Brennan and Brewbaker: Christian Legal Thought

1759303Christianity has a complex relationship to law. It does not prescribe rules of conduct in the way its sister faiths, Judaism and Islam, do. There is no Christian law of inheritance, for example. Yet Christians have reflected on the idea of law, and on Christianity’s role in informing civil law, for centuries. And those reflections have influenced the development of Western law in ways that are undeniable, even in our secular age.

It’s entirely appropriate, therefore, for American law schools to offer courses in Christian Legal Thought. The problem is the lack of good materials–until now. Patrick Brennan (Villanova) and William Brewbaker (Alabama) have just written a new casebook, Christian Legal Thought: Materials and Cases, for use in law school classes. It looks great. Here’s the publisher’s description:

This text examines law and legal institutions through the broad lens of Christian thought, both Catholic and Protestant. The book addresses methodological issues in Christian legal scholarship (What makes legal thought “Christian”?); the relevance of Christian theological doctrines—such as creation, the Christian conception of the human person, the kingdom of God, and the natural and divine laws—for reflection on law; the significance of historical context for Christian legal thought; Christian reflection on important jurisprudential issues and concepts, such as equality, justice, rights, and the rule of law; and Christian perspectives on various legal subjects, such as contracts, torts, and property. The point of the book is less to prescribe what a Christian legal theory should entail in the way of outcomes than to use the Christian faith as a lens through which to understand, and reflect critically upon, law and legal institutions.

Congratulations to Patrick and Bill! Can’t wait to get my copy.

Barnes, “Global Christianity and the Black Atlantic”

This month, Baylor University Press releases Global Christianity and the Black Atlantic: Tuskegee, Colonialism, and the Shaping of African Industrial Education by Andrew E. Barnes (Arizona State University). The publisher’s description follows:

global-chrisitianityMany Europeans saw Africa’s colonization as an exhibition of European racial ascendancy. African Christians saw Africa’s subjugation as a demonstration of European technological superiority. If the latter was the case, then the path to Africa’s liberation ran through the development of a competitive African technology.

In Global Christianity and the Black Atlantic, Andrew E. Barnes chronicles African Christians’ turn to American-style industrial education—particularly the model that had been developed by Booker T. Washington at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute—as a vehicle for Christian regeneration in Africa. Over the period 1880–1920, African Christians, motivated by Ethiopianism and its conviction that Africans should be saved by other Africans, proposed and founded schools based upon the Tuskegee model.

Barnes follows the tides of the Black Atlantic back to Africa when African Christians embraced the new education initiatives of African American Christians and Tuskegee as the most potent example of technological ingenuity. Building on previously unused African sources, the book traces the movements to establish industrial education institutes in cities along the West African coast and in South Africa, Cape Province, and Natal. As Tuskegee and African schools modeled in its image proved, peoples of African descent could—and did—develop competitive technology.

Though the attempts by African Christians to create industrial education schools ultimately failed, Global Christianity and the Black Atlantic demonstrates the ultimate success of transatlantic black identity and Christian resurgence in Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. Barnes’ study documents how African Christians sought to maintain indigenous identity and agency in the face of colonial domination by the state and even the European Christian missions of the church.

Blankenship, “Christianity, Social Justice, and the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II”

In November, the University of North Carolina Press released “Christianity, Social Justice, and the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II,” by Anne Blankenship (North Dakota State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Anne M. Blankenship’s study of Christianity in the infamous camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II yields insights both far-reaching 81txz2b1mtgland timely. While most Japanese Americans maintained their traditional identities as Buddhists, a sizeable minority identified as Christian, and a number of church leaders sought to minister to them in the camps. Blankenship shows how church leaders were forced to assess the ethics and pragmatism of fighting against or acquiescing to what they clearly perceived, even in the midst of a national crisis, as an unjust social system. These religious activists became acutely aware of the impact of government, as well as church, policies that targeted ordinary Americans of diverse ethnicities.

Going through the doors of the camp churches and delving deeply into the religious experiences of the incarcerated and the faithful who aided them, Blankenship argues that the incarceration period introduced new social and legal approaches for Christians of all stripes to challenge the constitutionality of government policies on race and civil rights. She also shows how the camp experience nourished the roots of an Asian American liberation theology that sprouted in the sixties and seventies.

 

Christerson & Flory, “The Rise of Network Christianity”

In March, Oxford University Press will release The Rise of Network Christianity: How Independent Leaders Are Changing the Religious Landscape by Brad Christerson (Biola University) and Richard Flory (University of Southern California). The publisher’s description follows:

the-rise-of-network-christianityWhy, when traditionally organized religious groups are seeing declining membership and participation, are networks of independent churches growing so explosively? Drawing on in-depth interviews with leaders and participants, The Rise of Network Christianity explains the social forces behind the fastest-growing form of Christianity in the U.S., which Brad Christerson and Richard Flory have labeled “Independent Network Charismatic.” This form of Christianity emphasizes aggressive engagement with the supernatural-including healing, direct prophecies from God, engaging in “spiritual warfare” against demonic spirits–and social transformation. Christerson and Flory argue that macro-level social changes since the 1970s, including globalization and the digital revolution, have given competitive advantages to religious groups organized as networks rather than traditionally organized congregations and denominations.

Network forms of governance allow for experimentation with controversial supernatural practices, innovative finances and marketing, and a highly participatory, unorthodox, and experiential faith, which is attractive in today’s unstable religious marketplace. Christerson and Flory hypothesize that as more religious groups imitate this type of governance, religious belief and practice will become more experimental, more orientated around practice than theology, more shaped by the individual religious “consumer,” and authority will become more highly concentrated in the hands of individuals rather than institutions. Network Christianity, they argue, is the future of Christianity in America.

How the US Hurt Mideast Christians

This month, I’m guest blogging at the Library of Law and Liberty. I’ve begun with a series of posts on the persecution of Christians in the Mideast. This persecution has many causes, including social attitudes formed by centuries of existence as dhimmis. In today’s post, though, I argue that the West bears some responsibility as well, including the US. Here’s a sample:

Finally, there are the recent actions of the United States. The Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, coupled with the precipitous withdrawal of American troops under the Obama Administration, has been a disaster for local Christians. The invasion exposed Christians to reprisals from Islamists; the withdrawal of troops allowed the reprisals to take place on a wide scale. In Syria, the Obama Administration’s signal that it would support the overthrow of Assad—recall the red line in the summer of 2013—encouraged a rebellion; its failure to back up its words with action has led to slaughter. This is not to say the US should have intervened militarily in Syria. But it shouldn’t have encouraged a rebellion it was not prepared to back, either.

You can read the whole post here.

Rubin, “Judicial Review and American Conservatism”

In March, the Cambridge University Press will release “Judicial Review and American Conservatism: Christianity, Public Education, and the Federal Courts in the Reagan Era,” by Robert Daniel Rubin.  The publisher’s description follows: 

The Christian Right of the 1980s forged its political identity largely in response to what it perceived as liberal ‘judicial activism’. Robert Daniel Rubin tells this story 9781107060555as it played out in Mobile, Alabama. There, a community conflict pitted a group of conservative evangelicals, a sympathetic federal judge, and a handful of conservative intellectuals against a religious agnostic opposed to prayer in schools, and a school system accused of promoting a religion called ‘secular humanism’. The twists in the Mobile conflict speak to the changes and continuities that marked the relationship of 1980s’ religious conservatism to democracy, the courts, and the Constitution. By alternately focusing its gaze on the local conflict and related events in Washington, DC, this book weaves a captivating narrative. Historians, political scientists, and constitutional lawyers will find, in Rubin’s study, a challenging new perspective on the history of the Christian Right in the United States.

Mack, “The Rise and Fall of the Christian Myth”

In February, Yale University Press will release The Rise and Fall of the Christian Myth:
Restoring Our Democratic Ideals by Burton L. Mack (Claremont School of Theology). The publisher’s description follows:

rise-and-fall-of-the-christian-mythA preeminent scholar explores the evolution of the Christian worldview and argues that it no longer offers a satisfactory vision for our democratic, multicultural society

This book is the culmination of a lifelong scholarly inquiry into Christian history, religion as a social institution, and the role of myth in the history of religions. Mack shows that religions are essentially mythological and that Christianity in particular has been an ever-changing mythological engine of social formation, from Roman times to its distinct American expression in our time.

The author traces the cultural influence of the Christian myth that has persisted for sixteen hundred years but now should be much less consequential in our social and cultural life, since it runs counter to our democratic ideals. We stand at a critical impasse: badly splintered by conflicting groups pursuing their own social interests, a binding common myth needs to be established by renewing a truly cohesive national and international story rooted in our democratic and egalitarian origins, committed to freedom, equality, and vital human values.

Destro & Pesce, “From Jesus to his First Followers: Continuity and Discontinuity”

In February, Brill Publishers will release From Jesus to his First Followers: Continuity and Discontinuity: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives by Adriana Destro (University of Bologna) and Mauro Pesce (University of Bologna). The publisher’s description follows:

from-jesus-to-his-first-followersFrom Jesus to His First Followers examines to what extent early Christian groups were in continuity or discontinuity with respect to Jesus. Adriana Destro and Mauro Pesce concentrate on the transformation of religious practices. Their anthropological-historical analysis focuses on the relations between discipleship and households, on the models of contact with the supernatural world, and on cohabitation among distinct religious groups. The book highlights how Matthew uses non-Jewish instruments of legitimation, John reformulates religious experiences through symbolized domestic slavery, Paul adopts a religious practice diffused in Roman-Hellenistic environments. The book reconstructs the map of early Christian groups in the Land of Israel and explains their divergences on the basis of an original theory of the local origin of Gospels’ information.

Fea, “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”

Westminster John Knox Press has released a revised edition of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction, by historian John Fea (Messiah College). The publisher’s description follows:

was-america-founded-as-a-christian-nation-revised-editionJohn Fea offers a thoroughly researched, evenhanded primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many evangelicals assert, or a secular state, as others contend. He approaches the title’s question from a historical perspective, helping readers see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past. This updated edition reports on the many issues that have arisen in recent years concerning religion’s place in American society including the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, contraception and the Affordable Care Act, and state-level restrictions on abortion-and demonstrates how they lead us to the question of whether the United States was or is a Christian nation. Fea relates the history of these and other developments, pointing to the underlying questions of national religious identity inherent in each.

“We live in a sound-bite culture that makes it difficult to have any sustained dialogue on these historical issues,” Fea writes in his preface. “It is easy for those who argue that America is a Christian nation (and those who do not) to appear on radio or television programs, quote from one of the founders or one of the nation’s founding documents, and sway people to their positions. These kinds of arguments, which can often be contentious, do nothing to help us unravel a very complicated historical puzzle about the relationship between Christianity and America’s founding.”

 

Pratt, “Selma’s Bloody Sunday”

When people think of Christian activism in law and politics today, they almost always envision activism from the right. But this has not been the case, historically. The most important social and legal movement in twentieth-century America was the Civil Rights Movement, which had strong roots in the Black Church. Although some Christians opposed the movement, and although its sources were non-religious as well, its ecumenical Christian appeal, very much in the American tradition, was important in gaining the necessary support of white moderates.

Last month, Johns Hopkins released a new book on the movement, Selma’s Bloody Sunday: Protest, Voting Rights, and the Struggle for Racial Equality, by historian Robert A. Pratt (University of Georgia). The publisher’s description follows:

9781421421599On Sunday afternoon, March 7, 1965, roughly six hundred peaceful demonstrators set out from Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in a double-file column to march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery. Leading the march were Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Upon reaching Broad Street, the marchers turned left to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge that spanned the Alabama River. “When we reached the crest of the bridge,” recalls John Lewis, “I stopped dead still. So did Hosea. There, facing us at the bottom of the other side, stood a sea of blue-helmeted, blue-uniformed Alabama state troopers, line after line of them, dozens of battle-ready lawmen stretched from one side of U.S. Highway 80 to the other. Behind them were several dozen more armed men—Sheriff Clark’s posse—some on horseback, all wearing khaki clothing, many carrying clubs the size of baseball bats.”

The violence and horror that was about to unfold at the foot of the bridge would forever mark the day as “Bloody Sunday,” one of the pivotal moments of the civil rights movement. Alabama state troopers fell on the unarmed protestors as they crossed the bridge, beating and tear gassing them. In Selma’s Bloody Sunday, Robert A. Pratt offers a vivid account of that infamous day and the indelible triumph of black and white protest over white resistance. He explores how the march itself—and the 1965 Voting Rights Act that followed—represented a reaffirmation of the nation’s centuries-old declaration of universal equality and the fulfillment of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Selma’s Bloody Sunday offers a fresh interpretation of the ongoing struggle by African Americans to participate freely in America’s electoral democracy. Jumping forward to the present day, Pratt uses the march as a lens through which to examine disturbing recent debates concerning who should, and who should not, be allowed to vote. Drawing on archival materials, secondary sources, and eyewitness accounts of the brave men and women who marched, this gripping account offers a brief and nuanced narrative of this critical phase of the black freedom struggle.

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