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The Quiet Hand of God

The Quiet Hand of God: Faith-Based Activism and the Public Role of Mainline Protestantism

Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    The Quiet Hand of God
    Book Description:

    Robert Wuthnow and John H. Evans bring together a stellar collection of essays that paints a contemporary portrait of American Protestantism-a denomination that has remained quietly, but firmly, influential in the public sphere. Mainline Protestants may have steered clear of the controversial, attention-grabbing tactics of the Religious Right, but they remain culturally influential and continue to impact American society through political action and the provision of social services. The contributors to this volume address religion's larger role in society and cover such topics as welfare, ecology, family, civil rights, and homosexuality. Pioneering, timely, and meticulously researched,The Quiet Hand of Godwill be an essential reference to the dynamics of American religion well into the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93636-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    Since 1970, the United States has experienced a large number of social developments that have brought religion face to face with government and with the wider community in often unanticipated and sometimes conflictive ways. These developments include the mobilization of religious forces on the abortion issue followingRoe v.Wadein 1973; Jimmy Carterʹs successful bid for the presidency as an avowed, born-again, evangelical Christian in 1976; the escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran following the rise to power of militant Islamic leader Ayatollah Khomeni in 1978; the emergence of the Moral Majority under the leadership of...


    • 1 The Logic of Mainline Churchliness: Historical Background since the Reformation
      (pp. 27-53)
      Peter J. Thuesen

      In his classic study,The Social Sources of Denominationalism(1929), H. Richard Niebuhr denounced the ʺdenominational self-consciousness and inertiaʺ that had frustrated a united ethical witness in American Christianity. The theological differences among Christian groups, he believed, tended to obscure the social origins of denominationalism in modern prejudices of race, class, politics, and nation. Denominationalism thwarted the churchesʹ public role as heralds of Godʹs kingdom, preoccupying Christians instead with the ʺspurious differences of provincial loyalties.ʺ Niebuhr gave voice to the deep-seated Protestant fear that religious institutions inevitably cool the fires of evangelical zeal, extinguishing the impulse to reform the larger...

    • 2 Mainline Protestant Washington Offices and the Political Lives of Clergy
      (pp. 54-79)
      Laura R. Olson

      Despite the official separation of church and state in the United States, clergy have always played public roles in American politics. Reverend John Witherspoon of New Jersey signed the Declaration of Independence, and Reverend Abraham Baldwin of Georgia was one of the framers of the United States Constitution. Countless other clergy have shaped the course of American politics by leading, joining, and opposing social movements, and by making statements on almost every conceivable political issue and candidate. Clergy have also played a variety of roles in social service delivery, from nineteenth-century mutual aid societies to todayʹs vast array of nonprofit...

    • 3 The Generous Side of Christian Faith: The Successes and Challenges of Mainline Womenʹs Groups
      (pp. 80-107)
      R. Marie Griffith

      Laywomenʹs organizations have long played an important role in American Protestantism and in modern civic life more widely. During the nineteenth century, churchwomen within and across denominational boundaries worked together for slave emancipation, temperance, and female suffrage, to name only three of the most notable issues. Womenʹs mission organizations helped transmit Christianity to peoples across the world and educated Protestants back home about distant cultures, all the while influencing American policy toward native and foreign populations alike. Later in the twentieth century, womenʹs groups would continue to focus attention and resources on both national and global questions, interceding for victims...

    • 4 Religious Variations in Public Presence: Evidence from the National Congregations Study
      (pp. 108-128)
      Mark Chaves, Helen M. Giesel and William Tsitsos

      Religion and religious organizations are enjoying (or, perhaps, enduring) renewed attention from scholars and public officials. This renewed attention probably does not represent increased appreciation of religion qua religion—spirituality, theology, ritual, worship, or other core religious operations or concerns. Rather, it is largely driven by interest in what religion, and religious organizations, might contribute to the world outside the walls of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. How does religion enhance individualsʹ civic skills and participation? How do religious organizations contribute to a vital civil society or enrich public discourse? How do they partake in movements for social change? Many...

    • 5 Connecting Mainline Protestant Churches with Public Life
      (pp. 129-158)
      Nancy T. Ammerman

      The termsmainlineandcivichave long been seen as nearly synonymous. As earlier chapters in this volume have shown, churches in the historic Protestant ʺmainstreamʺ have drawn on both their theological heritage and their position at the center of American culture to make unique contributions to the well-being of our society.¹ That legacy—and possible threats to it—prompt our attention at this moment in history. Are mainline churches still playing significant public roles, and if so, how?

      It is becoming clear from a number of studies that many individual congregations, across the theological spectrum, engage in a wide...

    • 6 The Changing Political Fortunes of Mainline Protestants
      (pp. 159-178)
      Jeff Manza and Clem Brooks

      In the first two decades after World War II, the political worlds of mainline Protestants were remarkably stable. Mainline voters regularly provided a large and stable bloc of votes for Republican candidates in national elections. In particular, they provided key support for the Eisenhower/Nixon/Rockefeller ʺliberalʺ wing of the Republican Party, with its characteristic combination of support for civil rights and fiscal conservatism. This political and ideological alignment could be traced back to the nineteenth century, enduring through the political upheavals of the Progressive and New Deal eras.

      This pattern began to change in the middle 1960s. Increasingly partisan conflicts over...


    • 7 Furthering the Freedom Struggle: Racial Justice Activism in the Mainline Churches since the Civil Rights Era
      (pp. 181-212)
      Bradford Verter

      About ten years ago Old Northbury Congregational, a church with an exclusively white membership located in a wealthy Connecticut suburb, entered into a partnership with Mt. Pisgah, a black Baptist church serving a poor community in Hartford. John Biggs, chair of Old Northburyʹs social action committee, was in on it from the beginning. The partnership was initiated by his pastor, an affable, soft-spoken, concerned man in his early fifties, whom Biggs described as ʺa real Garrison Keillor type of guy.ʺ The pastor was an earnest advocate of social justice. He gave sermons on peace, on the environment, and on race....

    • 8 The Hydra and the Swords: Social Welfare and Mainline Advocacy, 1964–2000
      (pp. 213-236)
      Brian Steensland

      Religious institutions took center stage in the rhetoric of Americaʹs fight against poverty in the 1990s. Over the course of the decade, both political liberals and conservatives increasingly came to view churches and other faith-based organizations as uniquely effective providers of social services for the poor. In their first major policy speeches of the 2000 presidential campaign, Democratic and Republican candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush each praised the virtues of shifting more welfare delivery responsibilities to religious organizations.¹ While a host of factors produced this bipartisan consensus, the ʺcharitable choiceʺ provision of the 1996 welfare reform bill served...

    • 9 Caring for Creation: Environmental Advocacy by Mainline Protestant Organizations
      (pp. 237-264)
      Michael Moody

      Prominently displayed inside the Episcopal Churchʹs famous St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City is a huge quartz crystal. A plaque says the crystal is ʺ200 Million Years Oldʺ and is placed there ʺTo Honor the Beauty of Godʹs Creation and Our Sacred Stewardship of Planet Earth.ʺ

      Such a display celebrating a Christian role in preserving the environment departs from the once-popular opinion about Christianityʹs attitude toward ʺplanet earth.ʺ In a famous 1967 essay inScience, UCLA historian Lynn White Jr. claimed that Judeo-Christian teachings were in fact a primarycauseof the contemporary ʺecologic crisis.ʺ¹ Specifically, White...

    • 10 Vital Conflicts: The Mainline Denominations Debate Homosexuality
      (pp. 265-286)
      Wendy Cadge

      For the past thirty years, the mainline churches have been thinking about, talking about, and quite often arguing about homosexuality. In the past ten years, the debates have increased in intensity and been broadcast on the front pages of religious and secular newspapers across the country. The upswing in mainline churchesʹ activities around homosexuality come at a time when Americansʹ attitudes toward homosexuality are gradually softening.¹ While 67 percent of people in 1976 believed sexual relations between people of the same sex were always wrong, only 56 percent of people in 1996 agreed, and aside from their opinions about morality...

    • 11 For the Sake of the Children? Family-Related Discourse and Practice in the Mainline
      (pp. 287-316)
      W. Bradford Wilcox

      The dramatic demographic shifts that have marked the last three decades have occasioned sustained public interest in the nature, health, and prospects of the family. This chapter, which focuses on the relationship between mainline Protestantism and the family from 1950 up to the present, suggests that this interest is well deserved: changes in the American family have proven enormously consequential for the well-being of children, the commonweal, and, indeed, for the church.

      Recent developments in family scholarship confirm the important influence that demographic changes have had upon children, as well as upon the civic and religious life of the United...

    • 12 From Engagement to Retrenchment: An Examination of First Amendment Activism by Americaʹs Mainline Churches, 1980–2000
      (pp. 317-342)
      Derek H. Davis

      On 16 February 1984, President Ronald Reagan sent a letter to approximately five hundred American religious leaders extolling the progress being made in the U.S. Congress toward the passage of a voluntary school prayer amendment. One can only imagine the presidentʹs astonishment when, just two weeks later, twenty-three prominent American clergymen, including representatives from each of the mainline Protestant denominations, submitted a jointly drafted letter to members of the U.S. Senate in which they voiced respect for the ʺpower and importance of prayerʺ but concurrently announced their ʺvigorous opposition to proposed constitutional amendments . . . which would effectively return...

    • 13 Doing Good and Doing Well: Shareholder Activism, Responsible Investment, and Mainline Protestantism
      (pp. 343-363)
      Lynn D. Robinson

      The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and the mainline churches, as institutional investors and advocates, are slowly changing the way a significant percentage of American dollars are invested. Through shareholder activism at the annual meetings of major corporations, lay members and clergy demand changes in corporate policy on many issues, from the degradation of the environment to the use and sale of genetically modified foods, with sometimes remarkable results. Few Americans recognize the economic role played by mainline Protestantism over the years, unless they have been attentive each year to the business press during the season in which shareholders inform...

    • 14 Love Your Enemies? Protestants and United States Foreign Policy
      (pp. 364-380)
      Lester Kurtz and Kelly Goran Fulton

      The teachings of Jesus—who insisted that his followers love their enemies—raise serious questions today, as they did in the early church, about war, human rights, and economic justice in a nationʹs foreign policy. These questions may be rarely discussed in Congress or the news media, but they are the focus of considerable activity on the part of religious institutions, individuals, and this investigation. Although people from a variety of faith traditions are involved in attempting to influence U.S. foreign policy, we focus here on the impact of the mainline Protestant denominations.

      Mainline Protestantism provides an institutional infrastructure for...

    • 15 Beyond Quiet Influence? Possibilities for the Protestant Mainline
      (pp. 381-404)
      Robert Wuthnow

      Judging from newspaper headlines and television advertising, the American public is preoccupied with shallow materialistic pursuits—eating at gourmet restaurants, shopping and trading stock on the Internet, and splurging on cruise vacations and sports utility vehicles. On the rare occasion when religion becomes newsworthy, its message appears to be preoccupied with such controversial topics as abortion, prayer in public schools, and displaying the Ten Commandments in classrooms and police stations. Insofar as religion touches the public life of our nation, it appears to do so by challenging individuals to think about restraining the impulses of young people and those who...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 405-410)
  9. Index
    (pp. 411-429)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 430-430)