In Pursuit of the Almighty's Dollar: A History of Money and American Protestantism

By James Hudnut-Beumler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Capital Ideas: Building
American Churches,
1750–1860

For hundreds of years Protestants have raised money in God's name. From the beginnings of Protestant church life in America to the present, that money has been spent largely to operate churches. Next to clerical compensation, sheltering congregations has consumed more of the resources of religious groups in America than any other activity. These capital investments in conducting religious enterprise in particular places at particular times reveal the nature of the enterprise as few literary artifacts can. What they reveal in a few short words is the competitive dimension of American Protestantism and the concomitant contrary impulses toward assimilation (to be like other groups) and differentiation (to be different from and superior to other groups).

The history presented in this book begins in 1750. That year is not so much a watershed as it is a vantage point from which the future could be glimpsed, for already the division of a town's or village's community into several competing churches had begun in the aftermath of the Great Awakening. The fact of competition among congregations would come to characterize Protestant Americans' concept of the church so firmly over the next century that it is

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