Born-Again Brethren: New Evangelicalism and the Cultural Transformation of a “Plain People”

Brethren in Christ leaders C.N. Hostetter, Jr. (second from left) and Arthur Climenhaga (fourth from left) with Billy Graham and two National Association of Evangelicals leaders. (Courtesy of the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives)

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!

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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19 Responses to Born-Again Brethren: New Evangelicalism and the Cultural Transformation of a “Plain People”

  1. It’s so exciting that you have the title and the three main points for your master’s thesis. I will watch the forthcoming posts with much interest.

  2. Chaplain Donna H. says:

    I look forward to reading over your shoulder (virtually) as you progress through the thesis process. Thank you for your eagerness and transparency. Do you plan to make the completed thesis available for purchase when completed? If so, I’ll get in line for it now.

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  4. gish says:

    You have completed two major hurdles – the topic and the approach to it – so you’re well on your way. I think this is a an area which needs to be addressed and so I’m glad that you are beginning it.

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  8. Ken Fretz says:

    A topic close to my heart. I’ll be looking forward to more articles on the peace keepers, and how their thinking has evolved or in some cases, turned a complete 180. <<the search continues,,,,,

  9. Elaine Reed says:

    I like so many things about what you all have said. Devin, it’s great that you are opening up this topic for discussion. I have been discouraged because there are no easy answers. But I liked what the Bicksler – Book article said about needing creativity to find solutions to violence. I applaud the idea of working with other churches on this problem. Mainline denominations also have peace strands, especially among college and seminary students, professors, and ministers who served during the 60’s. I am not a brave person, but I think that if we are ever to have real world peace it will involve danger and sacrifice. Young people are inspired by war service for our country. If we teach Christ’s love, I hope and pray that we, and our youth can be challenged to boldly seek peace and to serve our brothers and sisters all over God’s world.

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