As I was researching the writings of Martyn Percy I unearthed our very own Dr. Jason Clark’s PhD thesis, Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A reparative account and diagnosis
of pathogeneses in the relationship and was excited to learn that Dr. Clark relied heavily on Martyn Percy’s writings and methods for his thesis. In fact, Percy was referenced extensively in Dr. Clark’s document (somewhere between 70 – 100 times throughout his writings). I am convinced that Dr. Clark’s brilliant thesis work (which actually brings together most of the topics we’ve studied – social sciences (social theory), capitalism, and evangelicalism) will be published as a text and future LGP students will get the opportunity to read it!
Dr. Clark also referenced Percy’s writings about map-making. While in Hong Kong, Dr. Clark delivered an impactful presentation about map-making throughout our life and the journey of the Leadership and Global Perspectives program. Now I understand that Dr. Clark’s inspiration for his teaching was connected to Percy (I’m sure Percy was cited at the time but I didn’t remember).
The symbiotic alchemy of map-making that occurs in religious groups is produced from the delicate fusion of the social imaginary with a prevailing theological construction of reality. The worldview that emerges will, invariably, not only determine how a church or congregation sees itself within the world, but how they see the world around them. This exercise – or rather ongoing process – rarely produces an actual map. But it does produce a kind of inner map in the mind of the believers: places to avoid; places of plenty, and so forth. In some cases, it will produce actual maps.
Percy’s discussion and application of map making – and his belief that at its core maps integrate the theological construction of reality and the social imaginary which together shape current sight and future expectations – inspires me to tap into my research and deconstruct the typical “map” or “paradigm” many Caucasian Americans have towards the history of our “Christian” nation – especially its response to immigrants and refugees through the years. Just like the grizzly bear (which by the way I came within feet of in Yellowstone yesterday) – which is misunderstood as an aggressive man-eater rather than a gentle and tolerant animal who is affectionate and protective with their young – America’s history is often misunderstood.
It is generally believed that the vast majority of early-generation, religion freedom seeking Americans were Christian, however the vicious conflicts between various Protestant sects and, more explosively, between Protestants and Catholics, present an unavoidable inconsistency to the widely held notion that America is a ‘Christian nation.’ It’s important to distinguish that the Pilgrim experience (coming to America aboard the Mayflower in search of religious freedom in 1620, followed by the Puritans) wasn’t truly about freedom of religion – the Puritan founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony did not tolerate any religious views other than their own. The leaders disallowed any opposing views politically or religiously. The intent of the colony was actually to become an inclusive community – admonishing anyone who was different or an outsider. In public law (town, city, and state government) only Christian or Catholic individuals were permitted to run for office (and of course inclusive to Caucasian men). Discriminatory practices existed by Christians towards anyone non-Christian. So, although the original colonies were built from communities of refugees – seeking freedom of religion, freedom from persecution, and freedom of economic opportunity – Christians persecuted and oppressed non-Christians from the colonies inception.
Fast forward to 1776 when the United States became a nation…a period of time that United States citizens speak proudly of in that the Declaration of Independence established independence from Great Britain and established goals and ideals of the new nation. Many Christians believe the formal establishment of the nation validates their perception that the country was founded on Christian principles and morals and operates thereof. A prime example of leadership with conflicting New Testament practice in this new “Christian nation” is the third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. Although many Christians believe Jefferson was a devout Christian, he actually most connected spiritually with Deism, rational religion, and Unitarianism.
As an intelligent, pragmatic man of reason, Thomas Jefferson struggled with his own feelings regarding Christianity and his responsibility to live under Biblical principles. In trying to resolve the teachings of Jesus with the ideals of the Enlightenment (a European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition), his solution was to read and edit the Bible in the four languages familiar to him – English, French, Greek, and Latin. Thomas Jefferson carefully read through several copies of the New Testament. He would cut out the sections that he agreed with and found important, and then glue them together in his own notebook.” Jefferson created his own version of useful scripture from the New Testament and named it “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” With his new narrative, Jefferson offered a New Testament he found preferable to the original. Jefferson viewed Jesus as a teacher and moral example and saw himself as a follower of Jesus’ morality. “He didn’t have any use for miracles or the supernatural, which he took to be additions added to the story later on.” In Jefferson’s New Testament he didn’t even include the story of the resurrection. It simply ended with Jesus’ death.
Even as Thomas Jefferson was creating the Declaration of Independence with the idea of equality and morality (as defined by following Jesus’ teaching), he lived a hypocritical life. One significant contradiction and struggle in Jefferson’s life was the issue of slavery. He was a slave owner, and claimed to be an advocate for individual freedoms (even once promoted a plan for gradual emancipation of slaves in America). While he composed the Declaration of Independence stating that all men are created equal, he believed African Americans were “biologically inferior to whites” and could not co-exist peacefully in freedom. Jefferson inherited approximately 175 slaves from his family and owned an estimated 600 slaves throughout his adulthood. He freed a small number of his slaves in his will; the majority were sold following his death. As the developer of the Declaration of Independence (and Christian founder of our nation) which proclaims equality for all, Jefferson was actively oppressing and discriminating against vulnerable populations. He directly contradicted the very morals and principles this country claimed to have been built on. It would be interesting to learn if the New Testament verses of Matthew 25 and I Corinthians 12 were part of Jefferson’s new Bible.
I don’t have unlimited word count to continue on this journey of deconstruction…but do you have a new “map” of American history? If so, do not be discouraged that it’s all negative – there are some encouraging lessons from America’s long experience with refugees (just not enough space to share here). The acceptance and resettlement of refugees reiterate what most believe to be fundamental American values and, indeed, the fundamental value of America. “There has been opposition to refugees, to their unexpected arrival in unpredictable numbers, their uncertain and chaotic origins, and their diversity since they often come from places and situations that are truly foreign to Americans. But there has also been great support, people who support refugees in both word and deed and who take their resettlement as a re-invocation of the best of what America can be.” After all, the stranger is Jesus in disguise. (Matthew 25: 31-40)