Lewis, “The Rights Turn in Conservative Christian Politics”

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Minorities always favor civil rights, because rights protect them from the majority. So it shouldn’t be surprising that conservative Christians in twenty-first century America increasingly find themselves asserting rights in public controversies. A forthcoming book from Cambridge University Press, The Rights Turn in Conservative Christian Politics: How Abortion Transformed the Culture Wars, by University of Cincinnati political scientist Andrew Lewis, discusses the subject, and claims Christians’ move to a rights-based rhetoric is tied up with the abortion debate. Here is the publisher’s description:

The Rights Turn in Conservative Christian Politics documents a recent, fundamental change in American politics with the waning of Christian America. Rather than conservatives emphasizing morality and liberals emphasizing rights, both sides now wield rights arguments as potent weapons to win political and legal battles and build grassroots support. Lewis documents this change on the right, focusing primarily on evangelical politics. Using extensive historical and survey data that compares evangelical advocacy and evangelical public opinion, Lewis explains how the prototypical culture war issue – abortion – motivated the conservative rights turn over the past half century, serving as a springboard for rights learning and increased conservative advocacy in other arenas. Challenging the way we think about the culture wars, Lewis documents how rights claims are used to thwart liberal rights claims, as well as to provide protection for evangelicals, whose cultural positions are increasingly in the minority; they have also allowed evangelical elites to justify controversial advocacy positions to their base and to engage more easily in broad rights claiming in new or expanded political arenas, from health care to capital punishment.

Gerbner, “Christian Slavery”

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Earlier this week, I posted a book on the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and commented on the large role religion played in the civil rights movement. Of course, Christianity had a lot to do with that movement, historically, and a common appeal to Christian conscience had much to do with the movement’s success. But candor compels the recognition that Christianity’s record with regard to racial justice in America is mixed. A forthcoming book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World, by University of Minnesota historian Katharine Gerbner, recounts some of the story. The publisher’s description follows:

Could slaves become Christian? If so, did their conversion lead to freedom? If not, then how could perpetual enslavement be justified? In Christian Slavery, Katharine Gerbner contends that religion was fundamental to the development of both slavery and race in the Protestant Atlantic world. Slave owners in the Caribbean and elsewhere established governments and legal codes based on an ideology of “Protestant Supremacy,” which excluded the majority of enslaved men and women from Christian communities. For slaveholders, Christianity was a sign of freedom, and most believed that slaves should not be eligible for conversion.

When Protestant missionaries arrived in the plantation colonies intending to convert enslaved Africans to Christianity in the 1670s, they were appalled that most slave owners rejected the prospect of slave conversion. Slaveholders regularly attacked missionaries, both verbally and physically, and blamed the evangelizing newcomers for slave rebellions. In response, Quaker, Anglican, and Moravian missionaries articulated a vision of “Christian Slavery,” arguing that Christianity would make slaves hardworking and loyal.

Over time, missionaries increasingly used the language of race to support their arguments for slave conversion. Enslaved Christians, meanwhile, developed an alternate vision of Protestantism that linked religious conversion to literacy and freedom. Christian Slavery shows how the contentions between slave owners, enslaved people, and missionaries transformed the practice of Protestantism and the language of race in the early modern Atlantic world.

Symposium on “Christian Legal Thought: Materials and Cases”

St. John's Law LogoThis Friday, January 26, the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies (a publication of St. John’s University School of Law) will host a symposium on the new casebook Christian Legal Thought: Materials and Cases (2017) by Patrick M. Brennan (Villanova) and William S. Brewbaker III (University of Alabama). The symposium will take place at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan from 3 PM to 6 PM, with a reception at the Club following from 6 PM to 7 PM. It will feature as panelists both casebook authors, as well as Professors Randy Beck (University of Georgia), Angela C. Carmella (Seton Hall), Richard W. Garnett (Notre Dame), Michael P. Moreland (Villanova), and David A. Skeel, Jr. (University of Pennsylvania). The event is free and open to the public (please note the New York Athletic Club’s dress guidelines). More information, including whom to contact with questions, is available here. The January 19 deadline to RSVP has been extended to January 25.

Hudnut-Beumler, “Strangers and Friends at the Welcome Table”

9781469640372While on a recent trip to Charlotte, North Carolina — home of the Billy Graham Library — I attended Sunday Liturgy at St. Sarkis Armenian Church, founded about a dozen years ago. St. Sarkis is not the only Orthodox Church in Charlotte. There is a Coptic church, at least two Greek Orthodox churches, a couple of Russian Orthodox churches, a couple of Ethiopian Orthodox churches, and at least one Syriac church. The point is that if one thinks of Southern  Christianity as strictly Evangelical, one is making a mistake — though I should point out, in the interests of full disclosure, that the line of cars outside the Evangelical church a couple blocks away was a lot longer than the one at St. Sarkis!

A new study from the University of North Carolina Press, Strangers and Friends at the Welcome Table: Contemporary Christianities in the American South, by Vanderbilt University historian James Hudnut-Beumler, describes the Christianities of the New South. Looks interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this fresh and fascinating chronicle of Christianity in the contemporary South, historian and minister James Hudnut-Beumler draws on extensive interviews and his own personal journeys throughout the region over the past decade to present a comprehensive portrait of the South’s long-dominant religion. Hudnut-Beumler traveled to both rural and urban communities, listening to the faithful talk about their lives and beliefs. What he heard pushes hard against prevailing notions of southern Christianity as an evangelical Protestant monolith so predominant as to be unremarkable.

True, outside of a few spots, no non-Christian group forms more than six-tenths of one percent of a state’s population in what Hudnut-Beumler calls the Now South. Drilling deeper, however, he discovers an unexpected, blossoming diversity in theology, practice, and outlook among southern Christians. He finds, alongside traditional Baptists, black and white, growing numbers of Christians exemplifying changes that no one could have predicted even just forty years ago, from congregations of LGBT-supportive evangelicals and Spanish-language church services to a Christian homeschooling movement so robust in some places that it may rival public education in terms of acceptance. He also finds sharp struggles and political divisions among those trying to reconcile such Christian values as morality and forgiveness—the aftermath of the mass shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church in 2015 forming just one example. This book makes clear that understanding the twenty-first-century South means recognizing many kinds of southern Christianities.

Picard, “Sea of the Caliphs”

9780674660465-lgIn 1571, at the Battle of Lepanto, a collection of European powers led by Venice (at least that’s how I learned it, notwithstanding Chesterton’s great poem), defeated the Ottoman navy and ensured that Christian Europe, not Muslim Turkey, would control the Mediterranean Sea. A new history from Harvard University Press, Sea of the Caliphs: The Mediterranean in the Medieval Islamic World, shows that the contest between Christian and Muslim states for control of Mediterranean trade routes goes back quite far. The author is historian Christophe Picard (University of Paris I, Panthéon-Sorbonne). The publisher’s description follows:

 “How could I allow my soldiers to sail on this disloyal and cruel sea?” These words, attributed to the most powerful caliph of medieval Islam, Umar Ibn al-Khattab (634–644), have led to a misunderstanding in the West about the importance of the Mediterranean to early Islam. This body of water, known in Late Antiquity as the Sea of the Romans, was critical to establishing the kingdom of the caliphs and for introducing the new religion to Europe and Africa. Over time, it also became a pathway to commercial and political dominion, indispensable to the prosperity and influence of the Islamic world. Sea of the Caliphs returns Muslim sailors to their place of prominence in the history of the Islamic caliphate.

As early as the seventh century, Muslim sailors competed with Greek and Latin seamen for control of this far-flung route of passage. Christophe Picard recreates these adventures as they were communicated to admiring Muslims by their rulers. After the Arab conquest of southern Europe and North Africa, Muslims began to speak of the Mediterranean in their strategic visions, business practices, and notions of nature and the state. Jurists and ideologues conceived of the sea as a conduit for jihad, even as Muslims’ maritime trade with Latin, Byzantine, and Berber societies increased.

In the thirteenth century, Christian powers took over Mediterranean trade routes, but by that time a Muslim identity that operated both within and in opposition to Europe had been shaped by encounters across the sea of the caliphs.

Ma and Li, “Surviving the State”

9781532634604Christianity is enduring a rough period in the West. But, as many commentators have pointed out, the religion is booming in Africa and Asia. And, in Asia, China provides an excellent example of the growth of Christianity. According to some estimates, by the middle of this century, China will have the world’s largest Christian community. The rise of Chinese Christianity will no doubt affect the course of the religion in ways none of us can now imagine.

A new book from Wipf and Stock, Surviving the State, Remaking the Church: A Sociological Portrait of Christians in Mainland China, by Li Ma and Jin Li, both of Calvin College, documents some of the changes. Here is the publisher’s description:

This sociological portrait presents how Chinese Christians have coped with life under a hostile regime over a span of different historical periods, and how Christian churches as collective entities have been reshaped by ripples of social change. China’s change from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, or from an agrarian society to an urbanizing society, are admittedly significant phenomena worthy of scholarly attention, but real changes are about values and beliefs that give rise to social structures over time. The growth of Christianity has become interwoven with the disintegration or emergence of Chinese cultural beliefs, political ideologies, and commercial values.

Relying mainly on an oral history method for data collection, the authors allow the narratives of Chinese Christians to speak for themselves. Identifying the formative cultural elements, a sociohistorical analysis also helps to lay out a coherent understanding of the complexity of religious experiences for Christians in the Chinese world. This book also serves to bring back scholarly discussions on the habits of the heart as the condition that helps form identities and nurture social morality, whether individuals engage in private or public affairs.

Rommen, “Into All the World”

intoalltheworld__33962.1509128445.300.300Earlier this week, I posted about the new Pew Report on Orthodox Christianity, which focuses, in part, on the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. I argued that the Ethiopian Church, an ancient Christian communion without colonial associations, is well positioned to do missionary work in Africa, where Christianity is booming. To do so, though, the Church may have to overcome a mindset that views missionary work as something for other Christians. I don’t know too much about the Ethiopian Church, but one often hears expressed, in other Orthodox circles, a reluctance to engage in missionary work–a reluctance that may be more comprehensible to Western Christians when one realizes that such work exposes missionaries to a real threat of murder in many areas where Orthodox live.

A new book from the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Into All the World: An Orthodox Theology of Mission, by Edward Rommen (Duke Divinity School), explores these issues. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Fr Edward Rommen makes the case that it is now time to reexamine the theological underpinnings of the Eastern Orthodox Church’s mission to the world. Globalization has clearly altered the various fields on which missions are carried out. Christians in the West, to their credit, have been actively developing a missional response to these changes. As a result, missiology and missions theology are well established in the academic institutions of the West. However, the Orthodox Church has, in spite of its rich history of missionary activity, been notably absent from these discussions. But now this is changing.

As the constraints of political and religious oppression have eased, the Church is awakening to its own history, but more importantly to its own missionary responsibility. There has been a great deal of fresh activity among Orthodox scholars that can enrich our reexamination of the Church’s mission. So it is now indeed an opportune time to tap into the biblical, historical, and traditional resources of the Orthodox Church and attempt to reformulate a systematic, theological statement of the rationale and goal of mission, to reaffirm the centrality of the Church in missionary outreach, to describe for a new generation the nature of the gospel and the basic content of church education, and to rearticulate the guidelines that should govern our mission work.

Vosganian, “The Book of Whispers”

9453aa94e9dd50e2c55ac53c0b7d9ad2Continuing our focus this week on Orthodox Christians, here is a new book from Yale University Press on the Armenian Genocide of 1915, an ethnic cleansing campaign against Armenian Orthodox Christians in Ottoman Turkey that also swept up Greek and Syriac Orthodox Christians, as well as Catholics and Protestants. The Book of Whispers, is by Romanian parliamentarian Varujan Vosganian. Here’s the description from the Yale website:

A harrowing account of the Armenian Genocide documented through the stories of those who managed to survive and descendants who refuse to forget

The grandchild of Armenians who escaped widespread massacres during the Ottoman Empire a century ago, Varujan Vosganian grew up in Romania hearing firsthand accounts of those who had witnessed horrific killings, burned villages, and massive deportations. In this moving chronicle of the Armenian people’s almost unimaginable tragedy, the author transforms true events into a work of fiction firmly grounded in survivor testimonies and historical documentation

Across Syrian desert refugee camps, Russian tundra, and Romanian villages, the book chronicles individual lives destroyed by ideological and authoritarian oppression. But this novel tells an even wider human story. Evocative of all the great sufferings that afflicted the twentieth century—world wars, concentration camps, common graves, statelessness, and others—this book belongs to all peoples whose voices have been lost. Hailed for its documentary value and sensitive authenticity, Vosganian’s work has become an international phenomenon.

Frankfurter, “Christianizing Egypt”

9780691176970_0The Coptic Church today is suffering one of the worst periods of persecution in its history. Yet few Americans, including American Christians, know much about it. In fact, I’d guess that most Americans, including American Christians, assume that Egypt is uniformly Muslim, except for a handful of American Evangelical missionaries and their congregations. In fact, Christianity has ancient roots in Egypt, and the Coptic Church preserves some of the earliest Christian traditions.

A new book from Princeton University Press, Christianizing Egypt: Syncretism and Local Worlds in Late Antiquity, by Boston University Professor David Frankfurter, discusses some of that history. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:

How does a culture become Christian, especially one that is heir to such ancient traditions and spectacular monuments as Egypt? This book offers a new model for envisioning the process of Christianization by looking at the construction of Christianity in the various social and creative worlds active in Egyptian culture during late antiquity.

As David Frankfurter shows, members of these different social and creative worlds came to create different forms of Christianity according to their specific interests, their traditional idioms, and their sense of what the religion could offer. Reintroducing the term “syncretism” for the inevitable and continuous process by which a religion is acculturated, the book addresses the various formations of Egyptian Christianity that developed in the domestic sphere, the worlds of holy men and saints’ shrines, the work of craftsmen and artisans, the culture of monastic scribes, and the reimagination of the landscape itself, through processions, architecture, and the potent remains of the past.

Drawing on sermons and magical texts, saints’ lives and figurines, letters and amulets, and comparisons with Christianization elsewhere in the Roman empire and beyond, Christianizing Egypt reconceives religious change—from the “conversion” of hearts and minds to the selective incorporation and application of strategies for protection, authority, and efficacy, and for imagining the environment.

New Pew Study on Orthodox Christianity

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Ethiopian Orthodox Cathedral, Addis Ababa

 

All this week, I’ll be posting items on Orthodox Christianity, an important but understudied (at least in America) Christian communion. To start, here’s a new report from the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, “Orthodox Christianity in the 21st Century,” released this month. Orthodox Christianity has relatively few communicants in the United States, mostly immigrants from Orthodox countries and their descendants, as well as a small number of converts, especially from Evangelical denominations. But, globally, Orthodoxy is the third largest Christian communion, after Catholics and Protestants, with a combined number in the hundreds of millions.

Orthodox leaders are becoming increasingly visible in global affairs. For example, the Ecumenical Patriarch has been active on environmental questions. Thanks to an increasingly assertive Russian Church, Orthodoxy is beginning to have an impact in human rights fora like the UN Commission. In fact, even in the US, Orthodox Christians may have had an impact on the last presidential election. At a panel at Fordham University earlier this month, scholar Nicholas Gvosdev pointed out that Donald Trump appealed to Orthodox Christians in places like Michigan–which Trump won with a narrow margin.

The Pew report reveals that although their numbers across the globe are growing in absolute terms, the number of Orthodox Christians has declined relative to Catholics and Protestants. In the Middle East, at least, that decline is explained in part by persecution against Orthodox (and other) Christians in the twentieth century, which continues today. Seventy years of Communist repression in the former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc also didn’t help. But the report reveals a hopeful resurgence of Orthodox Christianity in former Communist countries.

The report pays a lot of attention to the largest Orthodox Church outside Europe, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (36 million members), one of the five so-called Oriental Orthodox Churches. This is commendable, as people often assume that Orthodoxy is an entirely European phenomenon. Although declining in its historic European home, Christianity is soaring in the global south, including in Africa. In fact, the Ethiopian Church, an ancient Christian body without any colonial associations, may be well positioned to do missionary work across the continent in the coming century.

The report details many interesting facts about Orthodox practice and belief — compared to Catholics and mainline Protestants, for example, the Orthodox are deeply conservative on social issues like gender and marriage — as well as prospects for ecumenism. It will be very valuable for anyone interested in the sociology of Christianity today. (H/T: George Demacopoulos at Fordham’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center, who served as a scholarly adviser on the report).

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