Standing against the Whirlwind: Evangelical Episcopalians in Nineteenth-Century America

Standing against the Whirlwind: Evangelical Episcopalians in Nineteenth-Century America

Standing against the Whirlwind: Evangelical Episcopalians in Nineteenth-Century America

Standing against the Whirlwind: Evangelical Episcopalians in Nineteenth-Century America


Standing Against the Whirlwind is a history of the Evangelical party in the Episcopal Church in nineteenth-century America. A surprising revisionist account of the church's first century, it reveals the extent to which evangelical Episcopalians helped to shape the piety, identity, theology, and mission of the church. Using the life and career of one of the party's greatest leaders, Charles Pettit McIlvaine, the second bishop of Ohio, Diana Butler blends institutional history with biography to explore the vicissitudes and tribulations of evangelicals in a church that often seemed inhospitable to their version of the Gospel. This gracefully written narrative history of a neglected movement sheds light on evangelical religion within a particular denomination and broadens the interpretation of nineteenth-century American evangelicalism as a whole. In addition, it elucidates such wider cultural and religious issues as the meaning of millennialism and the nature of the crisis over slavery.


While a graduate student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, I attended an Episcopal church convulsed by controversy. Instead of brawling over inclusive language liturgies, women's ordination, or homosexual unions, these particular Episcopalians waged war over evangelical religion. Once a sleepy "country club" parish, they had called a new minister from a large, well-known, Evangelical Episcopal congregation in Pittsburgh. Within weeks of his arrival, the church split into pro- and antievangelical factions. The war for the soul of the parish had begun.

The proevangelical group argued that evangelical religion enriched the Episcopal Church through youth ministry, Bible preaching, and evangelistic outreach. The antievangelical faction identified evangelical religion with Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart and accused its proponents of enthusiasm and hypocrisy. At the height of parish tension, I painstakingly tried to explain to one woman that she misunderstood the nature of evangelicalism. Historically, evangelical religion had long found a place within the Episcopal Church. She protested violently, "Oh no, it hasn't. We've always stood against those Baptists and Methodists! Just show me one history of the Episcopal Church which has anything good to say about evangelicals." Unable to resist a challenge, I scurried to the library to find a book defending my position. From my own study of nineteenth- century American religion, I knew the Episcopal Church once comprised a large Evangelical party. Much to my surprise, I found very little written about Evangelical Episcopalians--and what existed was often biased, negative, misleading, or simply wrong.

To some people, the term Evangelical Episcopalian seems odd if not downright oxymoronic. Evangelical connotes being born again, dramatic conversion testimonies, unambiguous morality, soul-winning television preachers, pulpit-centered Bible preaching, conservative theology, and, more often than not, conservative politics. Episcopal conjures up images of infants in christening gowns, decorous liturgy, sherry on the church lawn, trendy prelates, short homilies followed by ancient eucharistic prayers, and liberal views on theological, social, and political issues. In spite of such apparent contradictions, in recent years Evangelical Episcopalianism reemerged as a tradition within the Episcopal Church.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a new burst of evangelical enthusiasm made its way into America's mainstream Protestant denominations--including, to the surprise . . .

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