In June, the University of Alabama Press will release Unity in Christ and Country: American Presbyterians in the Revolutionary Era, 1758–1801 by William Harrison Taylor (Alabama State University). The publisher’s description follows:
In Unity in Christ and Country: American Presbyterians in the Revolutionary Era, 1758–1801, William Harrison Taylor investigates the American Presbyterian Church’s pursuit of Christian unity and demonstrates how, through this effort, the church helped to shape the issues that gripped the American imagination, including evangelism, the conflict with Great Britain, slavery, nationalism, and sectionalism. When the colonial Presbyterian Church reunited in 1758, a nearly twenty-year schism was brought to an end. To aid in reconciling the factions, church leaders called for Presbyterians to work more closely with other Christian denominations. Their ultimate goal was to heal divisions, not just within their own faith but also within colonial North America as a whole.
Taylor contends that a self-imposed interdenominational transformation began in the American Presbyterian Church upon its reunion in 1758. However, this process was altered by the church’s experience during the American Revolution, which resulted in goals of Christian unity that had both spiritual and national objectives. Nonetheless, by the end of the century, even as the leaders in the Presbyterian Church strove for unity in Christ and country, fissures began to develop in the church that would one day divide it and further the sectional rift that would lead to the Civil War.
Taylor engages a variety of sources, including the published and unpublished works of both the Synods of New York and Philadelphia and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, as well as numerous published and unpublished Presbyterian sermons, lectures, hymnals, poetry, and letters. Scholars of religious history, particularly those interested in the Reformed tradition, and specifically Presbyterianism, should find Unity in Christ and Country useful as a way to consider the importance of the theology’s intellectual and pragmatic implications for members of the faith.
In April, Routledge will release “Church and State in Scotland: Developing Law,” by Francis Lyall (University of Aberdeen). The publisher’s description follows:
The interaction of faith and the community is a fundamental of modern society. The first country to adopt Presbyterianism in its national church, Scotland adopted a system of church government, which is now in world-wide use. This book examines the development and current state of Scots law. Drawing on previous material as well as discussing current topical issues, this book makes some comparisons between Scotland and other legal and religious jurisdictions. The study first considers the Church of Scotland, its â€˜Disruptionâ€™ and statutorily recognised reconstitution and then the position of other denominations before assessing the interaction of religion and law and the impact of Human Rights and various discrimination laws within this distinctive Presbyterian country. This unique book will be of interest to both students and lecturers in constitutional and civil law, as well as historians and ecclesiastics.
In January, Lehigh University Press released “Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora,” edited by William Harrison Taylor (Alabama State University) and Peter C. Messer (Mississippi State University). The publisher’s description follows:
Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora considers how, in areas as diverse as the New Hebrides, Scotland, the United States, and East Central Africa, men’s and women’s shared Presbyterian faith conditioned their interpretations of and interactions with the institution of chattel slavery. The chapters highlight how Presbyterians’ reactions to slavery –which ranged from abolitionism, to indifference, to support—reflected their considered application of the principles of the Reformed Tradition to the institution. Consequently, this collection reveals how the particular ways in which Presbyterians framed the Reformed Tradition made slavery an especially problematic and fraught issue for adherents to the faith.
Faith and Slavery, by situating slavery at the nexus of Presbyterian theology and practice, offers a fresh perspective on the relationship between religion and slavery. It reverses the all too common assumption that religion primarily served to buttress existing views on slavery, by illustrating how groups’ and individuals reactions to slavery emerged from their understanding of the Presbyterian faith. The collection’s geographic reach—encompassing the experiences of people from Europe, Africa, America, and the Pacific—filtered through the lens of Presbyterianism also highlights the global dimensions of slavery and the debates surrounding it. The institution and the challenges it presented, Faith and Slavery stresses, reflected less the peculiar conditions of a particular place and time, than the broader human condition as people attempt to understand and shape their world.
This March, Edinburgh University Press will release “Religion and National Identity: Governing Scottish Presbyterianism in the Eighteenth Century” by Alistair Mutch (Nottingham Business School). The publisher’s description follows:
Presbyterianism has shaped Scotland and its impact on the world. Behind its beliefs lie some distinctive practices of governance which endure even when belief fades. These practices place a particular emphasis on the detailed recording of decisions and what we can term a ‘systemic’ form of accountability.
This book examines the emergence and consolidation of such practices in the eighteenth century Church of Scotland. Using extensive archival research and detailed local case studies, it contrasts them to what is termed a ‘personal’ form of accountability in England in the same period. This supports the contrast that has been made by other authors between a focus on system in Scotland, character in England. The wider impact of this approach to governance and accountability, especially in the United States of America, is explored, as is the enduring impact of these practices in shaping Scottish identity.
This book offers a fresh perspective on the Presbyterian legacy in contemporary Scottish historiography, at the same time as informing current debates on national identity.
The Georgia Supreme Court last week decided two important church property cases. The rulings, handed down the same day, favor national bodies in disputes with local congregations and add nuance to the “neutral principles of law” doctrine, associated with the US Supreme Court’s holding in Jones v. Wolf, which allows judges to resolve intra-church disputes by interpreting relevant legal documents in terms of neutral civil law principles. The first case, Rector, Wardens, and Vestrymen of Christ Church, Savannah v. Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, applied the neutral principles doctrine to rule that an Episcopal parish in Savannah held property in trust for the parent body, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA. As a consequence of this ruling, the parish, which has seceded from the national body and affiliated itself with an African diocese, must vacate the property and turn it over to the national church. In the second case, Presbytery of Greater Atlanta v. Timberridge Presbyterian Church, the court similarly concluded, again under the neutral principles doctrine, that a local Presbyterian congregation held its property in trust for the national body, the Presbyterian Church-USA.
Two points about these cases. First, they demonstrate that “hierarchical churches” – and both the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches qualify as such for purposes of American law – have learned, presumably in response to earlier court decisions, to amend and in some cases draw up church rules in a way that insures that local congregations hold property only in trust for the national body. Second, one typically thinks of the neutral principles doctrine in the context of “external” documents like deeds, contracts, and trust instruments. In these cases, however, the court applied the doctrine to “internal” church rules. There’s a danger in applying the doctrine in that context. Canon law may operate in ways that lawyers trained in the civil law system do not fully appreciate; from the perspective of the church, “neutral” civil law principles may not seem neutral at all. In these two cases, the court believed, that was not a problem, as the relevant canons did not implicate religious principles. In future cases, that may not be so clear.