27 February 2012

New Southern Baptist President?

Recently, I posted some questions about Southern Baptists and their considerations about changing the name of their convention.  There is concern that their racist origins still influence the opinion that people have of the SBC.  Recently, the convention has made strides in attempting to right their wrongs in relation to race.

Now, it appears that the Convention is about to elect its first African American president.   Rev. Fred Luter is a well-known pastor in New Orleans who pastors a church with about 5,000 members.  He is currently the First Vice President in the convention, and was involved on the committee that produced the 2000 revision of the Baptist Faith and Message, so it would appear he's no theological liberal.  It appears as though Luter will be unopposed in his run for the presidency, but regardless, there is little doubt that his election should be a positive step in race relations for the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

21 February 2012

More on My Local Church History Project

Something I've been working on for the past six months is a short book project on a local church here in Grand Forks.  I recently posted some pictures of the building that is scheduled to be demolished as soon as the ground dries out after winter.  My book on the subject looks as though it is going to be just the first in a series of local histories on the Grand Forks community taken on by the University of North Dakota history department and the Grand Forks Community Land Trust.

Today, Dr. Bill Caraher wrote about the ultimate scope of the project on his blog, The New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World.  While my part in the project will be most likely be done in the next couple of months, I'll be interested to see how the rest of the project works out.  I'm sure that a block-by-block history of the town will have to deal with several local North Dakota churches of various denominations, as basically every major denomination in American church history has been active at one point or another in Grand Forks.  I'll be sure to post more about the book as it gets closer to publication.

16 February 2012

Black History Month--Richard Allen and the AME Church

Previously this week, I posted a link to an interview held by a former slave that dealt with slave religion, one of the aspects of slave life that seems to get quite a bit of interest.  Today, when looking at "This Week in Christian History" I found another nugget of historical information regarding the early African American Church.

It was actually on this date in 1801 (February 16) that the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church officially got its start.  African members of the New York City John's Street Methodist Episcopal Zion Church left five years prior because of Racism.  Francis Asbury, the famous Methodist Bishop, allowed their organization.

One of the leading figures in AME was Richard Allen, himself a former slave.  Allen grew up with his family in bondage to a man named Stokely Sturgis.  After Sturgis sold some of Allen's family, Sturgis converted to Methodism and became convinced of the evils of slavery.  Richard Allen and his siblings were permitted to buy their freedom (an interesting concept considering Sturgis' apparent change of heart--why not just let them go free without compensation?).  Allen became a Methodist preacher after coming into contact with Francis Asbury, who was the founder of American Methodism.  Allen founded the African Methodist Church and was an outspoken critic of slavery.

One of the interesting things that Gordon Wood points out in his work on the early national period, Empire of Liberty, is the fact that in their early days in America, both Methodists and Baptists condemned slavery.  He points out that 1 in 3 Methodists in 1800 were black.  Integrated churches were not uncommon at the time.  (Wood, 2009, p. 599-600) The sad point that can be made about this later assertion is that both the Methodists and Baptists took a huge step back in regard to race relations in the early 19th century.  By the time of the Civil War, both groups split over the issue of slavery, as the nation itself would.  Today, sadly, in parts of the country, integrated churches are still a bit of an anomaly.  This is definitely one of the more unique situations in American church history.

Now, it's time for a shameless plug.  If you enjoy reading the blog from time to time, please share it on Facebook, twitter, StumbleUpon, or any other site that your friends might be likely to check out.

12 February 2012

Black History Month--Church History from the Voice of a Former Slave

For the last several years, February has been designated Black History Month.  One very negative aspect of American history that still evokes strong emotions was the era of slavery.  In relation to many segments of society, the memories of slaves are fairly rare.  Slave narratives nevertheless provide a window into the past from the viewpoint of those who were held in bondage against their will with little hope of obtaining freedom.

Some people want to forget this era in American history.  I personally don't think that would be a good idea.  I think it's important to use history as a tool to educate people regarding themselves.  In my opinion, human nature seems to be very static.  People will exploit others for their own material benefit, regardless of the moral ramifications.  Slavery still exists today, although it's not based upon race.  The reason?  Money and greed.  Racism definitely played an important role in the slavery of African Americans in the American South.  I would ask the question if it would've been prevalent if people had not thought the institution would materially enrich them.  I seriously doubt it.  As George Santayana once stated, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

That brings me to the point of this post.  My next lecture is on slavery in America.  That may not seem to have much to do with American church history, but in one way it does.  One of the really cool things about modern technology is the ability to record things that were impossible to save in earlier years.  Beginning in 1932, twenty-three former slaves contributed oral interviews that recounted their reminiscences of their time in slavery.  This oral history is interesting to say the least.  I am planning to utilize a video of one of these interviews in class to give students the opportunity to hear first-hand what former slaves thought of the institution.  One of the more famous of the interviewees was 101-year-old Fountain Hughes.  One of the topics, near the middle of the clip below, that Hughes discussed was the worship of the slaves.  This is an abridged version of the interview, but I would encourage any readers to check out these very interesting interviews that provide a look into the lives of former slaves many years after their emancipation.  Unsurprisingly, they did not view slavery in a positive light.  Hughes' comment at the end of the clip gives a good example of his opinion of slavery.  Here is a link to the video:

The Generosity of Charles H. Spurgeon

It's nearing mid-February here in North Dakota, and the last couple of days have been two of the colder days we've had thus far this winter.  After last year, this year has been a breeze with only a handful of days with lows in the teens below zero.  Last year, the average high in January was 9.  This year, it was 26, which was the average high for March last year.  Not too bad at all.

Last summer, as I've mentioned previously here and here on this site, I had an internship with the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University.  That internship with the digital library gave me an opportunity to research all sorts of seemingly random people.  Most of the documents I reviewed were letters to President Roosevelt or one of his close associates.  The authors of these letters could at times be quite famous people, such as Elihu Root, Henry Cabot Lodge, or Mark Hanna (those with knowledge of the Progressive Era will find these names familiar).  At times, they would be unknown to me. 

Finding the names of these less-well-known individuals in the correspondence would invariable lead to that all-too-twentieth-century research tool--the Google search.  At times, these folks were like ghosts...nonexistent.  At other times, I would learn some interesting information.  One of the people that I had to research in this manner was a New York Judge by the name of F. W. Holls.  He was influential in leading a famous peace delegation at the Hague.  My search for Judge Holls led me to the New York Times' October 23, 1903, edition.  Old NYT articles are available for search on the web, and they were invaluable for me over the summer.  Holls died in July of that year, and President Roosevelt sent a personal eulogy to be read at the memorial service. 

This was not what caught my interest, however.  Right below the account of Holls' memorial was an obituary for the widow of the famous British Baptist pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The main emphasis of the obituary that struck me was the mention of both Charles and Susannah Spurgeon's generosity.  The obituary stated: "In 1879 Mr. Spurgeon's congregation, on the occasion of his silver wedding, presented a purse containing 6,000 [pounds sterling] to him.  He immediately divided the money between the Orphanage, Pastor's College, and other institutions he founded."

A sum such as that provided to the Spurgeons would no doubt have been equivalent to several years' wages for an average Briton in 1879.  He was a mega-church pastor before anyone had heard of the mega-church.  He is still regarded one of the more influential figures in Baptist history.  How many modern American ministers would be inclined to give such a sizable sum away today?  While most ministers are no doubt in the ministry for the good of their parishioners, there are those who are infamous for their flaunting of wealth--be it clothing, cars, or houses.  I won't mention names, but one comes to mind that was on basically every TV station early in the morning during my high school years. 

The church could use a few more Spurgeons in my opinion (on so many levels).

04 February 2012

Puritan Education--The Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647

This evening, I was preparing a couple of lectures for my section of US History to 1877.  The second of these lectures related to colonial intellectual life, broadly defined to include education, the Enlightenment, and the Great Awakening.  The latter two events occurred nearly simultaneously and they both left an important mark in what America would become.  In some ways, however, both movements were indebted to the educational practices set up by the earliest Puritan settlers.

The Puritans were a very word-based group.  They believed that every man was responsible to understand the revelation of God as given in the Bible.  After the Antinomian Controversy that Roger Williams (one of my favorite figures in early colonial history) and Anne Hutchinson aroused, the Puritans in Massachusetts decided they would start a college that would train ministers to stay on the straight and narrow.  For this reason, Harvard College became the first institution of higher learning in what would become British North America. (Jones et al., Created Equal, 50) 

One of the more interesting pieces of legislation that the Massachusetts Bay colony passed was the "Old Deluder Satan Act" (1647), which argued that "It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures," schools should be set up in the colony to teach children to read the Scriptures.  Every town that had 50 families was supposed to hire a teacher to teach children to read the Bible so that they could avoid the problems that the Old Deluder would bring with an ignorance of God's revelation.  Furthermore, every town with 100 families had to set up a "grammar school" (a school that taught Latin) so that the boys in the town would be prepared for a university education, presumably at Harvard (the only college in the colonies at that time) or back in the mother country.

One of the more interesting points of this legislation was the funding mechanism.  There were two possible methods of funding: 1) charge the parents of the students, and 2) public funding from all of the citizens.  Some people argue that calls for public funding of education in American society are rather new.  That's not exactly the case, as this act declared.  Individual schooling was more common in the southern colonies because there were few towns, and only the children of the wealthy planters were expected to get educated.  New England became the more diverse economy, while the South languished behind for much of US history.  Perhaps this little tidbit from American church history gives a good reason why this was the case.