George Marsden, noted historian of religion in America, is the invited presenter for this years Reformation Day Commemoration, on the eve of the election.
In America, the role of religion plays an important part in presidential campaigns and party politics. The influence of personal faith has also been a significant part of the current Supreme Court nomination hearings. In wider circles, this fundamental question continues to be discussed: Is the United States of America a Christian nation? The Europeans who arrived on the continent in the 17th and 18th centuries carried Christian traditions with them; that has uniquely shaped the history of America. But what traditions? And how did they influence America, especially as we see this nation today?
“The United States is one of the few nations whose religious makeup in its earliest history was predominantly Protestant,” writes Marsden, who will be speaking to this issue Sunday, Nov. 1. The title of his talk will be: “Reformation influences in America: Was the United States founded as a Christian Nation.”
The presentation will be an occasion to look forward to the election two days later, but also to look back on the Protestant Reformation, which is commemorated on the eve of All Saints Day. On Oct. 31, 1517, a Catholic university professor named Martin Luther is said to have nailed 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther had hoped to engage clerics and academicians in discussion of abuses he saw in the church. Luther became the central figure in the Protestant Reformation. Christians of Catholic and Protestant traditions continue to ask how this movement affects church and culture today.
Marsden states Protestantism has been praised or blamed for contributing to many American traits, including representative government, emphases on freedom from traditional authorities, openness to capitalism, individualism, moralism, social reforms, equal justice for all, America-first nationalism, ethnic and religious prejudices, racial prejudices and tolerance of slavery, pluralism, cultural fragmentation, and much else. Some claim today, further, that its Reformation heritage led the United States to be founded as a Christian nation. To what degree is that claim justified? What should be the characteristic attitudes of Americans today in considering the role of Christian faith – Protestant, Catholic, or evangelical – in the nation’s heritage?
This live-stream presentation is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1. It will include responses from local faith leaders Dr. Kristen Johnson and Rev. Norman Steen. The Zoom link for the event is: Zoom.us/j/92515088512
George Marsden has taught history at Calvin College from 1965-86, at Duke University Divinity School from 1986-92 and at the University of Notre Dame from 1992-2008. His books include Fundamentalism and American Culture, The Soul of the American University, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography, Religion and American Culture: A Brief History.
He and his wife Lucie live in Grand Rapids, MI. They are members of the Church of the Servant. They have two children and five grandchildren.