08 March 2013

Conference Paper in Omaha

I started my "Spring Break" a couple of days early by canceling my last class before the break. I did this, not to skip out, but because I had a conference presentation. I note Spring Break with quotes because Grand Forks just got nearly a foot of snow last Monday, and there is snow in the forecast over the next week (tonight and tomorrow included).

My presentation took place at the Missouri Valley History Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. I've never actually been in town here before, and the downtown seems to be fairly interesting. My panel dealt with the Great Plains to some degree, and my particular paper tried to cram a few major ideas from about 100 pages of dissertation into ten pages.

I titled my paper "Sin, Superstition, and Socialism: Protestant Sermonizing in Early Twentieth-Century North Dakota. The paper detailed some of my work on the local Baptist history, and included some material from the North Dakota State Archives from the North Dakota Baptist Convention collection that I added to my dissertation work. The superstition in the title was related to the nativist and anti-Catholic worldview that the North Dakota Baptists held. The socialism dealt with the anarchism of the newer European immigrants and the activities of the Nonpartisan League (NPL) in North Dakota.

There was a major opposition to the NPL in the late 1910s, when the organization actually took control of the state government. I noted a couple of sermons that non-Baptists preached that I had the opportunity to come into contact with. The first was at a political rally advertised in the Grand Forks Herald. This rally promised to have a sermon from an ordained minister against the evils of socialism.

The second was a sermon published by F. Harley Ambrose of the First Presbyterian of Grand Forks. Ambrose is noteworthy in a not-so-good kind of way because of his holding the position of the Grand Poohbah (actually it was the "Exalted Cyclops") of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. This "Sermon on Applied Socialism," from my cursory reading of it (I did not include it in the official copy of my paper or my dissertation, so I did not go to great lengths to deconstruct it) seemed to have quite a bit of economic theory, but not much that actually came from the Bible.

The main portion of my paper at the conference actually dealt with the "sin" in the title. Although evangelism was clearly the most important goal of the North Dakota Baptist Convention, moral reform was a not-so-close second. Every annual meeting of the NDBC dealt with the topic of prohibition. They even had a Committee on Temperance set up to promote the cause, and they called for ministers to preach sermons directly related to the topic. Additionally, desecration of Sunday and the "white slave" traffic aroused suspicion.

There were a few good questions related to the paper, and the experience was pretty enjoyable overall.