Civil Religion and American Christianity.
In this insightful new volume, a group of scholars deeply influenced by or the former students of distinguished Kansas State University historian Robert Linder explore a wide variety of topics related to civil religion and American Christianity. These scholars offer this collection of essays as a gift to Linder, whose two books co-authored with Richard Pierard--Twilight of the Saints (1978) and Civil Religion and the Presidency (1988)--were instrumental in igniting much-needed conversations and scholarship, especially among evangelicals, on the relationship of religion and politics in American public life.
Divided into three sections, the first focuses on civil religion and the American presidency. Chapters include the "ecumenical pastor" Lyndon Baines Johnson, "failed prophet" George H.W. Bush, and a comparison of the complex "civil theologians" Bill Clinton and King David by Linder himself. Keith Bates' fascinating analysis of LBJ shows how the Texan had a pastoral style following President Kennedy's assassination, putting forth an ecumenism that brought diverse groups together around his civil rights-focused domestic agenda. However, LBJ's rhetoric of empathy and unity was ultimately incongruous with his militarism abroad, which damaged his presidency, according to Bates.
A second set of chapters looks at the intersection of civil religion with Christianity in America. Joseph Harder tackles Jerry Falwell's use of civil religion, noting that while Falwell's "rhetorical blend of patriotism and Scripture were all emblematic of civil religion" (p. 99), his attempt to tie fundamentalist theology with American civil religion created an "uneasy tension" (p. 100). Harder explores this tension in detail and places it in a larger historical context. Other contributions include Kip Wedel's assessment on why Anabaptists are suspicious of American religion and Barry Hankins' "The Last Lost Cause," an examination of five different stages of civil religion in Southern Baptist history. Hankins brings his analysis up to the present day, highlighting how SBC ethics chief Russell Moore "represents a new generation of Southern Baptists" (p. 168), rejecting the "triumphal civil religion" of his predecessor, Richard Land, as well as noted early twentieth-century Baptist leaders George Truett and E.Y. Mullins. Moore draws a "sharp distinction between the people of God and the rest of the world" (p. 169) in rejecting the notion of a Christian America and calling on Baptists to "live out values in 'colonies of the kingdom' that incarnate a cultural rebuke," (p. 171) according to Hankins.
The final section of this collection features chapters that delve into the intersection of politics and religion in American history, with a timely examination of the invocation of Romans 13 in support of the American Revolution. An essay by Anita Specht uncovers how religion influenced Kansas women in the late nineteenth century--Catholic and Protestant--in their approach to political power. James Juhnke concludes with an essay on the response to bicentennial celebrations by Mennonites during the 1970s. For students of religion, politics and civil religion, there is something for everyone in this diverse and engaging volume.--Aaron D. Weaver, communications director, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship