First of all, I must admit that I am flattered and honored beyond words that Kevin Levin criticized me in the same sentence with Bud Robertson. It is a badge of honor I don't deserve, but one which I enthusiastically embrace. Thank you Kevin - you've bestowed an honor upon me which I will cherish all my life.
Levin's recent post isn't the first time he criticized my book. He wrote similar comments when the book was published in 2006. I believe he originally criticized it, later admitting he hadn't read it, then saying he'd read part of it. (I saved those posts, maybe I'll share them.) Whatever. I expect such treatment from those who hold perspectives and advance agendas like Levin, but now he's writing utter falsehoods. In his recent post he makes the following comment:
The whole premise of Williams’s book is fundamentally flawed as it is weighed down by example after example of presentism. The most obvious example is Jackson’s Sunday School for slaves, which Williams interprets without any understanding of how religious education following Nat Turner’s Rebellion was intended to stabilize race relations and reinforce in the African American community that slavery was their natural position. [Emphasis mine.]
My Lord, talk about projecting! That is quite amazing. But beyond Kevin's fantasy world regarding my presentism, here's what I actually wrote, in part, about Nat Turner's impact on the education of slaves and free blacks in the South:
When reflecting on the efforts of Jackson and other Southern Christians to reach slaves and free blacks with the good news of the gospel, it is necessary to understand that many modern scholars view their motives with cynicism. A superficial study of the subject could easily conclude that teaching the slaves simple gospel messages was nothing more than an effort to make them more obedient and submissive. Admittedly, there are ample Bible verses that admonish obedience to authority that the spiritually shallow used to accomplish this task while at the same time ignoring the slaves’ spiritual needs.
Yet a serious and objective look at the facts shows that, although this element was present in the motives of some, most sincere Southern Christians had a heartfelt desire to see blacks turn to Christ and embrace the eternal truths of the Bible. The Presbyterian Synod of Texas issued a statement that reflected the attitude of many Southern Christians: “We recognize the hand of God in placing this benighted race in our midst, and heartily accept the duty of pointing them to Christ.” Stonewall Jackson House graduate fellow E. Lynn Pearson’s observation confirms this attitude: “The religious world-view of Stonewall Jackson and his antebellum peers was greatly influenced by the contemporary evangelical vision to build Christ’s kingdom on earth, and the Southern belief that bringing salvation to slaves was part and parcel of that mission. Lexington’s Christians took great pride in their acceptance of Christ’s call to stewardship.”
Historians often look to a single pivotal event when analyzing antebellum efforts to evangelize Southern blacks: Nat Turner’s slave insurrection . . .
Edward D. Smith noted the impact of the Nat Turner rebellion on Southern Christian attitudes in Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: The Rise of Black Churches in Eastern American Cities:
"As the reaction against Christianized blacks developed [after Nat Turner’s rebellion], a number of southern churchmen began a quiet campaign to bring about the Christianization of even more blacks. This campaign was begun partially as a reaction to the growing abolitionist movement in the North, which denounced slave-owners as anti-Christian. . . . Some churchmen hoped to prove that when placed solely under white control, religious instruction could be used to make slaves more obedient, docile, and well behaved."
It is with this sentiment of making slaves “more obedient, docile, and well behaved” with the influence of Christianity that many cynics charge Jackson and others. While this attitude indeed existed among some Southern believers and unbelievers alike, it is incorrect to interpret such control as Jackson’s motive.Of course, I believe additional evidence pointed out in the book supports that last statement. One can explore that evidence and come to their own conclusion. (I'm not quite sure how Jackson's teaching slaves to read in defiance of Virginia law could be construed as reinforcing "in the African American community that slavery was their natural position", but I suppose that's what happens to your analysis when you let your biases get in the way.)
Beyond that, Levin's statement about my understanding of Nat Turner's impact is simply false. It would appear to me that he either knows this and intentionally distorted my views or, he was so busy looking for a "gotcha" excerpt, that he overlooked the whole context of what I wrote. How's that for scholarship?
This proves, once again, that Levin is the one who actually "lacks understanding." It is Levin who ignores facts in promoting his "analysis" and perspective while falling prey to "presentism." The other comments about the topic are so full of red herrings and straw men that they're not worth addressing.