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Citizens of a Christian Nation

Evangelical Missions and the Problem of Race in the Nineteenth Century

By Derek Chang

Publication Year: 2010

In America after the Civil War, the emancipation of four million slaves and the explosion of Chinese immigration fundamentally challenged traditional ideas about who belonged in the national polity. As Americans struggled to redefine citizenship in the United States, the "Negro Problem" and the "Chinese Question" dominated the debate.

During this turbulent period, which witnessed the Supreme Court's Plessy v. Ferguson decision and passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, among other restrictive measures, American Baptists promoted religion instead of race as the primary marker of citizenship. Through its domestic missionary wing, the American Baptist Home Missionary Society, Baptists ministered to former slaves in the South and Chinese immigrants on the Pacific coast. Espousing an ideology of evangelical nationalism, in which the country would be united around Christianity rather than a particular race or creed, Baptists advocated inclusion of Chinese and African Americans in the national polity. Their hope for a Christian nation hinged on the social transformation of these two groups through spiritual and educational uplift. By 1900, the Society had helped establish important institutions that are still active today, including the Chinese Baptist Church and many historically black colleges and universities.

Citizens of a Christian Nation chronicles the intertwined lives of African Americans, Chinese Americans, and the white missionaries who ministered to them. It traces the radical, religious, and nationalist ideology of the domestic mission movement, examining both the opportunities provided by the egalitarian tradition of evangelical Christianity and the limits imposed by its assumptions of cultural difference. The book further explores how blacks and Chinese reimagined the evangelical nationalist project to suit their own needs and hopes.

Historian Derek Chang brings together for the first time African American and Chinese American religious histories through a multitiered local, regional, national, and even transnational analysis of race, nationalism, and evangelical thought and practice.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Politics and Culture in Modern America

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INTRODUCTION: Evangelical Christianity and the Problem of Difference

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pp. 1-14

In the spring of 1882, Fung Chak, a missionary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS), penned a letter to the organization’s Executive Board in New York City from his post in Portland, Oregon. Fung supervised the city’s Chinese Mission School and wrote ostensibly to galvanize support ...

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CHAPTER ONE: “A Grand and Awful Time”

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pp. 15-30

When delegates and officials of the American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS) convened in Cleveland, Ohio, for their thirty-first annual meeting, a somber mood pervaded the proceedings. It was May 21, 1863, and there seemed to be precious little to celebrate for the members of the denomination’s...

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CHAPTER TWO: Faith and Hope

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pp. 31-64

The white missionary and black churchmen who met on December 1, 1865, in the basement of the Guion Hotel on Edenton Street in Raleigh had all traveled a long way. Henry Martin Tupper, a thirty-four-year-old Union Army veteran ...

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pp. 65-98

The calls came from different places; the missions emanated from different institutions. In New York City, officials of the ABHMS offered Henry Martin Tupper a commission, which he received on July 3, 1865, to work among the freedpeople in the South....

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CHAPTER FOUR: Congregation

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pp. 99-131

Henry Martin Tupper’s optimism found its measure in ambition. Within a year of the first meeting of the American Baptist mission school in Raleigh, the northern missionary who headed the institution hoped to raise a building to house the school and a church—a permanent structure that would symbolize ...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Conflict and Community

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pp. 132-152

There seemed to be no such thing as a straight line for white missionaries or for black and Chinese mission participants. Mission theorists, officials, and advocates posited a linear equation to describe the progression from “heathen” to Christian American—merely add a mission education and ...

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CONCLUSION: Transformations

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pp. 153-165

In January 1899, Charles Meserve, the white president of Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, presented his annual report to the ABHMS. A single tragic event loomed large in Meserve’s report. Just two months earlier, the devastating race riot had ripped through Wilmington in the eastern part of the state,...


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pp. 167-220


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pp. 221-231

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pp. 233-237

Researching and writing a book may be solitary acts; the fruits of that labor most certainly accrue solely to the author. Yet this book is evidence that the broader process of scholarship is by no means carried out in isolation. Overlapping communities of friends, family, colleagues, and mentors all par-My research benefited greatly from the aid of archivists and librarians in ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205954
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242188

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Politics and Culture in Modern America