Civil War

New York Times scribe has big problem with 'New South' -- it's full of backward church people

New York Times scribe has big problem with 'New South' -- it's full of backward church people

To be honest, I had shoved the Ginia Bellafante feature at The New York Times — “Abortion and the Future of the New South” — so far back into the “think piece” folder of guilt that I almost forgot that this “Big City” masterpiece still existed.

In this case, the term “masterpiece” is defined as a piece of first-person journalism that has to be in the running as one of the greatest summary statements of Gray Lady-speak ever put on paper.

I mean, Rod “Benedict Option” Dreher — a former Brooklyn resident — had already produced this truly fab summary statement of what’s going on here. Before we get to the latest response to the Bellafante opus — at Scalawag, hold that thought — let’s let Dreher kick off this thinker-fest:

I’m so sorry. Really, just very sorry. Here entitled Yankees like the NYT’s Ginia Bellafante thought the American South existed to give Millennial Brooklynites a place to reproduce Park Slope, but more affordably, and now we’ve gone and ruined it for them with our deplorable social and religious views.

Ah, right. All that icky religious stuff. That really messes things up for “Tess” and other relocated New Yorkers. Here is the essential Times-talk overture:

Tess wanted her own kingdom, and New York — forbidding, impossible — wasn’t going to let her build it. The start-up costs for the baking and catering business she envisioned were going to be too high; the rent on her apartment in Bed-Stuy was increasing. When she moved in it was $1,800 a month; just a few years later, it was approaching $3,400.

This young woman was a citizen of the New South now. Her business, Tess Kitchen, was thriving. Her New Orleans apartment, at $1,900 a month, had three bathrooms.

I called Tess on the day that the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee backed legislation to prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat was detected. This came 24 hours after Alabama passed the most restrictive abortion law in the country, one that does not allow exceptions for rape or incest. That followed the passage of another restrictive abortion law in Georgia.

Living in a very liberal city in a very conservative state is a trick mirror. “You really forget that you are in the Deep South here,’’ she said.

Need more? It’s all about the word “backward,” you see. You see the people who are, to New York-raised reformers, still yearning for the “Old South” are still fighting the Civil War.

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New York Times digs into fried fish, all the fixings and, oh, then there's some kind of church thing

New York Times digs into fried fish, all the fixings and, oh, then there's some kind of church thing

Growing up Baptist in East Texas, I learned a whole lot about fried catfish. Mostly, I learned that this was an important, even symbolic, food in rural communities and in black churches.

Later, when I married into a Baptist family in Georgia, that meant spending time in a region in which I learned, once again, that catfish was a part of life — in some parts of the community. The same thing’s true here in East Tennessee (along with barbecue, of course).

Even in Baltimore, we lived near a catfish joint that was jammed on the weekends — with African-Americans picking up stacks of take-out boxes for home and for church get-togethers.

So my eyes lit up when I saw this evocative double-decker headline in The New York Times, of all places:

Celebrating the Fish Fry, a Late-Summer Black Tradition

Catfish, hot sauce, a few sides: For many African-American families, these are makings of a time-honored gathering that feeds a sense of community.

Oh yeah, fried catfish, but also tilapia, snapper and “whitefish” — with lots of hot sauce. Then you had hushpuppies, of of course, with potato salad, coleslaw, black-eyed peas, greens and, maybe, french fries. And underneath the fish, to soak up some of the hot oil, there’s usually a slice or two of white sandwich bread.

Now, lots of good info about the food and black-family traditions made it into the Times piece, with the help of “food historian” Adrian Miller. And there’s a hint at deeper ties that bind in this key passage about this legacy of frying fish on weekends:

… The tradition took on a different meaning in the South during the era of slavery. “The work schedule on the plantation would slow down by noon on Saturday, so enslaved people had the rest of that day to do what they wanted,” Mr. Miller said.

Those who finished work early could go fishing and bring back their catch to be fried that night; plantation owners didn’t mind, Mr. Miller said, because it was one less meal they had to provide. “So the fish fry started as a Saturday-night thing on plantations, and it was like an impromptu get-together,” he said.

In the decades after Emancipation, the tradition became a business for many African-Americans, who brought fish fries with them as they migrated from the South to other parts of the country. … The fish fry was also used as a popular tool to raise money for churches.

Food for raising money? That’s all there is to it?

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Another look at the soul of Gen. Robert E. Lee, as well as the times in which he lived

Another look at the soul of Gen. Robert E. Lee, as well as the times in which he lived

Debates about Confederate monuments remain in the news and there is little sign that this story is going away anytime soon.

In fact, it could broaden. For example, there are now questions here in New York City (where I am teaching right now) about the majestic tomb of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, because of anti-Semitism. As president, Grant repented of his actions. Meanwhile, defenders of Gen. Robert E. Lee insist that he repented of his sins against the Union and took strong stands for reconciliation.

This brings we to the think piece for this weekend, which probes deeper into discussions among Episcopalians about Lee and his faith. Earlier this week I praised a Washington Post report that paid careful attention to voices on both sides of that debate in Lexington, Va., where a parish is named in Lee's honor, on the edge of the campus of Washington and Lee University.

That headline: "This is the church where Robert E. Lee declared himself a sinner. Should it keep his name?" A key paragraph:

Church debates about the name have focused on the fact that Lee chose after the war ended not to continue -- as some Southerners wanted -- an insurgency, and instead to move on, “to try and rebuild and reconcile and repair damage he had no small part in creating,” said David Cox, a historian of Lee, a former rector and current member of the parish.

An independent journal for Episcopalians, The Living Church, took the discussion of some of these issues further with an interview with Father Cox. The byline on "Drowned Out by Outrage" will be familiar to longtime GetReligion readers, since Doug LeBlanc was the co-founder of this weblog nearly 14 years ago.

So who is Cox? He is the author of "The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee," which was published in April by Eerdmans. Here is a passage that sets the tone:

When members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville in a torchlit parade and chanted “Jews will not replace us,” Cox said, “that had nothing to do with Lee.”

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Washington Post pays attention, as Episcopalians ponder the life and faith of Robert E. Lee

Washington Post pays attention, as Episcopalians ponder the life and faith of Robert E. Lee

Yes, we saw the story about ESPN and sports announcer Robert Lee, who was switched off the upcoming broadcast of a University of Virginia football game because his name is Robert Lee.

I would assume that "Robert Lee" is not all that unusual a name for an Asian man. But, hey, we are talking about Virginia and that's almost the same name as He Who Must Not Be Named.

So I thought this story was from The Onion and said so on Twitter. I was not joking. It has now been confirmed -- by The New York Times and the rest of the journalistic universe. For the life of me, I cannot think of a religion angle to that story. But it's so RIGHT NOW.

In case you haven't noticed, things are a bit tense right now when it comes to statues, Civil War history, white supremacy and other topics that some people believe are linked and others do not. There are religion angles in there and many are painful.

(Quick statement: I'm in favor of saving Confederate statues in cemeteries, battlegrounds, museums, academic facilities [linked to the study of Civil War history] and similar sites. I favor taking statues down in civic squares, once government officials have legally chosen to do so. But I'm with Peggy Noonan. It's usually better to build new statues, rather than destroy old ones. Raise statues to praise those who created a better union.)

But here is some good news. If you want to read a news story that wades into a Gen. Robert E. Lee controversy and listens -- hard -- to voices on both sides, then check out The Washington Post religion-desk feature with this headline: "This is the church where Robert E. Lee declared himself a sinner. Should it keep his name?"

This story, by religion-beat veteran Michelle Boorstein, struck home for me because I spoke at Washington and Lee University last spring, doing a seminar on the challenges and rewards of Godbeat work. I had a long talk with a journalism professor (and ethics specialist) about the ongoing debates about this church and, of course, about challenges to the name of the university.

Here is the essential question stated, carefully, in the feature lede:

Could “R.E. Lee Memorial Church” commemorate the postwar fence-mender who had led their church and city out of destitution? Or could it only conjure the wicked institution of slavery for which Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee fought?

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The Tennessean surveys a deep-red state: Might religion play big role in its political divides?

The Tennessean surveys a deep-red state: Might religion play big role in its political divides?

So here I am in New York City on Election Day, typing away at my desk at The King's College near the corner of Broadway and Wall Street -- which means I'm about two blocks from a Trump tower in Lower Manhattan.

I imagine that things will get pretty wild in some corners of New York City tonight. However, my mind is very much on the past, present and future in the hills of East Tennessee. In other words, I'm thinking about politics and religious folks.

You see, East Tennessee is about as old-school Republican as you can get. Forget Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. East Tennessee's Republican roots go all the way back to the Civil War era (see this New York Times piece on "The Switzerland of America").

But there are at least two other Tennessees, symbolized by the other two stars on the flag. The hills are one thing, while Nashville and Memphis are radically different cultures.

Once upon a time, Tennessee voted for Bill Clinton. Soon after that, it turned its back on native son Al Gore. While the mountains are historically Republican, the political story in the rest of the state centers on the decline of old-guard Southern Democrats and the now dead Democratic Party coalition that included Bible Belt farmers and laborers, as well as urban elites.

Donald Trump will carry Tennessee with ease tonight, I imagine, but I have met very few old-school Republicans in the hills who are happy about that. I have, however, wondered about the deep-red tint of the rest of the state, other than blue patches in the big urban zones.

Thus, I read with great interest the Tennessean piece that ran with this headline: "Tennessee politics: State increasingly split along urban-rural lines." That headline tells you what editors in Nashville think.

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How will religious leaders, and the GOP, handle immigration after Election Day?

How will religious leaders, and the GOP, handle immigration after Election Day?

Whatever pundits make of Donald Trump’s August 31 “what the hell are we doing?” speech on immigration policy, the Republication nominee -- win or lose -- has put the issue atop the U.S. national agenda where it will remain following Election Day.

On the religion aspect, for reasons that blend history, solidarity or moral conviction, U.S. Catholics, ethnic and minority Protestants, white “mainline” denominations, Judaism, Islam and other non-Christian religions generally favor liberal policies. But what about the conservative and evangelical Protestants, the sizable source of so many Republican votes?

Consider the huge Southern Baptist Convention, a bastion of conservatism in theology and many socio-political matters. A resolution from the SBC’s 2011 annual meeting expressed the complexity of this issue, favoring fairness and charity toward aliens alongside respect for the nation’s laws. The Baptists said that once the borders are secured, “a just and compassionate path to legal status” should be provided to “undocumented immigrants” who make “appropriate” restitution.

The 2016 SBC meeting urged churches to welcome and aid refugees, although it favored “the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection.”

The billionaire’s unusual candidacy has rocked and split the Republican Party. Particularly for churchgoers who are committed Republicans, it’s worth thinking about the far more desperate political party chaos before the Civil War.

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