W. Fitzhugh Brundage
Rejoinder to Edward J. Blum
Rejoinder to Edward J. Blum
In response to Professor Blum's cogent rejoinder to my review, let me stress that my comments represent less a “critique” than a call for scholars to test several central tenets of Reforging the White Republic. I anticipate that subsequent research may calibrate, but not revise, let alone, overturn the contours of Blum's argument.
On each of the points that I raised, Blum has interesting clarifications that persuade me yet further of the value and import of his book. On the issue of denominational divisions among whites, Blum appropriately points to the shared commitment to white supremacy that permeated white Protestantism. Yet, I wonder if further calibration isn't required to allow for the intensity of commitment to white supremacy. In the case of southern Presbyterian Robert Dabney, white supremacy was woven into the warp and woof of his theology. But the commitment to and content of white supremacist ideology among northern Presbyterian missionaries in Asia, to take one example, differed in important ways from that of Dabney and his ilk. Without some recognition of these gradations it becomes difficult to explain why Ida Wells-Barnett, for example, was warmly received by some white northern church congregations but would have risked her life in most southern communities. Simply put, while recognizing the shared culture of white supremacy that permeated white Protestantism, should we not pay particular attention to those denominational traditions that sustained or eventually nurtured both thought and action that we might now describe as expressions of incipient racial liberalism?
Perhaps the most interesting portion of Blum's response is his valuable differentiation of his approach from that of Mark Noll. To a greater degree than he does in the book, Blum here argues that only through public behavior and political action (both broadly defined) do religious ideals and beliefs become real. Consequently, only the tangible, on-the-ground interracial efforts undertaken by northern white missionaries and their black southern allies held out any promise for a more equitable religious vision and ideology. Given this interpretative assumption, Noll's critique of American theology apparently fades to irrelevance. Blum's critique of Noll's theological idealism (for lack of a better term) only accentuates my conviction that Blum's handling of theology and its impact (on both denominational structure and practiced religion) provide a rich vein for future scrutiny.
In closing, I will be gratified if my review and Prof. Blum's rejoinder prompt readers to pick up his book. It is an important book about an enormously important topic that, I hope, generates sustained discussion and future scholarship on a tragic and enduring failing of American civilization.
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