*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 9th of July 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
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Modern Americans, from my vantage point as both a historian and as being a modern American myself seem to loathe the idea of religion and politics mixing. After all, these are the things we don’t speak about in polite society; religion and politics.
But what if I told you that religion and politics have always gone together in American history. Perhaps the two are inseparable, as shocking as that might sound. We’ve seen profoundly religious people use religious imagery in the public square and we’ve to see profoundly irreligious people use religious imagery as well. As I mentioned in a recent mailbag, America isn’t a “Christian Nation” but it certainly has a whole lot of Christians in it.
On tomorrow's show, we will have a special announcement AND we will be looking at aspects of the Scopes Monkey Trial. And, as you may know, William Jennings Bryan was the attorney for the state of Tennessee as it was attempting to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. An aged Bryan was pitted against the clever Clarence Darrow and the “fundamentalist” and “modernist” were given avatars.
But, what if I told you that William Jennings Bryan was, prior to this, one of the more popular and populist politicians who was the youngest man to ever receive a major party’s presidential candidacy? William Jennings Bryan is a part religious zealot, part Teddy Roosevelt in his corporate concerns, and the author of what is often called “the greatest speech in American political history”.
[we can quibble over “best” anything… you get the idea, though. It was a big speech.]
It was on this, the 9th of July in 1896 that William Jennings Bryan gave his famous “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic National Convention. The following day he was nominated to be the candidate for the Democratic Party (he would lose in this year of 1896, the following cycle he would lose again, he took time off before losing again in 1908). But it was his “Cross of Gold Speech” that set him apart as a very clever and effective politician capable of blending political persuasion and Christian Imagery.
The last lines of the speech include the title, it reads: “we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
Bryan was advocating for bimetallism, that is the unrestricted currency of 2 metals as legal tender. This would mean Gold and Silver. Silver would be fixed at a rate less than gold, but it would allow the farmer more access to hard currency. You can read more about economics elsewhere. Bryan was taking the plight of the poor and the increasingly diminishing middle class and arguing that a just economic system was at the heart of “Christian” politics. Bryan seems complete without a modern analogy on the major stage in American politics. He was conservative and progressive. He was known as the “great commoner” but as famous as anyone in his time. He was also an early Fundamentalist and fierce supporter of Prohibition. Perhaps an enigma to us, he was nonetheless a key figure in the history of American religion and politics. We may have a word to say about him tomorrow as well plus another announcement. Today we remember his “Cross of Gold” speech given on this, the 9th of July in 1896.
The last word for today comes from the book of the prophet Isaiah, the 41st chapter:
But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of July 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who has both absolution and coffee- I think he’d like you to have both. He is the legend of Random Lake, Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.