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Peeling the Evangelical Onion (+ a NICU update)
A podcast and a book that helped me understand American evangelicalism
Hi Southbound readers,
As mentioned in my last article, A NICU Fourth of July, my wife and I welcomed our third child, Luke, into our family through adoption on June 23. We’ve been in Florida since birth as Luke continues to learn how to eat and breathe on his own in the NICU. We have a few weeks remaining before we can return home to Georgia. He’ll need heart surgery at some point this fall/winter.
With so much uncertainty in the months ahead, my capacity for research and writing will be limited. When possible, I’ll keep working on the sequel to my May article on Jim Crow-era healthcare in my hometown (If you missed Part I on Juliette Derricotte’s death, you can read or listen to it here). Other stories may emerge along the way if inspiration arrives and time allows.
In the meantime, I thought I’d pass along two resources—a book and a podcast—that have helped me better understand American evangelicalism over the last few months, which is important to understand when making meaning of the South. What I appreciate about both writers is their approach as insiders making sense of their own faith journey while they pull apart which aspects of American evangelicalism represent orthodox Christianity and which aspects are cultural creations of white America. They don’t shy away from spotlighting injustices of our past and present, but at the same time are quick to recognize their own blind spots instead of cherishing their moral high ground. I aspire for the same approach in my writing on Southbound.
Book: Testimony by Jon Ward
A month before the 2016 election, a Yahoo News journalist named Jon Ward showed up at our former church’s Sunday morning service to interview members who remained theologically conservative but couldn’t support then-candidate Donald Trump like most evangelicals. I was one of them. I found Jon’s interview questions fair, and the resulting mini-documentary captured the complicated position that Christians like me felt. So, I kept up with his writing.
What I didn’t know was that he, like me, was in the midst of making sense of his own evangelical upbringing. He details this journey in his new memoir, Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Failed a Generation. He grew up in pastor C.J. Mahaney’s Covenant Life Church, steeped in reformed theology and moralistic religiosity. An unpaid internship at the conservative Washington Times led to a career in journalism but also equipped him with skills and experiences to step outside his evangelical bubble and view it through new lenses.
With vulnerability and candor, he shares his twenty-year journey of unwinding what aspects of his faith were evangelical cultural creations and what aspects represented a life following Jesus. And, he does so while covering presidential politics and elections on the ground for the last 15 years. It’s worth a read.
Podcast Series: Truce Podcast (Season 5: Christian Fundamentalism) by Chris Staron
Our current polarized moment is driving people more and more to extremes, requiring uncompromising loyalty to one’s “team.” The American church is no exception, with recent debates over CRT, social justice, and sexuality as a few examples. In most cases, arguments revolve around what issues are fundamental aspects of the Christian faith and what aspects are secondary issues where fellow Christians can disagree.
Have you ever wondered about the roots of these debates? Or, maybe you’re curious about what the French Revolution, the gold standard of currency, and beliefs about how the world will end have to do with evangelical political views.
Season 5 of Chris Staron’s Truce Podcast answers these questions (and many more) as he walks through the history of American fundamentalism from before America’s founding through the creation/evolution debates of Scopes Monkey Trial. Over 36 episodes, Staron weaves together intriguing (and at times nerdy) storytelling and interviews with prominent historians to paint a compelling picture of how our nation’s evangelical past shapes much of what we’re seeing today. While the topics in today’s debates are new, the underlying worldviews driving those debates aren’t. And, he approaches the podcast as someone still inside the church, seeking to tell the truth about the past so that the church can better serve others today.
Thank you for reading Southbound. Please post any resources on American evangelicalism’s past that you’ve found helpful below.
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