Tag Archives: Protestantism

An Illuminati Conspiracy Theory Captured American Imaginations in the Nation’s Earliest Days—And Offers a Lesson for Now

25 Sep
circa 1795: Reverend Timothy Dwight IV (1752 - 1817)
circa 1795: Reverend Timothy Dwight IV (1752 – 1817)
 Getty Images

In the final weeks before the 2020 election, the outsize role of conspiracy theories in American politics has become unmistakable. For some Trump supporters in particular, campaign-season news is filtered through the powerful idea that hidden forces are at work, that the “deep state”—a supposed secret, shadowy and sinister group of leftist politicians, government bureaucrats, Chinese scientists, journalists, academics and intellectuals—is seeking to destroy American values. Seen through that lens, COVID-19, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans, is a “hoax”; some even believe that Anthony Fauci is a “deep state doctor.”

But while the particulars of these theories may be new, the dynamics are not. In fact, they go all the way back to America’s earliest years: In the late 1790s, Jedidiah Morse, the congregational minister in Charlestown, Mass., and a well-known author of geography textbooks, drew national attention by suggesting that a secret organization called the Bavarian Illuminati was at work “to root out and abolish Christianity, and overturn all civil government.” Today, such an idea sounds both eerily familiar and like a relic of a less sophisticated time—but the lessons of that episode are decidedly relevant.

So begins my friend historian John Fea’s concise piece on Christians, Federalists, and the Bavarian Illuminati. You may read his entire Time story here.

Seven spiritual beliefs of young adults

6 Apr

For more than a decade scholars have been investigating the spiritual lives of teenagers and young adults in the US in a sustained research project called the National Study of Youth and Religion. In the latest installment in this project, we interviewed a range of emerging adults about their lives, their relationships, their hopes and dreams, and even their failures. The young adults responded in articulate and insightful ways about these aspects of their lives.

But their articulateness did not extend to talking about religion or spirituality. This inarticulacy has been noted over the life of the research project, starting when the subjects were teens. In the intervening years, their ability to articulate religious teachings and exactly what they believe doesn’t seem to have improved in any significant way.

So begins an excerpt from a new sociological study of the religious beliefs of emerging adults. You may read the entire Christian Century piece by Denton and Flory here.

Back to the Future, a la Robert Schuller of Garden Grove Community Church/Crystal Cathedral

24 Mar

Pathway Baptist Church holds a worship service at the Calvert Drive-In Theatre, Sunday, March 22, 2020, in Calvert City, Kentucky. Attendees remained in their vehicles. Photo by Nathan Brandon/Studio 270 Media

(RNS) — When it came time to pass the peace Sunday at Pathway Baptist Church, Senior Pastor Mike Donald didn’t hesitate.

“Everybody, wave to the right,” Donald said.

In response, the hundreds of people at the Calvert Drive-in Theatre in Calvert City, Kentucky, turned to their right and waved to the people sitting in the cars next to them.

So begins Emily McFarlan Miller’s Religion News Service report on a drive-in worship service in Kentucky in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. You may read her entire story here.

What the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Meant for American Churches

14 Mar

The headline for Oct. 7, 1918 in Maysville, Kentucky, one of the many places where American churches were closed in the fall of 1918 – Chronicling America/Library of Congress

Almost fifteen years ago, the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan began to work on The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital EncyclopediaUpdated in 2016, it surveyed how fifty American cities experienced and responded to the “Spanish flu.” The authors wrote a narrative essay and timeline for each city, but even more valuably, they digitized thousands of documents and images. I first used the influenza encyclopedia to research an essay for one of my own digital projects, a 2015 history of Bethel University’s experience of warfare since 1914.

So writes historian Chris Gehrz in his fascinating look at churches and the 1918-9 influenza epidemic in the U.S. You may read his entire Anxious Bench post here.

Harriet Tubman, in movie and real life, guided by faith in fight for freedom

1 Nov

(RNS) — “God don’t mean people to own people.”

That simple statement, uttered by Cynthia Erivo in the title role of “Harriet,” a new movie about Harriet Tubman, reveals a truth long known by scholars of the woman dubbed “Moses.”

Tubman’s lived religion has been well recorded and used to explain how in 1849 a Maryland 20-something slave (her exact birthdate is not known) set out for the North to freedom, then over the next 10 years helped dozens of others gain liberty from enslavement. She embraced faith instead of fear, said Kate Clifford Larson, a historical consultant for the movie.

“It gave her confidence to do the things that she did,” said Larson.

So begins Adelle M. Banks’ report on Harriet Tubman and her faith, in life and in the new film. You may read the entire Religion News Service story here.

The Impossible, Necessary History of the Hymnal

13 Aug

Phillips, The Hymnal

Historian Chris Gehrz provides a fascinating review of a new book, The Hymnal, by Christopher N. Phillips. You may read the review here.

The Day Christian Fundamentalism Was Born

26 May

For many Americans, it was thrilling to be alive in 1919. The end of World War I had brought hundreds of thousands of soldiers home. Cars were rolling off the assembly lines. New forms of music, like jazz, were driving people to dance. And science was in the ascendant, after helping the war effort. Women, having done so much on the home front, were ready to claim the vote, and African-Americans were eager to enjoy full citizenship, at long last. In a word, life was dazzlingly modern.

But for many other Americans, modernity was exactly the problem. As many parts of the country were experimenting with new ideas and beliefs, a powerful counterrevolution was forming in some of the nation’s largest churches and Bible institutes. A group of Christian leaders, anxious about the chaos that seemed to be enveloping the globe, recalibrated the faith and gave it a new urgency. They knew that the time was right for a revolution in American Christianity. In its own way, this new movement — fundamentalism — was every bit as important as the modernity it seemingly resisted, with remarkable determination.

Historian Matthew Avery Sutton suggests that 100 years ago, fundamentalist Protestantism was born. While the specific year and occasion are subject to debate, Sutton adeptly and concisely describes the concerns of fundamentalists and points out some ongoing impacts. You can read the rest of his New York Times op-ed here.

Church Ladies and Grassroots Political Religion

16 Apr

A large group of women carry many signs, including a large banner that reads "The Women's Wave Rises: 2019 Women's March on Washington."

Following the excitement of the 2017 Women’s March, many white suburban women in swing districts revitalized the Democratic Party from the ground up. In their research in several swing states, historian Lara Putnam and political scientist Theda Skocpol looked past the massive one-day demonstration to find that college-educated and middle-aged women had returned home to invest in local Democratic politics. Motivated in part in opposition to the 52% of white women who voted for Trump, “middle America’s mothers and grandmothers,” some of whom had been Republicans and independents, formed local chapters of Indivisible, attended town halls, and volunteered for campaigns for the 2018 election. Many of these new activists invoked a shared gender identity, in this case informed by a distaste for Trump’s “brand of male authority.” Yet as critics of the Putnam and Skocpol report have noted, liberal white feminists have often advanced their causes by drawing on white supremacy instead of battling it. Many newly politicized white women have had to reckon with their racial privilege as they have worked alongside African American women and men and others who have been traditionally part of the Democratic base. In their relational organizing, and in their confrontation with their racial privilege, the experiences of today’s white women political activists resemble those of the United Council of Church Women (UCCW) in the mid-twentieth century.

So begins Gale Kenny’s concise essay on some of the recent history of white Protestant women’s political activism. You may read the rest of her OAH Process post here.

Protestant Missionaries of the 19th Century and Democracy

22 Dec

The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries

For many of our contemporaries, no one sums up missionaries of an earlier era like Nathan Price. The patriarch in Barbara Kingsolver’s 1998 novel, The Poisonwood Bible, Price tries to baptize new Congolese Christians in a river filled with crocodiles. He proclaims Tata Jesus is bangala!, thinking he is saying, “Jesus is beloved.” In fact, the phrase means, “Jesus is poisonwood.” Despite being corrected many times, Price repeats the phrase until his death—Kingsolver’s none-too-subtle metaphor for the culturally insensitive folly of modern missions.

So begins a fascinating report at Christianity Today about new research by sociologist  Robert Woodberry which firmly establishes a major positive impact on various nations in the world by 19th-century Protestant missionaries. You may read Andrea Palpant Dilley’s full story here.

When George H. W. Bush played the religion card: 1988

3 Dec

George H.W. Bush was not one to wear his religion on his sleeve. But to gain the Republican presidential nomination, he felt he had to.

A New England Episcopalian, Bush was raised listening to his devout mother read from the Book of Common Prayer. Like other upper class class WASPS raised in the mid-20th century, he was a regular churchgoer.

But beyond checking a denominational box and invoking the Deity on the appropriate ceremonial occasions, Bush did not make his religion part of his political life.

Until 1988, that is.

So begins Mark Silk’s report at Religion News Service on religion in the late former President Bush’s 1988 campaign. You may read the entire report here.

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