Sunday, November 17, 2019

History With a Purpose

The Second Great Awakening & Moral Reform Movements

Discussion Forum for this chapter:
What is a revival meeting?
What distinguished the Methodists from more traditional Protestant churches?
What did people do for entertainment and excitement on the frontier?

The Second Great Awakening

This refers to the widespread evangelizing of Americans, especially on the frontier, in the period 1800-1840.  Unlike the First Great Awakening, this largely reached the unchurched.  Frontiersmen because of both a desire for isolation and lack of existing churches on the frontier were generally not church attenders.  Many had moved to the frontier to get away from rules and controls. But  many (especially as they aged and faced the inevitability of death) still felt need for a deeper meaning to life.

This is a very emotional appeal, even more than the 1st Great Awakening.  Circuit evangelists would address hundreds to thousands at large outdoor revival meetings.   In the backwoods, these meetings were a source of excitement, even if you were not a believer.  The frontier is pretty boring.  In some villages, people would up at 4:00 AM, because the stagecoach arrives!  Imagine a world without Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter!

These revival meetings were great social occasions; young ladies went because they were interested in the message; young men went because they were interested in the young ladies (and some in the message, also).  All sorts of things are going on in the bushes that the preacher would not have considered appropriate.  Yet the effect of these frontier revival meetings is significant.

Evangelist Peter Cartwright described what happened at one such revival: Two young men had been quarreling over the affections of a young lady; both were threatening to kill the other if he did not withdraw (what she saw in either of these characters escapes me); both showed up at this event, heavily armed.  Had they run into each other, the results would likely have been deadly — as many such incidents were in this period.

“On Sunday, when I was addressing a large congregation, and was trying to enforce the terrors of the violated law of God, there was a visible power more than human rested on the congregation.  Many fell under the preaching of the word....  Both these young men were in the congregation, and the Holy Spirit had convicted each of them; their murderous hearts quailed under the mighty power of God, and with dreadful feelings they made for the altar.... I went deliberately to each of them, and took their deadly weapons from their bosoms.” [Peter Cartwright, Autobiography of Peter Cartwright, the Backwoods Preacher (Cincinnati: Jennings & Graham, 1856), 238.] 

One of them marries the young lady; the other becomes an evangelist; they become good friends.
 Consequences of This Evangelical Thrust
There is not only improvement of individual morality: There is a decline of dueling and violence, as young (and sometimes not so young) men recognize the evil of murder and the insults and improprieties that led to the duels; but an improvement of the society by both social pressure and law.  General social disapproval makes public drunkenness increasingly  held in contempt (similar changes are going on Victorian England).  There are a lot of legal changes reflecting new sensibilities.  Most of the goals were traditional Christian ideas: temperance; ending prostitution and extramarital sex; preaching the Gospel, here and abroad; abolition of slavery; the idea of “separate spheres”: that women and men had separate areas of duties and influence.

Because men increasingly worked outside the home, and at least middle class women worked in the home: a woman's sphere included child rearing and home making.  (This was a big job when you cooked on a wood stove, not in a microwave, and laundry involved a washboard at the nearest creek).  Lower class women were still doing piecework at home.  This separate spheres increased the society's perceived need for sexual morality.  This was not just a women's issue; many men recognized the both spiritual and physical damage done by prostitution; the STDs had no cures and in the long run would maim and kill you.

Other reform efforts brought on the Second Great Awakening: Improving the conditions of poorhouses; Separating the mentally ill from criminals in workhouses and poorhouses; building mental hospitals for the purpose of helping the mentally ill —as opposed to asylums, where they were not a threat to others.  Treatment — not simply isolation or protection of the ill.

Originally, this meant avoiding drunkenness.  The Bible teaches against drunkenness, not against alcohol.  Beer and wine were still among the safer ways to get water in some parts of America.  Why the concern about drunkenness?  For the same reasons that substance abuse is a problem today: domestic violence; rape; crime (violent and theft); poverty (drink heavily long enough and like today, your job options become limited).

So how did "temperance" come to mean complete abstention from alcohol?  I hope the following sentence will not be a surprise. For some people it is not possible to drink in moderation?  Over time, temperance started to mean “no drinking at all” for this reason.  Water fountains like this

Alcohol consumption starts to drop, dramatically, because of social pressure (and not just in America).  Restrictive liquor licensing laws become more common locally and at the state level.  Maine bans manufacture & sale of alcohol in 1851.  Employers start to require temperance pledges of employees as a way of reducing demand, rather like the way many employers started drug testing of employees some years back.
 Sexual Morality
 What drives this?  There are already many laws on the subject from the colonial period prohibiting adultery, fornication (any sex outside marriage), prostitution, and what most state laws delicately call the "abominable crime against nature" or the "unspeakable crime against nature."  Aside from the moral concerns...  Syphilis caused insanity, blindness, and death; Men who ran off left women and children dependent on the rest of the community for support; Big cities especially start developing a “sporting life” culture: brothels; bars with lesbian sex acts.

There is also concern that prostitution might lure some young women into it because of the money.  Many prostitutes in the South were slave women — often slave girls as young as 13.  By the 1830s, New York City has about 10,000 prostitutes, out of 300,000 people.

Some modern ideologues have reimagined prostitution as a feminist liberation movement: they are self-employed and not subject to the narrow-minded morality of others.  It is hard to read accounts of this period and see any liberation in this.  Prostitutes die young, horribly diseased and often victims of violent crimes.
 Christianity & Slavery
 An interesting tension develops; evangelical Christianity becomes increasingly important in the culture of the South because of the Second Great Awakening.  It seems to have reduced the most brutal abuses (branding, castration), and improved material treatment of slaves (food, clothing).  Not surprisingly, slave owners start to cherry-pick the Bible for verses that defend holding slaves. 
When scientists start to justify white racial superiority as a result of evolution, evangelical beliefs become the basis for the slave owning class to reject this claim.

Slaves are overwhelmingly Christians; many had been Christians in Africa (Congo was Catholic dominated by the 17th century), or Muslims.  Both groups converted readily to Protestant Christianity.  This provided consolation and hope in the darkest times of slavery.

And the modern relevance?  These sort of revival meetings are not ancient history.  Greg Laurie's Harvest Crusade is coming to Boise next year.  My hope is that people worshiping the flesh and the various leftist religions (climate change, "anti-racism," socialism) will find the True God and recognize that changed hearts matter more than the worship if institutions.

If you are a Christian in the Treasure Valley and your church is not already involved in this outreach, it should be.  If you are one of the unchurched, there is an alternative to whatever misery currently has you captive.  Been there, done that.

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