The American Revolution and Righteous Community: Selected Sermons of Bishop Robert Smith

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The American Revolution and Righteous Community: Selected Sermons of Bishop Robert Smith. Edited by Charles Wilbanks. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007, Pp. xxiv, 280. $49.95.)

Robert Smith (1732-1801), rector of St. Philip's Church, Charleston, and later South Carolina's first Episcopal bishop, enjoyed a distinguished forty-year career. His revolutionary years are the primary concern of this volume: part one consists of a seventy-page biography describing Smith's life and analyzing his theological opinions on faith and good works, and his civic conscience; part two contains twenty-seven sermons, drawn predominantly from the 283 Smith sermons in the St. Philip's collection, and including a couple from the Smith Family Papers at the South Carolina Historical Society. Wilbanks selected those sermons "that focus primarily on issues of public morality, specifically civic duty, citizenship, charity, universal love, and national virtue" (xxiii). One may wonder what other subjects prevailed throughout the entire sermon collection, even though Wilbanks's choices offer compelling evidence of Smith's worldview. Among many points of interest, this useful collection includes (sermons 9, 14) a reconciliation of Christian values of forgiveness and the requirement to "love your enemies" with a defense of war.

An expert on speech communication, Wilbanks investigates Smith's rhetoric of righteous community, employing Max Weber on religion and society, Robert Bellah on American civil religion, as well as other philosophers and theorists. Wilbanks concludes that Smith's strong civic conscience sprung from his theological opinions on the necessity of good works and the obligation of members to serve their community. Wilbanks argues that, unlike New England revolutionaries who pursued natural universal rights and individualism, "Smith and his neighbors were motivated by a very different philosophy ... the righteousness of his community"(70). In addition to the sermon evidence, a consideration of the liturgy's fixed prayers, some of which also highlighted Christian morality and duty to neighbors, would have complemented Wilbanks' argument. …


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