Wednesday, 10 October 2012

John Fea Delivers LeRoy Martin Lecture

Last night, John Fea of Messiah College delivered the second LeRoy Martin lecture on "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?" The title of his lecture was the same as his recent book published by Westminster John Knox. It is hard to say how many people attended the lecture, but I would estimate about 200.

Fea took a strong stand against what he called "Christian Nationalists," those who promote a Christian "heritage" understanding of America. According to Fea, these people tend to view America as founded by Christians who intended to implant religion into the culture and government of the early republic. Against the simplistic and biased interpretation of America's founding by pundits like David Barton, Fea argues that history is complex, especially when it comes to evaluating the role that religion has played in America's government.

Fea had four main points in his lecture. First, he said that Americans have always understood themselves as living in a Christian Nation. He gave examples from David Barton and Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as the Confederate Constitution. Second, he talked about the use of scripture in the American Revolution, claiming that the Bible more than any other book was cited by the Founding Fathers. He zeroed in on a specific verse, Galatians 5:1, which was interpreted by one American minister differently before and after the War of Independence. Third, he dissected the U.S. Constitution and the fact that God is nowhere mentioned in it. Finally, Fea argued that all the Founders defended religious liberty, believing that Christianity was good for society's "moral fiber." His overall point: Neither the Religious Right or the Left has correctly interpreted American religious history.

The lecture was very interesting, and I appreciated Fea's style of speaking. He has a booming voice and presence that commands attention. During the lecture, I remember thinking that he would have made a good itinerant preacher during the Great Awakening. If Fea would be willing to impersonate biblical characters and weep profusely during his talks, perhaps he could rival the national attention that George Whitefield received!

If anyone is looking for an excellent speaker to give a lecture at his or her church, college, or seminary, I would highly recommend John Fea.

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