Functions of Christianity

Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America

Hollinger reveals how liberal Protestantism developed in America thanks to the thousands of missionaries sent to live throughout the world. These missionaries’ goals were to convert the people they were ministering to but instead found their goals limiting, began to stray away from their “white supremist ideologies (Fuji; Hollinger),” and found their way of thinking completely changed. The book highlights the impact these missionaries and the individuals they encountered had that left a mark on the church and society as a whole. In particular, some of the missionaries dove into intelligence and diplomacy roles; others became activists for multiculturalism and anticolonialism. Overall, one could note a shift from the close-minded, conventional beliefs of typical Protestantism toward a modernist approach of religion that is fair and inclusive.

“Hollinger illuminates how its principles navigated the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ the spiritual and the secular, the universal and the particular (Katznelson).” This book examines the connectedness between those of different religions and how there was much to learn from both that allowed for huge shifts in the political and social climate of today’s world.

Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism

“When it comes to evangelicals and sex, it seems, whatever the question, the answer is no (DeRogatis).” DeRogatis explores the misunderstood beliefs about sex and how it is misinterpreted in Christian culture. Many Christians’ faith is embodied by the idea of sexual purity and refraining from sex until marriage, which is sanctioned by God for this purpose. Surprisingly, DeRogatis claims that most Christians are not anti-sex, though, and have incorporated secular views with Christian belief of sex in marriage- that in essence, sexuality “is central to the human experience.” Publications, workshops, and media have instructed couples to focus on the joy and pleasure of sex. However, while progress has been made in adjusting evangelicalism discourses in regards to sex, Christian white women have worked to maintain a distinct role as caregivers and mothers, “developing a womanhood distinct from feminism.” A chapter following this discussion dives into the role of race in relation to gender roles and sexual ethics.

DeRogatis raises important questions about the role of whiteness in creating the stereotypes of sexual and gender ethics. There are obviously a lot of factors at play that connect to one another, but it all boils down to white Christianity that has created these roles. However, it seems that DeRogatis brings to light the connection of spirituality and sexuality in a way that creates a promising opportunity for further social movements in the Christian faith.

Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World

Slavery had been justified in the Atlantic World based on the idea of Protestant Supremacy, where slaves were excluded from being able to convert to Christianity. Gerbner believes that religion was thus “fundamental to the development of both slavery and race.” 

In an interview with the Junto, Gerbner claims that over the course of the 18th century, the institution of slavery was in reform in order to make it more Christian; the debate shifted from allowing slaves to be Christians to whether slavery was permissible. Allowing slaves to convert solidified their reasoning for slavery as a Christian institution- they believed it would not threaten their property rights of slaveowners. This shift came when Protestant missionaries arrived with the intent of converting enslaved Africans but saw most slave owners rejected slave conversion. They used the concept of race to argue for slaves to practice Christianity, and their arguments proved successful.

Christianity for enslaved people was a symbol of freedom and a link to literacy. The design of Christianity to them was catered to white people, the ones who enjoyed freedom but yet took theirs away. This idea of race linked to religion was one that would carry out in history hundreds of years to come.

The Exhibit

These 3 books all foster the association between Christianity and its unwavering ideas that allowed believers to claim the “superiority” of Christianity and justify breaking down and changing the other groups who did not share those same ideals. But as we come to find out, many others have challenged the status quo and praised the differences, while showing those opposed that there are many opportunities to learn and grow in religious and social tolerance. The people described in these books took the initiative to be leaders and make a difference in how we study religion now, connecting what we have learned in this class so far with the impact these people made.

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