Apocalyptic, Restorationist Christianities and the United States in the 19th Century

This semester, I’m teaching my “Religion in the United States” class. In a couple of months, I’ll introduce four branches of Christianity that emerged in the United States in the 19th or very early 20th century: The Latter-day Saints (1830); the Adventists with the Millerite Movement (1840s); the Jehovah Witnesses’ (1870s); and the Pentecostals (1900s). I tend to emphasize the pre- and post-Civil War ethos as a rationale for these movements but that seems incomplete. This past week, the question has lodged in my head and keeps coming back to me: What was it about the United States in the 19th century that made it the place that birthed these expressions of Christianity?

I have the Kindle version of Mark Noll’s The Civil War as a Theological Crisis but I need a physical copy because I can’t sustain reading in a digital format. Also, I see there are books like Anthony Avenue’s Apocalyptic Anxiety: Religion, Science, and America’s Obsession with the End of the World and the collection of essays that make up Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era but other than those two books, and histories of the origins of the aforementioned groups, I’m not sure where to start. Any American historians out there who would recommend a history of 19th century America that captures the country’s mood and movements? This is a topic I want to explore further.

(Side note: I’m aware that the origins of Pentecostalism can’t be limited to Los Angeles alone but I think it’s fair to say that what because global Pentecostalism was greatly influenced by American culture and events.)

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The translation philosophy of the ESV; the “orthodoxy” of Trump

Bookmarking a couple of interesting, recently published journal articles (that happen to be free to read for anyone):

  1. Samuel L. Perry, “Whitewashing Evangelical Scripture: The Case of Slavery and Antisemitism in the English Standard Version,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion
  2. Gerardo Martí, “The Unexpected Orthodoxy of Donald J. Trump: White Evangelical Support for the 45th President of the United States,” Sociology of Religion.

The religious language of the Texas Constitution (1876)

I’m continuing to brainstorm for my proposed class “Religion in San Antonio”. In fact, I’m in conversation with representatives of a local university and a non-profit to see if some sort of joint venture is possible. As say more as/if that materializes. For now, I’ve been thinking about the Texas Constitution (1876) while reading Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth by Brian Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford. I decided to browse through it to see what religious language can be found therein. For what it’s worth, as I show my “Religion in the United States” students, the United States Constitution lacks religious language beyond the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”), Article IV, Clause 3 (“…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”), and Article I, Section 7 (“except Sunday”). The Texas Constitution doesn’t. For example:

Preamble: “Humbly invoking the blessing of Almighty God…”

Article I, Section 4: No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”

Article I, Section 5: “No person shall be disqualified to give evidence in any of the courts of this State on account of his religious opinions, or for the want of any religious belief, but all oaths or affirmations shall be administered in the mode most binding upon the conscience, and shall be taken subject to the pains and penalties of perjury.”

Article I, Section 6: “All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences. No man shall be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent. No human authority ought, in any case whatever, to control or interfere with the rights of conscience in matters of religion, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious society or mode of worship. But it shall be the duty of the Legislature to pass such laws as may be necessary to protect equally every religious denomination in the peaceable enjoyment of its own mode of worship.”

Article I, Section 7:No money shall be appropriated or drawn from the treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purposes.”

Article IV, Section 14: “If any bill shall not be returned by the governor with his objections within ten days (Sundays excepted)…”; “If any such bill, containing several items of appropriation, not having been presented to the governor ten days (Sundays excepted)…”

Article VII, Section 4: “And no law shall ever be enacted appropriating any part of the permanent or available school fund to any other purpose whatever; nor shall the same or any part thereof ever be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school

I browsed through pretty quickly, so I may have missed something, but this short list is clearly more than what we find in the United States Constitution. There’s definitely an attempt to align with the ideas of establishment and free exercise found in the First Amendment. Theism, and even more specifically Monotheism, is assumed for the most part, and even required for holding public office (which, apparently, is seen as something other than a “religious test”).

The Latter-day Saints and modern America

I just finished McKay Coppins’ wonderful article “The Most American Religion” (for The Atlantic). It’s about how the Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormons”) have adjusted and assimilated to American culture only to find that modern America is changing. The main case study might be how LDS voters responded to the last president when juxtaposed with how white Evangelicals responded to him. Here’s the take-away paragraph:

What happens when a religious group discovers that it’s spent 200 years assimilating to an America that no longer exists? As their native country fractures and turns on itself, Mormons are being forced to grapple with questions about who they are and what they believe. And a loose but growing liberal coalition inside the Church is pushing for reform.