Revivals and Revolution

Revivals and the evangelical movement seem to be full of contradictions. They advocates for a helplessness before God and argues that the only path to salvation was through God’s bestowal of grace. Evangelists also, however, insisted that followers relied on preachers for guidance and engaged in moral behavior to be reborn. While promoting ethical lifestyles is certainly not bad, it goes against the teaching that access to heaven is not contingent upon human behavior. Contradiction is also apparent in the Baptists that dominated Southern revivals. Baptists outwardly appeared somber and restrained but also engaged in wild religious gatherings that emphasized emotions and physical touch. This contrast in different areas of evangelists’ lives and teachings was perhaps to be expected and it is hard for a movement to sustain either pure emotional enthusiasm or total somberness. Human nature requires balance, which, while offered in extremes in the evangelical revivals is what allowed this movement to create a lasting legacy.

This movement also made an impact beyond the scope of religion. As colonists separated themselves from the Anglican church, they created their own identities that were distinct from the mother country. Evangelism emphasized a direct relationship with God that did not require the formality and hierarchy required in the Anglican church. This is interesting in that the English broke with the Catholic Church, at least nominally, for many of these same reasons. Colonists developed a sense of self distinct from an identity as an English subject. While religious revival is certainly not the main cause of rebellion agains Europe nor one that people of the day would have pointed to, it can be seen as the beginnings of an American identity that leads to the strains of conflict discussed in Sylvia’s blog post. Perhaps, the colonists were only willing to compare French colonialism with that of their own homeland because of an increased individualism. This argument may be a stretch but I think it is one worth considering when examining the shift in colonial mindset that eventually ┬áled to American independence.