Printer Friendly

Practicing diversity.

Robert J. Priest and Alvaro L. Neives, eds.

This Side of Heaven: Race, Ethnicity, and Christian Faith

Oxford University Press, paperback, 2006, 356 pp.

In this anthology of essays, a team of inter-ethnic and interdisciplinary scholars has woven together for the first time a tool that people engaged in diversity efforts in Christian colleges, universities, seminaries, and congregations can use to create more caring and equalitarian approaches to viewing people's differences.

For too long, Christian scholars ignored the challenges of racial and ethnic diversity and few committed themselves to exploring serious problems that are in plain sight. In the same manner, traditionally white institutions of learning and congregations struggled--without the benefits of scholarly guidance--to fashion their campuses and sanctuaries into welcoming environments where minorities can thrive.

Alone and often frustrated, black, Hispanic and other minorities languished on mostly white campuses in mostly white pews.

This collection of essays, funded by Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology, does not offer theory. Rather, the scholars delve into the real-world relationships between race, ethnicity and Christianity because they sought real-world answers and viable programs for effective change.

Meeting regularly to plan the anthology before writing their essays, the scholars asked probing questions that if earnestly answered would help institutions of learning and congregation transform approaches to creating inclusive environments. Select questions the scholars asked one another during those lengthy conservations are worth repeating here. Readers will find that most of these questions are answered in the text, providing blueprints for doing the high work of embracing people's differences:

"Are minority students socialized away from the competencies and understandings needed for ministry success in their own communities?"

"Are majority students socialized to appreciate and learn from the experiences, questions, concerns, insights, worship aesthetics, and ministry skills believers from other ethnic or racial groups?"

"To what extent and in what ways do we, in our classes, relate biblical understandings of creation, human identity, ecclesiology, justice, sin, reconciliation, forgiveness, mission, and the kingdom of God to the world of ethnic and racial ideologies, prejudices, struggles with stigma, resentments, aggressions, boundaries and hierarchies of wealth, class, and power? "How do we as faculty motivate ourselves, and our students, to redirect long-established reading, teaching, research and writing patterns oriented largely toward white/Euro-American world in constructive new directions?"

Readers searching for theoretical frameworks for mere discussion will not find This Side of Heaven useful because, as the editors state, the book's primary initiative is "pursued in the context of personal relationship...."

Indeed, Priest--director of the Ph.D. Program in Intercultural Studies and Professor of Mission and Anthropology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School--and Nieves--department chair and Professor of Sociology at Wheaton College--have put a human face on the nexus between race, ethnicity and Christianity, offering answers that inculcate understanding.

Edward J. Blum

Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism 1865-1898

Louisiana University Press, 2005, paperback, 2007, 356 pp, $18.95

Edward J. Blum describes a reconciliation effort that was far different than the one envisioned by Curtiss DeYoung above. Tracing the involvement of northern white Christian leaders in the racial politics of the post-Civil War period from 1865-1898, Blum, an assistant professor of history at San Diego State University, describes the reunification of two warring sides that took place at the expense of an entire race of people.

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, many northern white Protestant ministers had called on white southerners to repent for their sin of slavery. Missionaries and money were sent to the South to aid in the creation of a multiracial nation. Initially, only the northern Episcopalians moved to reunite institutionally with their southern brethren. Other northern white ministers argued against forgiving the Confederates, many actively supporting the drive to make African Americans full members of the national community.

The idea of an integrated America, however, eventually lost ground to the greater desire of whites for national unity. The price for that unity was the acceptance of African American segregation and disenfranchisement. The South had lost on the battlefield, but southerners, by century's end, won the cultural war.

With meticulous detail, Blum traces several factors that brought about this change of heart, including the emergence of charismatic Protestant preachers leading the call for national unity over racial justice; an outbreak of yellow fever that created solidarity between northern and southern whites, sometimes at the direct expense of blacks; and a temperance movement that united northern and southern white women while demonizing non-Protestant and non-whites as outsiders.

One of the early proponents of sectional and ecclesiastic reconciliation was Henry Ward Beecher, the most popular Northern preacher of the 19th century. Beecher spent his postwar career encouraging reunion of North and South while explicitly rejecting ideas of equality for African Americans whom he called "overgrown children." Henry's famous sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, had fueled the war had initially championed social and political rights for African Americans, but she, too, eventually came to place national unity above racial justice.

Dwight Lyman Moody, the most powerful and famous evangelical leader in the United States in the mid-1870s, also served to unite North and South while religiously legitimizing the exclusion of blacks from the body politic. He depoliticized the Civil War through his stories, denounced religious involvement in politics and allowed his revival meetings in the South to be segregated. After 20 years of capitulating to Jim Crow, he had a change of heart, but it was too late: His influence had waned and Jim Crow was firmly ensconced in the South.

Even gender politics did not escape the taint of racial discrimination in this post-war period. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union, led by Frances Willard, marched under the slogan "No North, No South, No Sectionalism in Politics, No Sex in Citizenship." But as Blum puts it, "Alas, 'no discrimination in the nation,' would never fit on their banner." According to Blum, "WCTU spokeswomen often depicted African Americans, immigrants, and Catholics as aliens in the country who endangered thee safety of the nation."

By the century's end, a white republic, based on Christian Protestantism and American nationalism, had been reforged, but not everyone accepted the conflation of whiteness, Protestantism and nationalism. In his collection of essays The Souls of Black Folk (1903), W.E.B. DuBois "continued the legacy of black resistance to the notion that white Americans were divinely ordained to dominate people of color," writes Blum. "He refused to believe that the biblical Christ would endorse materialism, discrimination, and imperialism."

A very readable blend of history and social science, Reforging the White Republic reminds us how powerful a role religion has played in the history of this nation and how it can and has been used as a force of both good and evil.

David Torbett

Theology and Slavery: Charles Hodge and Horace Bushnell

Mercer University Press, 2006. 230 pp. ($49.95)

Personal legacies have been powerful guideposts in all areas of religious faith and social navigation for Christians over the generations. In this regard, no other thinkers have had and continue to have more influence on Christian thinking toward the Christian relationship to slavery than theologians Charles Hodge (1797-1878), and Horace Bushnell (1802-1876). Hodge was the archconservative, Bushnell the archliberal.

"The story of racial slavery in America is a fundamental chapter in the history of American Christianity," writes author David Torbett, who taught at Mount Union College and Ashland University and is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. "Most of the major players in the slavery controversy--from racial abolitionists to proslavery fire-eaters and all positions in between--were Christian and drew on Christian traditions and principles to support their stances. All, in the words of Lincoln, "read the same Bible and pray to the same God." Slavery was the burning moral issue of the nineteenth century that preoccupied American Christians, brought them to the point of crisis, and divided them against each other, splitting the major Protestant denominations."

Hodge and Bushnell, both Northerners, were polar opposites in their approach to slavery's moral efficacy and the way that Christians should treat it. Both men, however, were ambivalent about the individual worth of the black race. The apostle of biblical inerrancy, Hodge, who had owned slaves, inferred a moral legitimacy for slave owning. Ironically and surprisingly, he believed that racial slavery would be the South's undoing if the region continued to treat its human chattel so cruelly. Although he believed that most abolitionists were instigators, he argued that a slave uprising would erupt if plantation owners and related entities followed the same path.

Despite his vehement opposition to slavery, Bushnell voiced peculiar concepts of black inferiority. Here is an example of what he said as he reflected on the plight of blacks if they were freed from bondage: "I am obliged to say that I do not anticipate any ... bright destiny opening on the African race in this country.... They need five hundred or a thousand years of cultivation to give them a fair chance. They cannot maintain the competition, they will be preyed upon and overreached, they will not respect themselves, they will grow discouraged, they will, many of them, betake themselves of idleness, vice, and crime; by all these conjoint influences they will be kept down and gradually diminished in numbers."

Theology and Slavery is a must for the serious student of Christianity's history in America, for, as Torbett writes, the practice of slavery and the repercussions of its impact on the church "continued to affect American Christians as they faced subsequent controversies over race--from Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Era and up to the present time."

Racial slavery, then, is an irreducible part of Christian history and identity in the United States.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Association for Religion and Intellectual Life
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:BOOKS
Author:Maxwell, William W.; Hammond, Margo
Publication:Cross Currents
Date:Jun 22, 2007
Previous Article:Out of Africa.
Next Article:Religious encounters, communities of conversation.

Related Articles
Plane facts.
Mind games: Steven Henry Madoff on Marcel Van Eeden and Aneta Grzeszykowska.
Secrets of the domes: Mel Bochner on "The Domain of the Great Bear".
Matthew Higgs: Murray Guy.
Michael Queenland: Daniel Hug.
Out of Africa.
Shirley A. Hill. Black Intimacies: A Gender Perspective on Families and Relationships.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |