Booker T. Washington: Model Christian & American

Up from SlaveryDuring this Independence Week, I think it highly appropriate to mention I recently finished reading Booker T. Washington’ s fascinating autobiography Up From Slavery. As with the Coolidge biography I noted on Monday, I had given a thumbs-up to Washington’s personal reflections in an earlier blog. Now, having completed reading his thoughts on life and how God wants us to live it, I can enthusiastically endorse it unconditionally.

Washington was an impressive man. His devotion to the principle of self-government and his emphasis on character building permeate his philosophy of life. He rejoiced that he and his students at the Tuskegee Institute Booker T. Washington Quotehad to endure hard times. He noted repeatedly that it is in those hard times when we learn the greatest lessons. Rather than an easy road, he preferred to tackle problems, knowing the struggle itself would make him a better man.

His Christian faith also comes across clearly. Another historian has commented that Washington was not a devout Christian. One of the reasons I read his autobiography was to get some inkling of whether that assessment was accurate. In his own words, Washington declares,

While a great deal of stress is laid upon the industrial side of the work at Tuskegee, we do not neglect or overlook in any degree the religious and spiritual side. The school is strictly undenominational, but it is thoroughly Christian, and the spiritual training of the students is not neglected. Our preaching service, prayer-meetings, Sunday-school, Christian Endeavour Society, Young Men’s Christian Association, and various missionary organizations, testify to this.

He also had good words to say about his fellow Christians:

In my efforts to get money I have often been surprised at the patience and deep interest of the ministers, who are besieged on every hand and at all hours of the day for help. If no other consideration had convinced me of the value of the Christian life, the Christlike work which the Church of all denominations in America has done during the last thirty-five years for the elevation of the black man would have made me a Christian.

Then there’s the testimony of his attitude toward those who might be considered enemies:

Booker T. Washington Quote 2It is now long ago that I . . . resolved that I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. With God’s help, I believe that I have completely rid myself of any ill feeling toward the Southern white man for any wrong that he may have inflicted upon my race. . . . I pity from the bottom of my heart any individual who is so unfortunate as to get into the habit of holding race prejudice.

He explained how he was led to conduct himself:

When I first came to Tuskegee, I determined that I would make it my home, that I would take as much pride in the right actions of the people of the town as any white man could do, and that I would, at the same time, deplore the wrong-doing of the people as much as any white man. I determined never to say anything in a public address in the North that I would not be willing to say in the South. I early learned that it is a hard matter to convert an individual by abusing him, and that this is more often accomplished by giving credit for all the praiseworthy actions performed than by calling attention alone to all the evil done.

If you were to read Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, I think you might come to the same conclusion I did: here is a model of a Christian man whose attitude and principles should be emphasized in our society once again. Booker T. Washington is one of the true heroes of American history.

 

The Pillars of Christianity

When I was working on my master’s and doctoral degrees in history, I distinctly recall an attitude that some of my professors had toward the American colonial and revolutionary eras—they conveyed to us, their students, the idea that the leaders of those eras were just so backward when compared to the more enlightened age we live in now. I didn’t accept that attitude then; I don’t accept it now.

Yes, we have progressed technologically in ways our Founders would find astonishing. Technology, though, is hardly a substitute for principle. Neither can we be considered more advanced if we have dismissed the Biblical framework that gives us a proper understanding of the place of man in God’s creation. That Biblical framework offers us, as well, a greater comprehension of the role civil government should play in the overall society. Personally, I believe a lot of those early Americans have a lot to teach us still.

When I was writing my master’s thesis, I researched the lives and writings of two prominent Americans of the Founding Era: Timothy Dwight and Jedidiah Morse. Most people today have no idea who they were. Dwight served ably for many years as president of Yale, ensuring it retained its Christian foundations. Morse, a pastor, also was famous as the Father of American Geography; he wrote the first American textbook on the subject, which was the first to include key geographical features of North America. His fame was eventually superseded by that of his son, Samuel F. B. Morse, who invented the telegraph.

Jedidiah MorseJedidiah Morse gave a sermon in 1799 that includes one of the best quotes I’ve ever read on the relationship of Christianity and civil government. A lot of quotes from this era, both genuine and spurious, have made their way to the internet, but I’ve never seen this one make the rounds. I’d like to offer it now for your consideration. Here’s what Morse would have us remember:

Our dangers are of two kinds, those which affect our religion, and those which affect our government. They are, however, so closely allied that they cannot, with propriety, be separated. The foundations which support the interests of Christianity, are also necessary to support a free and equal government like our own. . . .

To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoy. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism. . . .

Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.

When I read those words, I am impressed by the wisdom behind them. Religious beliefs always provide the context of what a people accept as appropriate in society. Christianity, in particular, lends itself to genuine liberty. When Christianity recedes into the background, liberty recedes also. Morse’s words are a warning to a people who, in their pride, abandon Biblical principles and replace them with man-centered, humanistic ideas. If the blessings of our republican forms of government seem to be disappearing, we would do well to ponder what Morse says—the reason is that we are attempting to overthrow the “pillars of Christianity.”

We have a lot to learn from those who have preceded us. It’s not too late to take their warnings seriously and make a course correction. It will take humility on our part, however. Are we up to the challenge?

My Personal Creed as a Christian & a Historian

Caught between two worlds, yet both informed by my Christian faith. What am I talking about?

I am a history professor, what you would have to call a “professional historian.” That is one of my worlds. As an academic, I am devoted to research and accuracy in my teaching and writing. Historians generally don’t get involved in commentary on current events, and at least make some attempt at appearing “above politics.” Now, of course, much of that is pretense. For many years, I haven’t joined any of the professional historical organizations; they are sold out to the progressive political correctness that dominates the field. Yet I want to stay in touch with what other historians are writing, so I recently rejoined one such organization, just to see if there is any value in it. Next year, I can make a decision whether to remain a member or not.

Another thing about historians/university professors: they rarely allow whatever religious beliefs they have to intrude upon their teaching or writing. Again, there is a lot of pretense there. One’s worldview, which is religious, whether one admits it or not, will always provide the context for one’s reasoning. Those who say they are teaching or writing “value-free” are just as committed to a value as anyone else. It’s just that the value they are communicating is that one should have no values. That, in itself, is a worldview being transmitted to students and readers.

My other world is as a commentator on life. Just look at the title of this blog and you will see where my heart is. My goal is to try to bring my Christian faith to bear on how we perceive the culture, politics, and government of our day. I don’t hold back on what I believe because I have this urgency in my spirit to help others comprehend the Biblical principles that should govern our lives. I focus quite a bit on trying to reach a general audience, not merely a guild of historians who read each other and never touch a wider readership.

There is no separation for me; both worlds coincide. Some, though, would consider my academic world to be tainted. The dominant thinking is that you allow students to roam free without boundaries. I disagree. There is a Biblical framework within which all reasoning should take place. Without that, we go astray from the One who is Truth.

Some in my profession won’t look upon me as a serious academic. After all, I’ve never been published by Harvard, Yale, or any of the other university presses they consider prestigious. One of my books is how to apply Biblical principles to politics; how, they wonder, can that be academic? But I’m not the only one frowned upon. Even a generally lauded writer like David McCullough, who has written masterful works on American history [1776; John Adams] is treated as somewhat less than genuine. You see, he’s not of our particular profession and, horror of horrors, the peasants out there actually read what he writes. That’s beneath our profession’s dignity, don’t you know?

God has given me the task of reaching out to anyone and everyone. I want to do so with a level of maturity and accuracy that transcends simply reactionary political blogging. I want my students and readers to grapple with the deeper issues—the principles that undergird all of life. My goal is to be a solid academic while simultaneously connecting with those who would feel uncomfortable in academic circles.

In another of my books, the one on the Clinton impeachment, I conducted interviews with all thirteen of the House Managers who argued before the Senate for Clinton’s removal from office. My research was genuine and everything fully documented. Yet I wrote for a general audience. The two worlds should not be divorced. Neither can I omit my Christian faith from anything I write, whether strictly academic or not. Here’s how I explained it in the preface to the impeachment book:

My presuppositions are first and foremost biblical in orientation. The grid through which I see the world—my basic worldview—is grounded upon biblical principles.  These principles form the basis for my values, my decisions, and my analysis of right and wrong. These principles also inform my understanding of the role of civil government, placing me on the conservative side of the political spectrum. Naturally, then, I am predisposed to “take the side,” so to speak, of the House Managers.

But I am also an academic. The training I receive in academia requires that I follow the evidence wherever it may lead. I must be honest and cannot, in good conscience, misrepresent the facts. Properly understood, there is no dichotomy here. My Christianity and my academic training require the same standard. Academic integrity rests upon moral integrity, which I believe flows from biblical faith. Consequently, when I undertake any research and writing project, I must be true to that faith. Political conservatism must become secondary; the truth must have priority.

That is my personal creed as a Christian and a historian. I can be both without contradiction. I am not a historian who just happens to be a Christian; I am a Christian who fulfills his ministry through my role as a historian. There is a difference.

The Growing Suppression of Christian Faith

Before this week, I had never heard of Mikey Weinstein [does someone really choose to be called Mikey?], but he and his organization, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, have made headlines. If you haven’t noticed, let me get you up to speed.

The story first appeared on Breitbart.com and, as of last night, had more than 1.2 million Facebook shares. Weinstein, a former Air Force officer, was recently brought to the Pentagon by Obama political appointees as a consultant to help formulate policy on the type of religious expression that should be allowed or disallowed in the Air Force. His organization, though, is a stridently anti-Christian group that seeks to curtail the rights of Christians serving in the military.

Although the word “extremist” can be overused at times, Weinstein seems to fit the category. All we have to do is take him at his own word—or many words. As reported in World magazine, “Weinstein’s objective is to make it standard practice in the military that a service member who proselytizes his or her faith should face court-martial. He told Fox News he’d like to see ‘hundreds of prosecutions to stop this outrage.'” Here are more samples of Weinstein’s rhetoric:

We face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation’s armed forces.

Our Pentagon has been turned into a Pentacostalgon, and our DOD has been turned into an imperialistic, fascist contagion of unconstitutional triumphalism by people that want to kill us—or have their version of Jesus kill us if we don’t accept their Biblical world view.

The dominionist Christian will say, “Nothing can constrain me from proselytizing my version of Christianity.” And these people we find have several particular malodorous stenches about them. It’s like walking into a stench in my native state of New Mexico here on a hot August afternoon and having your nostrils assaulted by the stenches of 10,000 rotting swine, it’s so bad. The first stench is viral misogyny. The fact that women should be consigned to selecting food, preparing food, cleaning up after meals, spreading their legs, getting pregnant and raising children. The next [stench] is virulent anti-Semitism. The next is virulent Islamophobia.

We’re fighting al-Qaeda. We’re fighting the Taliban, and we’re turning our own military in[to] the exact same thing.

The dead guy—Jerry Falwell, and I’m sorry but I’m very glad he’s dead. I’m very sorry if anyone is upset about that.

I think that’s enough to give you a taste of where he’s coming from. His organization is misnamed. It should be called the Military Suppression of Religious Freedom Foundation. Weinstein has called proselytizing—sharing one’s faith with another—“a national security threat” and a form of “spiritual rape.” He seems to relish using sexual language in his attacks on Christianity. He also equates sharing one’s faith with “sedition and treason.”

Let’s keep in mind a couple of things: first, for Christians, it’s a commandment to share the faith because we believe people are lost and we seek to pull them out of the pit of hell; second, the First Amendment, which should be our political guideline, says that we cannot be prohibited from the free exercise of our faith. And on the practical level, what use is a military chaplaincy if chaplains are not allowed to share what they believe? This gets to the root of the issue: Weinstein wants nothing less than the dismantling of the military chaplaincy and the removal of all Christian influence.

The Pentagon, in the aftermath of this revelation and the criticism it has received, issued the following statement: “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense. Court-martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases.” That’s supposed to make us feel better? That’s more like an affirmation of what Weinstein wants to accomplish. Of course, this is the same military, now run by Obama appointees, that has affirmed homosexuality. So homosexuality is celebrated and Christian faith is demonized.

I’ve been writing about Obama’s worldview and his anti-Christian stances for the past four-plus years. In one sense, this is nothing new. However, it’s becoming more blatant as time passes. This is a real attack on Christianity in America, and we had better wake up and face the reality. More than once I’ve said that the true Christian faith is now a subculture in our society. We need to recognize that and respond accordingly. We’ve not yet reverted to the persecution era of the Roman Empire, but we need to prepare ourselves for that possibility if our culture and politics don’t change very soon.

Lewis on Education

As we survey the vast wasteland of modern American education, C. S. Lewis can help us see the root of the problem. From his essay “On the Transmission of Christianity” he offers this bit of wisdom:

This very obvious fact—that each generation is taught by an earlier generation—must be kept very firmly in mind. . . . Hence the futility of many schemes for education. None can give to another what he does not possess himself. No generation can bequeath to its successor what it has not got. . . .

If we are sceptical, we shall teach only scepticism to our pupils, if fools only folly, if vulgar only vulgarity, if saints sanctity, if heroes heroism. . . . We shall admit that a man who knows no Greek himself cannot teach Greek to his form: but it is equally certain that a man whose mind was formed in a period of cynicism and disillusion, cannot teach hope or fortitude.

A society which is predominantly Christian will propagate Christianity through its schools: one which is not, will not. All the ministries of education in the world cannot alter this law.We have, in the long run, little either to hope or fear from government.

So, once again we come face to face with the undeniable truth that our society—government, education, and all—is only a reflection of who we are as a people, and the only way to salvage the society is to salvage individual souls first. The propagation of the gospel remains our top priority because only through relationship with God can our souls be salvaged.

True Christian Consistency

Some people may misunderstand this Charles Finney quote and think it applies to the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith. It does not. Rather, it is an appeal for Christians to stay open to the Holy Spirit as He leads us into greater knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. We all need to humble ourselves and receive new light from Him. We haven’t yet arrived at a full grasp of His truth.

I have not yet been able to stereotype my theological views, and have ceased to expect ever to do so. The idea is preposterous. None but an omniscient mind can continue to maintain a precise identity of views and opinions. Finite minds, unless they are asleep or stultified by prejudice, must advance in knowledge. …

True Christian consistency does not consist in stereotyping our opinions and views, and in refusing to make any improvement lest we should be guilty of change, but it consists in holding our minds open to receive the rays of truth from every quarter and in changing our views and language and practice as often and as fast as we can obtain further information.

I call this Christian consistency, because this course alone accords with a Christian profession. A Christian profession implies the profession of candor and of a disposition to know and obey all truth. It must follow that Christian consistency implies continued investigation and change of views and practice in conformity with increasing knowledge. No Christian, therefore, and no theologian should be afraid to change his views, his language, or his practices in conformity with increasing light.

May we have such a heart.

Let Us Not Lose Heart

Sometimes when I ponder the state of our society, and the world in general, I wonder if there is any hope. Yes, I know that in the end, God wraps things up His way. The future is glorious for those who remain faithful to Him. But what I see around me would be depressing without that ultimate hope.

I’ve studied the writings of Whittaker Chambers for nearly thirty years now. His magisterial autobiography Witness is filled with poignant insights into the human condition without God. For instance, as he analyzed the state of the world in his lifetime, he was struck by the loss of his generation’s ability to see reality and know the difference between right and wrong. Has anything changed all that much? Here’s how he portrays it:

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil. … The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits.

I ask myself whether we are currently in that same state he so sadly describes. As a people, are we without faith or hope? Do we lack the kind of character necessary to remedy the ills of our nation? Do we even understand that we are suffering ills? Are we living in the realm of unreality, dying because we no longer care about right and wrong, good and evil? If so, the executioner waits to carry out the sentence on a deaf and senile people.

That all sounds so dismal. Yet there are times when I feel the way Chambers felt about his era. That feeling can lead people to despair, if they are without the life of God within. The only reason I won’t succumb to despair is because I know I’ve been called, as all Christians are, to shine the light of truth and hope into that moral void. Our task is to rescue the hopeless, and the more we rescue, the greater the possibility that our society can once again distinguish between good and evil.

One passage of Scripture fits perfectly here, from Galatians 6:7-9, where we’re told,

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

That last sentence is a clarion call to continue doing what God has charged each one of us to do. If we remain faithful, He promises there will be a time to reap. Chambers’s perception of the world of 1925 does not have to be the world of our future if God’s people persevere.