One of the reasons I was drawn to Jimmy Carter, first as an emerging national politician in the mid-1970s and then as a biographical subject decades later, was the similarity of our backgrounds. Both of us were reared in evangelical households, he in rural southwest Georgia and I in Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan, and Iowa. We are both the oldest in our families: Carter had three younger siblings, and I have four younger brothers. We had “born-again” experiences at an early age, Carter at age 11 and me initially at, well, three years old—but that is another story.
Jimmy Carter rode to the White House in 1976 on the twin currents of his reputation as a “New South” governor and a resurgence of progressive evangelicalism in the early 1970s. Progressive evangelicalism, which traces its lineage to 19th-century evangelicals and to the commands of Jesus to care for “the least of these,” represented a very different version of evangelical activism from that of the religious right.
Tis the season of Jesus, Santa and Pope Francis. It’s too early to place Francis in the pantheon of church reformers alongside Gregory VII or Adrian VI—or even next to John XXIII, who memorably announced the Second Vatican Council by saying that it was time to “open the windows and let some fresh air in.” But the early returns on the first Latin American pontiff suggest that his will be anything but a caretaker papacy.
When a hurricane ravaged the waters off of eastern Newfoundland on September 9, 1775, churning waves up to 30 feet, the devastation was enormous. Four thousand sailors drowned, most of them from Ireland and England. The British Royal Navy lost two armed schooners.
The closing of the doors of Exodus International earlier this summer doesn’t just signal a sea change in evangelical thinking about homosexuality. It also highlights some evangelicals’ dubious claims of adherence to immutable convictions.
The scene at the Church of the Reformation several weeks ago—just a couple blocks from the U. S. Capitol—was a mixture of resolve and celebration, equal parts political rally and family reunion. People milled about on the front steps posing for photographs, greeting old friends and making new acquaintances.
I’m sure it’s only a coincidence, but nearly every time I’ve shoehorned a brief lecture on Scientology into my survey of religion in North America course—brief because I’m not at all sure it merits being classified as a religion—I’ve received a phone call or e-mail from some Scientology entity or another offering to send a representative or materials so my students will be properly informed.
On July 11, 1804, in Weehawken, New Jersey—just across the Hudson River from Manhattan—two longtime political adversaries faced off in a duel. The result: Vice President Aaron Burr shot and mortally wounded the former secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton. (No, Dick Cheney was not the first vice president to shoot someone!)
Dueling, which Benjamin Franklin characterized as a “murderous practice,” was technically illegal in most states.
It requires only modest exaggeration to say that C. Everett Koop, the distinguished surgeon general (and Dartmouth alumnus) who died on February 25, was responsible for the emergence of the religious right.
The American Bible, Stephen Prothero’s latest assault on the best-seller lists, is a compendium of writings that, Prothero insists, together define Americans as a nation. “Words matter,” he tells us in the introduction, and conversations about our identity as a people are essential to our common life.
The scholarly quest for the roots of the religious right has already passed through several iterations. Darren Dochuk's impressive book builds on this work and pushes the narrative back another generation or two.
While I was writing this review, I came across a statement from the managing editor of Christianity Today, who wrote that his magazine offers "independent journalism about an important niche of American Christianity." He went on to say, "We are the 'new mainline,' a principal voice of Protestant Christianity in America."
Students of American religious history have long been aware that, at least until recently, the field has been riddled with four yawning gaps—eras that cried out for solid synthetic treatments. Those gaps are (in reverse chronological order) religion during the Great Depression, religion and the Civil War, religion during the Revolutionary era and religion during the Great Awakening.
Harvey Cox is nothing if not nimble. His 1965 book, The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective, will forever be Exhibit A for the “Christ of Culture” perspective outlined in H. Richard Niebuhr’s typology. Later, however, Cox was forced to reconsider the alignment between faith and secular culture.
For Stephen Prothero and Richard Wightman Fox, the bad news is that they each published a book about Jesus and American culture at roughly the same time (calling to mind the 1981 contemporaneous publication of books on sexual mores in
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