12/12/17

Moore to the Point: Why Many Evangelical Leaders Are Selling Out

By: Jonathan Harris

For the past few years a growing segment of evangelical leadership has been marching toward the left culminating most recently in staunch opposition to and the defeat of Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore. To illustrate, I know of at least three statements denouncing the “Alt Right,” either originating with or supported by prominent Southern Baptist leaders during this year alone. You can read them here https://www.unifyingleadership.org, here https://static.coreapps.net/sbc-am2017/documents/f618b2f02b1fc085697b4f5d147cb58e.pdf, and here https://thewitnessbcc.com/charlottesville-declaration-appeal-church-america/ Let’s examine for a moment the most recent statement to show what I mean.

The title is, “OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP FROM AMERICAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS: WE NEED YOU TO SPEAK.” Here are a few important observations. First is the lack of similar statements made regarding President Obama. There was the Manhattan Declaration, but that did not single Obama out. So there exists one statement I can think of against the Left within eight years, and we already have three statements made against the almost undefinable “Alt Right” and Donald Trump within less than one year. What does this tell us about the level of moral outrage? Is it more grievous to Christians that a president has a few people in his cabinet that CNN calls racist, or that a president pushes transgender bathroom policy and unrestricted abortion?

It is noteworthy that two of the signers at my seminary, one of whom is an author of the statement itself, could not give the names of all three of the supposed “Alt Right” operatives in Trump’s cabinet when asked by the media to do so. This brings me to a second observation. If you read the statement carefully, you will find not only that the Constitution is misconstrued as an egalitarian document, but in the one place Scripture is quoted, it is taking out of context and recruited, ironically, in the cause of Licolnian nationalism. It is impossible for this sloppy open letter to have been written by careful historians or exegetes of Scripture.

A final observation, and a most important one, has to do with the purpose for such statements. It used to be that a resolution sponsored by evangelical organizations concerned a biblical matter. The Bible was the source of authority, and clarification as to its meaning was the intention. The most recent example from this tradition would be the Nashville statement on gender and sexuality. Recently however, evangelicals seem to be using public proclamations on moral issues as a virtue signaling tool. Scripture does not play a very prominent role in these statements, and an exegetical clarification as to its meaning is not on the radar.

I have long maintained that a monumental “rebranding” is being forged inside many evangelical organizations. Christians are sick and tired of being the targets of media critique and the laughing stock of the world. The “new guard” views the earlier religious right’s political involvement as the problem and resents them for it. For a few years in the early 2000’s it was popular to embarrassingly disapprove of political involvement and instead “just preach the Gospel!” as if the two were diametrically opposed. Within the last few years this sentiment has changed to a left-leaning call to “engage culture!” It is a reemergence of the social gospel, except not as many hungry people get fed. It is enough to take a stand even if it’s in the form of a tweet. Cries to forward social justice, implement affirmative-action, support “racial reconciliation,” and strip the land of anything that could be considered offensive, especially symbols of the Old South, are new ways to supposedly communicate gospel-centeredness. The advertisement has gone out to the world that evangelicals are tolerant people who care about “injustice.” Perhaps if the world can see that we truly care they will be more open to joining us?” Then in walks Trump, and this year Roy Moore, threatening their plan.

As great as the desire was among evangelicalism’s elite, they could not seem to persuade the rank-and-file pew sitters to not vote for Donald Trump, who achieved 80% of evangelical support. Some of the reasons for opposition were understandable, Trump’s personal morality being the main one. However, much of the criticism at the time, and almost all the criticism since the election, has centered on shared concerns with liberals over identity politics.

Unlike the president, Roy Moore did not possess the same character issues that gave some evangelicals apprehension over Trump. Moore was the evangelical hero, and still should have been going into the 2017 Alabama senatorial election. He was the “Ten Commandments” judge in 2002 and defied the Obergefell decision 13 years later. However, between these two events his popularity with the “big wigs” waned, and it was not because he changed. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Liberty Commission for the SBC and no relation to Roy Moore, criticized both Roy Moore and county clerk Kim Davis for not keeping their “Romans 13 obligation to see law and order followed.” No careful examination of Romans 13 would give anyone the idea that lesser magistrates are required to uphold arbitrary decisions by higher magistrates even if they are unlawful and immoral. Of course, this should not come as a surprise given Russell Moore’s admission the previous year that while he would not attend a same-sex wedding he would go to the reception. You read that last sentence correctly.

Fast forward to 2017. Judge Moore survives the Alabama senatorial primary despite little help from prominent evangelicals, and surprisingly beats both Trump’s and the establishment’s pick. It was a done deal until the Washington Post ran a story on November 9th reporting the allegation that Leigh Corfman was molested by Moore in 1979 when she was only 14. Then the snowball started rolling downhill. Two more women accused Moore of molestation. Despite, being faithfully married for over thirty years and being in public life for longer without the slightest hint of inappropriate behavior, the charges stuck. Even after confirming accuser Beverly Nelson’s tampered-with yearbook and false description of the restaurant she and Moore supposedly met at, the charges stuck. Despite the unlikely opportunity Moore would have had to date Corfman during the 12 day window before she moved from her mother’s house, the charges stuck. Despite the fact that the “mall banning” story turned out to be a complete fabrication, the charges still stuck.

Christians normally expect to be condemned by the media, but from evangelical Christian leaders too? To his credit, Franklin Graham was the only one who seemed willing to publicly stick by Moore. Of course Russell Moore accused Christians who supported Roy Moore of worshiping power and seeing women and girls as expendable. Al Mohler insinuated to CNN’s Don Lemon that Moore’s less-than-serious response to the accusations made against him cast doubt on the judge’s innocence. Raymond Ortland, a council member at the Gospel Coalition accused Christians who supported Roy Moore as believing in a different salvation altogether. In the “Nonpartisan Solution to Our Roy Moore Problem,” Joe Carter, a senior editor at the Gospel Coalition called Christians who supported Moore “hypocrites.” I happen to know this sentiment is coming from the same Gospel Coalition that is putting on the MLK50 conference next year. As a result the SBC seminary I attend is even offering credits on the subject of Martin Luther King Jr. as a history course for those who would like to attend—this despite King not being a Southern Baptist or even possibly an orthodox Christian, and more relevantly a faithful husband. Martin Luther King Jr. was a confirmed serial adulterer. So Christians who support an orthodox Christian with dubious and unconfirmed accusations against him are hypocrites, while Christians who honor a possible false-convert with confirmed sexual improprieties are not? This observation is in no way meant to discount some of the good things MLK did, but to honor him while condemning Moore looks a lot more like hypocrisy.

What is more disturbing than any of this perhaps is the unwillingness on the part of many evangelical leaders to apply an actual Biblical standard to the situation. The “two or three witness” standard for authenticating truth. Deuteronomy 19:15 is one place in which this standard is mentioned:
A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge [singular] be established. ESV
It is interesting to note that the only person that seems to have more than one witness against them in the whole situation is Beverly Nelson, Moore’s most vocal accuser. Some evangelical elitists have not only thumbed their nose at due process, but they’ve ignored Scripture’s own standard in establishing authenticity.

Was their influence enough to sway the Alabama election? When the results are within two percentage points in a highly populated evangelical state, the answer is quite possibly, “Yes.” However, such victory comes at a price. Those who have watched Southern Baptists and Gospel Coalition leaders condemn Moore while not uttering a peep about pro-abortion Doug Jones are not likely to take them seriously, which is a very bad thing. Evangelical leaders think they are establishing their moral authority when in reality they are ripping it down by betraying their own principles. The world will never accept them, but the world will use them, whether they know they are being used or not. More importantly, it would seem they are unknowingly perhaps putting favor with the world over favor with God. If it comes to the point that they completely reject biblical authority on social issues and alienate their base their voices will be insignificant indeed, which is exactly what Satan wants. Let’s pray they wake up before they have nowhere left to turn.

12/7/17

Harvey Weinstein vs. Jedediah Smith and True American Manhood

By: Jonathan Harris

I just recently finished a biography of the life of Jedediah Smith, one of the most famous American explorers, pathfinders, and mountain men. Smith was the first person of European descent to reach California approaching it from the east. Though he died in his early 30s, his life is one of the most exciting stories of American history. 

Smith’s world was one of discovery, excitement, potential, diversity, survival, beauty, and terror. Jedediah Smith personifies what it means to be an independent traditional American man. He brought Yankee ingenuity and a Protestant work ethic to lands in which it was never known. The grace of God, along with a hearty determination to survive and knack for knowing when trouble was about to ensue kept him alive. Smith was an honorable Christian man though he had his own share of flaws. He was human. He was American. 

One of the most famous stories about Smith involves a battle between him and a grizzly bear. The grizzly bear took off part of his scalp with it’s claws. Smith instructed one of his men to sew his scalp back on including a mangled ear. Without a complaint, Smith immediately jumped on a horse when the stitching was complete and road for miles. He possessed that noble quality once referred to as true grit. In his interactions with indigenous people, Smith was very fair minded, constantly offering gifts to stave off trouble and encourage trade. His descriptions of many varied groups of native Americans are fascinating. Every tribe was very different, and treated him and his men differently. Ultimately, Smith lost his life to Comanches he was trying to make peace with. But this was after many close calls with hostile tribes that he survived. Smith had much to overcome and contend with in the fur trade. Through deserts with no water, mountains with no warmth, and wildernesses with no food, he kept going. Stubborn persistence and optimistic leadership made Smith into the legend he is now.

As I read Barton H. Barbour’s book on Smith, I thought about our own time. It goes without saying that American masculinity is anything but revered—g a clear and unshakable course are not in step with today’s template for a soft and passive male. Jedediah Smith is no longer a hero to hardly anyone in my generation, but neither are Lewis and Clark or Charles Limberg or Teddy Roosevelt. Superheroes are in vogue, but they do not possess the traditional traits of American masculinity. Captain America is perhaps the closest we come, but even he lacks the leadership skills one would hope to find in someone who bears his title. And in a traditional sense, he tends to be the passive one even in his romantic interests. Furthermore, he is not real. Jedediah Smith is. And I wonder whether that is the issue. Reality. Do we as a culture view men in the way they ought to be, or are we attempting to remake them in the image of something they were never intended to be. 

Perhaps having an unclear direction is not always a sign of humility. It can also be a sign of cowardice. Perhaps as the Jedediah Smiths of the world have decreased the Harvey Weinsteins of the world have increased. If a man is designed to possess within himself a dream for what could be, a drive for how to get there, and a destination to be proud of, the culture we currently live in does not know how to channel this passion.

One key ingredient for the formation of the traditional American man, and indeed the ideal Western man, was a meaningful destination. When a man knew it was possible for him to take pride in something that lasted, such as people and place, he spent his God given energies on worthwhile endeavors. The bonds of matrimony and duty to God and country set  honorable boundaries that directed masculinity. Men were awarded with admiration for raising families and enduring hardship for a greater cause. Most men, if they were not married were preparing to be someday. True fulfillment was found outside of selfish ambition. 

Today what we have is a situation in which selfish ambition reigns supreme. There is nothing outside of self to validate masculine existence. Society does not reward selfless endurance. Being a protector and provider for females is seen as degrading since it insinuates that females are somehow incomplete or lacking in some area. But the result is that males lack completeness. They still have desire and drive, but no destination. 

In this vacuum in which we live, men have made their own destination based upon primitive hormonal inclinations. There is nothing of lasting value, therefore they will settle for something cheap that temporarily gives the illusion of fulfillment. There is far too much risk in exerting oneself to fight for something one would only be criticized for supporting anyway. If you wonder why the military is hurting for recruits and it seems like just about every politician is corrupt this is your answer. It is far easier and more rewarding to channel dreams and drive into fantasy than it is reality. Video games, Where there is no physical risk, have taken the place of outdoorsman activities. Taking risks and making mistakes in the real world in order to build character for a future destination is not important because there is no destination.

The irony of our current situation is this: Harvey Weinstein with his multimillion dollar house and tuxedo is the barbarian. Jedediah Smith with his wool blanket and buckskin jacket is the civilized man. Smith’s rewards were just over the next peak where their may exist trouble, but there also existed the satisfaction of blazing a trail for others and seeing the world in its virgin form as the Creator made it. Harvey Weinstein’s rewards were not rewards at all. He had the pleasure of titillating his body in relationships that were not real where no one could approve except those of his buddies with whom he joked. His life has been a joke. Unfortunately, he is not alone. Men have become jokes. Have you watched any sitcoms lately? 

Recently, many in our culture have sought to expose and shame men for channeling their energies into inappropriate sexual exploits, but I would like to ask this question, “Where should they be channeling their energy?” They are not respected as husbands, fathers, providers, or leaders. When men are left without a destination, dreams will only be shaped by drive, and drive will only be shaped by hormones. My hope for my children is that they will look to men like Jedediah Smith to blaze the trail of their lives. That they will see the importance of transcendent meaning in masculinity. That they will embrace real heroes who actually existed, and exemplify hard work, self-sacrifice and purpose. I want them to pursue real accomplishment, not cheap sexual conquest. Perhaps one day men will realize they have been cheated out of their own identity. Perhaps on that day the American mountain man will reemerge. 

12/3/17

A Review of Michael Card's "The Walk."

By: Jonathan Harris

Over the past semester I have read a number of books on Christian discipleship—being a disciple, making disciples, shaping church ministry toward the goal of discipleship, etc. I would not say any of these popular Christian works have been unhelpful, but I think I should say that none of them has come close to impacting my life as much as Michael Card’s “The Walk.” It could be that my familiarity with and favor toward the author’s musical contributions made my ears wider as I listened to the author’s words—but I think there was much more to it. While many helpful Christian books focus on spiritual disciplines and strategies connected with forming successful discipleship stories, Card’s book is a discipleship story, and it’s reach went beyond my intellect. Doctrine and strategy are important and useful, but it is interesting that Jesus’ own teaching on discipleship was contained within a story. It is in the narrative of the gospels that Christians mine for the golden nuggets of doctrine and strategy. I think it is because Michael Card’s short book, like the gospels, contains teaching alongside of and within a story that it captured my attention on a deeper level. As the subtitle suggests, “The Walk” is “The Life-Changing Journey of Two Friends.” Through ups and downs, faults and foibles, joys and jubilations, triumphs and tragedies, braveries and fears, two friends help each other “unwrap Jesus.” As Card’s mentor, Bill Lane expressed, “When God gives a gift he wraps it in a person.” Bill Lane was God’s gift to Michael Card, but he is also now God’s gift to me through Card’s experience. In a small way I have been able to know Bill Lane through the eyes of Michael Card. The knowledge I have of him—his idiosyncrasies, personality, style, reactions to situations, have all become the canvas upon which the truths of Christian discipleship are painted. I am thankful that Michael Card took the time to record his experience with exemplified Christian discipleship and shared it with me.

The format of “The Walk,” is built around “three phases in Jesus’ pattern of discipleship.” The call to be with Jesus, the commissioning of the disciples, and returning to Jesus describes the three basic divisions of the book. Card describes how this pattern, learned from Bill Lane, is applied  in his own life:
I wake in the morning, and I’m with Jesus. I learn from Him. I read His Word. I spend time with Him. I realize my commission, and then I go out. I do His work and I speak His word. Then, at the end of the day, I come back and report to Jesus everything I’ve done and everything I’ve said. Now I hear Him say, “Come with Me to a quiet place and get some rest.” (125-126)
Card adds, “You can apply the cycle over a day, over a matter of months, or over a lifetime. That was my experience with Bill.” And it is this experience with Bill that the author primarily focuses on; dipping in and out of their walk together in order to concentrate the mind of the reader on a deeper spiritual significance.

One of the best illustrations of this is located in two chapters on what Bill Lane referred to as “the wilderness.” When Michael would “come to Bill with some problem . . . he would look at me as if he understood that more was going on than the often petty, superficial circumstances.” Card takes us back to a young version of himself navigating the dating scene, experience heartbreak along the way. Though such experiences are thought to be commonplace, and therefore “small” perhaps, they are not always small to the person going through them. Bill Lane understood this. I could almost sense him feeling the pain and wishing he could take it upon himself were it not for the benefits such an experience was bringing to the life of Michael. The wilderness is where Sonship is established. In other words, God becomes a true Father to those who are forced to rely on him. Israel learned this while wandering the desert for 40 years. Jesus experienced the same dependency during His 40 days of temptation. Becoming a more true son or daughter of God is a deeper spiritual reality oftentimes hidden by pain.

The formation of Michael Card and Bill Lane’s discipleship relationship itself carried with it the reality of something deeper, something better, something spiritual. Timing is not left up to chance. Before the two met, Lane had recently departed from a Christian seminary under personally difficult circumstances. He also moved from a place where he had experienced close relationships with Christian students into a secular university setting. Longing for someone he could invest himself in and “unwrap Jesus” with, Bill told his wife about a fleece he had laid out. He would pray that God would send him a student he could mentor. He further prayed that whomever this student was would take the initiative by asking him for a block of time. Card did just that in 1975, kicking off a deep relationship that would last 24 years. The two would take daily walks together, even when classes were cancelled due to snow. They shared the intimate details of their lives. In Michael’s words, one of Lane’s goals was to, “wake us up to what is really going on around us, to encourage us to take our eyes off ourselves and see that our world is not the only world.” There was something far more important going on when a young student entered the office of his professor with an academic question. There was a divine encounter for a greater purpose.

The illustration of this concept alone was well worth the read for me. Living in what seems often like a mechanistic world, it is good to be reminded that there is something outside the box. The most relatable chapter for me in the whole book focused on this point. In, “Let the excellence of your work be your protest,” Card describes his frustrations with being a musician in the Christian music industry. He writes: “A bitterness in my heart and soul, caused by focusing on what I believed were the ‘evils’ of the Christian music industry, had almost incapacitated me.” This is a statement I immediately connected with. It seems like almost anywhere I go nowadays I can be in danger of carrying a similar sentiment. Not only do I share Card’s frustration with the Christian music industry, but I see similar problems in “Christian” education, denominational politics, national politics, the direction of culture, etc. I’ve joked with my wife on more than a one occasion that I hope they don’t ruin barbecue too (my favorite food)! Sometimes it feels like I’m scraping the bottom for something that is not going in the wrong direction, something that is still good and has not been tampered with. And while I do believe righteous indignation and discerning critique are necessary, there should be no room for bitterness. Thus Bill Lane’s advise to Michael Card, as he experienced emotions similar to my own, may be the most memorable piece of advise from the book. “If you are going to protest the state of the industry, do so by making your work the best it can be.” Card describes his impression of Lane’s statement:
Yet this is, of course, a naive notion—to combat shallowness and shoddiness with excellence in a world that rewards the former with fame. But this is the kind of child-like naivete that made Bill a man of God. He believe that this world is not all there is, that there is One who will reward us based on a radically different value system. (96-97)
One of my first thoughts after reading this statement was, “This is such an obvious Christian truth, yet I am always forgetting it.” I know I’ve recently been struggling about the idea of publishing material that is out of step with mainstream academia. While I am confident that I am forwarding the truth, the consequences of doing so frighten me. Will I be blacklisted by any organization? Will doors that are open now to me be shut? Will I decrease my chances of having a greater impact in the future? These, and questions like them seem to melt away when I consider the fact that I am not primarily publishing information for people, but rather for God. My reward will not be book sales or positive reviews. It will be hearing “Well done good and faithful servant” on judgement day. Bill Lane understood this, and seemed to consistently live his life with eternity in mind. I can channel my frustration into bitterly complaining or I can make a finer product for my Master.

One chapter of the book that I really appreciated was entitled, “Called to Conflict.” I suspect to many Christians such a title would seem puzzling. Praying together, crying together, studying God’s Word together, making good decisions together, experiencing rest and stress together, learning to truly listen to the voice of God together, and sacrificing for one another are all aspects of a discipleship relationship. They seem acceptable. But conflict? Card asks his readers this question, “Who rejected Jesus?” The answer? “His own family, biblical scholars, [and] those from His own hometown.” Being a disciple of Jesus will mean making enemies. It will mean being misunderstood. But it will also mean being with an all-loving and all-powerful friend forever. Michael Card does not sugar coat the high cost of being a disciple. It requires work and sacrifice, but the rewards are unimaginable. Entering into a human discipleship relationship may include “loving confrontation on one end, ready forgiveness on the other, and vast amounts of patience in between.” But it’s all worth it.

“The Walk” ends like a tear-jerker. Bill Lane is diagnosed with cancer, and eventually passes from this life to the next; but before this happens he gives Michael Card what Card described as the “greatest compliment of [his] life.” He moves across the country to be with Michael to show him how a Christian man faces death. As the book draws to a conclusion Card reflects on the reality of eternity and the way in which he himself changed as a person through knowing Bill Lane during this difficult time. He remarks that he became “more tender-hearted,” and that “tears seem to stay closer to the surface.” Perhaps this is not only part of becoming more like Jesus, but also becoming more human. It is certainly an area I want the Lord to change me in. To take my often times rough and calloused heart, and make it tender before Him. One goal I have now that I have finished this book is to be an older Christian’s Michael Card and a younger Christian’s Bill Lane. May God grant this request to every Christian!

11/21/17

Justice League: Why we need fewer Superhero Movies

By: David Harris

I had to chance to see D.C. Comic’s long awaited sequel to Batman vs. Superman earlier this week – in an empty theater; this is one of the great perks to waiting for a film to run its one week frenzy in the theaters. There are a few thoughts that I think should be noted about the film and the genre in general, especially in the consideration of heroes in our current entertainment sphere. However, I’d first make some comments on style and craft of the film.

I need to issue a disclaimer: I’m not a consumer of comic books. I’ve never been able to interest myself in them and I’ve been completely lost every time someone says “that’s not how it went in the comics!” during an Avengers movie. That being said, it seems to me that it’s necessary to introduce the back-stories of a comic book film, especially in explaining its universe, for the film to make any sense or have any impact. Justice League did not do this – it starts out sensibly and well-paced enough, but when the villain (who was so forgettable that I can’t at this moment remember his name) is introduced about a fourth of the way into the film, the only explanation of what he wants and why he’s out to destroy the world is given in rapid two minute clarification by Wonder Woman that leaves out a horde of important details (like, for example, what in the world are the “Mother cubes” and why do they have power – where does the power come from? Who is the “Mother”?). Another example comes with the introduction of Aquaman of “The Atlantians.”  We get no back-story on who The Atlantians are. If I was a comic book aficionado then I probably wouldn’t need back explanation, but as a general consumer of entertainment,  the lack of character and story development leaves the film feeling rushed and formulaic to a degree that detracts from the plot in a disastrous way.

Another issue related to the overall story of the film – Justice League is Avengers 2 with less humor. The parallels are uncanny, even to the point that the climax takes place in an Eastern European wasteland. Every (or almost every) character has their equivalent in the Avengers Universe. Batman=Ironman (a self-made superhero through unending riches). The Flash=Spiderman (an excitable teen made “super” by accident). Captain America=Wonder Woman (the one who puts principle over all else and wears a dark American flag as clothing). Superman=Thor (an alien who believes in truth and justice). Cyberman=a cross between Jarvis and the Hulk (because he can’t control his powers). The similarities make one feel as if they are eating a McDonald’s Burger – you would get essentially the same thing if you went to Burger King, the only difference being where your ingredients came from.“Something must be done about the dialogue in these superhero movies!” My compatriot in viewing Justice League uttered a similar sentiment after exiting the theater. Superhero films are beginning to feel like actually playing a video game – the CGI is one reason for this (there are few wide angle shots in Justice League; in one scene Batman pops up out of nowhere – as if he steps up a stair into the camera view), the other is the cheapness of dialogue. As if there are no deep issues of discussion, almost all the dialogue is either played for laughs (this is the minority) or to communicate ideas of persistence (“Let’s go!”; “Keep going!”; “We must fight!”; “We can’t give up!”). While persistence is an admirable quality, is there nothing else to talk about? What about the fact that a demon from another universe (I think?) is using arm-sized cubes to bring a destructive force that can create entire worlds is in the same zip-code? Do none of these circumstances cause people to ask the “big questions?” The best example of this is when Superman comes back to life (oh… the spoiler warning was supposed to come before that statement wasn’t it...). When his long-lost love, Lois Lane, asks him her first question, it’s: “What was it like to come back?” What about the question: “WHAT HAPPENDED WHEN YOU DIED!!??” Apparently she, or the audience, isn’t interested in the number one question all of humanity is most concerned with answering (even Gandolf and Pippin in The Return of the King entertain this question when faced with death).

I will not belabor the point. The film was a disappointment, as I believe most superhero films are, except for the few instances of comedy and the humor inherent in poorly crafted plot. This is not to say that some of the characters aren’t engaging and interesting in their own right (though I wonder about how many male viewers would go simply to see Wonder Woman, whose mere presence is inarguably the most distracting element of the film). I can imagine any one of the characters would make an interesting film by themselves– but this is the problem. Batman has already seen his run – Christopher Nolan (in my humble opinion) has already crafted the three best superhero movies in the D.C. Universe in the Dark Knight films – what made them great? Depth. They raised deep and interesting questions – and were (somewhat) grounded in reality, so we could identify with them more.
The entire genre raises a critical question. Where should we get our heroes from? If we turn the clock back 60 years, the tail end of Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” we’ll find that the majority of popular films (not B-movies) were historical interpretations, historical fiction, or films in a contemporary setting that was grounded in reality. Westerns and war movies. The Searchers. How the West was Won. The Great Escape. Rear Window. Films grounded in reality. They pointed to characters worth emulating juxtaposed to enemies worth opposing, and we understood why they were worth opposing, beyond merely being frightening (which I would note, the “insect” like villains of Justice League were not). This is not to say that there were not films of fantasy and science-fiction –Star Trek, The Blob and The Twilight Zone. The main difference is that you could actually get the general public out to a movie theater to see a historical film about the life of Davey Crockett – and it was popular. Today films based in reality – on true life heroes, are reserved for super-specific audiences or for the Oscars, in which they need to line up and forward a leftist confessional statement that defines what a true hero is.

A film like Justice League can be good fun – it and films like it are typically cleaner than the majority of films in the theaters. They can give a much needed brake to a mind that is drained and tired – but unfortunately that ends up being ALL they can function as – a distraction; a brief diversion from the realities of life. There’s nothing to aspire to, nothing to take away, nothing to remember beyond a few punches, explosions  and depending on who the viewer is, Wonder Woman’s curves or Superman’s chiseled abs (both which are given ample camera time in a massively obvious fashion).  Sadly, these don’t forward positive cultural values – because there aren’t values at all. Superman is concerned with truth and justice, but we never know the obvious question: Whose truth and whose
justice? We need more real heroes from real places. Who is going to make the film about the Siege of Malta in 1565 by the Ottoman Turks, one of the most epic battles in history? The adventure film about Jedediah Smith, the illustrious explorer of the early American West. The biography of Salva Dut, the Sudanese refugee who walked thousands of miles to freedom in East Africa. Someone please make these films. We desperately need them. We need fewer Superhero movies. 
                                                                                                                                                   

11/18/17

Where does bland food come from? “Thanksgiving with White Families” and Suburban Culture

By: David Harris    
    
A July 2017 article from Buzzfeed.com, the hallmark of all popular wisdom of our time, was entitled, “15 Things You'll Understand If You've Ever Eaten At A White Friend's House.”[i] In the article, a series of snarky memes and illustrative pictures were meant to communicate the idea that “white people” don’t know anything about “spicing up” their food. In other words, food made in the houses of Caucasians is bland. This is an extremely common stereotype, probably best exemplified in recent memory by the “thanksgivingwithwhitefamilies” hashtag that was trending all throughout last year’s Thanksgiving season. There’s no doubt that the 2017 Thanksgiving season will see similar viral phenomena castigating perceived Caucasian culinary fare.

So called “white people food” can be difficult to categorize. If you do a quick Google search you will come up with any number of articles that define it either as low income, highly processed cuisine[ii] or as pricey, “urban rooftop garden” hipster fare[iii]. For the purposes of our discussion, we will go with the former and more common definition, stressing the idea of “blandness.” The assumption is that “white people” boil the flavor out of their food, don’t use or at least don’t know how to use spices and rely primarily on store bought, overly processed items without variation (for example, putting ketchup and mayonnaise on everything). This would be, at least in an American context, juxtaposed to African-American, Hispanic and other immigrant culinary fare that is brimming with delicious spice and flavor.  There are two fundamental flaws in this generalization. First, that the cultures and peoples who now embody what is defined as “white people” are not, at least at their roots, characterized by bland food. Second, that the generalization of “white people food” actually has nothing to do with ethno-cultural background, but instead is concerned with the suburban way of life.

Before addressing these two arguments, it’s first necessary to point out that the generalizations of “white” and “black” people, at least in specific cultural conversations, are not at all helpful or constructive. There are a host of “white” cultures, for example, that have little to nothing to do with each other outside of a somewhat similar skin tone. One would be hard pressed to point out the cultural similarities between Caucasians from the Caucasus Mountains area of Central Asia, who have been traditionally Muslim for the better part of 1,300 years, abstaining from both liquor and pork, from a Caucasian hog farmer in Scotland who ends his evenings with a glass of Scotch. The point being made is that there is an extremely wide variation of “white” people throughout the world. The exact same truisms hold for “black” cultures. There is a wide variety of belief, practice and lifestyle that can be found from North Africa, to Mozambique, to St. Lucia to Mississippi. While referential statements based on color can be helpful in police reports (white male, 6’3, 250 lbs…), they are not in making gross generalizations about culture, and the analysis of food is a cultural matter, as it is the embodiment of a way of life.

In a culinary context, it should additionally be noted that spicing is not the only thing that makes food flavorful. For thousands of years, people in various places throughout the world have either not had direct access to spices because of their geography (for example, those living above the Arctic Circle), or have simply not had any such variety to speak of. Food flavored with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and even cracked pepper have traditionally been available only to those on or near the equator, or those who had the money and means to afford such luxuries – the rest of society had to either fare with what they had or come up with ways to get to where the spices were grown and sold (hence, the beginning of the Age of Exploration in the late 1400s). That being said, the food that individuals without means subsisted on should in no way be considered “bland.” On the contrary, much of the “poor” food would have been very delicious, as it continues to be in many third-world nations throughout the world even without access to diverse spices.

The principle is that the freshness of food is directly proportional to the amount spice used in it when considering how tasty it is. The Mongolian herders living in yurts on the Asian steppes cook a goat from the inside out by sowing up a “hot rock” inside it. There is no spice to speak of and the method is primitive, yet the result is succulent meat that melts in one’s mouth – a phenomenon made possible by thousands of years of practicing the perfect time to leave the rock inside the goat as it cooks in its own juices[iv]. Similarly, one has not truly tasted a banana until one has partaken of one that has ripened on tree – produce consumed where it has grown is far superior to that which is picked and then shipped. Picked before it has ripened on the tree, by the time it arrives to its destination, thousands of miles from its source, it has become bland.

The impact of suburbanization cannot be underestimated. It could be argued that the move from the country (and even the city) to the suburbs for countless families across the Western world in 2nd th century has had the greatest and most negative effect on the quality and taste of food. If one lives in the country, they typically eat what is common to their area. Thus an Indiana farmer eats a diet high in corn, vegetables and local livestock because that is what is available to him. Similarly, a fisherman in Bangor, Maine will consume more shellfish, blueberries and potatoes. While the local foods may seem bland and boring to the local residents who are used to them, any traveler who passes through these regions and tastes the fare will probably rave about how delicious it is. Why is this? Because it’s authentic. Not only are the ingredients richer and full of flavor, but they are connected to a specific culture and way of life – authenticity improves the taste of food.

Even the purely urban dweller is able to take part in more authentic eating than the suburbanite because where he lives is a center for trade and commerce. This is why places like New York City, Miami and Los Angeles have become known as culinary destinations – though not all the ingredients used in cooking in those locations are “authentic” in the strictest sense of the word, the wide availability of so many kinds of ingredients lends itself to a soaring variety of different kinds of food, many of them of superior quality. Unfortunately, the suburbanite does not have this variety accessible to him, but he also doesn’t have the authentic cuisine of the countryside.

Suburban culture must be seen as the primary reason for bland and boring food. There are two principal reasons for this. One, as mentioned above, there is not the access to authenticity and variety in food choice. The second reason is because of the suburban lifestyle. The individual living in a neighborhood of identical houses, working in a cubicle or assembly line – not present in his dwelling for at least 10 hours of the day (when factoring in his commute) has not the time for the cultivation of authentic food at home, nor the time to search for authentic ingredients. He comes home, perhaps to his wife, who has been at a similar job all day and children who have been sitting in classrooms since 7 or 8 in the morning. The only solution that conforms to the reality of time is to either heat up premade/prepackaged food (without freshness) or pick up similarly reheated food from a fast food restaurant. Thus the suburbanite has lost all connection to his food. The family dinner table serves not as a place of community where common effort has been exerted to bring the meal together – rather the food merely serves the function of propelling the family through several more droll hours of suburban drudgery – television, video games and tabloids, the “relaxation” before the next identical day.

If suburban culture is to blame for bland food, why the association with “whiteness?” There is definitely a socio-economic factor at play. The development of suburban culture has a number of sources, not the least of which is the “white flight” from the cities (in the United States, primarily in the North) after World War II that led to the creation of suburban sprawls. The simple reason suburban (and therefore, “bland”) food became synonymous with whiteness is because it was mostly white people who lived in the suburbs. However, the generalization that this produced “white food” or was in keeping with traditionally white cuisine is a complete misnomer. To demonstrate this we’ll briefly look at two examples of “white” cuisine.

A prime example of “bland white food” is gastronomic fare coming from the British Isles. The common discussion around British, Scottish and Irish cuisine is that because of the limited access to spices, food in this part of the world developed into boiled and bland plates and stews. Time and
space prevent describing and examining the history of dishes like shepherd’s pie (Ireland) and haggis (Scotland), both bursting with flavor (if done right), both indicative of a culinary tradition rooted in necessity that is still being enjoyed and rediscovered today in those nations. In examining English cuisine it should be noted that while the nation may deserve some “bland” labels, especially in the last 30-40 years, this blandness was not due to the “Britishness” of the cuisine but rather the movement to a suburban culture. The English reputation for bland food is a modern phenomenon – there was a time when the “full English breakfast” was famous for its tastiness.

Another example indigenous to the United States is Southern style barbecue, as it is one of the most important food cultures in the world. It’s one of those highly specific culinary styles that involve a chef’s dedication all throughout the cooking process, frequently checking the slow roasted meat over hours of time. True Southern style barbecue cannot be done quickly or without commitment – it is often mimicked and copied with varying results, but as any Southerner will tell you, “nothing beats the real thing.” As food cultures go, it’s hard to think of anything quite as authentic while still encompassing a wide variety (because barbecue is very regional, differing state to state, county to county, town to town and even house to house). This traditional developed primarily among poor, white farmers and is the complete antithesis of all things “bland.”

One could spend countless hours delving into the nuanced cuisines of the plethora of cultures stereotyped as “white.” From Reykjavik to Dusseldorf, Pretoria to Melbourne, culture is and remains much more than just the color of one’s skin. The variety is just as pronounced within the United States, from Tampa to Tulsa and Pierre to Portland. In the same way, one will find that when hopping from one suburban sprawl to another – be it in Liverpool, Chicago, Cape Town or Sydney, we will encounter at least hints of bland, tasteless or at least inauthentic cuisine. And so “Thanksgiving with white people” will once again occur this year – it may be delicious or it may be dull – it depends on where you are, how you live and what you value, not on the color of your skin.
    


https://www.buzzfeed.com/pablovaldivia/15-things-youll-understand-if-youve-ever-eaten-at-a-white?utm_term=.lnzOvgbxr#.dyZPK5xZO
[ii] https://thegrapevine.theroot.com/dear-white-people-here-s-a-list-of-things-we-d-wish-yo-1790887918
[iii] https://www.good.is/articles/food-for-thinkers-the-rise-of-white-people-food
[iv] http://www.travelchannel.com/shows/bizarre-foods/episodes/mongolia

11/5/17

Remember Mississippi by Ryan S. Walters: A Review

By: Jonathan Harris

“Remember Mississippi”, a book about the Chris McDaniel’s 2014 campaign was released over the weekend. Ryan S. Walters, author and personal friend of McDaniel, takes his readers deep into the underbelly of the GOP’s “establishment,” and what we find there isn’t pretty. . . Incumbent Thad Cochran’s race-baiting, progressive-leaning, disinformation campaign against McDaniel culminates in perhaps the worst part of it all: a stolen election.

Although most of my extended family is from the state of Mississippi, I was not intimately acquainted with the present political condition of the “most conservative” state until now. Not only is Mississippi ranked the most corrupt state in the union. It also takes more in Federal handouts per capita then any other state. The major reason for this incongruity has more to do with an out-of-touch political class than it does a supportive electorate. Halley Barbour’s political machine makes Boss Hog’s look more reality than fantasy, and ten times as bad! Warning: Reading this book may cause you to need a shower.

At the same time, Walter’s remedy may offer hope! McDaniel accomplished something still causing reverberations within the establishment: He showed them for what they really were. His bravery in standing against a 6-term senator and subsequently exposing GOP corruption inspired grassroots conservatives to turn against establishment candidates during the 2016 presidential primary. McDaniel’s political career is not over, but Mississippi’s establishment has weakened. Constitutional conservatives need to keep standing up against immorality, gutter tactics, and corruption even when it exists in the Republican party. There is no better time than now. Remember Mississippi!

Order here!

11/3/17

An Argument for the Abolition of 11th and 12th Grade

By: David Harris

We have a problem with education. Scratch that. We have a host of problems with education. It would not be in the interest of practicality to belabor all the various issues, concerns and outright crises within our education system– except the underlying one. Constitutionality. There is no framework for a federally funded education system found in the American Constitution. Any education system, constitutionally speaking, should fall under the broad umbrella of the 10th Amendment (any power not delegated to the Federal Government is delegated to the States/People). This means local, community and if desired, State governments bear the responsibility for administering education among their peoples. Sadly, most citizens of the United States, both on the right and left, incorrectly assume that all children (and people in general for that matter) are entitled to a free education as a necessary right, despite the absence of this principle every really appearing in any tangible way throughout history.

The informed conservative may groan at the constitutional abuses suffered under the implementation and administering our modern educational system (among others) that we now think of as integral to the fabric of our nation. The liberal will bemoan that schools are “not working for our children.” Ironically, both sides of the ideological aisle will come to the same place in regards to the way education is administered today, best summed up in this declarative statement: “We must stop teaching to the test!” Indeed, you will rarely encounter an individual on political, philosophical or even occupational level within or outside of the field of education that supports the idea of “teaching to the test,” that is, instructing for the sole purpose of passing a standardized test that supposedly proves the absorption and retention of knowledge. While there are varying reasons why specific perspective points arrive at this conclusion (for example, educational pragmatists would prescribe more “real life” education, while educational progressives tend to think of education as a medium for people, young and old, to self-discovery and self-expression), it is most important to note that many of the prime shortcomings of our education system are agreed upon almost universally, “teaching to the test” being the prime example.

Let us take a step back for a moment and take note of a couple of critical truisms. There may be no abolishing the Department Education, at least in our lifetimes. Various conservative leaders have tried and failed to do so (Ronald Reagan, for example took steps to defund it). We may be stuck with it for quite some time to come. For the liberal in a similar quandary about what to do about education, it is highly unrealistic to think that “teaching for the test” will be abolished in any reasonable timeframe – it’s been here and will probably be here to stay as it represents the most bureaucratic, machine-like way of administering education that is supposed to be “free and available” to all children in America. Thus the dreaded “c-word” must be invoked: compromise. We must find ways to improve our education system while simultaneously lessening the tax burden (and it is indeed, a monumental one; for example: New York dedicates more than a quarter of its budget to education).

This leads to the inevitable purpose of this brief contemplation: hypothesizing a way of accomplishing 1) educational reform, and 2) making the reform work for all parties involved. An effective way of achieving these ends is to abolish 11th and 12th grade. Over the past several years there have been a number of voices calling for not an abolition, but an extension of high school. The opposite is needed for reasons that will now be laid out:

1) The first two years of college are essentially a repeat of high school

While the above axiom is especially true in reference to public colleges, there is a widespread reality in college that those who have not stacked up credits in high school and pass with only average marks end up spending thousands of dollars and up to two years of their lives taking prerequisite or entrance level “101” classes. Most of these classes are only meant to establish a framework for academic grammar, form and convention, something that is already explicitly expressed in standards like Common Core.  The idea of sending 16 year olds into college would no doubt be met with a chorus of objections. “How can you possibly think that a 16 year old is ready for college!” The response is simple: Because they are if standards are being followed. Historically speaking, it was not rare in the slightest to have even 14 year olds beginning their university studies. Additionally, students who are paying for an education are far more likely to put time and energy into their studies – this is the reason that the behavioral issues 

2) The most useful of academic skills culminate at about 10th grade

For math, science, English and history, the 10th grade represents the summit of what students will actually use in their lifetime. The image of a student asking “Why do I have to learn this? I’m never going to use it!” is painful for teachers who know that the question rings with truth – they will not use much of what they will have to sit through in school, and furthermore, much of what they learn is causing them to miss out on learning things that will be far more useful once they leave school (i.e., practical life skills). If academic standards are actually being met, students will reach the basic level of needed academic skills in 10th grade – higher achieving students could be placed in advanced classes, and struggling students in lower ones, just as is already done in public schools.

3) Less time in school will result in a more mature populace

Students who have every need supplied to them from kindergarten through college are often shocked when they are thrown out into the world. This is why we have a crisis of unemployed, or at least underemployed, young people throughout our nation – when they finally get out of college they have not developed practical life skills and lack work experience. If parents and children both understand the impending end of school, they will be much more likely to invest in their futures earlier. Young people, as has been proven over and over, will rise to level of expectation – if faced with the real world, they will adapt and not lean on the State for their livelihoods, but instead contribute to society at large.

4)  Telling students that they need to go to college to be successful hurts them and damages the economy

One of the greatest fibs told to students in the US through the education system is that they need to go to college to be successful in life. This is one of the underlying fallacies with the movement to make college tuition free. There is no guarantee of a job at the end of a college degree, and many majors actually damage a student’s chances of getting a job after college in a timely manner (for example: ethnic studies, art history, etc.). Additionally, there are many careers that pay well and are very fulfilling, but are grossly understaffed because young people are not encouraged to attend tech school or enter a trade, despite the fact that trades often represent fulfilling and stable work (carpentry, welding, metalwork, etc.).

5) The shrinking of the education system would provide a lessened tax burden and more investment into other educational venues

Private education, home education, expanded university programs, increased tech fields and schools, the K-10 public school system – these are just some of the areas that would be stimulated by dropping the burden of 11th and 12th grade, not to mention the increased investment into the economy at large because of the tax break.

This is a short list of ways that the US could benefit from abolishing the 11th and 12th grades. There would be, no doubt, a laundry list of issues that would arise from implementing a change such as this, and it would have to be done progressively, but could lend itself to great benefit for individual families, communities, states and the Nation at large.

10/31/17

The Twighlight of the American Enlightenment by George Marsden- A Review

By: Jonathan Harris

George Marsden’s The Twilight of the American Enlightenment serves as a helpful survey of American social thought from the end of the second world war through the present. While the 1950s were a time of prosperity and stability, many public intellectuals knew this situation was only temporary. The rise of religious pluralism and modernity were already creating angst.

Walter Lippman’s solution was to ground society upon the immovable foundation of natural law. This, Lippman thought, would save liberal principles for future generations. Lippman became largely rejected and ridiculed for his belief in transcendent truth. The intellectual’s solution was instead to be found in Arthur Schlesinger and Daniel Bell’s “balanced,” approach. Democracy would ensure that government furthered goals in the best interest of mankind’s progress. Many problems could be addressed by science, and even those that could not would be examined on a case-by-case basis by the intelligentsia. As a result, specialization trumped tradition and the power centers of the culture took a secular swing toward the “experts.” Religion’s place was relegated to a private sphere in which it could never affect consensus.

The obvious backlash came in the 1970s when the “religious right” mobilized politically against national moral decay. Marsden, I believe, makes a mistake here however. In Marsden’s view, “consensus” liberals were unbalanced by seeing American principles as exclusively spawning from the Enlightenment, to the exclusion of Christianity. Similarly, conservative Christians emphasized Christian principles to the exclusion of the Enlightenment. What little citation he does offer in favor of the latter point is fairly weak. His own assumptions about the founding seem to overemphasize the influence of deism and the role of the Enlightenment.

Even so, Marsden finds in the example of Abraham Kuyper a proposed compromise between the two parties. “Principled pluralism,” which rests on the idea of “common grace,” could allow for fundamental disagreements, while retaining freedom in diverse communities. What Marsden misses, I believe, is that federalism has already been tried and failed. In a country in which a war was already waged in order to keep sovereign states under the dictates of a central government, it seems naive to think that a federal system such as “principled pluralism” could even work. More and more the central authority invades the personal lives of individuals and groups. The major tenants of the Bill of Rights itself are constantly up for debate. In this climate, how could anyone propose a political situation in which biblical conservatives are allowed to continue their influence so long as they do not interfere with the rights of differing communities? Modern liberalism will not even entertain Marsden’s possibility.   

The book lead me to conclude that there are no good and practical answers short of a revival. This I believe is helpful, though it was not the point Marsden was making. It causes me to want to focus significant attention on spiritual awakening realizing that my political involvement is a rear-guard action for the glory of God and not the success of the action itself. Still, the information included in the survey of social thought is good. To gain an understanding in what lead the America of the 1950s to the America of today, I would recommend Marsden’s book.

10/30/17

The Antebellum South in the Reformation Tradition



By: Jonathan Harris
Originally posted at: www.abbevilleinstitute.org

On October 31, while many parents whisk their little ones from house to house in the pursuit of temporal tasty treats, a large portion of Christendom will be observing the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a movement which arguably changed the very course of Western Civilization up through the present. Many Protestant denominations, seminaries, churches, and para-church organizations are sponsoring trips and teachings, hosting conferences and conviviality in recognition of the great Solas that inspired the Reformers to separate from the Roman Catholic Church. If one were to attend an average American evangelical service on any given Sunday during the month of October, one would likely hear a sermon on one or more of the five Solas: Sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”), Sola fide (“faith alone”), Sola gratia (“grace alone”) Solo Christo (“Christ alone”), Soli Deo gloria (“glory to God alone”).

The common narrative usually goes something like this: Over time the Roman Catholic church became corrupt, with regard to the doctrine of salvation. While there were individuals and movements that attempted to self-correct, they were of no lasting significance, that is, until Martin Luther posted 95 thesis to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. Luther’s “Here I Stand” speech, four years later at the Diet of Worms serves as the climax of the divine drama.
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
Sola scriptura was the great principle Luther championed. It was upon this cornerstone that the other Solas were supported and defended. In telling this story, American Evangelicals will often call Calvin, Zwingli, and Knox to the stage for the next scene of the providential production. Their influence, like Luther’s, spread far and wide, eventually culminating in a small group of Bay Staters known as the Puritans. This connection cannot be overemphasized. Reading the Puritans is often viewed as a necessary credential for being “truly” Reformed. If the survey happens to make its way to the shores of the New World, this is usually where the story ends. Puritans have become the American vanguards of Reformation theology with a straight line linking them to Reformed leaders of our day such as John Piper, John MacArthur, and R.C. Sproul. But what about the 245 years separating John Piper’s Desiring God from Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God? Is the New England of 1741 really where the story of the Reformation ends for America?

Religious adherence in 1776 was roughly at 20% for Northeastern, Middle, and Southern colonies respectively (this percentage may seem low by today’s standards, but it must be remembered that many living on the frontier had limited access to a local church). Congregationalism dominated New England, while the Middle and Southern Colonies depicted much more denominational diversity. In the South, Baptists Episcopalians, and Presbyterians claimed the lion’s share of Sunday morning pews. With less than 2% of American congregants belonging to the Roman Catholic Church (mainly in Maryland), early America was certainly dominated by Protestantism. From the time of the War for Independence to the War Between the States, this basic perception of a Protestant society is not altered significantly. It was this belief that inspired John C. Calhoun to observe in 1850 that “The cords that bind the States . . . are [in large part] spiritual or ecclesiastical.” In his second inaugural, Abraham Lincoln himself appealed to what he saw as the common ground of a protestant nation when he famously remarked, “Both [sides] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God.” Though Immigration boosted the small number of Roman Catholics and Jews, religious adherence itself increased to as much as 70%, and the Second Great Awakening had granted a numerical advantage to Baptists and Methodists on the frontier. America unmistakably wore the protestant brand. However, sporting a brand and believing a theology are two different things. Though undetected at the time by census and denominational enumerations, a shift away from the Solas was underway in the land of the Puritans.

Perhaps the clearest way to recognize the declining influence of Reformed theology in the North is to survey the rise of Unitarianism. An old adage describing Unitarian theology is as follows: “Universalists think God too good to damn them, while Unitarians think they are too good to be damned.” The innate goodness of man, the denial of the Trinity, and the exchange of scriptural authority in favor of human Reason were hallmarks of Unitarian thought. King’s Chapel in Boston had become the first American church to adopt a Unitarian liturgy in 1785. Twenty years later Harvard University elected a Unitarian as Hollis Professor of Divinity. It was not long until Congregational churches throughout the Northeast were compromised. One bishop observed that by 1843 “there were one hundred and thirty Unitarian Congregational churches in Massachusetts hardly twenty of which were Unitarian in their origin.” Harriet Beecher Stowe tells us of her experience in Boston between 1826 and 1832:
All the literary men of Massachusetts were Unitarian; all the trustees and professors of Harvard College were Unitarian; all the elite of wealth and fashion crowded Unitarian churches; the judges on the bench were Unitarian.
Even the First Church of Boston, founded by John Winthrop, went Unitarian.

Given these facts, the obvious questions become, “Why was the Reformation halted in New England, while its influence continued in other regions?” The short answer is that the North, by the time of the early nineteenth century, was ripe for the picking. Jonathan Edwards himself feared that the influence of the First Great Awakening was temporary at best. The Puritans had carried with them from England the optimistic view that society could be perfected through human action. In a sermon entitled A Model of Christian Charity, Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop famously declared,“We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” At the time of Winthrop’s sermon, the foundation was sola scriptura, and the form human achievement—but the form far outlasted the foundation.

Utopian schemes such as Oneida Community and Brook Farm were only to be found in Northern soil. Transcendentalist thought permeated even mainline denominations through what Historian Gregg Singer calls, the “New England Theology.” In the “Burned Over District” Charles Finney’s evangelistic methods had impacted local congregations so much so that even Presbyterian churches were practicing decisional regeneration. Sola pragmaticam was replacing Sola scriptura.

In the Northern academy, scholars like Unitarian minister Joseph Stevens Buckminster were directly attacking the authority of Scripture by introducing German Higher Criticism. In 1839, one of Philadelphia’s most eminent physicians, Samuel George Morton, published Crania Americana, in which he “presumed that the Bible had been misread. Caucasians and Negroes were too different to both be descended from Adam through Noah.” Sixteen years later two of Morton’s students published, Types of Mankind which “proved” that blacks were a separate species than whites. One of the authors claimed “that science—not the Bible—must decide the true origins of mankind. . . [proposing] that God must have made separate races of men, just as He had made separate species of animals.” While these ideas gained wide acceptance in the North, the reception was anything but favorable in the South where Sola scriptura was still alive and well.

To illustrate, after teaching at Northern institutions, Unitarian theologian Thomas Cooper became president of South Carolina College in 1821. Cooper held to biblical higher criticism and an animalistic view of man. In 1834 however, Cooper resigned due to continued resistance. A young Presbyterian pastor named James Henley Thornwell opposed Cooper’s ideas and later succeeded him as president of the institution. Countering “scientific” claims supporting racial inequality, Thornwell wrote,
Science, falsely so called, may attempt to exclude him [negroes] from the brotherhood of humanity . . . but the instinctive impulses of our nature combined with the plainest declarations of the word of God, lead us to recognize in his form and lineaments—his moral, religious and intellectual nature—the same humanity in which we glory as the image of God. We are not ashamed to call him our brother.
Likewise, Samuel George Morton’s major critic was John Bachman, a Charleston minister. Presbyterian Thomas Smyth, another Charleston minister, countered Types of Mankind with Unity of the Human Race which The Watchman and Observer of Richmond, Southern Baptist and Southern Baptist Advocate published. In fact, Southerners had grown so concerned about the undermining of Scripture that most educational institutions in the South adopted a Christian apologetics program. As a result, 25-50% of total reading content in primary and secondary education became religious. Though many institutions for higher learning at that time have since been abolished, it is known that six major colleges and universities incorporated Evidences of Christianity into their curriculum from the period of 1798 to 1860. The Evangelical and Literary Magazine, a Southern publication, countered higher criticism when it encouraged parents to:

1) Express their own view on religion to their children,
2) Distribute Christian apologetic material in public,
3) Promote “intelligent men to promote their cause,”
4) Support institutions that subscribed to orthodox Christianity, and
5) Pray for the integrity of the colleges.

It was at this moment that the South stood by itself as the vanguard of American Reformation tradition. Historian Eugene D. Genovese described it this way:
At the very moment that the northern churches were embracing theological liberalism and abandoning the Word for a Spirit increasingly reduced to personal subjectivity, the southern churches were holding the line for Christian orthodoxy.
The thesis had been nailed. The “Here I stand,” moment came when Southerners formed their own denominations and broke away from their Northern counterparts. The reason was simple. Sola scriptura.
The first denomination to splinter were the “Old School Presbyterians”, primarily represented in the South. Since 1801, the denomination’s conservatives did not approve of carrying out missionary work with Congregationalists who advocated the “New England Theology”. As time progressed, many “New School” Presbyterians also challenged the doctrine of original sin and traditional ecclesiology. In addition, a growing insistence among many “New School” Presbyterians especially, that the relationship between master and slave was innately sinful added to the strain. The synod of South Carolina responded to this allegation by chiding, “whosoever has a conscience too tender to recognize this relation as lawful, is righteous over much, is wise above what is written . . . and leaves the infallible word of God for the fancies and doctrine of men.” The conservative wing had enough, and formed their own denomination in 1837.

At this point it is important to note that Southern Christians viewed the role of government much differently than their Northern counterparts. Politically, this was the time of the “American System,” resisted by many Southerners and supported by many Northerners. A central bank, government-funded infrastructure projects, and high protectionist tariffs were supposed to move the country in the direction of “progress.” In such a religious culture, it should come as no surprise that political agendas often veiled theological motivations. James Brewer Stewart describes the attitude of Northern Christians this way:
Men and women again saw themselves playing dynamic roles in their own salvation and preparing society for the millennium. By the thousands they flocked to the Tract Society, the Sunday School Union, the temperance and peace organizations, and the Colonization Society.
Many Northerners saw organized human action that included the role of government as a way to progress mankind. The South on the other hand, viewed government, in the words of James Henley Thornwell, as an “institute of heaven . . . designed to realize the idea of justice.” Social change through government action was not mandated by God. Only the application of divine justice according to the boundaries set in Scripture. They followed the Augustinian “Two Kingdom” model. When it came to the institution of slavery, Southern Christians believed that since “slavery was a political institution,” their only duty was to, as the Presbyterian synods of South Carolina and Georgia affirmed, “inculcate the duties of master and slave, and to use lawful and spiritual means to have all, both bond and free, to become one in Christ by faith.” Unlike Northern pulpits, Southern pulpits were not filled with political speeches or candidate endorsements. Thus, when a modern Christians asks why Southern pastors did not seek to eradicate slavery politically, the answer has more to do with a Reformed view of government than it does a political position on slavery. Even if Southern preachers did feel so inclined they would not have thought it their duty to leave their appointed sphere of authority for one to which they held no biblical jurisdiction. But it was much more than a Reformed view of government that eventually separated the remaining American denominations. Northerners, in an effort to immediately abolish the institution of slavery in the South traded the authority of Scripture for the authority of human Reason.

It is imperative to realize that the theological motivation for framing the slave-master relationship as sinful in and of itself, was not Scripture driven in the least. There were many Christians in the South who wanted to end slavery politically, but they could not go the extra step the abolitionists took in condemning any person who owned a slave as being “anti-gospel,” or living in perpetual sin. The words of Presbyterian theologian B.M. Palmer are helpful here.
This spirit of atheism, which knows no God who tolerates evil, no Bible which sanctions law, and no conscience that can be bound by oaths and covenants, has selected us for its victims, and slavery for its issue.
Slavery became the flashpoint for a much greater theological debate. Was Scripture to guide the church, or Scripture plus human Reason? The famous Southern theologian R. L. Dabney, who became Stonewall Jackson’s chief of staff, could recognize that the slave trade was as an “iniquitous traffick” in light of Exodus 21:16. But a biblical view of providence also compelled him to observe that, “This much-abused system has thus accomplished for the Africans, amidst universal opposition and obloquy, more than all the rest of the Christian world together has accomplished for the rest of the heathen.” Dabney was here referring to the reality that many slaves were exposed to the grace and love of Christ and joyfully converted to Christianity. Many Christian slaves, including Booker T. Washington, agreed with Dabney’s assessment. Such fair mindedness and biblical respect could not be found in the ranks of the radical abolitionists.

The Congregationalist turned atheist Elizur Wright, an editor for many abolitionist publications, stated in 1833 that “It is the duty of all men . . . to urge upon slaveholders immediate emancipation, so long as there is a slave—to agitate the consciences of tyrants, so long as there is a tyrant on the globe.’” Though William Lloyd Garrison was “completely ignorant of the South,” he published in the Liberator that
The slave master . . . debauched his women slaves, had children by them, and in turn defiled his own children and sold them into the slave market; the slave plantation was primarily a gigantic harem for the master and his sons. . . Ministers of the gospel who owned or sanctioned slavery were included in his sweeping indictment of miscegenation and prostitution. In short, Garrison and the anti-slavery societies which he launched, followed soon by Northern churchman, stigmatized the South as a black brothel. . .
Dabney later countered in A Defense of Virginia and the South, “That thing which Abolitionists paint as domestic slavery . . . [is] not domestic slavery, but the [abuse] of it.”

Still, Northern denominations answered Garrison’s call. In the late 1840s, Wesleyans, Baptist, and Congregationalists all started three separate organizations “to send anti-slavery missionaries to the south.” Their mission: to inspire slaves to defy and escape their masters, while forming congregations that preached the “whole gospel.” More and more the gospel was seen as being tied to the abolition of slavery. From the 1830s onward, abolitionists denounced what they called a proslavery gospel that either ignored the issue of slavery or actively denied that Christian principles favored emancipation. In contrast, they preached what they called a ‘whole,’ ‘pure,’ or ‘free,’ gospel, emphasizing Bible precepts that non-abolitionists avoided.

Hinging the application of Christ’s merits upon a sinner’s ability to keep the law (especially an extra-biblical law), was precisely what the Reformers were reforming from! The abolitionist’s  requirement that one must denounce a practice that Scripture itself does not denounce in order to be right with God, puts them at odds with the original Protestants.

In 1831, and then again from 1843 to 1861, two “postal crisis” flooded the South with millions of pro-abolition tracts. The appalling, yet inaccurate (Harriet Beecher Stowe was also ignorant of the South) cruelties portrayed in the best seller Uncle Tom’s Cabin, did not help Northern Christians perception of their Southern brothers and sisters. When Julia Ward Howe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Lloyd Garrison all payed glowing tributes to John Brown after his failure to spark a violent slave insurrection in 1859, it was the South’s turn to be horrified. But perhaps more horrifying to them was the way in which abolitionists treated the Holy Scriptures.

Garrison praised the deist Thomas Paine for helping him get “beyond the Bible” in 1845. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother Unitarian Rev. Henry Ward Beecher “conceded, a defense of slavery could be teased out of obscure, individual texts of Scripture, but surely the defining message of the Bible was something else entirely.” As a result his daughter took a rather cynical view of the Bible, and based her abolitionist sentiment in something other than a biblical moral imperative. Albert Barnes, a Presbyterian abolitionist wrote in The Church and Slavery:
There are great principles in our nature, as God has made us, which can never be set aside by any authority of a professed revelation. If a book claiming to be a revelation from God, by any fair interpretation defended slavery, or placed it on the same basis as the relation of husband and wife, parent and child, guardian and ward, such a book would not and could not be received by the mass of mankind as a Divine revelation.
Thornton W. Stringfellow, a Baptist preacher from Virginia pointed out the flaw in such thinking.
Sin in the sight of God is something which God in his Word make known to be wrong, either by perceptive prohibition, by principles of moral fitness, or examples of inspired men, contained in the sacred volume. When these furnish no law to condemn human conduct, there is no transgression. Christians should produce a ‘thus saith the Lord’ both for what they condemn as sinful, and for what they approve as lawful, in the sight of heaven.
After the Presbyterians divided in 1837, the debate over biblical authority as it related to slavery continued. In 1857, and then in 1861, both Northern and Southern wings of the Old and New School denominations split once again, this time exclusively over the issue.

The Methodists followed suit. In 1836, Northerners attempted to foil the election of William Capers to the position of bishop simply because he owned slaves. Capers predicted perhaps more than he realized when he encouraged unity the following year in the Southern Christian Advocate.
In the present state of the country, we believe it to be of the utmost importance to the country itself that the churches be kept together. Let the bonds once be severed which hold the churches of the North and South together and the Union of these states will be more than endangered, it will presently be rent asunder.
Regrettably, Caper’s call went unheeded. First, the Wesleyan Church broke off in 1843 denouncing slaveholding as intrinsically sinful. The next year, when Bishop James Osgood Andrew received slaves by marriage, Northern Methodists demanded his suspension though he was not in violation of any rule. William Capers and a band of Southerners left the denomination to form their own in 1845. Capers had changed his tune. He exclaimed, “We denounce the principles and opinions of the abolitionists in toto. . . We consider and believe that the Holy Scriptures . . . do unequivocally authorize the relation of master and slave.”
The same scenario took place in the Baptist Church during the same year. In the wake of a failed slave insurrection in 1822, the president of the Baptist State Convention of South Carolina, Richard Furman, assured the governor that the uprising was not inspired by Holy Scripture, but rather by Northern agitators. Furman summarized Scripture’s teaching.
Had the holding of slaves been a moral evil, it cannot be supposed, that the inspired Apostles . . . would have tolerated it, for a moment, in the Christian Church. . . They would have. . . required, that the master should liberate his slave in the first instance. But, instead of this, they let the relationship remain untouched, as being lawful and right, and insist on the relative duties.
The Alabama Baptist convention of 1835 declared that:
[Abolitionist] activities were “inconsistent with the gospel of Christ.” Abolitionists will “oppress the slave, . . . arm the assassin to shed the blood of the good people of our State; and . . . alienate the people in one State from those in another, thereby endangering the peace and permanency of our happy Republic.
In 1843, when two missionaries were discovered to own slaves, anti-slavery Baptists insisted that they be investigated by the Triennial Convention board. A year later, James Reeve was denied entry to the national board of the American Baptist Missionary Union for owning slaves. It was this action that precipitated Georgians and Virginians to establish the Southern Baptist Convention the following year.

Like the Reformers of the sixteenth century, the pastors and theologians of the antebellum South also stood for Sola scriptura in the face of political repercussion. The gospel of grace could not be compromised by joining it to the work of abolitionism, or any extra-biblical law. The authority of Scripture had to stand against the God of human Reason. It was for this cause that in July of 1851 the Southern Literary Messenger published portions of an address by the prominent Southern Presbyterian James Henley Thornwell.
The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slave-holders—they are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, jacobins, on the one side, and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battleground— Christianity and Atheism the combatants; and the progress of humanity the stake.
Historian Greg Singer points out that “Thornwell, Dabney, and their contemporaries…saw in abolitionism a threat to Calvinism, to the Constitution, and to the proper ordering of society.” Seemingly good intentions can often harbour ill motives, the consequences for which are unrealized until much later. The morality of slavery was not the issue. Sola Scriptura was, as it continues to be in our day. The changes that have taken place since the mid-nineteenth century have proven the fears of Southern theologians to be correct. Christianity is practically nonexistent in the Northeastern region of the country, and every modern moral social crusade seems to threaten the moral authority of God and influence of His Church where it still exists. Southern churches are not exempt from this threat. Today is the day to rekindle the dim flame of the Reformation where it still happens to burn. There is a place called Dixie, where it’s tradition to defend the Solas. May God in His great providence keep it that way for generations to come. Happy Reformation Day!
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