The Southern Way of Religion

The Northern Protestant tradition is, in the most general sense, the institutional and intellectual expression of Puritanism

.. Puritanism for all its emphasis on the individual’s probing, introspective relationship to God never made a fetish of individualism. Rather, Puritanism emphasized the individual in community, in relationship to other believers, and Puritans did not characteristically strike out alone for the frontier but moved as part of believing church communities. Puritans tended to define their individual callings not only as a personal response to God’s plan for them but also saw their calling in terms of the needs of the larger community.

.. the very sense of mission that undergirded the Puritan enterprise in the New World: the mission to create a holy Bible commonwealth in what was called a howling wilderness and the corresponding mission to export that model of the Godly society back to the Old World to complete the Reformation.

.. individual Puritan believers and their individual churches were part of a great Providential plan

.. Puritans thus sought a reformed, educated, moral commnnity, with schools, colleges, printed sermons, and a whole host of institutions and practices oriented toward shaping the community. The faithful were God’s agents primed to communicate and make manifest in the world God’s intentions for the whole society of which they were a part.

.. Throughout the North and Midwest tin’s Northern religious tradition fueled a variety of reform movements: the revivalism of Charles G. Finney, for example, led to attempts at social perfectionism including abolitionism and a wide range- of ameliorative activities. This Northern Protestant tradition valued theology and education, had a strong social conscience, emphasized human agency, and appreciated the prophetic role of religion in the Amos-like tradition of judging society against presumed Biblical standards). Out of this tradition came not only antebellum reform but the later Social Gospel movement and, in the 20th century, efforts to prevent war, end segregation, and generally advance a moderate-to-liberal social agenda.

..  The roots of the Southern Bible Belt lie in the mid-18th-century South, a slaveholding region with a nominal established (state-supported) religious institution, the Anglican Church.

.. Throughout the North and Midwest tin’s Northern religious tradition fueled a variety of reform movements: the revivalism of Charles G. Finney, for example, led to attempts at social perfectionism including abolitionism and a wide range- of ameliorative activities. This Northern Protestant tradition valued theology and education, had a strong social conscience, emphasized human agency, and appreciated the prophetic role of religion in the Amos-like tradition of judging society against presumed Biblical standards).

Out of this tradition came not only antebellum reform but the later Social Gospel movement and, in the 20th century, efforts to prevent war, end segregation, and generally advance a moderate-to-liberal social agenda. For much of the 19th century and at least the-first half of the 20th century, this Northern religious tradition was seen as the national religions mainstream.

.. The roots of the Southern Bible Belt lie in the mid-18th-century South, a slaveholding region with a nominal established (state-supported) religious institution, the Anglican Church.

.. The South in 1740 consisted of but five colonies: Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. While there was a smattering of other denominations and sects in the region, in all five colonies the official religious body was the Church of England.

.. Southern Anglicanism was mostly a faith adhered to only nominally in the Southern colonies and hardly at all in the backcountry.

.. The Southern common folk felt doubly excluded, unmoved by pedantic, read sermons and restricted to the back pews—the upfront paid pews were reserved for the families of the plantation aristocrats whose patriarchs sat on the vestries.

.. Government-imposed tobacco taxes paid the ministers’ salaries, thus insulating them even further from the necessity of appealing to popular needs or preferences.

..  the majority of whites—and even more so the slaves—often felt alienated from the established church. The absence of a strong and vibrant religious faith and community meant that there was a potential for a religious awakening

.. That change would be the effective introduction into Virginia of three activist denominations in the generation after 1740: in order of appearance, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, and the Methodists.

There are several prerequisites that must be in place before a widespread religious awakening can occur:

  1. there must be a network of churches and ministers,
  2. there must be a generally accepted belief system about how God works in history,
  3. and there must be the perception of a religious crisis so severe that the faithful believe only direct divine intervention can effect a remedy.

.. Within a three-decade period, in unlinked but successive movements, Presbyterian, Baptist, and then Methodist churches and networks of ministers were developed in Virginia and, in rudimentary form, throughout the rest of the Southern colonies.

.. mid-18th-century South as being a part of the First Great Awakening.

.. began meeting together in farm houses seeking the religious fellowship and zeal they had not found in the established Anglican Church, they, absent a minister, began to read to one another from a collection of Martin Luther’s sermons.

.. Presbyterian minister William Robinson

.. In 1748 Samuel Davies, later president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), became the leader of Virginia Presbyterians

..  the group of Baptists that would eventually prove to be the predecessors of today’s Southern Baptist Convention were led by two Connecticut Yankee ministers, Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall, who, enthused by the New England Great Awakening

.. Unlike the Presbyterians who insisted on educated ministers and organized themselves hierarchically in presbyteries and synods, the Baptists utilized spirit-filled, often unpaid ministers who were at best educated only in a rudimentary sense

.. firmly Calvinistic but fiercely evangelical, spread their version of the Baptist faith.

.. These veritable folk ministers were extremely effective salesmen for their faith

.. By the time the American Revolution broke out, there had been established across the South, but especially in Virginia, an impressive network of Baptist churches and preachers and a powerful system of shared beliefs.

.. The Methodists began as a pietistic movement within the Church of England, and Charles and John Wesley, their leaders, never intended to create a new denomination.

.. the movement’s name originated as a slur against the supposedly hyper-methodical nature of their worship and prayer

.. The first Methodist missionary in Virginia was Robert Williams, who arrived in 1773

..  Methodists were, if anything, even more emotionally demonstrative and evangelical than the Separate Baptists, and they pioneered the use of itinerant ministers (often relatively unlettered and willing to serve for almost no salary) who traveled about huge circuits

.. Francis Asbury, who truly is known as the father of American Methodism.

.. In December 1784 the American Methodist ministers ..  established the Methodist Episcopal Church, completely independent of the Church of England

.. By the mid-1780’s an enthusiastic Methodist culture reflected the success of the Methodist itinerants at spreading their belief system among pockets of supporters across much of the South.

.. The Presbyterians appealed to those who were more affluent and sometimes better educated; although in their founding decades at least some Presbyterian ministers were antislavery, by the 1760’s they were beginning to make accommodations to the slaveholding society.

.. Presbyterianism soon had the same social cachet as did Anglicanism (after the Revolution, Episcopalianism)

.. The Baptists and Methodists, however, most of whose appeal was to the lower orders (including slaves), were self-consciously and intentionally countercultural.

.. Their sermons were more exclusively calls for conversion, their services were nonliturgical and filled with demonstrable emotion and enthusiasm

.. contrasted with the austere demeanor of the Anglicans.

.. The ruling authorities feared the evangelicals as dangerous disrupters of the social peace. The Baptists were actually persecuted by the ruling civic and church authorities. Both Baptists and Methodists emphasized plain dress and aversion to conspicuous consumption and display, placing them in opposition to the plantation aristocrats

.. the Baptists and Methodists were from the beginning open to black worshippers and were often opponents of slavery

.. their use of lay and itinerant preachers and willingness to take the gospel to the listeners rather than expect the listeners to come to single parish churches, insured the growth of the Baptists and the Methodists.

.. When the British troops left aboard their transport ships, as many as 50,000 slaves (and many Tory planters) left as well.

.. Revolutionary War veterans had land bounties in partial payment for their military service.

.. The spread of the cotton-slave economy created visions of quick profits on the virgin land, and many migrating farmers were almost consumed by thoughts of land, slaves, cotton, and riches.

..  these changes appear the natural and predictable consequences of growth and change, evidence of the dynamic nature of the society of the early national period. For contemporaries, though, the rapid change seemed chaotic and frightening

.. by the mid-1790’s ministers and many lay persons seemed fixated on the presumed crisis in the state of religion.

.. Since God knows and controls everything, he obviously is aware of the decline in religious interest and somehow must be the cause of it. God does not act whimsically, so why would he allow such a thing to occur? It must be for some divine purpose. Yes, God had sent the declension to teach the nation a hard lesson—when people put politics and prosperity ahead of the matters of the spirit, their lives become barren and they suffer a loss of community and religious purpose.

.. How will God indicate that He accepts their penitence? By sending a providential blessing in the form of a great outpouring of religious enthusiasm, a veritable second pentecost.

.. James McGready, a son of North Carolina and a veteran of a localized but intense interdenominational revival in central Virginia in the fall of 1788, moved to Logan County, Kentucky, in 1796

.. stoked by heady expectation fueled by months of organized prayer and fasting, the faithful came ready to experience a miracle— ready to interpret what they experienced as a miraculous intervention by God into space and time. Hundreds were overcome by emotion, falling to the ground; others cried with joy, shouted with excitement, groaned with conviction—the very size of the crowd helping to create a scene that lent itself to being understood as a miracle.

.. Scholars today might employ such concepts as crowd psychology or mass hysteria to explain what happened in August 1800, but the participants were sure they had just experienced a mighty act of God on the Kentucky frontier

.. Soon denominational differences and rivalries reemerged, with the Presbyterians first withdrawing from the camp meeting excitement, then the Baptists (soon instead making use of more church-centered annual revivals or protracted meetings), leaving the camp meeting as the quintessential Methodist institution in the South

.. But even though the Great Revival accord among the denominations did not persist, the practical, results-oriented style of preaching became a Southern staple.

.. What worked were direct, hard-hitting sermons aimed more at the emotional faculties than the reasoning, employing language unencumbered with complex theological ideas

.. It was effective to paint vivid word pictures of the sinful nature of the hearers and the frightening consequences of death and hellfire for the unredeemed versus the palatial pleasures of heaven. The point of the sermon was not to advance a set of doctrinal propositions but to convict and convert.

.. The essence of the religious service was a conversion experience, fixed in time and space so that one could know and describe precisely when it happened, and recognizing that moment came close to being the totality of religion in the American South.

.. The focus on personal conversion was so all-consuming that southern Protestantism was an intensely individualistic, privatistic faith.

.. seldom did Southern white Christians conceive of their religion as having a social or reform dimension other than the reformation of individual sinners (which, it was believed, would translate into a better society).

..  This tendency of ministers and churches not to become engaged with societal institutions was the result of more than just a practical emphasis on seeking converts.

.. The evangelical churches in the first decades of their existence in the South had been critics of slavery, but following the development of the cotton gin in 1793 and the strengthening thereafter of the slave-labor economy, and such slave insurrection scares as that of Gabriel Prosser in 1800, the planter elite, upwardly mobile plain folk, and the governmental authorities acted promptly to suppress all criticism of slavery.

.. should they stick to their antislavery guns and risk ostracism and perhaps a complete prohibition against preaching, or should they soft-pedal their antislavery concerns in order to be allowed to spread their message? From a modern perspective it is easy to say that they were hypocrites and discarded their principles in return for denominational growth.

They saw it differently: what did it prosper the slaves to gain earthly freedom yet lose the chance for eternal life? Better to compromise on political issues if that were the price of being able to preach more freely across the region. The evangelical ministers were less concerned about the institution of slavery than they were the state of the souls of individual blacks.

.. the Southern way of religion that successfully emerged from the maelstrom of the Great Revival was conversion-centered, more concerned to convert individuals than the society
..  Old Testament images of divine wrath and punishment were blended with New Testament homilies about the friendly Jesus dying a substitutionary death to purchase their salvation
..  All the theology one needed could be summed up in a paragraph. Here was an easily learned, quickly described, and immensely effective religious message
.. The evangelicals at first had been despised outsiders, but within three generations .. become culturally dominant
..  One of the real attractions of evangelicalism to Southern women was the extent to which it sought to rein in the behavioral excesses of Southern men—notoriously individualistic, hedonistic, and prone to violence.
.. Southern white ministers did not lead attacks against sharecropping, or one-party politics, or segregation, or rampant racism in general. And while the South turned out creative writers and musicians, to date no great theologian has emerged.
.. Since God controls events, little other than the state of one’s soul is subject to personal agency.
.. Southern ministers during the Civil War comforted believers by saying that God controlled the path of every bullet, and He would be sure to protect the faithful even in a hail of rifle fire.
.. agents of the U.S. weather service noticed the statistically higher death rate from tornadoes in the South and concluded that fatalism led Southerners, unlike Midwestern farmers, to neglect building storm cellars. If it was your time to go, a storm cellar would be of no avail; and if it were not your time, then building one would be wasted effort.
.. As in most Christian populations, women made up roughly two-thirds the regular attendance at church services; and they were assumed to be, and in fact were, more actively religious than men.
.. women more frequently made out wills (suggesting that their faith made them more willing to face the prospect of death and plan accordingly) and distributed their estate in a more personalistic manner, rewarding those who had greater need or who had demonstrated more affection or assistance
..  the shift of the evangelicals from being countercultural dissenters, despised and even persecuted for their opposition to slavery and the planter lifestyle in the mid-18th century, to fervent defenders of slavery and the idea of a separate Southern nation.
.. As evangelicalism accommodated to Southern society in order to be allowed to preach the gospel in the slave quarters, and as more and more slaves became Christians, Southern white ministers and their flocks came to see slavery as a divine institution—the process God devised to introduce Africans to Christianity.
The presence in their midst of devout black Christians, rather than being evidence that slavery was evil, became in the minds of white Christians the clearest justification for bondage. Hence when Northern abolitionists began attacking slavery as a sinful institution and charged the Southern churches with neglecting their spiritual duties, the Southern churches felt rebuttal was necessary.
.. And it followed, in this line of reasoning, that if slavery was a Providential institution, then the South as a region was carrying out God’s plan. White Christians came to argue that the South was the most Christian portion of the nation, that it was the only region that interpreted the Bible literally, and that Christians had an obligation to support secession in part to save the South from the corrupting, even blasphemous influences of the North.
Southern churches became primary defenders of the Confederacy, confident of victory.

.. Defeat was a shock to many Southern white Christians, and for some it shook the foundations of their faith. But most worked through the problem, coming ultimately to believe that God was the author of their defeat. By this reasoning they came to believe that, among other things, God was punishing them for not being sufficiently Christian slaveholders

.. molding them on the anvil of sacrifice, for a higher cause: to lead the nation back toward an individualistic, privatistic religion.

.. corporate religion—heavy investment in defending the institution of slavery and the political experiment of the Confederacy—was a mistake, a delusion. The result was a return to the older form of purely personal evangelism with a vengeance. Owning a responsibility for the larger society, they determined, had been a profound error.

.. More than ever before, mainstream Southern evangelical Protestantism emphasized the necessity of converting individuals almost to the complete exclusion of everything else.

Southern religion came to conform to norms of “proper” society—its founding sense of being countercultural abandoned and its words of condemnation aimed at infractions of personal morality. And that has been the basic mode of the Southern way of religion to our own time.

..  In the black community, the church was concerned with more than just the state of one’s soul. The black church ministered to all aspects of its people and eventually gave moral power to the Civil Rights Movement

.. In the last two decades many Southern white evangelicals have gotten involved in politics, but their influence on the whole has been more narrowly moralistic than broadly prophetic.

..  The Southern churches have been more prone to scriptural literalism, more concerned with personal morality in a traditional sense, more evangelical than socially reformist.

..  “these two religions—the Church of Law [i.e., strict moralism], based in the South, and the Church of Love [i.e., relativistic, forgiving, and reformist], based in the North—differ on almost every big theological point.”

.. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a representative of the Northern Methodist Church. Personally devout, her orientation is in the social gospel tradition.

.. Elizabeth Dole is a representative of the Southern Methodist Church. An avowed evangelical, Ms. Dole is more oriented toward conversion, in leading others to being born again. She is not blind to social evils, but her approach is aimed less at structural reform and more toward charity: she advocates feeding the hungry through local church-run agencies but not critiquing the institutional or economic structures that produce or contribute to poverty.

.. One fundamentally wants to remake individuals, the other wants to remake society.

 

 

The Democrats in Their Labyrinth

America has two political parties, but only one of them has a reasonably coherent political vision, a leadership that isn’t under the thumb of an erratic reality television star, and a worldview that implies a policy agenda rather than just a litany of grievances.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, their vision and leaders and agenda also sometimes leave the impression that they never want to win another tossup Senate seat, and that they would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.

.. If the Democratic Party intends to be competitive again in the South, a region where many of its own partisans call themselves pro-life, it needs to take the imaginative leap on abortion more often — as it did in recruiting candidates who helped build its last House majority way back in the misty years of 2006-2008.

.. But maybe Democrats do not want to be competitive in the Bible Belt.

.. So are the Democrats trying to dispel the impression that their party favors open borders? No, quite the opposite: As Vox’s Dara Lind pointed out this week, in the Trump era, no less than the Obama era, the Democrats are rejecting enforcement proposals many of them would have championed a decade ago — again, not coincidentally, the last period when they had control of Congress. Wooing immigration-wary Midwestern voters, like doing outreach to pro-life moderates in Alabama, is apparently not worth the compromises required.

.. But the point is that a party claiming to be standing alone against an existential threat to the republic should be willing to move somewhat, to compromise somehow

.. Instead, the Democrats are still relying on arc-of-history beliefs and long-term demographic trends. But those trends do them no political good if they move left faster than does a leftward-moving country. In 2004 they had an agenda well-suited to the American electorate of 2016; having moved leftward since, they now have an agenda well-suited to the American electorate of 2030.

.. it needs a liberalism that stops marinating in its own self-righteousness long enough to compete effectively for rural, Southern and Midwestern votes.

So about that ‘sexual revolution in the Republican Party’. . .

Hefner, who validated the objectification of women by embedding their sexualized bodies between the more-respectable pages of first-rate writing, embraced and championed libertinism and materialism. “Bad boy” behavior — philandering, licentiousness and exploitation — was re-imagined and sold as “freedom,”

.. Perpetually stalled in adolescence, he was an early advocate of the socially debased trends Moore saw as having led to the unraveling of the American family.

.. the current president of the United States may be Hefner’s most sterling achievement. Donald Trump, who has surrounded himself with material excess and women worthy of male admiration, is both protege and prototype, the essential playboy who has acquired wealth and glamour — and boasts that he can do whatever he wants to women.

.. For the president, religion is a convenience — until it’s not. Bannon, though no saint, is a Catholic who respects church doctrine, by his own admission, and is a street fighter for the hard-right.

 In Alabama, he, too, defeated Trump.
..  But the standoff between Bannon and Trump via Moore and Strange may foretell the future of the GOP, which can’t survive without its Southern Christian base. Ironically, Hefner, who put Trump on his magazine’s cover in 1990, penned an essay when the thrice-married reality TV star secured the GOP presidential nomination, defeating Ted Cruz, a pastor’s son. To Hefner, this victory signified “massive changes in the ‘family values party’ ” and was “proof of . . . a sexual revolution in the Republican Party.”

Eric Foner’s Artful Finesse on Lee Statues

Foner gives the South’s greatest Civil War general his due in terms of character and personal rectitude. He reports that the young Lee, at West Point, never got any disciplinary demerits, “an almost impossible feat.” The general, writes Foner, “always prided himself on following the strict moral code of a gentleman.”

.. He merely predicts that future historians won’t likely return Lee to his pedestal, “metaphorically speaking.”

.. That’s because it’s all about power. As Foner wrote in another Times piece in August, “Historical monuments are, among other things, an expression of power—an indication of who has the power to choose how history is remembered in public places.”

.. Between the Civil War’s end and the 1890s, Lee’s image as an American went from his being “the embodiment of the Southern cause” to his becoming a “national hero.”

.. Historians such as W. A. Dunning and Claude Bowers argued that the harsh Reconstruction policies of congressional “Radical Republicans” delayed the sectional healing needed to bring the country back together. According to that argument, it kept the prostrate South at the mercy of freed blacks and Northern carpetbaggers, whose political machinations were designed to keep the old white planter class out of the power equation.

.. In short, they have not turned history on its head, but rather, they recognized that much of what Dunning’s disciples have said about reconstruction is true.”

In other words, it was complicated.