W. E. B. Du Bois wrote his prophetic words “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of color line” decades before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Yet those words allowed blacks to note how the removal of Jim Crow from educational institutions was slow in many parts of the country. Often among those responsible were Christian segregationists in Christian schools and colleges.
When we think of religious conservatism, we likely think in terms of slogging through the trenches of the great American culture war. But does the culture war serve as a useful paradigm for understanding religious conservatism?
This holiday season marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the Christmas movie Home Alone. The film fascinated a generation of latchkey children and their baby boomer parents with its portrayal of eight-year-old Kevin McCallister, who not only survives while his family is out of the country but anchors them when they forget the real meaning of Christmas. It spent four weeks at no. 1 in box office sales and grossed nearly $300 million in the United States. It also sparked a debate over the authority of parents.
As religious violence continues to make headlines, it is tempting for both the media and its audience to lump devout worshipers into the same camp as violent extremists. It is also tempting for people of one faith to regard members of other religious groups as the ones most likely to commit heinous crimes in the name of religion.
As African Americans faced first slavery and then Jim Crow, they nestled in the black church as a haven. In the 1950s and ’60s, blacks congregated to fight legal oppression. In The Color of Christ, American religion historians Edward Blum and Paul Harvey argue that blacks and whites were once unified under the mantle of Christianity in efforts to combat societal vice and ills. Yet in more recent decades, black religiosity has shifted.
Though many within the black community continue to showcase their religious conservatism, others have slowly drifted away.
Fifty-two years ago, eight white clergy penned their version of “all lives matter.” These white men of God questioned the efficacy of the civil rights movement in their hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. They wrote that "honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts.”
Recently the online world has been filled with images of people in desperate conditions, images not from Pakistan or Syria but from the Greek islands closest to Turkey: Chios, Lesbos, Leros. One picture showed a migrant raft landing near sunbathing tourists on Kos, an island I once knew well. It was a way station on my yearly visits to the nearby island of Patmos, where St. John was once a refugee himself. I went there to visit another immigrant to Greece: a spiritual poet named Robert Lax, who was Thomas Merton’s best friend.
Shortly after Pope Francis visited the United States in September, many churches invoked his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, in services of blessing animals. From the spectacular event at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan to small gatherings of pets and pet owners on church lawns, Americans around the country marked Francis’s feast day, October 4, by blessing the animals.
They may not have realized that blessing the animals is a recent and very American development.
This past spring semester, I taught the book of Revelation at Faulkner University. Though I teach history at this Christian school in Alabama, this course wasn't primarily about historical interpretations of the text or American apocalyptic movements. It was a biblical exposition of a fascinating piece of literature.
Americans have been fascinated with Revelation for a long time.