Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life
By Steven M. Tipton
(University Of Chicago Press, Hardcover, 9780226804743, 496pp.)
Publication Date: March 2008
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Since the 2000 presidential election, debate over the role of religion in public life has followed a narrow course as pundits and politicians alike have focused on the influence wielded by conservative Christians. But what about more mainstream Christians? Here, Steven M. Tipton examines the political activities of Methodists and mainline churches in this groundbreaking investigation into a generation of denominational strife among church officials, lobbyists, and activists. The result is an unusually detailed and thoughtful account that upends common stereotypes while asking searching questions about the contested relationship between church and state.
Documenting a wide range of reactions to two radically different events—the invasion of Iraq and the creation of the faith-based initiatives program—Tipton charts the new terrain of religious and moral argument under the Bush administration from Pat Robertson to Jim Wallis. He then turns to the case of the United Methodist Church, of which President Bush is a member, to uncover the twentieth-century history of their political advocacy, culminating in current threats to split the Church between liberal peace-and-justice activists and crusaders for evangelical renewal. Public Pulpits balances the firsthand drama of this internal account with a meditative exploration of the wider social impact that mainline churches have had in a time of diverging fortunes and diminished dreams of progress.
An eminently fair-minded and ethically astute analysis of how churches keep moral issues alive in politics, Public Pulpits delves deep into mainline Protestant efforts to enlarge civic conscience and cast clearer light on the commonweal and offers a masterly overview of public religion in America.
Steven M. Tipton teaches sociology and religion at Emory University and its Candler School of Theology. He is a coauthor of Habits of the Heart and The Good Society, and the author of Getting Saved from the Sixties.
“Tipton’s rich, revelatory study of conflict and crisis in the United Methodist Church at the heart of mainline Protestantism enables us to grasp the place of churches in the American polis, and judge their political moves and moral advocacy, as no nonpartisan has done to date. With a gift for finding the issues behind the issues, this book brings into full focus the churches’ seething struggles. All the way from the Cold War through the culture wars to the war in Iraq, it shows how alive these struggles have come to be for the faithful on every side, and how fateful for our society.”—Martin Marty
“We cannot answer the call to discern and do God’s will on earth, among the nations, without loving our diverse neighbors and engaging them in public argument as members one of another in one body. To discover how this demanding drama unfolds in America today, enter into the tumult, wisdom, and grace that fill this brilliant book.”—Desmond Tutu
“Much of the sense we have of ourselves, both as individuals and as a nation, derives from the teachings of mainline religious groups long at the vital center of American culture and now challenged from the religious right and secular left in ways never before experienced. Because their influence entirely transcends the secular/sacred divide, working in our public, political, economic, and family lives as well as our worship, Steven Tipton’s magisterial book helps us understand their response to a crisis not only at the center of our religious life but at the center of American cultural history.”—Robert N. Bellah
-Robert N. Bellah
"In many respects, this book represents a breakthrough. . . . In a field rife with studies about the role of the Christian right, the book represents welcome nuanced attention to mainline Protestant efforts at public moral advocacy. . . . Public Pulpits should be read by all those in the churches, at whatever level, who are engaged in social teaching and moral advocacy. For those less interested in cvhurches, it illuminates the kind of moral argument in public life that will best enhance our communal purposes."—John A. Coleman, America
-John A. Coleman
"The book shines as an interdisciplinary text, for Tipton weds the balanced analytical framework of social science research with meditative explorations that are more common in books geared toward audiences in religious studies. . . . A valuable resource for every scholar and student interested in American religion. . . . Tipton shows us why we must attend to the breadth of religious traditions in the United States and provides a model for examining one tradition with texture and depth."
-D. Michael Lindsay