Thursday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Joy Qualls highlights the value of civil discourse: “People are desperate to see examples of healthy communication and positive relationships. It is incumbent upon us, as leaders who claim to represent Christ, that we model for one another how to engage in civil discourse that honors who we are as people created in the image of God who are all in need of healing from our argument culture.”
  • John Davidson talks to Kyle Dana for the Influence Podcast about the top three financial mistakes pastors make about their future. Kyle says the one thing you can do today to positively affect your financial future is simple: “Make a plan!”
  • Kathy Cannon offers advice about creating space for God: “I cannot pour out to others unless I consistently refuel by spending time in the presence of God, and that doesn’t happen by accident.”
  • We note Barna research showing that most U.S. pastors report excellent family relationships. “U.S. pastors have more positive views of their family relationships than the general population.” My view of my family is certainly positive…

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

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Apostles of Disunion | Book Review


“The Civil War was fought over what important issue?”

That question begins and ends the 2001 edition of Charles B. Dew’s Apostles of Disunion. It appeared on a test administered to prospective citizens by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services. According to the INS, either “slavery” or “states [sic] rights” was an acceptable answer. This binary option, in Dew’s words, “reflects the deep division and profound ambivalence in contemporary American culture over the origins of the Civil War.”

Today, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the test. The current version of that test, updated in January 2017, includes this question: “Name one problem that led to the Civil War” (emphasis in original). Acceptable answers include “slavery,” “economic reasons,” and “states’ rights.” After 152 years, Americans still don’t agree on the cause of the Civil War.

There is a sense in which the second and third answers are correct. The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 alarmed the South. Southerners feared that a Republican administration would violate their states’ rights and harm their economies in the process. Because they couldn’t see a way of keeping their states’ rights inviolate and their economies flourishing with Lincoln in the White House, they seceded.

And yet, citing “states’ rights” and “economic reasons” as causes of the Civil War is also profoundly misleading. Think of it this way: Why did Southerners think a Republican administration threatened their states’ rights and economies? Because they felt that Lincoln and the Republicans would interfere with their “peculiar institution,” slavery—the source of their region’s economic wealth and the reason for the constant invocation of states’ rights against federal power. Economic reasons and states’ right might have been proximate causes, but slavery was the ultimate cause.

The South seceded from the Union in order to defend the ideology of white supremacy and the practice of slavery. Next time you read about a conflict regarding a Confederate monument or the Confederate battle flag, keep that fact in mind.

But don’t take either my word or Charles B. Dew’s word for this conclusion. Take the word of the various men profiled in his book, men specifically commissioned by Southern states (e.g., South Carolina) to advocate the need for other Southern states (e.g., Virginia) to secede from the Union and form a new Confederacy, an advocacy that occurred in late 1860 and early 1861, prior to the attach on Fort Sumter. “Over and over again,” Dew writes, “they called up three stark images that, taken together, constituted the white South’s worst nightmare.”

Below are the “three stark images” together with representative quotes from secessionist commissioners:

  1. Racial equality

“Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality” (William L. Harris, Mississippi commissioner, in a December 1860 speech to the Georgia legislature).

  1. Race war

“Under the policy of the Republican party, the time would arrive when the scenes of San Domingo and Hayti, with all their attendant horrors, would be enacted in the slaveholding States” (William Cooper, Alabama commissioner, in a December 1860 speech to the Missouri legislature. He was referring to the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), in which Haitian slaves overthrew their French masters.)

  1. Racial amalgamation

“Therefore it is that the election of Mr. Lincoln cannot be regarded otherwise than a solemn declaration, on the part of a great majority of the Northern people, of hostility to the South, her property, and her institutions [i.e., slavery]; nothing less than an open declaration of war, for the triumph of this new theory of government [i.e., “the equality of the races, white and black”] destroys the property of the South, lays waste her fields, and inaugurates all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection [i.e., the Haitian Revolution], consigning her citizens to assassinations and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans” (Stephen F. Hale, Alabama commissioner, in a December 27, 1860, in a formal letter to Gov. Beriah Magoffin of Kentucky).

In his 2016 Afterword, Dew notes that he reviewed the commissioners’ speeches and formal letters afresh and saw with greater clarity how “economic themes formed a significant undercurrent in their case for secession.” But once again, those economic reasons focused on slavery. After quoting various commissioners, Dew notes: “The two largest industries in the Old South were staple crop agriculture and the [internal] slave trade. No other economic activity came even close to these two enterprises. So they had to figure in the secession commissioners’ argument, and they did.”

With the defeat of the South and the abolition of slavery, Southern partisans recast the ultimate cause of their struggle. The result was the so-called “Lost Cause,” the defense of Southern culture in which the centrality of slavery was downplayed. In light of what secession commissioners said about the cause of their struggle before the Civil War, however, the Lost Cause can only be seen as egregious historical revisionism. The South seceded from the Union in order to defend the ideology of white supremacy and the practice of slavery. That was its ultimate aim and the reason for its invocation of “states’ rights” and “economic reasons.”

Next time you read about a conflict regarding a Confederate monument or the Confederate battle flag, keep that fact in mind.

 

Book Reviewed:
Charles B. Dew, Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War, 15th anniv. ed. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2016).

_____
P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Wednesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Mike Burnette issues a stirring call to expository preaching: “Preach the Word of God with boldness; lead people to surrender fully to God’s will and God’s Word. Study and prepare, and come ready to capitalize on this precious time so you can give your best in delivering God’s Word. Then watch as it becomes alive and active in individual lives, transforming people from death to life, and bringing them to new life in Jesus.”
  • Karen Blandino talks about the power of relationship building in ministry: “When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.”
  • We note a frankly alarming statistic from a recent Gallup poll: “Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of all U.S. adults say a doctor should be able to end the life of a terminally ill patient if the patient and family members request it. Fifty-five percent of those who attend church weekly agree with that stance, along with 66 percent of those attending church nearly weekly or monthly. Almost 9 in 10 (87 percent) of those who never attend church are in favor of legalizing euthanasia.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Philip Hamburger on Prejudice and the Blaine Amendments | First Things


Over at First Things, Philip Hamburger relates the history of the Blaine Amendments, which prohibit government funding of “sectarian” institutions. My home state, Missouri, has one such amendment, the constitutionality of which is being decided by the U. S. Supreme Court even now. (See Becket Law’s page on the case, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer.) Scratch the surface of these amendments, however, and you find anti-Catholic and anti-ecclesial prejudices at work, historically at any rate:

Many judges have done their best to sanitize the Blaine Amendments. Rather than face up to the reality of prejudice and discrimination, they have suggested that the amendments are innocuous. Where the amendments bar funds for any “sectarian” institution, the judges have interpreted them to preclude funds for “religious” institutions. And having homogenized all of the amendments to express a general anti-ecclesiastical discrimination, the judges have understood this result to be areligious or “secular” and thus without prejudice or discrimination.

But even the amendments that generally bar funding for religious institutions are inescapably stuck in the mire of theological prejudice. The old animosity against the Catholic Church never entirely went away, but rather was generalized. Although hostility against the Catholic Church softened, it remained distinctively strong, and it served as the prototypical example of what was rejected in all churches. Thus, what changed when states adopted broad Blaine Amendments, and when judges interpreted “sectarian” to mean “religious,” was merely that another layer of prejudice was added—the core animosity toward the Catholic Church becoming the model for a more expansive hostility toward all churches.

At best, this is new prejudice in old bottles; in fact, the dregs of the old prejudice remain, topped off by the new.

Judges tend to miss all of this because they see religious divisions in terms of denominational differences, such as Anglican versus Baptist or, at most, Protestant versus Catholic. But what matters for the Blaine Amendments is another sort of religious difference: that introduced by theological liberalism.

European religion was traditionally fraught with divisions among different churches, each defined by its own distinctive doctrine. But the most profound division in American religion since the Founding has been the division between the theologically liberal and those who are theologically more orthodox. Theological liberalism has split one church after another—to the point that the theologically liberal in different churches often have more in common with each other than with the more orthodox in their own churches. Indeed, the theologically liberal attack on ecclesiastical authority has become the preeminent fact of American religious life, and as theological liberals became numerous enough to enjoy political power, they used Blaine Amendments to restrict not merely the Catholic Church, but other ecclesiastical institutions.

Rather than excuse the Blaine Amendments as expressions of areligious concerns, judges need to recognize that these amendments are products of theological animus. Nativists and other theological liberals allowed their fear of ecclesiastical institutions to lead them into theological warfare against the Catholic Church and sometimes against all ecclesiastical bodies, and the legal results are ugly. Far from merely discriminating between what is religious and what is not, the Blaine Amendments discriminate against Catholic and other ecclesiastical authority and thereby carry out theologically liberal animosities.

To be sure, states in many instances can reasonably choose not to fund churches. But when the Blaine Amendments narrowly single out “sectarian” institutions, or when, as in Missouri, they categorically exclude all ecclesiastically-affiliated institutions, they reveal theologically-driven discrimination.

Read the whole thing!

The Assemblies of God among the Megachurches


Over on my Facebook page, I posted the Facts & Trends story, “Where Are All the Megachurches?” earlier this morning. However, I dug around a bit in the data underlying this story and found out that the Assemblies of God (USA) has the fifth largest group of megachurches among Protestant congregations. Of the 1,667 churches in the Hartford Seminary database of megachurches, here are the top five groupings:

  1. Nondenominational (458)
  2. Southern Baptist (260)
  3. Unknown denomination (187)
  4. Baptist, unspecified (120)
  5. Assemblies of God (109)

Another way to look at this is that the AG has the second largest grouping of megachurches among America’s Protestant denominations. Why? First, factor out the “Nondenominational” and “Unknown denomination.” Then, factor out “Baptist, unspecified” because those churches could belong to one of over 60 Baptist denominations in the U.S. That leaves the Southern Baptists and the AG as discrete denominational entities.

With that in mind, consider yet another way of looking at these numbers. The Southern Baptist Convention claimed 15.22 million adherents in 2016. It has 260 megachurches. That’s a ratio of 58,538 : 1. The AG claimed 3.21 million adherents in 2016 and has 109 megachurches. That’s a ratio of 30,283 : 1. Per capita, then, the AG has more megachurches than the SBC.

Fun with statistics, I guess.

_____
P.S. If you’d like to review Hartford Seminary’s Data, go here: http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/database.html. You can sort by congregation, denomination, state, and size.

P.P.S. I had the joy of working with Doyle and Connie Surratt at SeaCoast Grace Church, one of the churches on the list. Hi, guys!

Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • We interview Bryan Sederwall about the ministry of the Denver Dream Center. “Faith communities need to identity concerns in their cities and then establish a cause.”
  • Chris Colvin suggests different ways of saying “Thank you!” to donors. “If you want to see increased giving, watch occasional givers become consistent givers and instill a sense of purpose in your offerings, a ‘thank you’ is one of the best instruments you can employ.”
  • Paul Franks reviews Tactics, an apologetics book and small-group curriculum by Greg Koukl. “When we do begin to talk about our faith, it’s easy to find ourselves on the defensive.” Reading and using Tactics helps overcome that problem.
  • Here’s an encouraging note: “Even in an increasingly secular culture, about half of U.S. adults still bow their heads to pray when they sit down to a meal.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Joy Qualls joins me on the Influence Podcast to discuss how to debate hot button social issues well. Perhaps Christianly is the better adverb to use. “In an increasingly pluralistic and polarized culture, this skillset is an absolute must-have for Christian leaders.”
  • We note a new Barna study about how parents’ giving patterns affect their children’s giving patterns. “Respondents who said generosity was extremely or very important to them were most likely to report having extremely or very generous parents. On the other hand, people who placed little or no importance on generosity tended to rate their parents as less generous.” Teach your children well!

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Joy Qualls | Influence Podcast


People in America are increasingly divided ideologically and politically, and our public discourse reflects those divisions. Too often, however, our rhetoric becomes toxic, leading many to worry whether hateful words will result in violent deeds.

This worry came up again last week when Rep. Steve Scalise (R_LA 1st District) and several congressional staffers were shot by a man who didn’t like their politics. Few political disputes result in violence, but this incident is a good reminder to watch how we speak about others in the public square.

This week, I talk to Joy Qualls about how to have a constructive debate about hot-button social issues. In an increasingly pluralistic and polarized culture, this skillset is an absolute must-have for Christian leaders. Qualls is chair of the Communications Department and professor of Communication Studies at Biola University in La Mirada, California…and a personal friend with whom I have occasional disagreements on politics.

Take a listen!

The Honourable Schoolboy | Book Review


The Honourable Schoolboy is the second book in John Le Carré’s “Karla Trilogy,” in which George Smiley of Britain’s MI6 engages Russia’s KGB in clandestine warfare. In the first book—Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy—Smiley exposed a long-time mole in the “Circus,” the nickname for Britain’s Now, Smiley reorganizes the “Circus” and chases down a “gold seam” of Russian money in a Hong Kong bank.

Set in the Far East, The Honourable Schoolboy introduces readers to sometime British spy, full-time journalist, and impoverished noble Jerry Westerby, whom Smiley taps to follow the money trail. Westerby follows the money, gets frustrated in the long days when Smiley isn’t sure what his next move should be, and falls hard for a woman who through some combination of bad choices and bad luck has fallen in with the wrong crowd.

The Honourable Schoolboy contains more action than Tinker, Tailor, and Westerby is a character more easily loved than Smiley. And yet, somehow, this novel still felt slower than its predecessor—hence the four-star review. Still, this is a page-turning novel set in the hottest part of the West’s long cold war with the East, and it is well worth reading.

 

Book Reviewed:
John Le Carré, The Honourable Schoolboy: A George Smiley Novel (New York: Penguin, 2011; orig. 1977).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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