This week I finished reading Priscilla Pope-Levison's Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era, which chronicles the often untold stories about women who moved from itinerant preaching to institution building during the period of 1890-1920. In this book I felt like I was reading both a work of history and commentary on contemporary issues amongst Evangelicals. Why? Well, three of the biggest debates during that era were on the place of higher criticism of the Bible amongst Evangelicals, the acceptability of the theory of evolution, and the role of women in the Church. Read your Twitter feed today and there is a good chance that these three issues are some of the most frequently discussed online. It almost seems like we have a cyclical history.
Another thing that stood out to me as I've been watching PBS's "God in America" miniseries was how episode 3 (access here), discussing how Methodism (as well as other denominations) were forced into schism because of unreconcilable views on the institution of slavery. The narrator even speaks of how the Methodist agreed on most everything, except how to handle this matter. Today the fight is over the nature of human sexuality from a Christian perspective. As someone who attend a United Methodist Church I've keep my eye on the debate and it seems pretty bleak right now with a lot of talk of schism. Again, it feels like cyclical history.
I don't know whether to be encouraged by the fact that the Church has weathered these past storms or discouraged to see that the same (or similar) battles are being fought over a century later.