Headlines of racial violence and the unabashed racism within Donald Trump’s campaign for the U.S. presidency do not allow Americans to escape the fact that our nation’s value of pluralism lies on shaky ground. The U.S. Constitution, of course, did not originally allow for the full rights of women or people of African, Asian, or Native American descent, but the notion of America as a land of opportunity for all persists.
Patricia Appelbaum, author of St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America’s Most Popular Saint, talks to Peggy Bendroth as part of the History Matters series at the Congregational Library and Archives.
Protestant aversion to organized religion is everywhere, even on the sign on the front lawns of churches. Smart congregations are dropping the Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian label and replacing it with soft generic names like Willow Grove or Saddleback. They are becoming nonspecific “communities” and “fellowships” associating themselves with some broad spiritual aspiration, like “resurrection” or “hope” or “reconciliation.”
This past summer, Pope Francis released his very welcome encyclical on climate change. Supporters and opponents have both noted his attention to science. What I find more interesting is his attention to theology and religion.
It’s the season of blessings again. In many places there are blessings of backpacks for the new school year. Here and there, bicycles that were not blessed in spring will have another chance. In October, religious groups all over the country and around the world will hold “blessings of the animals” in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. What I find remarkable is how many of these ceremonies take place in Protestant churches. It wasn’t always like this.
As I walk around Philadelphia this week, I marvel at the signs, merchandise, and promotions welcoming Pope Francis. It’s hard to believe that just over a century and a half ago, Catholics were the target of violence in this city.
This shift of Pope Francis is significant—even radical. He is focused on the pastoral outreach to people, especially those who are judged as not being in communion with church teaching through divorce, use of contraception, and gay unions. He tells us to “stop the obsession” with sex and to find a way to welcome and heal those who have been marginalized because they do not measure up to the ideal state of church teaching on every issue.
The oatmeal market suffered under the weight of too many competitors, with prices often falling below production costs. Crowell saw the solution in the mill’s overlooked Quaker trademark. And so, at a time when most consumers shoveled their oatmeal from open barrels, Crowell’s product appeared on shelves in sealed, two-pound boxes. Richly illustrated advertisements saturated local, then national, print media. Both package and ad featured the iconic Quaker, always smiling jovially and holding a scroll on which was written the single word “Pure.”
Although cast as opponents in cultural debates, religious liberals and evangelicals appear to read (different) books for similar reason—to (re)create their religious identities, to restore people like them to the center of religious life, and to place themselves in history as important religious actors. These books remind readers of their beliefs and values and help them (re)construct their faith in the face of daily challenges and disappointments.
“What Would Jesus Do About Measles?” asks Paul A. Offit, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in the opinion pages of the New York Times. Recalling the 1991 measles epidemic in Philadelphia (1400 people were infected; 9 children died), Offit points out that the outbreak was so virulent because two fundamentalist Christian churches that discouraged vaccination were at its epicenter. Public health officials brought the epidemic under control—in part—by getting a court order to vaccinate children over their parents’ protests. Citing the current measles outbreak and the approximately 30,000 children in the United States who are unvaccinated for religious reasons, Offit makes the case for eliminating the religious vaccination exemption. Moreover, Offit thinks Jesus—who stood up for children—would get them vaccinated against measles to keep them safe and to protect others.
As the movement for the repeal of DADT gained political momentum, dozens of retired military chaplains and civilian religious organizations expressed grave concerns that a repeal of DADT would coerce military chaplains into performing services contrary to the dictates of their religious confession or would effectively silence their protected religious speech about the sinfulness of homosexuality. There were warnings of mass resignations or a mass exodus from the military chaplaincy by evangelical chaplains (who fill most chaplain billets). Ultimately, few chaplains have actually resigned their military commissions as a result of their opposition to the repeal of DADT or the ruling of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional.
The Jesus music had a visceral effect on my peers and me. Music was all around us and a constant emotional and intellectual force in the 1970s. It was very much the vehicle for communicating this faith. Music identified us. It captured the emotion that was largely absent in the churches that emerged from the 1950s. The music communicated both an identity and a mission. We all felt like we were going to somehow change the world. Music, however could be exploited.
Jesus has had a long, exciting, funny, and painful life in America. From the slave ships of the Atlantic Ocean to the Hollywood sets along the Golden Coast, from the visions out of Indian country to the artwork of children, from the firing of bullets to the construction of billboards, Jesus has been born, crucified, and resurrected in America’s racial sagas. Those of the twenty-first century laugh because there is so much to cry over.
The most fascinating thing about the letter is that before the Civil War, just about everyone knew that it was a fraud. Whenever Americans discussed it, such as the President of Yale University Ezra Stiles, they admitted that it was a fake and that the Bible said nothing of what Jesus looked like. But then between the Civil War and the Great Depression, white Americans transformed it into a believed truth.
2012 marks the two hundredth anniversary of the first Protestant American foreign missionaries. Over the course of those years, the movement’s fortunes and its public presence have waxed and waned. In 1812, the movement boasted five missionaries sailing to the Indian subcontinent. One hundred years later, its most prominent members were recruited for diplomatic missions. Yet whatever the public perception of missionaries, their work raises significant questions, even for people who might have little interest in the movement itself.
Jesus was part of the Revolution and formation of the United States, but not as much as one might expect. As a physical presence, he was almost completely absent. And in the language of law and legislation for the new republic, he was virtually as nonexistent. In comparison to how prominent Jesus would become in the United States of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Revolution and founding of the new nation were profoundly Christ-less.