of Rwanda, write a monthly column for Ladies Home Journal, and receive a standing ovation after speaking at Harvard University. Not many other conservative pastors possess the flexibility to be pro-life and pro-poor, the ingenuity to lead a preaching seminar for rabbis at the University of Judaism, or the versatility to work and dine with homosexual activists while maintaining a firm stance against same-sex marriage. Not many spiritual leaders mentor prominent businesspersons like Rupert Murdock and Jack Welch, or can claim that after three decades of ministry, they have never been alone in a room with a woman other than their wife. Few evangelical pastors are friends with both President George W. Bush and Democratic president-elect Barack Obama, a notable participant at Warren’s 2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the recent Presidential Forum, both at Saddleback Church. And Warren’s latest book, The Purpose of Christmas, adds further insight into the complexity of this holy maverick’s cosmopolitan outlook. It continues to articulate the readable simplicity of the purpose-driven message and hit the major points of conservative evangelical theology (e.g., centrality of Jesus, authority of Bible, etc.). Yet with a closing chapter on Warren’s P.E.A.C.E. plan, it registers as decidedly cosmopolitan in outlook and activist in tone.
And there’s even more to the relationship between Warren and Obama: the president-elect launched a “40 Days of Faith and Family” tour while campaigning in October 2007 in South Carolina, an initiative clearly adapted from Warren’s popular “40 Days of Purpose” movement from a few years previous. (Read first-hand accounts about “40 Days of Faith and Family” from Obama’s website.)
So if Rick Warren is accustomed to surfing spiritual waves, and if Obama is serious about working across political lines as he embraces the change he promised, then Warren accepting Obama’s invitation to give the inaugural prayer is neither out of character nor a simple, shrill political move. It is a holy maverick at work.
If Warren is serious about working for social, political, and economic change through his P.E.A.C.E. plan and if Obama is serious about embodying change in today’s combative and partisan political order, and if these two visionaries will work together—at least for a day—then perhaps history will observe that the real mavericks of the 2008 Presidential election cycle were not, in fact, John McCain and Sarah Palin, but Barack Obama and Rick Warren. Why? In the midst of differences, each appears willing to find common ground in order to work together. Perhaps we all have something to learn from pastors and politicians after all.
Just a little fun anecdote from Miller's book:
See what a living stone
The builders did refuse
Yet God hath built His church thereon,
In spite of env’ous Jews.
Serious suggestions for replacing the embarrassing last line included substituting lyrics such as “lest we salvation lose,” or “in spite of envious few.” But other fasola class clowns came up with their own alternatives, such as “in spite of empty pews,” “in spite of drugs and booze,” and – my favorite – “in spite of envious dudes” (193).
Jon Walton counts down his top ten books on AFrican American religion for 2008 (ok, some published a bit earlier, but at least he read them in 2008). He has some titles familiar here (such as Ed Blum's W. E. B. DuBois: American Prophet, and Judith Weisenfeld's Hollywood Be Thy Name), and some I had not heard of previously. Happy reading in 2009.