Jan 27, 2016

The spiritual challenge of a political campaign, 1948 edition

Harry S Truman's campaign advisors were thinking in religious terms in 1948. Winning was a spiritual challenge. 

Much like the Republican Party today, the Democrats of Truman's time faced serious internal divisions. There was a strong anti-establishment movement. 

The political scene, Truman's advisors said in an undated campaign memo, was "one unholy, confused cacophony." 

Henry Wallace, the New Deal champion whom Truman replaced as Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice president, had attacked Truman from the offices of the New Republic and now was running a progressive third-party challenge. Southern Democrats, meanwhile, were splitting off into a different third-party challenge, these traditionally reliable votes rebelling with the segregationist Dixiecrat Party. The Democratic Party seemed to be cracking up.

On top of that there was the Republican opponent, New York Governor Thomas Dewey, who appeared unstoppable to many.

Truman's advisors looked at all this. They decided Truman nevertheless had some advantages. People believed he was personally a moral man and they had some faith in the authority of the White House.

"The Presidency," the memo said, "possesses the only platform authoritative and creative enough to be of political and spiritual significance in the chaos of 1948."

The President just had to find his prophetic voice.

Jan 22, 2016

Puritans, capitalists and acts of God

Life wasn’t going too well for John Hull. The 17th century Boston merchant had a cargo of furs going to Europe and the entire load was lost at sea. Then news came he had lost a second shipment too. Dutch pirates had seized the ship and taken Hull’s furs.

It was a big loss, but Hull was a pious man—a Boston Puritan. He comforted himself with the thought his personal economic disaster was part of a larger plan. These were “acts of God.”

Read the full essay at the Washington Post: This is why your insurance company calls blizzards an 'act of God'

Jan 19, 2016

In the early days of the religious right

Pat Robertson tried to obscure his religious beliefs and background to run for president in 1988, according to this contemporaneous news account:

Jan 15, 2016

The political road of repentance


"The Road Back," a cartoon by Charles Ramsay, a cartoonist for the Pentecostal Evangel for 43 years, was published in 1936.

Jan 11, 2016

Bigger the church, smaller the tithe

Per-person giving declines as a congregation grows.

The numbers say that the more people who go to a church, the less each of those people give. It's not obvious why this should be true, but that's the data from the latest National Congregations Study, which has tracked religious groups across America from 1998 to 2012.

In evangelical churches, for example, a congregation of 100 adults collects an average of $175,000 per year, or $1,750 per person. A 400-member congregation, in comparison, gets an average of $1,480 per person. The survey found that across the board, 100-member groups get 18 percent more per person than 400-member groups.

When an evangelical congregation reaches 1,000 people, giving goes down to $1,140. That means individuals in these big churches are giving, on average, one-third less than individuals at smaller churches.

Using the numbers from the congregational study, an average evangelical church with 1,000 people collects about $1.14 million in tithes and gifts. If people at big churches gave at the same rate as people at the smaller churches, though, the 1,000-person churches would collect $640,000 more than they do.

The authors of the report do not have an explanation for this. They write:
"We do not know if there is something about larger congregations that causes people to give less than they would give if they were in a smaller congregation, or if people inclined to give less are drawn to larger congregations. Perhaps members of smaller congregations perceive (rightly or wrongly) that their congregations have more financial need than people in larger congregations perceive. Or perhaps larger congregations require less financial commitment from their members because they are more efficient. Perhaps members of larger congregations are somehow less personally invested in their congregations, or perhaps they are just as invested, but a particular level of commitment translates into more financial support for a smaller congregation than it does for a larger congregation. Whatever the dynamics behind this relationship, it is clear that people in smaller congregations give more to their churches than do people in larger congregations. Not incidentally, other research shows that people in smaller congregations also participate more in the life of their congregation than do people in larger congregations."
Larger religious groups, it would seem, have weaker individual commitments. This is an interesting bit of data to connect to the broader story of the trends of weakening religious connections.

The National Congregations Study, directed by Duke University sociologist Mark Chaves, can be viewed here.

Jan 8, 2016

Jesus Died for Both

A 1927 ad for interracial Lutheran schools:


From a collection documenting African-American Lutherans in the Schomburg General Research and Reference Division of the The New York Public Library.