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Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt Paperback – April 27, 1998
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It seems almost a given in the South these days that Christian conservatism is the rule rather than the exception. This part of the United States is, after all, the "buckle" of the Bible Belt. In her surprising history, Southern Cross, Professor Christine Leigh Heyrman shows that Evangelical Christianity was not always as popular in the South as it is today. In fact, the whole face of Evangelicalism has changed radically since its introduction in the 18th century. For example, early teaching and practice resoundingly opposed slavery, class privilege, and the traditional roles of men and women. Evangelicals encouraged women's involvement in church affairs and--even worse--spiritual intimacy with other races. These unpopular political and social stands combined with their unbending view of hellfire and damnation placed Evangelicals on the margins of Southern religious practice until they themselves were "converted" to a different set of traditional values.
Heyrman's book traces the evolution of Southern Evangelism from fringe movement to possessor of the Southern soul. In the span of a century, Evangelicalism began adopting Southern values, and a sect that had earlier preached against slavery and violence began defending both slaveholding and succession from the Union and the use of force in these ends, if necessary. The story of Christianity in the South is a fascinating one, and Southern Cross tells it well. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Heyrman (history, Univ. of Delaware) traces the development of evangelical Christianity in early Southern history, from Colonial days to the early 19th century. The author shows how the primarily Methodist and Baptist evangelicals were able to overcome strong resistance to become a predominant force in Southern culture. Young and inspired preachers, fear of the devil, signs and wonders, and an appeal to the most disadvantaged members of society brought initial success. Later, a movement toward patriarchal church and family structures and racial separatism helped the radical movement establish a permanent niche for itself. Both strands of this heritage continue to have influence. The author points out the importance of understanding this powerful heritage when analyzing modern trends in conservative Protestantism. A fascinating work; recommended for public and academic libraries.?C. Robert Nixon, Lafayette, Ind.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Heyrman believes that a number of factors accounted for the slow growth of evangelicalism in the 18th century South, among them an unwillingness among the lower classes to upset the gentry by adopting preachers who publicly spoke out against slavery, fear of upsetting the social hierarchy, and a cultural unwillingness to accept such a deeply personal and introspective conversion process. Many potential converts were unwilling to submit to such a demanding moralism, or feared being overcome by the despondency that struck some converts. The evangelicals�use of young and tactless itinerant preachers in a culture that placed value upon maturity and deference also contributed to their unpopularity. Itinerancy itself was also an issue, since Methodist preachers were responsible for disciplining members who they did not personally know well. Additionally, the deference accorded to women and blacks within the church was offensive to white males, the churches were seen as destabilizing to family values because members were encouraged to put the church before their families, and the preachers themselves struck many as unmanly in a society that placed premiums on masculinity.
To combat these problems, the churches began in the 19th century to tone down their attacks on slavery and immoral gentry behavior. They also reduced the roles of women and blacks within the churches, and encouraged preachers to have families and exhibit more masculine characteristics. However, while the changes Heyrman cites may have made evangelicals appear less objectionable to potential converts, she never considers ways in which the churches became more inviting. She does not question why anyone would be attracted to evangelicalism, only why they might oppose it less. Because of this, the phenomenal growth that the sects did eventually come to enjoy is never explained; rather than showing the reasons why evangelical religion did become such an important part of southern life, her study only explains how it avoided oblivion.
Heyrman argues that Evangelical Christianity was not a powerful force within the South from its beginning and spends most of her monograph examining the ways in which evangelicals challenged and strained Southern society. The same young ministers and young gifts who spread the message of evangelicals threatened the established order of Southern life due to their itinerant ministering and forsaking of marriage. Even within the Methodist Church, Heyrman writes, “As salaries, full-time professional preachers, itinerants ranked as the princelings of the church; they alone admitted and expelled members, and they alone were eligible to attend, deliberate, and vote at the General Conference, which the bishops convened every fours years to decide church policy.” Beyond the threat of youth superseding their elders, evangelicals challenged notions of gender and the family. According to Heyrman, while evangelicalism could unite families, “evangelical loyalties were at least as likely to divide as to unite white families living in the early South.” She demonstrates this through the examples of Stith Mead and others who rejected relatives or were rejected by relatives that did not share their conversion. Finally, Heyrman describes the unique opportunities for women to exercise spiritual power, writing, “When the clergy identified bona fide seers, they were more likely to be women than men. While preachers believed that both sexes might have portents of the future revealed in their dreams, they tended to be skeptical of laymen claiming special knowledge from any other source.” In this way, “the clergy endorsed the view that acceptable forms of female spiritual expression went beyond fulfilling their private roles as dutiful wives, mothers, and sisters.” This challenged the South’s gendered hierarchy.
Heyrman writes in the context of Rhys Isaac, Nathan Hatch, Rachel Klein, Stephanie McCurry, and Paul Johnson. Heyrman uses the journals of ministers, converts, and others around them as her primary sources. Several of these were published while their subjects still lived though others, containing the innermost spiritual struggles of their authors, remained private during the authors’ lifetimes. Heyrman classifies these sources into two categories. She writes, “The first was the lore of wonders, accounts abounding in marvels and miracles, prodigies and portents, which were published on both sides of the Atlantic during the early modern era.” In this way, evangelicalism fit into a larger continuity of religious thought. Heyrman writes, “The second source influencing the southern clergy were narratives of earlier religious awakenings in Britain and its American colonies published in the middle of the eighteenth century.” These link evangelicalism to the First Great Awakening.