God and Race in American Politics

God and Race in American Politics: A Short History

Mark A. Noll
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    God and Race in American Politics
    Book Description:

    Religion has been a powerful political force throughout American history. When race enters the mix the results have been some of our greatest triumphs as a nation--and some of our most shameful failures. In this important book, Mark Noll, one of the most influential historians of American religion writing today, traces the explosive political effects of the religious intermingling with race.

    Noll demonstrates how supporters and opponents of slavery and segregation drew equally on the Bible to justify the morality of their positions. He shows how a common evangelical heritage supported Jim Crow discrimination and contributed powerfully to the black theology of liberation preached by Martin Luther King Jr. In probing such connections, Noll takes readers from the 1830 slave revolt of Nat Turner through Reconstruction and the long Jim Crow era, from the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s to "values" voting in recent presidential elections. He argues that the greatest transformations in American political history, from the Civil War through the civil rights revolution and beyond, constitute an interconnected narrative in which opposing appeals to Biblical truth gave rise to often-contradictory religious and moral complexities. And he shows how this heritage remains alive today in controversies surrounding stem-cell research and abortion as well as civil rights reform.

    God and Race in American Politicsis a panoramic history that reveals the profound role of religion in American political history and in American discourse on race and social justice.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2973-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    This book offers a simply stated thesis about an immensely complicated history. First, race has always been among the most influential elements in American political history, and in many periods absolutely the most influential. Second, religion has always been crucial for the workings of race in American politics. Together, race and religion make up, not only the nation’s deepest and most enduring moral problem, but also its broadest and most enduring political influence.

    Yethowrace and religion have interacted to shape politics has differed dramatically over time and by community. Before the Civil War, religion drove abolitionist assaults upon...

  6. Chapter I The Bible, Slavery, and the “Irrepressible Conflict”
    (pp. 13-46)

    Events from antebellum America have decisively shaped all subsequent American history in large part because of pervasive interconnections among religion, politics, slavery, and race. Those interconnections explain why it is so easy, when reading the fervent sermons of the early civil rights movement from the 1950s and 1960s, to imagine that they are reprising the fervent sermons of the 1850s and 1860s.¹ They explain why the dynamics of regional politics today so faithfully replicate the political geography of the mid-nineteenth century. And they explain why current debates over the size and exercise of national government authority so often arise from...

  7. Chapter II The Origins of African-American Religious Agency
    (pp. 47-59)

    The political conflicts that led to the Civil War turned upon the question of slavery, and the question of slavery was always an intensely religious question. The kind of religion that energized debates over slavery was broadly Calvinistic, especially in its instinctive movement from biblical (or moral) principles to public actions; long after the specifics of Calvinist theology faded, that religious style remained a central feature of national public life. Yet despite a religious fixation on slavery during the antebellum and Civil War periods, religious confusion was the only result for consideration of race—before, during, and after that conflict....

  8. Chapter III The Churches, “Redemption,” and Jim Crow
    (pp. 60-101)

    In broader historical perspective, the Civil War was as important for religion as for national politics. The evangelical Protestantism that had been such a dominant national force before the war certainly survived with considerable strength thereafter. But the era when evangelical priorities also dictated national priorities was over. When the Civil War showed evangelical Protestantism to be a force that could deepen social convictions and regional loyalties but could not harmonize social and regional antagonisms, the role of evangelical Protestantism in national politics, though still significant, moved from active to passive. A wide range of consequences followed.

    To grasp the...

  9. Chapter IV Religion and the Civil Rights Movement
    (pp. 102-135)

    The controversies that brought on the Civil War, along with the consequences of the war as resolved (or unresolved) in Reconstruction, set the course of national politics into the 1960s. Throughout, race in conjunction with religion was of first importance. Before and during the Civil War, religiously motivated people heightened the political antithesis over slavery even as they shied away from confronting issues of race. After the Civil War, religion receded before other influences as the determining force in national political life, even as it retained great strength for individuals and communities in several variations and in many regions of...

  10. Chapter V The Civil Rights Movement as the Fulcrum of Recent Political History
    (pp. 136-175)

    The quarter century from 1955 to 1980 witnessed unusually complex connections for the nexus of race, religion, and politics. If it is reasonably clear how the politics of the civil rights era grew out of the unfinished business of the Civil War and Reconstruction (1865–1955), and also reasonably clear how the politics of the recent past emerged out of the civil rights era (1980–2004), the major puzzles for historical analysis lie in between. Oceans of verbiage, along with substantial islands of firm scholarship, define the landscape of interpretation for the United States’ recent political history. The narrative that...

  11. Theological Conclusion
    (pp. 176-182)

    A sensible historian would now end with a summary, as follows. I have set out what I think is a coherent interpretation of American political history from the 1820s to the present: the Civil War solved the religion and slavery problem, but it did not solve the religion and race problem. Neither did Reconstruction nor the national and regional arrangements that followed Reconstruction. To the extent that the race and religion problem has ever been solved in American life, it began to be addressed only after World War II when an aggressive expression of African-American religion was met by a...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 183-202)
  13. Index
    (pp. 203-209)