Saturday, June 23, 2012

What's at Stake? Race and Evangelical Naming

by Edward Blum
R3 Contributor

By drawing attention to the Time list of "influential" evangelicals and John Turner's essay, I'm not trying to say that evangelical scholarship is racist. I'm also not trying to say that African Americans should want to be identified as "evangelical" or necessarily included in that camp. I'm also not saying that we all need to have "additive" history where we merely add a person of color or a woman to make our stories better (would adding women to Kevin Schultz's book improve it? I'm not so sure).

What I am saying is that when it comes to "evangelicalism" and race, we cannot divorce the work that race did. My first book was based on a simple and perhaps naive graduate student question: when Dwight Moody set the North ablaze with the revivals of 1876 and 1877, why didn't he have anything to say about racial justice in the South? Why didn't Marsden or Noll or hardly else bring up that these were years of terrible racial and sectional strife? (Noll is the great example of a scholar who has grown so richly over time and now takes race quite seriously; but he did not in Scandal!) That led me to an unbelievable discord of rhetoric versus reality in post-Civil War evangelicalism that showed how folks like Moody subtly created a white supremacist morality that undermined the gains and spirit of radical Reconstruction. But this "evangelical" history rarely gets told.
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