U.S. Churches: Homogenous since the revolution? 26 March, 2010Posted by Zack in Uncategorized.
I thought the class and ethnic homogeneity of the American church was a recent development — mid 20th century or something. But according to Gordon Wood in Empire of Liberty, American churches became homogenous when they became democratic in the wake of the revolution.
Before the revolution, the class hierarchies of the community were reproduced inside the church. After the revolution, the ‘middling sort’ of people (the lower/middle class) asserted their equality in a radical cultural revolution that changed everything from the way people dressed (the origin of the dull gray suit) to the way people addressed each other (everyone became a ‘mister’). That happen in all social settings. For example: students went wild on college campuses, burning buildings, mocking their professors, even beating their college presidents when necessary! (Parallels to the Chinese Cultural Revolution.)
But it also happened in church. The lower and middle ‘sorts’ (they didn’t say ‘classes’ yet) pointed to the New Testament’s egalitarianism (Don’t give those good seats to the rich guys!) and demanded equality in spiritual fellowship.
Guess what the rich folk did? They left and formed their own congregations, or became Universalists, or stayed in their old congregations when all the middling sorts left for the new evangelical Methodist, Baptist and other 2nd Great Awakening churches.
The NT paints a picture of congregations that were both egalitarian AND mixed class…doesn’t it? The Catholic Church has always included mixed classes as long as the geography of the parish has. In the reformation, congregations were mixed, but probably not so egalitarian. Is it worth hoping that the American church in the 21st century is a place where people can, to use Shane’s phrase, “fall in love across class lines?”