One of our first Photo Friday installments featured the photo to the left: an image showing two Brethren in Christ leaders — C.N. Hostetter, Jr., and Arthur Climenhaga — with Billy Graham and other National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) leaders.
I love this photo for a number of reasons. First, it provides a potent reminder of the gender-biased strictures of both the broad evangelical movement and the Brethren in Christ Church at mid-century. Second, it links the small Brethren in Christ community to larger trends in North American Protestantism (i.e., the NAE). Finally, it illustrates the interaction between “plain people” and “new evangelicals” — and the obvious tension between a self-consciously separatist religious sect and “mainstream evangelicalism.”
This photograph serves as a visual representation of what I’m hoping to explore in my master’s thesis, which is tentatively titled “Born-Again Brethren: New Evangelicalism and the Cultural Transformation of a ‘Plain People.'”
Drawing upon letters, diaries, oral histories, and photographs (as well as more traditional textual sources, like articles in the Evangelical Visitor), this study will show that church members’ participation in “new evangelical” institutions — including the National Association of Evangelicals and Youth for Christ — accelerated the cultural transformation already underway within the Brethren in Christ community. In particular, my study focuses on three areas of change: abandonment of the community’s distinctive clothing style; redefinition of the church’s concept of Christian pacifism; and the reinterpretation of the community’s methods of evangelization.
As I begin to research and write my thesis between now and next April, the search for piety and obedience will serve as my primary venue for sharing information and soliciting reader response. I hope to make my project one that helps the Brethren in Christ community to understand its historic connections to broader trends within North American Christianity. And I hope that my faithful readers — along with new readers added along the way! — will participate in this project by providing feedback: affirming and critiquing my conclusions while also pointing me toward new sources of information.
Looking forward to the journey!