Perfectionist Politics: Abolitionism and the Religious Tensions of American Democracy
Marcus, Brian A., Journal of Church and State
Perfectionist Politics: Abolitionism and the Religious Tensions of American Democracy. By Douglas M. Strong. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1999. np.
The political aspects of religious abolitionism are examined by Douglas M. Strong and shown to be an important part of reform in the antebellum period. The development of the ideas of religiously-based abolitionism oftentimes led to a schism within Evangelical churches in the early nineteenth century. Strong traces out the movement within Evangelical circles and the establishment of "comeouter" churches by reformers that sought to break from denominational ties because of differences, especially on slavery. A central guiding belief that reformers held was that with perfectionism, both individual and communal, then the society at large could also be affected by the perfectionist ideal. The reformers wanted to not only "democratize" religion and break from denominational affiliations but also to affect the democratic process in politics and "perfect" the political area. Strong notes, "It becomes apparent that church reform was a popular and influential movement, and that the way in which church reformers reorganized their congregations furnished abolitionists with a model for reorganizing the political landscape" (p. 47).
The idea behind the themes of abolitionism, perfectionism, and democracy is that they are tied into a cohesive ideology that reformers wanted to use to democratize churches and society at large. The Liberty party that arose in the antebellum period is posited by Strong to be the political embodiment of the abolitionists' church reforms. Even the tensions between the immediatist pre-- millennial position and the post millennial perfectionist ideal could be worked out in the idea that in either case slavery was an evil that needed to be attacked. The Liberty party was the "comeouter" political party which was not part of the "denominations" of the established political sphere. Abolitionists saw slavery as the main obstacle to perfecting society, and whether in their churches or in the political arena, they worked with all their efforts to remove the blight they perceived. With a party and a growing number of presses, the abolitionist movement was not only political but even directly linked to the ecclesiastical movement in the radical reform churches. The link was explicitly made by those in the party, and in the churches, that voting for the Liberty party was a way to further perfectionism-a mark of public declaration of holiness and faith. Strong notes, "This coalition [the Liberty Party] succeeded in bringing together denominationally diverse abolitionists into a single reform …
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Publication information: Article title: Perfectionist Politics: Abolitionism and the Religious Tensions of American Democracy. Contributors: Marcus, Brian A. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Church and State. Volume: 42. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer 2000. Page number: 586+. © 1999 J.M. Dawson Studies in Church and State. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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