I'm now back from the recent biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, held at Gordon College in Wenham, MA. I had a great time seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I had not seen my friend and fellow Bebbington student Andy Tooley for three years. I also was able to spend time with my former colleague Sam Smith, who I had not seen in nearly two years. Sam and I gave a paper at a Saturday morning panel on "Print Culture in Early America." It is always fun to talk about John Erskine, and, on this occasion, his involvement in the dissemination of Enlightenment texts in America, Britain, and Europe. Several people told me after the session that they intend to buy my book on Erskine. To my knowledge, Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine has been reviewed nine times, but these reviews do not seem to have penetrated beyond some of the leading eighteenth-century scholars. Maybe my next book should be on the Founding Fathers, or, if Mitt Romney wins the election, on Mormonism. I can't wait to read Sam Smith's new book, A Cautious Enthusiasm: Mystical Piety and Evangelicalism in Colonial South Carolina, due out in February with the University of South Carolina Press. Sam's main argument is an important one: that colonial Anglicans in the Low Country South were not simply Latitudinarians, but in many cases, full-blow evangelicals who were influenced by mystical pietism.
Today, I was pleased to see John Fea's op-ed piece on America's religious heritage in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Fea teaches at Messiah College and is an avid blogger at the Way of Improvement Leads Home. On Tuesday, October 9 at 5pm at the University Auditorium at UTC, Fea will be speaking on "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?," which is also the topic of his most recent book.
In Fea's article in the Times Free Press, he begins with a brief description of the US's Treaty of Tripoli (1797) and the significance of the following statement in the treaty: "The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." Fea argues that despite the blatant language dissociating America with Christianity, "The words of the Treaty of Tripoli can hardly be reconciled with the way that most politicians, clergy, educators and other writers perceived the United States over the course of the next 200 years. The idea that the United States is a 'Christian nation' has always been central to American identity." Fea then goes on to cite several religious leaders (liberal and conservative), such as Horace Bushnell, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Martin Luther King, Jr., who explicitly describe America as a Christian nation. Fea closes the article by saying, "one thing is for sure--the members of today's Christian Right who argue that the United States is a Christian nation have a good portion of American history on their side."I look forward to hearing his lecture this Tuesday, as I believe he will nuance the closing argument in this article.