New Life's New Life, and Why Love Isn't Winning Out

Paul Harvey

This says something about the state of contemporary evangelicalism. Or not. I report, you decide.

New Life Adding Services Amid Growing Attendance, in today's Colorado Springs Gazette, chronicles the turnaround and revival of the New Life Church of Colorado Springs, most recently famous for its latest celebrity evangelical bad boy caught in flagrante, Ted Haggard. Under new management now, the church is thriving, with a steady and distinctly uncharismatic pastor, Brady Boyd. I am quoted in the article, as usual pontificating on matters of which I know little or nothing. Gayle Haggard (a strikingly calm and composed woman given the hell she's been through) is writing a memoir of her famous marriage. The church has largely withdrawn from social commentary, engaging in grassroots growth efforts, especially with local military families, and apparently with success.

Meanwhile, budget shortfalls at Focus on the Family (due largely to declines in philanthropic giving over the last two years, a problem not unique to Focus for sure) have compelled it to cut its "Love Won Out" conferences, which purportedly helped "men and women dissatisfied with living homosexually [to] understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome." Responding to the latest report of the American Psychological Association, a "gender issues analyst" at Focus said "that the APA report is flawed because the agency begins with the false assumption that homosexuality is ok." More on the story here.

God's Gonna Trouble the Waters of Paradises Built in Hell


On this 4th anniversary of Katrina, I finally got to watch Trouble the Water, about which I had blogged briefly a year ago. So at the risk of repeating myself, allow me to repeat myself, from the previous post:

Following up on Mike's last post, and our previous discussion of the special Katrina issue of the Journal of Southern Religion -- the new film Trouble the Water appears to be a must-watch (has anyone here seen it yet?). The film captures Kimberly Rivers Roberts and Scott Roberts, two New Orleans Katrina survivors whose video camera provides an inside view of the days during and after Katrina. Of the film, Richard Corliss writes:

In the gritty, buoyant Kim they [the filmmakers] found a person who symbolized both the lower depths of urban life and the resilience, when faced with an impossible challenge, to rise to a level higher than flood tide. Maybe Kim, Scott and their crew were no angels before Katrina, but that doesn't matter--because in Trouble the Water, we see the lives of the saints.

In the "beyond parody" department -- our old friend Michael Brown of FEMA -- remember the good old days? -- makes a brief appearance in the film, and reminds us (unintentionally, of course) of the costs of neglect and ineptitude, as well as the costs of philosophies which denigrate government as the root of all evil. In case anyone was wondering what he's doing now, aside from a career as a "motivational speaker" here's one thing he's doing -- hosting an AM talk radio show on the largest station in Denver. I listened with fascination recently as he tore into the "incompetence" of the Obama administration. It was rather like if you heard me, after my latest pick-up basketball game debacle, tear into Dwight Howard for his incompetence because I had seen him mess up one fast break opportunity somewhere in last year's playoffs.

Rebecca Solnit's work A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster has been getting some attention lately, as well it should given the inherently interesting subject matter, and the author's engaging body of work to date. She covers ad hoc communities of communal help that arose after the San Francisco earthquake, during the London blitz, in Mexico City after the 1985 earthquake, and in post 9/11 New York -- times "when everyone has agency and no one has ultimate authority, when the society invents itself as it goes along." She also discusses Katrina and New Orleans, as a kind of counter-example. But the lessons to be learned about New Orleans strike me as rather different than some kind of Woodstockian celebration of spontaneous community, and nothing shows this more than watching Kimberly Rivers et famille in Trouble the Water.

Christine Stansell takes on this work in a usefully skeptical way in the latest New Republic (I can't find a link presently, will post when it's up). Stansell rightly finds this work suffused with the religious language of grace (I'd say a Rousseauian language of an ideal state of nature, as well) -- "Solnit's classless self-governing society resembles nothing so much as a state of grace; and her uprising of the spirit -- 'the joy in disaster' -- evokes the exaltation of a revival. . . . Solnit here taps into a repository of Protestant millennialism that lies deep in the American psyche. More precisely, it is an Arminian understanding of sin and salvation. God dispenses suffering as HE pleases, but we can make of it what we will, using the test to redeem ourselves and deliver ourselves into His hands, washed of our sins."

Stansell warns about the "pitfalls of self-delusion in any politics of transcendence," and her words came to me on viewing Trouble the Water, where one sees something closer to a hell built on paradise rather than a paradise built in hell. As Stansell points out, and the main characters of this documentary point out in their raw local argot, "In New Orleans, of course, the disaster was the lack of government. . . . That the reconstruction of a great American city has had to depend on a volunteer army of idealistic ill-paid twentysomethings is not a glory, it is a crime. . . . New Orleans needs more than volunteers and self-actualization. It needs generous and well-administered federal aid, and decent city government . . . That would be paradise."

Kimberly Rivers evidences grit, determination, and sometimes even a little joy in surviving Katrina and attempting to reconstruct her life and those of her family members. Yet her experience demonstrates the wisdom of Stansell's caution about Solnit's "utopian instincts of altruism and mutual aid, which can transform politics-as-usual," which shows "not interest in the vast and contrary evidence that disasters can bring out the worst in people as well as the best -- which is one reason why government action . . . is necessary and desirable." The relative lack of it in New Orleans -- before, during, and after the storm -- was close enough to hell for my tastes.

Watch clips of Trouble the Water here. A useful report on post-Katrina recovery efforts and the state of the city presently is here in yesterday's Times. There's reason for hope, but the waters are still troubled, as well. Obama's reflections on what needs to be done are here. The evidence so far suggests that Craig Fugate has been effective, showing (to paraphrase Stansell's critique of Solnit) that efficacy matters more than joy, that government matters a lot, and that "the destruction of communities is not a boon to communitarianism."

On Sin, Forgiveness, Redemption, and Senator Kennedy


Paul Harvey

Tenured Radical and John Fea both have moving posts dealing with the complicated legacy of Senator Edward Kennedy -- the personal flaws, resultant appalling mistakes, and subsequent redemptive senatorial career. Just a short addendum: Kennedy represented another era of the Catholic engagement with politics (as John points out at greater length, so I won't repeat here), one coming from the Catholic New Deal tradition. That's a tradition that seems to be in its declining years, as Catholic conservatives seem more in the ascendancy. I miss it already.

Catholic Bishops Assail Health Plan


Paul Harvey

Just a quick addendum to the last post: Some Catholic Bishops Assail Health Plan, New York Times, August 28, answers some of the queries posed previously about the Catholic religious voice in the health care debate. Apparently a fair number of bishops have taken the Protestant conservative line, and the disjuncture between the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and these local voices is a familiar theme in the history of Protestant churches and social issues.

Why Don't Catholic Bishops (and lots of other religious leaders) Care About Healthcare?


Paul Harvey

Of course many do, but not all that effectively or cogently, as Frances Kissling explores in this article. (Update: Maybe more do than I had heard about, as a comment on this post points out; see

Have I missed something, or has the religious voice been notably muted in discussions of the
moral and financial trainwreck that increasingly looms for our health care system? T. R. Reid spanned the globe to survey health care systems, trying to figure out how and why we're the only place that doesn't guarantee some minimum standard of basic services for everyone (aside from the emergency room, where we all get to pay way more for less); it's coming out as the book The Healing of America. His conclusion: there are lots of ways, privately and publicly organized, to provide basic services for all. France does so through a fee-for-service scheme, and their pro-family maternal/paternal leave policies put ours to shame. Maybe the Family Research Council should send their folks over there to observe and learn.

Update: Apparently the Family Research Council won't be available for this outing, as they are instead organizing do-it-yourself town hall meetings for churches. They have put together a kit for churches, including a handy-dandy "sermon starter" with this suggested opening salvo by the pastor: "This morning I am going to take on a hot topic: the government takeover of health care." I'm glad to see they're going to get pastors to discuss this subject with accuracy and insight from the get-go. The sermon is to include material on how the public would be "compelled" to pay for abortions, even though this is in fact not correct -- "while the bills in Congress allow for coverage of abortions, they do not require taxpayers to finance them." On that government takeover thing -- since Michael Steele of the Republican Party now wants to pass a "Medicare Bill of Rights" even while he leads the party leading the charge against "government-run health care," will the FRC denounce this proposed Republican protection from any change or amendment to this government takeover of health care? Just askin'.

The Washington Post blog On Faith takes up the issue of the religious voice in health care reform, with reflections from multiple religious (and agnostic/atheist) perspectives. It's worthy, albeit frustrating, reading. Their views evidently haven't found their way to many, or any, town halls. Here locally in Christian land, our "debate" has consisted of loud monologues shouted at our House Rep. (Doug Lamborn, a 2nd-term Republican) from agitated citizens there to stop the "Communist" plans of Obama, and shouting down the few who show up at these things to raise any other view for consideration. Lamborn, a strong pro-lifer, feels that the problem of the un- and under-insured, the pre-existing conditions exclusions, and so on, are just figments of the imagination. Once again, "pro-life" stops at the womb. After that, you're on your own, baby.

As for those religious leaders who pronounce about family and morality -- mostly not a word, except to egg on the whoppers about death panels, about how the "uninsured" are all just nice healthy young people who choose not to have insurance, about how "the market" will magically solve everything, and so on. [Kenneth Arrow's classic and famous article on how and why health care systems do not form a "market" apparently has not come to their attention].

On the death panel subject, an authoritative word from Sherwin Nuland, Clinical Professor of Surgery at Yale and a member of Yale's Center for Bioethics: "H.R. 3200 would, for the first time, legislate that the physician receive a fee for these [end-of-life] discussions, making it more likely that they will take place and that they will be of real substance. From these provisions of the bill, the ignorant, the nefarious, and the just plain stupid have extrapolated that the purpose of the periodic consultations is really to determine life or death. . . The entire issue -- or non-issue, which it surely is -- contains the ingredients of travesty unworthy not only of the attention of the bioethics community, but of the general public as well." Yo Sarah Palin, on what planet do you spend most of your time anyway?

My family had this very end-of-life discussion through last summer, and almost exactly a year ago with some incredibly kind and articulate Hospice folks, concerning my father, then dying of cancer. These were some of the most amazing and moving hours of my life. My father was a family practice physician and a wonderfully intelligent, compassionate, and kind Southern Baptist. He also held thoughtful and well-informed conservative political views. I'm sure he would have opposed the present proposals. But, unlike the current shrill propagandists, he made his points with humor and humility derived from 50+ years of practicing medicine. His manner of looking at things often compelled me to change my mind, and I miss his insight into the present debate. I'm also very glad that, at the end of his life, the "government takeover" of health care known as Medicare covered an awful lot of his high-quality care, all done much more efficiently (in terms of transaction costs) than the private insurance system does it. And I know he felt frustrated that his calling of being a family practice doctor increasingly had been relegated to the role of the "gatekeeper," and that medicine increasingly had become a war of attrition between doctors who sought payment for services rendered, and private insurance companies who fought to keep from paying them.

God works in mysterious ways, and for all I know, God isn't necessarily too worried about the bogeyman of "socialized medicine."I'd wager God is much more concerned with our infant mortality rate, our overrun public hospitals, and our 9 million children (and rising) who have no health insurance. Billie Holiday best described our current system of health care rationing: God bless the child that's got his own.

Them thats got shall get
Them thats not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, papa may have
But God bless the child thats got his own
Thats got his own

Jones Versus Jones: Or, How Primitive Baptists Ended up on the Jon Stewart Show


Paul Harvey

Some of you may have been following the discussion of the competing books on (and film rights to) the "State of Jones" in Mississippi during the Civil War already. My interest came mostly from thinking about my upcoming Civil War/Reconsruction class, and also thinking this would make a great exercise (had we access to the necessary sources) for my Theory and Methods of History class. I didn't think it a subject of interest to blog about here. Yet there is one issue that has arisen that makes it relevant here; more on that in just a bit.

What I'm referring to are the blog reviews and discussions (some rather heated) arising from the recent publication of John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins, The State of Jones: The Small Southern County that Seceded from the Confederacy, a popular narrative history revisiting of a story covered some years ago in Victoria Bynum's Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War. The discussion concerns the fascinating figure of Newton Knight, a Unionist Mississipian who may (or may not) have fled the Battle of Corinth as a Confederate soldier on his way to being a deserter and later a seceder from the Confederacy; who may (or may not) have been at Vicksburg; who may (or may not) have been a Primitive Baptist prior to the war, and whose Primitive Baptist convictions may (or may not) have led him into opposition to slavery; and who may (or may not) have been a racial egalitarian who fought against slavery in part because of convictions arising from his possible Primitive Baptist background. Here's a brief description of the newest entry in the State of Jones library of books, by Stauffer and Jenkins:

Make room in your understanding of the Civil War for Jones County, Mississippi, where a maverick small farmer named Newton Knight made a local legend of himself by leading a civil war of his own against the Confederate authorities. Anti-planter, anti-slavery, and anti-conscription, Knight and thousands of fellow poor whites, army deserters, and runaway slaves waged a guerrilla insurrection against the secession that at its peak could claim the lower third of Mississippi as pro-Union territory. Knight, who survived well beyond the war (and fathered more than a dozen children by two mothers who lived alongside each other, one white and one black), has long been a notorious, half-forgotten figure, and in The State of Jones journalist Sally Jenkins and Harvard historian John Stauffer combine to tell his story with grace and passion. Using court transcripts, family memories, and other sources--and filling the remaining gaps with stylish evocations of crucial moments in the wider war--Jenkins and Stauffer connect Knight's unruly crusade to a South that, at its moment of crisis, was anything but solid.

Typical for more popular narrative histories, the book's publicity apparatus breathlessly treats its arrival as uncovering a heretofore hidden story that no one has known about before, etc. Of course, Bynum already had written an entire work on it (one amply cited in Stauffer/Jenkin's endnotes), and among Civil War historians the story is relatively well known.

The evidence for Newton Knight's life and times can be gleaned only partially from the records; the interesting but unreliable accounts of his descendants (both white and black) must be used, but there we quickly get into the hazy netherlands between myth and history, as all sides on this subject acknowledge. To me, it's more fun when things are murky this way, and the competing "memories" of Newt Knight (including by some of his white descendants who clearly are embarrassed, even ashamed, by his Unionism and his alliances with Republican Reconstruction governor Adelbert Ames after the war) provide a lot of the interest in discussing these books. And regardless of what happened (or didn't) during the war, Knight's Republican sympathies and interracial alliances after the war are remarkable and fascinating; on that all sides are agreed, and the Stauffer/Jenkins book goes over that material at length and (in my view) very well.

The publicity apparatus for popular history books can be a little annoying to scholars sometimes, especially when the cover quotes for the book act like these subjects have never been discussed before. That aside, it never hurts to have more than one work on a subject. There's no such thing as bad publicity, even more so when it concerns Southern Unionism, a subject that stubbornly resists making its way into civil war memory -- year after year, my students are shocked to learn about Southern Unionism during the war, and they all know basically nothing at all about Reconstruction, but they nearly all know way too much trivial detail about Stonewall Jackson and the usual suspects. I can confirm this too from many friends who sent me excited emails alerting me to this book, which they learned about via the Jon Stewart show; of course none of them knew of the longstanding interest in Southern Unionism generally, and the State of Jones more particularly.

The discussion ensuing from the Stauffer/Jenkins entry has raised important issues for discussion. Start here for Victoria Bynum's three-part review of the work. The link takes you to part one, and then follow her links to parts two and three. John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins initially responded here; more recently, Stauffer has responded to more recent entrants into this dialogue, and some of Bynum’s critiques, here. Over at his indispensable blog Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin summarized some of the conversation, including a review by David Reynolds in the New York Times, which (as Kevin pointed out) basically summarized the criticisms made by Bynum and various commentators at Civil War Memory (see the comments section in the posts above for a fuller run-down on those; some are nasty and stupid, others are serious and worthy of consideration).

You know things are weird when the national press picks up on what otherwise might be internecine scholarly disputes, as the Times did on this one; see the piece “Civil War Fires Up a Literary Shootout.” Kevin Levin reflects on his blog’s role in this whole affair here. Sally Jenkins, the Washington Post reporter and sportswriter who teamed with John Stauffer for the new book, also appeared on the Jon Stewart show to publicize the book. On the show she says that the traditional Confederate and neo-Confederate treatment of the episode was to ignore or denigrate Knight. At first I misunderstood this point, thinking she was ignoring the work of professional historians on Southern Unionism, but Jenkins kindly wrote me to clarify:

what I really mean is traditional Confederate treatment [of Knight], because it was Confederates like Dabney Maury and Robert Lowry who shaped the first accounts of the events in Jones, and their accounts stuck, right up until Dr. Bynum. And even though Southern Unionism has been much covered by professional historians -- we leaned heavily on William Freehling and Margaret Storey in particular -- there really aren't enough books about it for John's taste, or mine. The best one that I know of is More Damning Than Slaughter by Mark Weitz, which mounts a great argument about the toll desertion and Unionism took on the Confederate Army.

While some of this discussion has gotten heated, as things tend to do in the comments section of blogs, the most recent entries have involved a serious and substantive consideration of the issues involved, including the sometimes fuzzy distinction of history and myth, and the choices involved in popular history versus academic history (the Stauffer and Jenkins text originated as a screenplay for a movie, I think, and their work stylistically sometimes takes on a “you are there” tone common to a lot of popular history, hence occasioning this discussion).

I have no stake or side in this fight, and mostly have been following it as I’ve been thinking about my Civil War/Reconstruction class coming up next spring. There is one issue, however, of interest for our blog. Let’s assume that the main character of these books, Newton Knight, was a Primitive Baptist in the antebellum era (the evidence is unclear on this point, one of many points in dispute mostly because of an incomplete evidentiary record; but his father was, and in the postbellum era he certainly was, so it's a reasonable supposition). Would that have led him into an antislavery and (relatively) egalitarian Unionism such that he would have deserted his post as a Confederate soldier perhaps twice, and then led an internal insurrection against the Confederacy, and after the war carried on interracial relationships in a manner exceeding even most ardent abolitionists? A skeptical Bynum writes:

Take, for example, the authors’ argument that Newt was likely raised a Primitive Baptist whose religious devotion led him to condemn slavery. Such conjecture is based on a single statement by Newt’s son, Tom Knight, who published a biography of his father in 1946. But Tom never stated that his father was raised a Primitive Baptist, only that he joined the Zora Primitive Baptist Church around 1885-86 (p. 14). Newt Knight may well have hated slavery, but the only definitive statement to that effect appears in Anna Knight’s 1952 autobiography, Mississippi Girl.

Stauffer responds that

Knight was an antislavery, pro-Union dirt farmer who opposed the Confederacy morally, politically, and militarily. The Confederate officer who arrested Knight for desertion testified under oath that he was a Union man “from conviction.” We have the transcript. Not one but two of Knight’s children wrote memoirs in which they attested to his beliefs. Knight was a Primitive Baptist, a distinctly pre-War branch that flourished in Mississippi from the 1820s on, as Randy Sparks and other scholars have documented, and a central tenet of which was the equality of souls.

Our identification of Newton as a Primitive Baptist stems from multiple sources, including the fact that it was the dominant religion in the area and that both his father and grandfather were Primitive Baptists. Bynum tries to discount our interpretation by referring to the biography of his son Tom Knight, who said that Newton joined the Primitive Baptist Church around 1885. Tom Knight got the religion right but the date wrong, for conversion to Primitive Baptism was rare during the post-war period. The most accurate way to understand Newton Knight’s religious worldview is through the prism of Primitive Baptism.

And Sally Jenkins adds the following:

that Knight made many references to the Lord in an interview is not the sole suggestion that he was religious, merely one interesting strand. According to his son he was a Primitive Baptist, and according to his granddaughter he “did not believe in slavery,” which is a discussion that we’ve had before, I just didn’t want to belabor it on this site. Tom Knight’s memoir also contains several references to his father’s religious feeling, and very much jibes with Knight’s account of himself. Also, Knight’s first wife Serena was buried in a Primitive Baptist cemetery. Prof. Bynum’s book contains a lengthy description of the Knight family’s deep involvement in the Baptist churches of Jones County. We believe he was what was known as a “Hardshell.”

If indeed we view Newton KNight through the prism of Primitive Baptism, what would we find? In my reading of the records, the Primitive Baptists were very concerned with opposition to organized mission societies, and thus were opposed to the formation of denominations. They were very concerned with upholding the tenets of Calvinism. And their churches were populated by the kind of folk -- ordinary upcountry whites, predominantly -- who were skeptical of the pretensions of the slaveholding class, and later often became Unionists; or, if not that, kind of silently resisted the demands of the Confederate state. But did Primitive Baptists have much to say about slavery per se? They surely believed in the "equality of souls," but so did the leading figures of the Southern Baptist Convention, including those who attended the founding convention of the Confederacy and believed in the religious sanction for slavery.

So if everything that Stauffer/Jenkins assert about Knight's life is correct, I'm wondering how much this would have to do with his individual peculiarities, versus how much it had to do with Primitive Baptism.Enjoy this moment while you can, as I'm sure Primitive Baptists will quickly descend back into their former pre-Jon Stewart obscurity!

Update: Over at Civil War Memory in the comments section, John Stauffer has responded to my query -- I'm reposting it here for those who don't see it there:

To Paul Harvey:
Thank you for your comment and for your balanced assessment of the debate on your blog (“Jones vs. Jones”).

You raise an excellent question: to what degree does Primitive Baptism lead someone to become antislavery? None, if it’s the only evidence one has. After all, countless Primitive Baptists, Northern Baptists, and Methodists were not antislavery.

Our aim was to try to understand the interaction between ideas and material forces that make up a worldview. In the case of antislavery, multiple causes led people to that conviction.

As Sally and I have noted, we’re not certain that Newton Knight was a Primitive Baptist. We surmise he was based on these facts: Primitive Baptism was the dominant religion in Jones County; Newton’s grandfather helped found a Primitive Baptist church; family members, including Newton’s father, were Baptists; Newton’s son said Newton was a Primitive Baptist; and the company Newton joined in July 1861 was nicknamed “Hardshells,” signifying Primitive Baptism.

As Randy Sparks notes in his terrific book, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks, many Primitive Baptists in Mississippi espoused antislavery views for theological and class reasons until the 1820s, when the gatekeepers of slavery effectively silenced these views. But as I said, Primitive Baptism alone does not lead to antislavery.
Other sources point to the emergence of Newton’s antislavery views: his parents never owned slaves; according to his granddaughter, he “did not believe in slavery”; he opposed secession and disliked the planter class; and he had great faith in the Union—-in essence, he was an American first, a Southerner second.

Additionally, in the cauldron of the War, it was common for whites and blacks to unite in order to survive and vanquish a common enemy (the Confederacy), a point wonderfully developed by Philip Klinkner in his book, Unsteady March. In any event, when Knight affirmed his loyalty to the Union in 1863, he sought through his actions to end slavery.

Timothy L. Wood: The Accidental Celebrity

By John Fea

Cross-posted at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

Timothy L. Wood is a good historian. I first encountered his work on seventeenth-century Puritan views of Roman Catholicism in a 1999 New England Quarterly essay. He followed this up with a solid monograph: Agents of Wrath, Sowers of Discord: Authority and Dissent in Puritan Massachusetts, 1630-1655 (Routledge, 2005). I don't know Wood, but a couple of years ago we were both recruited to serve on a panel focused on trends in colonial American history. Wood had to turn down the invitation, so we never got a chance to meet.

Recently this unassuming early American historian, who appears to have forged a scholarly career by keeping his head to the grindstone producing books and articles on Puritanism, has become the target of one of the worst forms of identity theft.

It all started when Wood realized that an on-line article was attributed to him comparing Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler. He first become aware of the piece when he started getting fan mail from the extremists who read the website that published it. Wood acted quickly. He informed the administration at the college where he teaches--Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri--that he was not the author. The administration supported him and allowed Wood to put a post on its website disclaiming his authorship. (When I read the comments on this post I was suprised to learn just how many people had this piece of political chain mail forwarded to them).

Today's Inside Higher Ed is running an essay by Wood about the lessons he learned from this whole ordeal. How does something like this happen? I am assuming that Wood still does not know how the article ended up with his byline. Moreover, Southwest Baptist is a Christian college. I hope that this false attribution does not tarnish the witness of this school, not to mention Wood's career.

Needless to say, I am sorry that Wood had to go through all of this. I look forward to reading more of his informative scholarly work in the future.

From Toussaint to Tupac: The Revolutionary and the Revivalist in Afro-Atlantic Religious History


I recently received an interesting and important anthology to review: Michael O. West, William G. Martin, and Fanon Che Wilkins, From Toussaint to Tupac: The Black International Since the Age of Revolution. It represents something of a coming of age for studies of the black diaspora, or Africana studies, or whatever one wishes to call it, and reviving of a dream DuBois and others had taken up decades ago. The editors take on the Whig metanarrative of the march of freedom in modern Western history, which “pays scant attention to most of humanity outside the white Atlantic,” as well as national narratives which privilege the nation state, suggesting instead a model in which the struggles of black people worldwide from the Haitian Revolution to contemporary rap fundamentally inform and shape historical questions and understandings.

This project takes root in the early essays in the book, including Sylvia Frey’s outstanding exploration of the evangelical roots of Pan-Africanism in the eighteenth century, and William O. Martin and Michael O. West’s lively recounting of the Haitian Revolution, and their tracing of the “two black international traditions, the revolutionary and the revivalist” (more on that in just a bit). Subsequent sections (mostly concerned with political, not religious, historical narrative and analyses) deal with the black international in the World War I era, and in the era from the 1960s to the present. Each attempts to “show the emergence of black traditions of struggle and resistance in particular localities,” and demonstrate “how local struggles intersected with one another across diverse boundaries to form, loosely and informally, a black international that was greater than the sum total of its constituent parts.”

It’s interesting to ponder a rewriting of religious history using the model above. While religious history is not the primary concern of this essay collection, there’s plenty for religious historians to draw from here. In this case, rather than “Toussaint to Tupac,” a companion volume might be something like “Protten to West,” i.e. from Rebecca Protten, the black Moravian missionary whose fascinating transatlantic life has been discussed in Jon Sensbach’s Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World, to Cornel West, who presumably needs no introduction. These two figures, and so many in between from David Walker to Jarena Lee to Henry McNeal Turner to Howard Thurman and many others, make for a fascinating narrative and genealogy of the revolutionary and the revivalist, and a counternarrative to the Whig version of American religious history.

The first two essays in this work, by Frey and by Martin/West, introduced this thought to me as they trace the dual revolutions in black life and thought in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century: the revolutionary, and the revivalist. The two were intimately connected; indeed, Frey has argued that the revolutionary tradition came out of the revivalist movements. West and Martin’s essay, “Haiti, I’m Sorry: The Haitian Revolution and the Forging of the Black International,” a bracing examination of the wide-ranging consequences of the violent uprising in the jewel of the French crown, puts it this way: “the Haitan Revolution was a central moment in the evolution of the black international, forcefully demarcating the two major paradigms in black internationalism that emerged in the Age of Revolution: the revolutionary and revivalist traditions. The one tradition had its origins in the long series of slave revolts that reached its zenith in the Haitan Revolution, while the other derived from the evangelical revival movement of the latter part of the eighteenth century.”

Frey adds the following: “[P]an-Africanism has a complex genealogy. It emerged from an interweaving of revolutionary principles of liberty and religious notions of spiritual equality, on the one hand, and the wartime experiences of enslaved people, on the other. Black evangelicalism helped to transform the religious and political landscape of the Atlantic world. Transported abroad during the postrevolutionary exodus, black evangelicals left as their legacy black forms of Protestantism in Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands. Not coincidentally, their nonviolent struggles for the expansion of human rights coincided with the great Atlantic revolutions and the burgeoning antislavery movement of the late eighteen and early nineteenth centuries. The Exodus story that lay at the heart of evangelical expectations for the coming of the divinely appointed millennium melded easily with the impatient dreams of those who sought to hasten the day of deliverance. The impatient ones offered another historical model from which Afro-Atlantic peoples drew inspiration. Thus did the two traditions in early pan-Africanism emerge: the evangelical and the revolutionary.”

After the initial offerings by Frey and Martin/West, the remainder of this volume mostly follows other narratives; the revolutionary receives extended attention, the revivalist less so. This leaves openings for others, I hope, to pick up the useful thread of following the narrative of the revolutionary and the revivalist in Afro-Atlantic religious history.

On the Irish Waterfront


By Kathleen Sprows Cummings

I am holding in my hands my long-awaited copy of James T. Fisher’s On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York, just published by Cornell University Press as part of the Cushwa Center’s Studies of Catholicism in Twentieth-Century America series. Fisher claims On the Waterfront is the best movie ever made in the U.S. A. His book not only makes a convincing case for that argument, but also provides a deft and compelling history of religion, politics, labor, and ethnicity in mid-twentieth century America,and I plan to assign it in my classes for years to come.

The timing of the book’s publication was made all the more poignant by the death of Budd Schulberg, the screenwriter for On the Waterfront, the very same week. Fisher’s eulogy of Schulberg, whom he describes as “the best Catholic never baptized,” will be of interest to readers of this blog, and I post them here below.

Budd Schulberg, March 27, 1914-August 5, 2009

James Terence Fisher

For years I opened public presentations on Budd Schulberg’s life and times by noting that he was a close personal friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’d pause, then remind audiences that F. Scott Fitz died in…1940. That fact often drew gasps or knowing smiles. But then, just a few moments ago, mourning Budd’s death in conversation with my L.A. cousin (more like brother) the screenwriter Bob Fisher, I was given a much more powerful image with which to convey the magnitude of Budd’s gift and prowess. “Budd,” as Bobby reminded me, “was close personal friends with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Spike Lee.” Budd and Spike worked intermittently for years on a Joe Louis film bio. Budd knew Joe Louis.

Ben Stiller was another friend of Budd; they also collaborated, on a project to bring to the screen Budd’s 1941 Hollywood novel What Makes Sammy Run. Budd was already an old industry hand by that year, having written several screenplays (including 1939’s with Scott Fitzgerald) and doctoring many more (Budd told me he penned the famous final line of 1937’s A Star is Born: “Hello, this is Mrs. Norman Maine”).

Budd Wilson Schulberg, that is, knew seemingly everybody enshrined across that vast tableau we know as twentieth century culture. He was standing next to his friend Bobby Kennedy in a passageway at LA’s Ambassador Hotel when RFK was murdered in June 1968. He was seated ringside when his friend Muhammad Ali reclaimed his heavyweight title from George Foreman in Zaire in October 1974. That was nearly three decades after Budd not only arrested Leni Riefenstahl (”Hitler’s favorite filmmaker) while working for his friend the legendary director John Ford in the wartime OSS; he wrested from her an implicit admission she knew about the Nazi death camps, a truth she subsequently denied for decades.

Budd was an amazingly gifted listener; perhaps the result of a lifelong if highly manageable speech impediment, but more likely because listening was simply his supreme gift. When he met the ”waterfront priest” John M. “Pete” Corridan in late autumn 1950, the gruff, guarded Jesuit told Schulberg there was “no percentage” to be gained via collaboration between the men on a film project. During that very first meeting, however, Schulberg–who had been commissioned to write a screenplay based on a New York Sun waterfront expose for which Corridan served as prime source–began to win the priest’s enduing trust. They talked boxing; they talked mob talk; they talked briefly about the Catholic church’s radical social teachings, which came as great a revelation to Schulberg as they did to many Catholics. Within days Budd experienced his first waterfront pub crawl along Manhattan’s forbidding “Irish waterfront,” in the company of Arthur “Brownie” Brown, Corridan’s most devoted “rebel disciple” in the struggle to overthrow the mob-ridden, Tammany-backed and Church-blessed union that had misrepresented dockworkers in the Port of New York and New Jersey since the turn of the century.

Budd Schulberg would devote the next three years of his life to bringing journalist Malcolm Johnson’s “Crime on the Waterfront” to fruition as a film. A film? May we suggest On the Waterfront is quite possibly the greatest movie ever made in the U.S.A. (Hoboken, New Jersey, to be exact). Budd virtually moved in with Brownie and his wife Ann in their tiny apartment (Brownie is immortalized as “Kayo Dugan” in the movie; the rebel dockworker crushed by the mob under a slingload bearing cases of his beloved Irish whiskey). By day he wrote on a desk in a corner of a room at the Xavier Labor School on W. 16th Street in Manhattan, the place where Corridan and his “insoigents,” as Budd liked to call Corridan’s disciples, were provided cover and refuge by Phil Carey, S.J. the heroic and steadfast director of the labor school, who turned Pete Corridan loose in the face of overwhelming resistance from powerful figures in the New York Archdiocese; they had a major economic and spiritual investment to protect in the waterfront status quo.

Budd was the best Catholic never baptized; or perhaps that’s precisely why he was such a brilliant and courageous “mouthpiece” for Pete Corridan and the waterfront rebels. Corridan was a powerful speaker, but Karl Malden’s cinematic rendition of “Christ in the Shapeup”–a fiery address originally delivered by Corridan on the Jersey City waterfront in 1948–represents simply the finest moment in the representation of Catholic social justice teachings witnessed anywhere, at any time, in any medium. Budd had the gift and he shared it: the magnificent film is Budd’s, and that of his comrade Pete Corridan; this alone enshrines him as a towering figure of the century he nearly covered in his life and art. Budd wrote it best himself on the occasion of Pete Corridan’s death in early July 1984, a quarter century to the day preceding the recent death of their mutual friend Karl Malden: Ave Atque Vale Budd. Forget Charley Malloy for the moment; it was you Budd: you created this magnificent work, inspired by Pete. To borrow from what your friend Eddie Futch said to Joe Frazier on that night in Manilla when he stopped the fight with Ali before the bell sounded the fifteenth round: you will never be forgotten for what you created–with your amigo Elia Kazan–amid the wintry streets and wind-swept piers of Hoboken in that most memorable late autumn 1953.

Faulkner, Dirty Harry, and My Disappointing Summer Break

Art Remillard

Summers always begin with high ambitions, and end with crushing disappointments. Case in point: this summer—as a “side project”—I had hoped to read a handful of Faulkner novels. Yet last week, I managed to finish only one, The Unvanquished. I started here since, as Faulkner once remarked, it is “the easiest to read.” (I have the “lazy gene”—don’t judge me.) Born from a series of short stories, Faulkner introduces the names (Sartoris and Snopes) and places (Yoknapatawpha County) that populate his other novels. More significantly, The Unvanquished is an accessible entry into a central theme in Faulkner’s body of work, that people posses, as he summarized in his Nobel Prize speech, “a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”

Indeed, in the novel’s opening pages, as the Civil War rages, we find the twelve-year-old Bayard Sartoris “playing war” with Ringo, his black slave-friend of the same age. This image of youthful ignorance represents a moral point of departure for Bayard, who would slowly resist many of the norms of the white “southern way of life.” When he first sees a “Yankee,” for example, he remarks with incredulity, “He looks just like a man.” The “stranger” is thus humanized, if only for a brief moment.

The final chapter punctuates Bayard’s moral transformation. His father, Colonel John Sartoris, had been a Civil War hero and a “redeemer” during Reconstruction. But Sartoris the Elder is murdered by his rival Ben Redmond. And Sartoris the Younger is bound by an Old South honor code to enact vengeance. Earlier in the novel, Bayard avenges his grandmother’s death, killing off the “murdering scoundrel” Grumby. But the war had since ended, and a new era was emerging. Even Colonel Sartoris, whose past was defined by death and warfare, tells his son before his murder, “I am tired of killing men, no matter what the necessity nor the end.”

So Bayard confronts his father’s murder, armed only with a “turn the other cheek” ethic, cultivated in part by his deceased grandmother. In a surreal series of events, the surprised Redmond stands, fires two shots into the air, and “went away . . . from Mississippi and never came back.” A gathering of bloodthirsty men witness Redmond departing, dumbfounded yet also aware that “maybe there has been enough killing.” They see in Bayard a new kind of courage, which is both counterintuitive and effective. Still, lingering in the background is Ringo, whose skin color puts him on the periphery of Bayard’s imagined sacred community of the New South. Ironically, Bayard’s moral code—and by extension the moral code of the New South—alienates his black friend, but acknowledges the humanity in his father’s murderer.

Alongside this irony, The Unvanquished left a powerful image of active non-violence in my head. Fortuitously enough, a day after finishing the novel, I watched Gran Torino. For those who haven’t seen Gran Torino, I will only say that Dirty Harry's film is sufficiently Faulknerian. Keep an eye out for two contrasting confessions at the end—one is perfunctorily delivered through a confessional screen to a pasty and persistent Catholic priest; and the other is passionately delivered through a screen door to his young and astute Hmong neighbor. These scenes in themselves capture the film’s close inspection of compassion, sacrifice, and endurance.

So perhaps my summer of crushing disappointment wasn’t so disappointing after all. Oh who am I kidding, of course it was.

Conversation with Rachel Wheeler


Linford D. Fisher

Recently I caught up (via phone) with Rachel Wheeler, Associate Professor of Religion at Indiana University-Purdue University—Indianapolis, to talk about her 2008 Cornell University Press book, To Live Upon Hope: Mohicans and Missionaries in the Eighteenth-century Northeast (which, by the way, was a recent finalist for the American Academy of Religion Best First Book Award). In addition to being a first-rate contribution to the field of Native American history, it also tackles directly issues relating to religion in American history, particularly evangelization, indigenization, and religious and cultural hybridity.

LF: How did you first get interested in this project? What are the intellectual origins of the way it is framed, conceived, and executed?

RW: This project started when I was at Yale fishing around for a dissertation topic. I wanted to do something with Indians, and I was also interested in intellectual history, and so Skip Stout said, “Well, you know, nobody’s ever really looked at [Jonathan] Edwards’ time in Stockbridge.” So I started looking at that, and then discovered that there was also this Moravian mission nearby and I thought “Oh, a perfect comparison: they start within five years of each other, to the same group of Indians, what could be better?” But as you know, working with the Moravian sources is tough, and I didn’t know German at the time, didn’t know how to read the handwriting, but somehow I convinced my advisors to let me go ahead using the English that is in the sources and the [Fliegal] index. But it was clear that if I was really going to do a book on it I had to do the German to be able to use those sources. With regard to the larger issues, I was interested in this intersection of Indians and whites and just felt like some of the previous accounts didn’t make sense of the human component of that interaction. The [James] Axtell “contest of cultures” approach just couldn’t account for all those experiences of colonialism.

LF: Can you give a cocktail version of the book for blog readers who might not have read it (yet)?

RW: Basically, this is a comparative community study looking at two Mohican groups and how they encountered and adapted Christianity [through Congregationalists in Stockbridge, MA, and Moravians in Shekomeko, NY]. The Mohicans are a group who have had over a century of contact with Europeans, so this was not a new thing, which means it is different from the perhaps more familiar stories of missionary encounter. Moravians and Congregationalists obviously are very different in their missionizing and they inhabit very different places in the political and social structure of colonial America, and that shapes their respective Christianities. So I’m interested, rather than assuming as many previous studies have done that Christianity often just serves as one arm of colonialism, in just how different these two forms of missionary Christianity were and how various Indian peoples responded differently to them. And I wanted to ask a different question that I think isn’t asked in many studies, that is, “What does Christianity become in the hands of Native peoples?” (rather than “Did they understand Christianity?” or “Were their conversions authentic?”). I see that as the central question of the book. So in the case of the Moravians, because of the similarities between Mohican and Moravian religion—which centers around what I call “spiritual efficacy,” that is, how do you engage the spirits for distinct purposes in your life—the Moravians’ god becomes the new spiritual tool that is similar to other Mohican spiritual tools, but one that can be used to address the new problems that come with colonialism.

LF: That reminds me that one of the things that stuck out to me in your book is this question of functionalist or instrumentalist approaches to Indian religion. In the broader field of religious history, there is a lot of discomfort with seeing religious decisions as being tied to practical concerns. In your book, you are careful to say that you do not have an instrumentalist approach to religion, and yet so much of what you describe seems to center on Native practicality and their view of efficacy as a test for religious truth. So in terms of a broader approach to this question of functionalism, how might attention to Native American sources wean us from this discomfort?

RW: I think it is a Protestant discomfort; what’s most important in Protestantism is belief. In Protestantism, you don’t pray in order to get something, so I think that carries over into scholarship, that “true” religion or “authentic” religion is about belief no matter what the outcome is. Whereas in Native American religion, traditionally, if it doesn’t function in ways that you need it to, then you question it. But I do think there is a difference between the efficacy that I am talking about and the functionalism of postcolonial discourse concerning Native American conversions. When they use “functional” in that context, they mean that the Natives don’t really believe, that they are just pulling a fast one over the missionaries, which is not the case here. I think a lot of the Lived Religion focus has called attention to the efficacy part of even Protestantism.

LF: Another thing that stuck out to me in your book is the amazing amount of detail regarding the Moravianized Mohican lifeworlds (men and women), which, as you mentioned before, largely came from the Moravian records. What did it take to access these Moravian records in terms of language acquisition, and, secondly, what was the payoff? How does accessing these records revolutionize what we think about the missionary project?

RW: The Moravian records are amazing, and I never thought as a colonial historian I’d have the problem with too many sources. So in terms of how I was able to get into them, I didn’t really know German, so the first thing I did was to take the Moravian Archives class in handwriting. After the class, I thought, okay, this is doable, so I made an effort to beef up my German. And, yes, the things that that opened up is just incredible, the kinds of sources that you just can’t find anywhere else about Native Americans in the eighteenth century. The Moravians just wrote so much, with long descriptions. I think my favorite source was a letter dictated by Rachel (a Moravianized Mohican), married to the Moravian missionary Christian Post; Christian knows German but doesn’t know much English; Rachel knows broken English from having grown up surrounded by English. I kept trying to read this letter and it wasn’t making sense, and then I started reading it out loud, I realized it was English even though it was written in a German script. So Rachel is dictating it to Maria Spangenberg, who is her spiritual mentor; Rachel’s husband is taking down the dictation but he doesn’t really know English and doesn’t really understand what she is saying, so he writes what he hears with German phonetics, but it is actually English. So “very” is “were” and “cry” is “krei,” and so forth. To me, it felt like the most unmediated document that gave us the perspective of a Native American woman from that time period.

LF: Okay, I’ve got to ask this, since I’m sure blog readers will want to know: What is up with the word “Mohican”? Isn’t that just a tribal designation invented by James Fenimore Cooper? (Vs. Mohegan and Mahican) And—while we are on the topic—was there a “last” of the Mohicans?

RW: Mohegans are the people of southern Connecticut; Samson Occom is probably the most famous. Mohicans are different; the people today descended from these people—so no, there was no last of the Mohicans—they call themselves Mohican, that’s ultimately why I went with that term. Historians have generally used Mahican, coming from the original Dutch Mahikkander. Mohicans themselves from the beginning of my story called themselves Mahicanuk, at least the Stockbridges used that term. Up until the book, I always used Mahican in all of my work, but given that the people today use Mohican, and that’s the more familiar term, I decided to go with it.

LF: That’s helpful. And did you have a lot of correspondence or interaction with present-day Mohicans while working on this project?

RW: Not a lot, but some. I participated in a 2001 conference on the reservation in Wisconsin (descendents of the Stockbridges) who, incidentally, featured in an episode of The West Wing a while back. It was really interesting to tour the reservation and to spend a couple of days there. Probably the majority of Stockbridges today are Christian; some of them were very interested and happy to hear about my work on the Mohican Christians, but some of them were not (usually the non-Christians). I also got to know Bill Miller, a Christian Mohican musician who several years ago won the Best Native American Grammy, and that was probably the most important response I got from my book—I sent him a copy, and he very much appreciated it, especially the Moravian stuff. He really felt a strong sense of identification with those Mohican men who were among the first Christians.

LF: What is your next project on?

RW: It’s going to follow the life of Joshua, who is in one of the final chapters of my book. Joshua lives this amazing, incredible life, where he shows up in the most important events of American nation-building, even though he is from this obscure Christian Mohican community. I think telling his life story against the backdrop of these other important events will give us a very different perspective on the events of American nation-building, while also just being a very fascinating glimpse into the lives of individual Native Americans. He will be the main focus, but it will be a five-generational family study. He is born in 1740, the year before the start of the Moravian mission, his parents convert, his grandparents convert; he grows up in this bi-cultural world speaking German, speaking Mohican; he learns to play the spinet; he’s a cooper, he’s a hunter. His community keeps moving west hoping to move out of the current theater of war. In the 1740s, they move from New York to escape King George’s War; they land in Pennsylvania but then the French and Indian War heats up; they move west again to Ohio and land right in the middle of battles over territory there between Britain and America, during that time Joshua is hauled away by the British who accuse him of spying for the Americans. Meanwhile the community where they now live in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, is attacked by an American militia and 96 Indians are killed—all pacifist, Moravian Mohican Indians—including two of his teenaged daughters. They move west again to Indiana, settling with a refugee community of Delawares, and then the Shawnee prophet comes around in the early 1800s and tries to get Joshua’s community to join [in a pan-Indian uprising], and they say no, we are pacifists. Joshua is accused several months later by the Shawnee prophet of witchcraft and is burned at the stake. I think the story is gripping and will also give a whole new perspective on these events.

Jesus and Justice: Review by Steven Miller


I'm pleased today to guest-post Steven Miller's review of the important new book Jesus and Justice. Steven last posted here about the latest revelations of the Billy Graham-Richard Nixon connection.

Blue, Green, and Evangelical

Review of Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race, and American Politics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009)

By Steven P. Miller

For optimists in progressive evangelical circles, the inauguration of President Barack Obama signaled a new era. The inaugural ceremony featured a minister from the evangelical world, conventionally understood—Rick Warren, heir to longtime Christianity Today editor Carl F. H. Henry’s tradition of social engagement. It also featured a minister whose theology progressive evangelicals admire—Joseph Lowery, peer of Martin Luther King, Jr., and beacon of the black church activist tradition. The hope—and “hope” is perhaps the key word in progressive evangelical circles, preferable to “progress” itself—was that Obama could weave these two strands together, instantiating a new brand of evangelical politics.

In Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race, and American Politics, theologian Peter Goodwin Heltzel places himself on the vanguard of progressive evangelical hope. Heltzel, who writes from an evangelical theological perspective and a progressive political one, argues that a mature evangelical social movement has arrived and that it represents a synthesis of King, saint of twentieth-century prophetic Christianity, and Henry, voice of the postwar neo-evangelical movement. In this sense, Heltzel offers a dialectical interpretation of modern evangelical social activism. “As a new generation of evangelical activists embraces King’s vision for racial equality and reconciliation,” he argues, “and as evangelicals in the Henry tradition seek to live into his call to justice and reform, a growing intercultural evangelical coalition is embodying a prophetic politics of hope” (xxiii). This amounts to “a major paradigm shift in evangelical political life: the birth of a new prophetic evangelical politics” (4).

Heltzel’s synthesis contains elements of both theological aspiration and historical analysis. That is, he desires to explain how a King-Henry synthesis is theologically possible, while also explaining how it became historically possible. For his argument to have historical merits, then, Heltzel must offer “a new genealogy of evangelicalism” (11). And, here, despite my trained instincts as a fair reader, I confess having had some skepticism from the start. For as much as historians of religion like to rail against our colleagues who don’t “get religion,” those colleagues sometimes have little incentive to make the effort. Evangelical historiography, especially, has not fully overcome its insider origins and sometimes reflects agendas that non-specialists have few good reasons to care about. Might a work that so seamlessly merges theology with history only perpetuate this trend? So, while I hope that Heltzel is right about the emergence of a durable evangelical progressivism, I’m not sure that his thesis works as a description of evangelical history up to Obama era. But he sure does make you think. The rich tensions within his dialectic make this book well worth reading—and, if you’ll bear with me for a while longer, worth reviewing, as well.

I find much to admire about this ambitious book. Heltzel’s inclusion of “transdenominational populism” as a historically defining characteristic of American evangelicalism gives his narrative welcome breadth and allows room for conceptual creativity (7). Race stands as a central theme of American evangelical history. In Heltzel’s telling, American evangelicalism was a certifiably bi-racial phenomenon nearly from the start, before the Civil War era witnessed the tragic severing of “prophetic black Christianity” (including Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth in their roles as “prophetess”) from a white evangelicalism that abandoned its inclusive revivalist heritage (29, 30). “These two streams—white evangelical and black prophetic—continued on to clash during the civil rights movement but would begin to converge in the aftermath of the Iraq war in the early twenty-first century,” writes Heltzel (43). Something happened on the way to this convergence—namely, King and Henry. King, argues Heltzel, is not a new addition to the evangelical tradition, but rather a product of it. For Heltzel, evangelical theology stands with the black church and liberal theology as major influences on King. If King is a forgotten evangelical, then Henry is a forgotten prophet who created theological space for subsequent evangelical activism.

Heltzel then turns to four recent expressions of evangelical politics in all their richness and complexity: Focus on the Family (founded by neo-Victorian paterfamilias James Dobson), National Association of Evangelicals (whose increasingly well-rounded approach to custodial activism appears to have survived the Ted Haggard sex scandal), Christian Community Development Association (co-founded by the remarkable black evangelical activist, John Perkins), and the Sojourners community (associated with Jim Wallis, journalists’ go-to man for reminders that not all evangelicals like Dobson or liked Haggard). Heltzel’s case studies are notable for their nuance and attention to different, often competing theologies of Christ. He sees in Dobson, whose newsworthiness climaxed during the George W. Bush presidency, “the twilight of evangelical warrior politics” (5). The new “evangelical public theology is cast in a shade of blue green.” Blue represents the “long tragedy of black suffering,” green “an emergent holism” among evangelicals who reject the soul-centered individualism that Henry could never kick (203).

To return to my initial skepticism, I found myself asking whether “blue green” politics is a product of history or a product of Heltzel’s considerable skills as a theological and preacher. Perhaps Heltzel would gladly answer, “All of the above!” Observe the following unselfconscious blend of history and theology in Heltzel’s discussion of black Christianity as a species of evangelicalism: “Furthermore, the theological subjectivity and subversive political agency of black Christians is an integral part of renarrating America’s evangelical past and constructing a prophetic evangelical future” (15). My concern here is that some history might get sacrificed for the sake of hope. A few pages later, for example, Heltzel exaggerates the racial generosity of Jonathan Edwards and the anti-slavery activism of Charles Finney (16, 27). He likely also exaggerates the evangelical impulses of King. Heltzel’s strongest case there concerns King’s “deep commitment to biblical authority” (58). Yet King’s non-literalism, among many other things, distanced him from the avowed evangelicals of his own time. In the end, Heltzel could stand to be more self-conscious about the tendency of nearly everyone—left or right, blue or green—to embrace King. Likewise, calling Henry “a prophet before his time” in a book of this nature invites impossible comparisons with King, who really was an American radical (73). As Heltzel notes, Henry’s brand of Lordship theology was politically ambidextrous; John Howard Yoder and Francis Schaeffer alike reflected elements of it. Henry always has struck me as a conservative man, at heart, but one who wanted his public witness to be relevant. Heltzel rightly links Henry’s anti-statism with the libertarian heritage of his Baptist faith. But what seems radical when raging against the Puritan Biblical commonwealth seems, well, much less prophetic when fretting about federal civil rights legislation.

Perhaps I am holding Heltzel to an unfair disciplinary standard. After all, he is a theologian, not a historian, and surely I am not doing his theological moves justice. Rolling with that hypothetical punch, then, I close with a few normative thoughts of my own (reflecting, no doubt, my own shade of politics, which tends toward left-liberal wonkishness . . . blue red, perhaps?).

For starters, I wonder how Heltzel would respond to the suggestion that he and his fellow progressive evangelicals operate in the historical shadows not only of King and Henry, but also of the liberal Protestant tradition that their elders maligned and that they dismiss as no longer relevant. There are many understandable political reasons for not wanting to concede this debt, but some good and honest reasons for doing so.

Heltzel’s main problem with liberal Protestants could be that they are not in fact very religious. Fair enough. But, turning to my second thought, perhaps Heltzel’s brand of evangelical activism is not worldly enough. That is, he does not seem to grapple fully with the possibility that liberal statism can and will address many of his prophetic concerns. To call an injustice “systemic” at this moment in American history is to argue that the power of the government (“in other words, of the people,” to quote the Populists of yore) should be employed to redress that injustice. In good American pragmatic fashion, Heltzel lives with this assumption, but does not name it. I gather that Jim Wallis does the same, since (as Heltzel notes with ambivalence) Wallis more or less acted as a Democratic party adjunct during the 2008 election. In a strange way, progressive evangelicals remain reticent about making peace with the liberal state.

Perhaps federal protection for abortion rights, which Dobson’s warriors would see as part and parcel of the liberal state, helps to explain this reticence. Heltzel rightly calls out Dobson for casting the pro-life cause as the authentic heir to the abolitionist and civil rights movements. “The struggle to preserve unborn children,” Heltzel declares, “is different from advocating against more than two hundred years of slavery and one hundred years of segregation” (116). I could not agree more; but I would love to hear Heltzel explain why precisely Dobson is wrong. I understand the sensitive nature of the abortion issue for progressive evangelicals, but they are going to have to go there, sometime.

Finally, I was happy to see a book of this nature appearing from Yale University Press. In that sense, though, I found Mark Noll’s characteristically generous foreword to the book a little unnecessary. Granted, who wouldn’t welcome an endorsement from a historian of Noll’s gifts and stature? Still, such public torch passing in the pages of a university press book seems a tad insular (to use that loaded word again). Heltzel’s work can stand on its own.

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