DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Bad History

Written by: on March 23, 2019

I started reading Ross Douthat’s book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, with great interest because, in the introduction, he promised to talk about the Black Church and its role in the American Church. As I read on, I found Douthat’s first characterization of the Black Church ill-informed at best. Douthat states that “unlike most other forms of segregation, the exile of the black churches had been partially self-imposed” (Douthat 2012, 44). Douthat believes this because of the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and the formation of the National Baptist Convention being formed by black ministers seeking refuge from the racism they encountered in white-led denominations (Douthat 2012, 45).  This statement of “partially self-imposed” is troubling and an oversimplification of how these organizations were formed and why. In the case of the AME church, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones were attempting to pray in St. George’s Methodist church in Philadelphia around 1787-89 and were pulled up from their knees while praying and were thrown out of the Methodist church for attempting to pray in the non-segregated area. All of the Africans left in protest. Richard Allen wanted to stay a Methodist, bought land and formed a church for the Africans that wanted to worship, eventually forming the AME Church (Woodson 1985, 64-65). Does Douthat believe that Richard Allen and others should have stayed a part of this racist system that did not allow all men equal access to God? I would not characterize this action as a self-imposed exile, but a necessity in developing the faith of a people.

I also found it troubling that Douthat chose to take a swipe at MLK, stating “Martin Luther King was a Christian hero, but he was also a reckless adulterer whose academic work was partially ghostwritten” (Douthat 2012, 51).  While I can acknowledge MLK’s moral shortcoming, I wonder why Douthat does not consider the egregiousness of the sin of racism and those that supported Jim Crow laws. Douthat states that the Southern Baptist endorsed desegregation (Douthat 2012, 48-49), but it was done in word only and not in deed. This lukewarm response toward racism cost many Christians their lives. What about the four little girls who lost their lives when their church was bombed on Sunday morning in Birmingham Alabama or the assassination of Medgar Evers (SPLC Southern Poverty Law Center n.d.)?

It seems that Douthat, a Roman Catholic, should put more focus on the sins of the Roman Catholic Church as one of the reasons for the decline of orthodoxy in America. As someone who attended Catholic schools for 12 years, the sexual sins of the Catholic Church, as well as alcoholism amongst the clergy, were an open secret. Douthat does discuss this moral failing (Douthat 2012, 132), but seems to put more blame on the Civil Rights movement concern over the Vietnam War (Douthat 2012, 66-67). Perhaps many left the church because of its evident hypocrisy.

Douthat recommends being political without being partisan (Douthat 2012, 284). Ironically, I think that is what many who were fighting against racial discrimination were doing in the Civil Rights Movement. I hope and pray that Douthat is still giving this advice to Christians currently in political power in Washington, DC where he resides.

References

Douthat, Ross. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. New York: Free Press, 2012.

SPLC Southern Poverty Law Center. “Civil Rights Memorial/Civil Rights Martyrs.” SPLC Southern Poverty Law Center. n.d. https://www.splcenter.org/what-we-do/civil-rights-memorial/civil-rights-martyrs (accessed March 23, 2019).

Woodson, Carter G. The History of the Negro Church. Washington, D.C.: The Associated Publishers, 1985.

 

About the Author

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Mary Mims

I am a licensed and ordained Baptist minister and have worked with the children and youth for the last seven years. I have resided in the Washington, DC area for the last 30 years, but I am originally from Michigan. I am also bi-vocational and work at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the Scientific Library.

8 responses to “Bad History”

  1. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thank you, Mary. Your insights were helpful and your points align to Polson’s review and he stated Douthat’s book should be titled, “Good Religion, Bad History.” Polson pulls out various points of Douthat’s historical account and calls them into question. I appreciate your calling this out as well.

    • mm Mary Mims says:

      Thank you, Tammy, for your response. I read your post and I have to find Polson’s review. I am glad that people take these books with a grain of salt.

  2. mm Sean Dean says:

    Mary, I appreciate your perspective on this book. I feel like he took a very myopic view of history and missed out on so much of what was wrong with his chosen era. It’s unfortunate, he had a chance to make a great point, but I think he missed it with badly sourced history and some notable terrible takes on things.

  3. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Wow, Mary. I am sitting here deeply grateful for your writing and your perspective on this book. I am better for it. And your last sentence has piqued my interest – I will have to look up his latest writings in the tumultuous political times we are in.

  4. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Mary,
    Thanks again for being such a rich resource to critique Douthat’s work. I wonder if the weaknesses of his selective views is perhaps due to his being a journalist and neither a historian nor a theologian. Not excusing his oversights, but just wondering if this helps us to understand his gaps? Thanks again and take care.

  5. Thank You Mary for helping me understand the Black Church history and pointing out the issues in Douthat’s account. I found his views rather negative as to the state of the church, though there’re certain aspects that I did agree with.

  6. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    WOW – great post, Mary! I truly appreciate your knowledge of the history of the Black Church. You bring such insightful info that I was never aware of. I, too, was raised Catholic and still celebrate a part of my Catholicism roots. But I agree that Douthat mostly ignored the corruption in the Catholic Church and looked for other places to lay blame. I appreciated your enlightening post, my friend. Thanks for sharing…

  7. 1xbet indo says:

    You bring such insightful info that I was never aware of. I, too, was raised Catholic and still celebrate a part of my Catholicism roots.

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