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The Foundation of a Movement

In Rodney Stark's book For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery he draws a conclusion near the end of the book on his chapter on God's Justice that is very revealing.  He writes concerning abolitionism in American and in general by saying, "This example (Samuel Sewall's publication of Selling Joseph) demonstrates a fundamental sociological principle: publications don't launch social movements; people do" (339).  This statement seems overtly obvious in tone and content, yet it carries with it great truth.  Reformation of thought and deed do not take place on the altar of the ink pen, but rather at the blood, sweat, and tears of great people.  Why is this so?  For many people, reading a publication is much more about absorbing ideas and knowledge than take specific actions as a result of the principles embedded in writing.  Although great principles about the horrific nature of slavery were given due weight in John Wesley's tract Thoughts on Slavery,  it wasn't his publication that spearheaded change but more of his preaching campaign that led people to rally around abolition (349). 

Secondly, in the history of great changes in the church we often fail to remember the specific publications, pamphlets, and writings of great leaders.  Yet, we keep in clear view the radical actions that they took to change the church for the good and the bad.  Martin Luther, for example, the stalwart Reformation leader is known for his nailing of the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door, is known in history for his vehement opposition to church authority and teaching.  Yet, when you go a little deeper in your study, part of his lasting legacy was his careful translation of the Scriptures into the language of the people that caused an uproar in Europe.  Not only was this a written work, but it was a an action that allowed the people of Germany and abroad the privlege of knowing what God said in his Word and what the Church was saying.

Lastly, people launch social movements because ideas find their root in specific actions.  Much can be said here, but if you look at the bloody history of slavery, you will find that the most anti-slavery minded people took great pains to abolish the institution through much great pain and personal loss.  If we can glean anything from the recent news at Penn St., it is that although laws and rules are in effect to protect students (and children) it is the effective character of the individuals involved and their actions that will decide the future of those at the school.  Being called to be an assistant football coach at a major university carries with it power and prestige, but it is only in the right and just acts of individuals can a program flourish. 


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