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Dienstag, 11. Juli 2017

THE OLD RELIGION in a NEW WORLD , part 1-delivered by Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

  in a

  The History of North American Christianity

  Mark A. Noll

  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

  Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.

© 2002 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All rights reserved

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
2140 Oak Industrial Drive N.E., Grand Rapids, Michigan 49505 /
P.O. Box 163, Cambridge CB3 9PU U.K.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Noll, Mark A., 1946–
  The old religion in a new world: the history of North American Christianity /
      Mark A. Noll.
    p. cm.
  Includes bibliographical references and index.
  ISBN 978-0-8028-4948-9 (pbk.: alk. paper)
1. United States—Church history. 2. Canada—Church history. I. Title.

BR515.N744 2002



To Skip Stout



          1.      From Europe to America
          2.      Colonization, 1492–1730
          3.      The Churches Become American, 1730–1830
          4.      The Separation of Church and State
          5.      The High Tide of Protestantism, 1830–1865
          6.      A New Christian Pluralism, 1865–1906
          7.      Divisions, Renewal, Fragmentation, Acculturation, 1906–1960
          8.      The Recent Past, 1960–2000
          9.      Theology
          10.      In the Shadow of the United States—Canada and Mexico
          11.      The Fate of European Traditions—Lutherans and Roman Catholics
          12.      Day-to-Day Christian Spirituality and the Bible


      Appendix A: The Largest Denominations (as of 2000) in the United States and Canada

    Appendix B: Regional Variations in the United States and Canada





This book offers an introduction to the history of Christianity in North America. It attempts especially to explain what was new about the outworking of organized Christian religion on this continent by comparison with the European origins of that religion. To that end, the book has two main objectives. The first is to provide a broad outline of major events, developments, and occurrences in the history of the Christian churches, either transported from Europe or springing up indigenously, that have filled North America with such remarkable vitality and diversity. The second is to highlight some of the most important interpretive issues in the transfer of the hereditary religion of Europe to the “New World” and its development in that new environment. By contrast with longer accounts, the discussions in this book are intentionally succinct, suggestive, and selective. With its notes for further study, a bibliography, a chronology, and factual material on denominations and the strength of Christian adherence in different American regions, this work is intended to open doors to advanced study. But the primary intention throughout is to meet the needs of curious students and lay readers interested in a broad interpretive overview of the subject.
A word is appropriate at the outset as to how this book differs from my longer textbook, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Eerdmans, 1992). A few years ago, a German publisher, the Evangelische Verlagsanstalt of Leipzig, asked me to prepare the volume on North America for its series “Church History in Individual Studies.” That book, which I wrote in English, has now been translated and published as Das Christentum in Nord Amerika. About half of this new book represented an abridgment and updating of material from my earlier Eerdmans book; about half grew from new research, such as the selective use of opinions and observations by Europeans on Christian life in North America. (The translations in this book of such comments from German and French sources are my own.) In the course of working on the German book, it gradually dawned on me that an effort to introduce Europeans to the history of North American Christianity might also be useful for Americans. The Old Religion in a New World is, thus, a further revision and updating of the manuscript originally prepared for publication in Germany. It is a substantially new book with much new material and an entirely new apparatus, along with some pages abridged from the earlier Eerdmans volume.
The burden of The Old Religion in a New World is to highlight aspects of North American Christianity that set it apart from patterns of religious experience and organization more common in historic European Christendom. Thus, for example, the separation of church and state that has prevailed in the United States since the late eighteenth century receives considerable attention. Similarly, the book discusses at several points a phenomenon that contrasts sharply with general European patterns: in the United States there has existed a striking harmony between the churches and forces of progress, democracy, and pragmatism; the New World did not support the characteristic European bond between established churches and conservative social orders. The place of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is another matter treated as a contrast to the European situation, since it was a parvenu, disadvantaged culturally and sometimes legally because of its late arrival. (In the United States and in Canada outside Quebec, the only churches that ever came close to a position of cultural establishment were Protestant.) To highlight the perspective of the whole, the book begins with a chapter on what it meant for Christianity to spread from Europe to the New World. The eleven chapters making up the rest of the book are divided between some offering a sketch of developments in a specific historical period and others attempting a more general interpretation of a major theme or circumstance in American Christian history. The afterword returns for an assessment of the new forms of American Christianity that sprang from Europe’s old religion.
The chronological chapters divide new-world history into the following eras: the period of colonization; the era of nation formation, which was also the era during which distinctly American forms of Christian practice emerged; the middle decades of the nineteenth century, when Protestantism reached the peak of its influence; the period from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the pentecostal movement in 1906, when the United States experienced a surge in the diversity of its Christian communions; the period from 1906 to 1960, when battles between Protestant fundamentalists and modernists, two world wars, the cold war, and the beginnings of the civil rights movement altered considerably the North American churches; and the years since 1960 to the present, which have witnessed a shifting balance of power among the churches, several new movements of spiritual renewal, and increasing antagonism with some secular elements in the broader culture. The five thematic chapters interspersed in this chronological sequence treat the American separation of church and state; the practice of theology and intellectual life within the North American churches; the instructive contrasts provided by Canada and Mexico to developments in the United States; the fate of ethnic and confessional communities in American Christian experience; and the practices of quotidian Christian life by ordinary believers. The book closes with a list and classification of the Christian denominations in North America with at least 100,000 adherents, a schematic overview of Christian strength in the regions of the United States and Canada, a chronology, and a bibliography.
An ideal treatment of “Christianity in North America” would be constantly alert to the ways in which Canadian and Mexican experience parallels or contrasts with experience in the United States. Unfortunately, academic comparisons for religion in the United States and Mexico are quite rare. While a few efforts to consider the Christian history of the United States and Canada as a single unit do exist, even that kind of work is still in its infancy. As a result, this book concerns primarily the United States, with two exceptions: the first three chapters treat the history of Canada and the United States as a unit, with a few brief remarks on Mexico as well, and the tenth chapter features a comparison of the Christian history of the three nations, with special attention to issues of church and state. In an effort to avoid unthinking, but common, linguistic imperialism, in this book “North America” and “North American” are used to refer to both Canada and the United States; “American,” on the other hand, will be used as an adjective referring specifically to the United States.
Books of synthesis like this one depend very heavily on the community of researchers who have worked so diligently and with so much creativity to record and interpret the history of Christianity in North America. I am especially indebted for ongoing instruction, encouragement, and friendship to the scholars who cooperate in the programs of two sub-groups of that community: the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame and the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College. To Rachel Maxson, a diligent young researcher, I am especially grateful for assistance on the treatment of Mexico. The same degree of thanks is owed to another talented assistant, Jeff Gustafson, who helped prepare the book for publication. Finally, it offers me great pleasure to dedicate the book to a long-time mentor and teacher who is also a long-time friend.


From Europe to America

The movement of Christianity from Europe to North America was an immensely complex migration, extending over centuries and filled with tragic disillusionment as well as unanticipated successes. It amounted to one of the most important transformations in the entire history of Christianity. In the year 2000 the worldwide affiliated Christian population amounted to approximately two billion people. Of that number, over 15 percent, or more than 300 million, were found in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Five hundred years earlier, of course, there had been virtually no Christians in North America.
The place of the United States as the world’s only remaining superpower magnifies the importance of the Christian history of North America. The spread of American influence around the world has meant that American versions of the nature, purpose, and content of the Christian faith have also spread widely. At the end of the twentieth century the churches of the United States were sponsoring approximately 70,000 overseas missionaries, with another 8,400 from Canada and 2,400 from Mexico. As just one concrete example of America’s reach overseas, the American evangelistic organization Campus Crusade for Christ in 1979 produced a motion picture on the life of Christ, based on the Gospel of Luke. As of early 2001, copies of that film had been distributed in 638 separate languages, it was being shown actively in more than a hundred countries, and it had been viewed by over four billion people. Therefore, to inquire about what happened to Christianity in its transplantation from Europe to North America is to raise not only an important historical question but also one with considerable bearing on the worldwide fate of Christianity at the start of the twenty-first century.
For a historical approach to the transplantation of Christianity from Europe to North America, it is instructive to begin with specific cases. Some of these cases present simple stories. Others are more complicated, and complicated in different ways. Together, these narratives underscore the complexities confronting any effort to account for Christianity as it traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to a New World.

The Transportation of Christianity as a Simple Narrative

On June 4, 1893, parishioners who attended the 7:00 a.m. mass at St. Wenceslaus Church in Spillville, Iowa, deep in the American Midwest, heard something remarkable. On the organ a visitor was playing the beloved Czech hymn, “Boze pred tvou velebnosti—O God before Thy Majesty,” and the congregation, unaccustomed to music at the daily mass, was being asked to sing along. The organist was Antonín Dvorák, who only the day before had arrived in Spillville for a vacation from his work as musical director of the National Conservatory in New York. He had come to this tiny Midwestern community on the Turkey River in northeast Iowa because of its reputation as a well-maintained enclave of Czech immigrant culture. In New York, as in Europe, Dvorák practiced his Catholicism faithfully, but he was not in the habit of playing the organ for services as he did throughout the summer of 1893 in Spillville. For Antonín Dvorák, the transplantation of Christianity from Europe to North America meant no change in the material content of his faith, but deeper emotional satisfaction in its practice.
A similar sense of continuity between European Christianity and North American Christianity, but with much broader effects, is illustrated by events that occurred in the city of Montreal during the early 1840s. Montreal was then (as it is now) a center of French-Catholic civilization in Quebec. Each night from 13 December 1840 through 21 January 1841, Mgr. Charles de Forbin-Janson held a well-attended preaching mission in the new diocese of Montreal. Forbin-Janson, a native of France who had arrived in North America only in 1839, was co-founder of the Missionaires de France (later known as the Fathers of Mercy). Early in his clerical career, at the request of Pope Pius VII, he had devoted himself to public preaching and heightened concentration on the sacraments as means of winning his countrymen back to the church after the disengagements of the French Revolution. Now he was using these same techniques in the New World. Forbin-Janson’s preaching had been effective in the United States, but not nearly as successful as it was in Lower Canada, where he enjoyed the dedicated assistance of Mgr Ignace Bourget, soon to be Montreal’s second bishop. Shortly after Forbin-Janson’s mission ended, Bourget embarked for France, where he recruited a host of Europeans to aid the work of his diocese: Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Jesuits, Sisters of the Sacred Heart, nuns of the Good Shepherd from Angers, clerics of St. Viator, and Fathers, Brothers, and Sisters of the Holy Cross. Historian Louis Rousseau credits a combination of local conditions, the Forbin-Janson mission of 1839–1840, and Bourget’s dedicated leadership for a revival of ultramontane Catholicism in Quebec. For Forbin-Janson and Bourget, the transplantation of Christianity from Europe to North America meant an opportunity to create in Quebec one of the most conservative, and one of the most durable, organic Christian societies found anywhere in the world.
Another Catholic voice can be enlisted, this time with more complexity, to suggest the same sort of continuity. In 1925, Gerald Shaughnessy published his landmark study of Catholicism in the United States, Has the Immigrant Kept the Faith? In this generally optimistic account Shaughnessy nonetheless reported that, especially among Italians, there was at least some leakage of immigrants to non-Catholic churches, where, as he reported, Protestants occasionally employed “statues, altars, candles and other similar appurtenances … to entrap the unwary and the ignorant” by fooling them into thinking they were attending Catholic churches. Yet despite losses from such underhanded practices, Shaughnessy was able to report that, even among Italian-American immigrants, the rate of Catholic retention was much higher than he and a host of other interpreters had thought possible. For Shaughnessy, the transplantation of Christianity from Europe to North America meant new opportunities for frauds to imitate the one true faith, but also an unprecedented flourishing of the Catholic church, a flourishing that Shaughnessy could only consider “a living, vital, irrefragable, concrete proof of the power and the grace of God.”
Many of the Protestants who came to North America felt just as strongly that the movement of Christianity from Europe was a straightforward affair, but one with exactly opposite connotations. Alexander Campbell was born near Ballymena, Country Antrim, Ireland, in 1788, the son of a Seceding Presbyterian minister. After study in Scotland, he came in 1809 to the United States. Immediately upon his arrival in the New World, Campbell abandoned the Presbyterianism in which he had been trained because he found its theology, its polity, and its sacramental restrictions far too confining in the openness of the new American republic. Throughout the long career that followed, Campbell became one of the leaders of the “restorationist” movement that was defined by efforts to promote a Christianity shorn of Old-World excrescences and pared back to the essentials of a simple New Testament faith. For these restorationist purposes, Campbell could not imagine a better place than the United States of America. In one of many such statements about his new country, Campbell proclaimed in an 1830 address that the declaration of American independence on July 4, 1776, was “a day to be remembered as was the Jewish Passover.… The American Revolution is … the precursor of a revolution infinitely more important to mankind[,] … the emancipation of the human mind from the shambles of superstition, and the introduction of human beings into the full fruition of the reign of heaven.” For Campbell, the transplantation of Christianity from Europe to North America meant an opportunity to strip away the corruptions of Europe, to join Christian faith with liberating aspects of American experience, and so to approach the millennium of Christ’s reign on earth.

The Transmission of Christianity as a Complex Narrative

By no means were all migrations of Christian faith to North America such straightforward affairs. Many were far more complex, with a complexity as instructive as the simplicity of the previous examples.
Isaac Buchanan was a Lowland Scot who came to Upper Canada (now Ontario) in the 1830s to pursue his economic betterment. Through a long and active Canadian business career, he nonetheless remained an earnest practitioner of the evangelical Presbyterianism of his youth. Along with many Scots of his day, age, social location, and religion, he looked upon Canada as an extension of Scotland and so easily transferred religious expectations from the Old World to the new. One of the pieces of ecclesiastical baggage that Buchanan brought with him from Scotland to Upper Canada was the conviction that church-state establishments were not only permissible, but essential for the well-being of religion and society. This conviction he maintained in the New World even after the Canadian Presbyterian church imitated a schism in Scotland between Free and established Presbyterians in 1843 and split itself in two. It was not until Buchanan, on trips back to the old country, heard arguments from members of the Scottish Free Kirk attacking church-state establishment, and not until he also applied to ecclesiastical life the arguments he absorbed in Britain about the virtues of free trade, that Buchanan changed his opinion on ecclesiastical establishments. To quote a fine doctoral thesis on Buchanan: “It was in Britain that he first spoke out against church establishment and argued for the complete financial separation of church and state. Only later did he suggest that the granting of financial assistance to religion was as incorrect in the Canadas as it was in the homeland.” For Buchanan and the issue of church-state relationships, the transplantation of Christianity from Europe to North America meant that instruction would come from the Old World concerning how to act in the new.
Complex connections between the Old and New Worlds can be observed in other ways as well. The swarming of Scandinavian immigrants to the United States after the mid-nineteenth century resulted in a mass of complicated religious choices. The story of Lars Paul Esbjörn (1808–1870) is one of the most complicated. In Sweden, Esbjörn’s ardent advocacy of trans-denominational pietism—complete with active revivalism, temperance societies, Sunday Schools, attacks on slavery, and a willingness to adjust the Augsburg Confession—prevented his rise in the state Lutheran Church. This background of discontent with religion in Sweden led him to migrate to the United States in 1849. In his new land he first came under the influence of a sectarian pietist, Olof Gustav Hedström, and he almost joined Hedström’s Swedish Methodist church. Later he sought support for his labors from yet another denomination, the American Home Missionary Society of the Congregationalists. Soon, however, Esbjörn began to be worried about the excesses of religious freedom in his new land, and so he organized a Lutheran church in Andover, Illinois. Later he came out strongly for the defenders of strict confessional Lutheranism who took their stand on an unaltered Augsburg Confession. Fourteen years after Esbjörn came to America, he returned to Sweden, where he accepted a position in the established Lutheran Church, the very church he once had abandoned as hopelessly corrupt. For Esbjörn the transplantation of Christianity from Europe to North America meant at first unprecedented opportunity to advance an activist pietism, then growing concern about the excesses of American liberty, and finally a return to traditional European institutions.
Still other voices testified to a different kind of complexity in the westward movement of Christianity. In 1865, Philip Schaff, the Swiss-born emigré church historian, returned to Europe from the United States to lecture before Protestant audiences on the meaning of the American Civil War. In the course of these speeches, he could barely contain his enthusiasm for the progress of Christianity in his adopted land, especially for “its careful observance of the Sabbath,” which to Schaff was one of the most powerful proofs “of the God-fearing and Christian character of the American nation.” Schaff wanted his hearers to know that the American who honored Sunday, which stilled even the “otherwise so busy commercial life” of the United States, was “no judaic sabbatarian and slavish legalist.” Rather, this was someone who voluntarily chose to honor the day in the freedom “of the Gospel and of the Spirit.” Sadly, Schaff also felt compelled to tell his European audiences that the peace and sanctity of the American Christian sabbath was now “being threatened, above all in New York City, by the huge mass of immigration pouring in from all countries of the Continent.” By mentioning specifically that New York’s population of about one million included 220,000 Irish and 150,000 Germans, and by singling out the sabbath-despisers’ “smoke-filled taverns and pleasure palaces” as the scenes of greatest sabbath desecration, Schaff left little doubt as to where he thought the most serious threat was arising to a gloriously Christian social practice. For Schaff the transplantation of Christianity from Europe to North America meant an opportunity for the faith to flourish as it was flourishing nowhere else in the world, but also a lesson in how a lack of discipline brought from the Old World could undermine piety in the new.
Shortly after Schaff made these comments, an entirely different view was expressed on the fate of Christianity in the United States. Orestes Brownson, after earlier careers as humanist, reformer, Unitarian, and Transcendentalist, had entered the Catholic church in 1844. During the American Civil War (1861–65), he championed the North as promoting both civilization and true religion. Yet afterwards he came to doubt the compatibility between American civilization and the principles of his adopted church. Brownson’s disillusionment grew so great that in 1870 he could write: “I defend the republican form of government for our country, because it is the legal and only practicable form, but I no longer hope anything from it. Catholicity is theoretically compatible with democracy …, but practically, there is, in my judgment, no compatibility between them. According to Catholicity all power comes from above and descends from high to low; according to democracy all power is infernal, is from below, and ascends from low to high. This is democracy in its practical sense, as politicians & the people do & will understand it. Catholicity & it are as mutually antagonistic as the spirit & the flesh, the Church and the World, Christ & Satan.” For Brownson the transplantation of Christianity from Europe to North America created a challenge to preserve the one true faith in an environment alien to that faith.
Finally, the transplanting of Christianity in North America could bring a welter of unexpected burdens as well as opportunities. In the spring of 1913, Johannes Groen was the minister of the largest Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Christian Reformed Church, a Dutch immigrant denomination, was headquartered in Grand Rapids near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Shortly before the state of Michigan held a referendum on the question of giving women the right to vote, Groen made a speech supporting suffrage for women. In so doing, he enlisted the standard intellectual repertoire of his Dutch Calvinist heritage. That repertoire included Scripture diligently perused, reason carefully applied to worldly affairs, and full deployment of the organic Calvinism of the Netherlands’ Abraham Kuyper, who had paid a triumphant visit to Grand Rapids only fifteen years before. The difficulty for Groen was that the overwhelming majority of his fellow leaders in the Christian Reformed Church were using precisely the same intellectual resources to oppose women’s suffrage. For his pains in taking this stand, Groen’s lecture was subjected to detailed refutation by his denomination’s leading theologian, he was attacked in the local newspaper through a letter signed by all but three of his fellow Christian Reformed ministers in Grand Rapids, and he was forced to defend himself in the local ministerial association. As a last indignity, Groen, while walking along Grand Rapids’s Eastern Avenue, encountered an irate parishioner who pulled a gun and shot him. The minister survived, but he had been given a message. For Groen the transplantation of Christianity from Europe to North America meant freedom to follow a traditional expression of Christianity wherever its adherents thought it took them, but also that the same freedom could be used strenuously, even violently, to challenge such a decision.
To query Antonín Dvorák, Charles de Forbin-Janson and Ignace Bourget, Gerald Shaughnessy, Alexander Campbell, Isaac Buchanan, Lars Paul Esbjörn, Philip Schaff, Orestes Brownson, and Johannes Groen about the transplantation of Christianity from Europe to North America is to receive a great variety of responses. Even more, it is to realize that the question is thronged on every side by conceptual conundrums. There is a problem of discriminating between the influences of immigration per se and immigration to North America. There is a problem of comparing how the transportation of Christianity from Europe to America contrasts with the transportation of Christianity from rural to urban areas, for this other movement of peoples was intertwined with the westward, international movement at every stage. There is a problem in noting the religious factor in the decision of some like Lars Paul Esbjörn to return to Europe. Among many other conceptual difficulties, there is also a problem in discerning how much the new arrivals from Europe were themselves responsible for the shape of the supposedly “North American” Christianity that was developing on this continent.


Historians have made considerable headway in providing answers to such questions, particularly as they summarize the many different ways in which the old faith was adjusted to its new environment. Of such summaries, the most notable remains the account by Sydney E. Ahlstrom in his magisterial Religious History of the American People (1972). Ahlstrom detailed what he called five “types of accommodation to the American religious situation.” In ascending order of ecclesiastical precisionism, Ahlstrom described, first, nominal members of European state churches who, though perhaps joining lodges and other fraternal orders in the New World, used immigration as an occasion to abandon formal religion. Second were sectarians, illustrated by the various migrations of Mennonites, who found in the New World opportunities denied in the old to pursue long-held visions of ecclesiastical purity. Third were what Ahlstrom called “incipient sectarians” who pursued pietistic, perfectionistic, or reformist goals within the European state church, but when they came to America joined denominations of evangelical Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, or Congregationalists. Fourth were members of European state churches who, upon arrival in America, founded parallel denominations to those with which they had been pleased at home, like the American Episcopal Church or the German and Dutch Reformed Churches. Fifth were those who created new ecclesiastical bodies in the New World (like the Christian Reformed Church and several Lutheran denominations), but who did so in order simply to replicate churches they had left in the old. Because he was concentrating on Protestants, Ahlstrom did not add a necessary sixth category, which could be called North American “branch churches.” Of these, the Roman Catholic Church and the various churches of the Eastern Orthodox diaspora were the preeminent examples.
Other historians have, of course, seen the picture in other terms. What is common in their depictions, however, is the conclusion that some things changed while others remained the same when the Christian faith took root in the New World. Continuities and discontinuities differed substantially depending on when migrations took place, where they ended up, and what material conditions shaped them. Varied as the different movements of the old religion to North America were, they shared in common the need to adjust to a substantially new environment for religious practice.

An American Religious Environment

The question of how the North American environment shaped the Christianity that came to the New World may be restated in the following way: With the worldwide history of Christianity as a standard, what is different about North American Christianity because of North America? Because the religious history of Mexico is so distinct from that of both the United States and Canada, efforts to answer this question will focus on the United States, with Canada as the main complement. At least four aspects of the American religious environment have been especially important: space, race and ethnicity, pluralism, and the absence of confessional conservatism.


Sheer spaciousness should be the first thing that religious historians note about North America, although in an age where the internet and the airplane have conquered space the significance of geography is often neglected. Yet the most obvious reason why the history of Christianity in Canada and the United States differs from the history of Christianity in Europe is that North America is so much bigger than Europe. The huge expanse of North America gave churches the kind of breathing room that simply had not existed before. This breathing room allowed Christian groups that had felt confined in Europe a chance to develop their own religious visions out of their own internal resources. It allowed European religious antagonists to drift apart. It also gave creative souls every possible opportunity to propose new versions of Christianity. Anglicans who hoped to establish their church in North America found, for example, that parishes in Virginia were sometimes larger than dioceses in England.
By the end of the eighteenth century, every Protestant denomination that had been transplanted in any significant way to North America found itself spread over more territory than its parent denomination covered in Europe. The scale of North America is further suggested by the fact that the distance between London and Moscow—with all the thickly packed church history encountered between these two cities—is less than the distance between Montreal and Denver, or Montreal and Houston—distances that traverse a much thinner ecclesiastical history. In yet another way of highlighting differences of geographical scale, the physical space bounded by Rome, Geneva, and Wittenberg—the centers for Catholicism, Reformed Protestantism, and Lutheranism—would fit easily into Arizona or five other American states, and it would be swallowed up in the land area of seven individual Canadian provinces.
The importance of these distances for church history is reinforced by expert recent commentary on European religious strife. The Irish historian David Hempton, for example, has shown how Protestant-Catholic antagonism in Northern Ireland grew directly in proportion to the propinquity of the two religious communities, a propinquity which contributed, in Hempton’s phrase, “to an increase in religious competition and sectarian stereotyping.” To be sure, the sort of sectarian religious antagonism Hempton charts for Belfast has not been a stranger to North America. Just as the activities of the Orange Order, the strongly loyalist Protestant fraternal organization, have often occasioned rioting in Northern Ireland, so the Orange Orders founded by immigrants from Northern Ireland in North America have also precipitated public disorder. In the New World, however, Orange-connected Protestant-Catholic violence was scattered in places like Conception Bay, Newfoundland; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and New York City. Its ferocity was eventually defused, however, at least in part because of the great spaces separating those who cared about such things.18 To put this particular problem in concrete terms, it is helpful to remember that the heavily Protestant County Down in Northern Ireland is less than fifty miles from the heavily Catholic County Londonderry. Using the 1990 church census of the Glenmary Research Center in Atlanta to define a contrast, Rhode Island was the state with the highest percentage of Catholics in the United States, and Mississippi was the state with the highest proportion of Southern Baptists (the largest Protestant denomination in America and one historically suspicious of Catholics). Rhode Island and Mississippi are roughly twelve hundred miles apart.

Race and Ethnicity

A children’s song popular in many American churches after World War II emphasizes the ideal of God’s love reaching out to every race:

    Jesus loves the little children,
    all the children of the world;
    red and yellow, black and white,
    they are precious in his sight;
    Jesus loves the little children of the world.

This song has been popular because it expresses a profound truth of the Bible, but in America it takes on a special meaning for historical reasons.
Of special importance for American Christian history is the fact that from the beginning, settlement by Africans took place alongside settlement by Europeans. Even if the latter were the enslaved victims of kidnapping, the intermingled black-and-white character of society is a permanent part of the American experience. At almost the same time, North America witnessed a mingling of the various British nations—English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh. In the region that became Canada, French and English settlement coexisted from the early eighteenth century. During the great era of European migration to North America that began in the 1830s, Northern Europeans of all kinds streamed across the Atlantic, soon to be followed by great numbers of Eastern and Southern Europeans as well. Before the start of the twentieth century immigrants from Asia were added to the North American mix, and by the middle decades of the twentieth century a great influx from the Hispanic world (Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Central and South America) was added as well. The religious effect of these migrations was to populate North America with a far greater range of ethnicities, and of ethnic churches, than has ever existed in any one nation of Europe, Asia, or Latin America.
Historians of American Roman Catholicism commonly stress the way in which ethnic trajectories intersect the story of their church. By so doing, they show how the histories of English Catholics, French Catholics, Irish Catholics, German Catholics, Italian Catholics, Polish Catholics, Hispanic Catholics, and African American Catholics—to mention only the largest groups—have been distinct from each other, but also influenced by common American circumstances.
Although it is not usually emphasized as much, ethnicity has meant almost as much for Protestant history as for Catholic history. Many of the nation’s earliest Protestant churches were as distinctly English as they were Anglican, and the churches founded by non-English Britons could be just as distinctly ethnic. Scottish and Scots-Irish immigrants exercised a kind of ownership over Presbyterian churches for much of their history, and in some areas of the country Welsh communities were as fiercely loyal to their Baptist, Presbyterian, or Methodist churches as to the memory of Wales. Later, Lutheranism in America meant almost exclusively German or Scandinavian Lutheran. Today, Korean Presbyterians, Hispanic Pentecostals, or members of Vietnamese Christian and Missionary Alliance churches often practice a form of Protestant faith singularly influenced by ethnic background. It has always been so.
The most important ethnic contribution to the history of Christianity in North America, however, has been African American. It is a fact that race as well as ethnicity has figured more centrally in American church history than in Europe. The effect on the churches began with the importation of African slaves in the seventeenth century and continues to this day. Russell R. Menard, a historian of the American colonies, has written that the United States created a different kind of pluralistic society at least in part because “race rather than Old World origins proved the primary determinant of ethnic identity.”
Most slaveowners were really not eager to have their slaves hear the Christian message, and many of the slaveowners who did allow Christianity to reach the slaves did so only because they thought it would make slaves better at their tasks. Yet many slaves nonetheless succeeded in learning something about Christianity and went on to form churches for themselves—a crucial contribution to American religious history. African American denominations emerged from humble Northern beginnings around 1800 and received a major boost from emancipated slaves after the Civil War. Notable Christian leaders among African Africans, such as Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, theologian-bishops Daniel Payne and Henry McNeal Turner of the nineteenth-century African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Baptist Martin Luther King, Jr. have contributed significantly to the general history of American Christianity. But the most notable development for the African Americans was the ability of countless slaves, freed slaves, and those threatened by slavery to find dignity, purpose, and resolve in a religion passed on so grudgingly by the slaveowners.
The persistence of legal, cultural, social, and religious divisions between ethnic groups is as much a part of European history as North American history. But the fact that black-white division has been pervasive, deep, and enduring in North America sets American church history apart. Recent surveys show that substantial systematic differences continue to exist between the beliefs and practices of African American Christians and Caucasian Christians. Political differences are most notable, since for several decades African-American Protestants have voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party while white Protestants have voted substantially for the Republican Party. In the American presidential election of 2000 the pattern continued, with great support among white churchgoers for Republican George W. Bush and even greater support for Democrat Al Gore from African Americans. The table on page 18 highlights some of the ongoing effects of black-white racial division. It shows great religious similarities between evangelical white Protestants and African Americans, but also considerable social and political differences. The American situation bears some resemblance to the white-black religious situation in South Africa.26 But American forms of racial division within the same forms of Christianity have no direct counterpart in Europe.

Noll, M. A. (2002). The Old Religion in a New World: The History of North American Christianity (S. iii–17). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
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