Christianity in America

1566-72; 1573 CE Jesuit and Franciscan Missions Founded in Florida

Spanish Catholics, first Jesuits and then Franciscans, undertook the first Christian missions in the territory that would become the United States. They eventually built a network of forty-four missions.

1607 CE Anglicanism Arrives at Jamestown

The founding of the English colony at Jamestown marked the arrival of Anglicanism (the Church of England) in Virginia. Anglicanism was later established as the colony’s official state-supported church—a status it held until the American Revolution. Other churches, such as the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, eventually flourished in Virginia as well, despite the legal disabilities placed on their activities.

1608 CE French Catholics Found Quebec

Quebec became the capital of the French empire in North America and served as the headquarters for Franciscans and Jesuits, who worked to convert native peoples to Catholicism in eastern Canada, Maine, and in the Great Lakes region.

1619 CE Black Indentured Servants Arrive in Jamestown

Indentured servitude was common among early English colonists, both black and white. Although English law forbade the enslavement of Christians, the legal status of slaves was soon redefined, thus permitting both the evangelization and enslavement of the black population of Virginia.

1620 CE The Pilgrims Arrive at Plymouth

The Pilgrims, a group of radical Puritans, came to the New World to found congregational churches independent of the Church of England.

1629 CE Dutch Reformed Church in New Amsterdam

Despite the established status of the Dutch Reformed Church, New Amsterdam pursued a policy of limited religious tolerance like that in the Netherlands. From an early date, New Amsterdam, later New York, became known for its ethnic and religious diversity.

1630 CE John Winthrop Leads Puritans

The Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony hoped to set an example for English society by creating a holy commonwealth in which the conversion experience, church membership, and political rights were linked. Massachusetts Puritanism was marked by a sense of mission and a rigorous religious conformity.

1634 CE Establishment of a Catholic Colony

Maryland, “the Catholic colony” was conceived by Lord Baltimore, a prominent English Catholic, and founded by his son, Cecil Calvert. Although religious freedom was granted to all Christians in 1649, Protestants later gained control of the government in Maryland and curtailed the political and religious rights of Roman Catholics.

1636 CE Roger Williams and Tolerance

A dissenter from the Massachusetts Puritan establishment, Roger Williams fled through the wilderness to Rhode Island. He founded the first Baptist church in America at Providence in 1638, and founded the Rhode Island colony upon the principles of religious freedom.

1637 CE Anne Hutchison’s Challenge

Like Roger Williams, Hutchison was critical of Massachusetts religious and civil leaders and was banished to Rhode Island. Both were later hailed as heroic pioneers of American religious liberty.

1649 CE Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England Founded

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England was founded to support the work of John Eliot, an early Puritan missionary. His Algonquian catechism and Bible and his establishment of Indian Christian settlements were among the first sustained efforts to convert Native peoples.

1670 CE Anglicanism Extended in the South

Joseph West and 140 others founded Charleston in 1670, the first major settlement in the Carolinas. Although the Church of England was formally established there, Protestant dissenting groups flourished in the South after the 1760s.

1680s CE German-American Community

German Mennonites and Quakers arriving in Germantown, Pennsylvania in the 1680s formed the nucleus of the more substantial German settlements of the next century. At the time of the revolution, Germans formed the largest free, ethnic minority in the predominantly English colonies.

1682 CE Religious Haven in Pennsylvania

William Penn arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682, and established a haven for Quakers there. In the founding documents of his colony, Penn extended religious tolerance to all who believed in God, Protestants and Catholics alike.

1688 CE Religious Protest Against Slavery

The Quakers of Germantown sent a formal objection to slavery in a letter to their Monthly Meeting in Philadelphia in 1688. This was the first protest by Americans against the evils of slavery.

1692 CE Witch Trials in Salem

There were a number of witch scares in colonial New England, but none as devastating as those in Salem. The eventual execution of nineteen people, mostly women, for witchcraft testifies to the ways in which group hysteria and individual animosity can use religious ideas for evil ends. The Salem “witches” were the last executed in Massachusetts, and the colony annulled the convictions of the executed “witches” twenty years later.

1709 CE Spanish Rivals in Florida

Catholic Spain, like France, was a serious rival of Protestant England. While centers of Spanish power in Mexico and the Caribbean lay distant from the English colonies, the establishment of a bishopric in Saint Augustine in 1709 marked a continuing Spanish presence in North America which persisted into the eighteenth century.

1718 CE French Establish New Orleans

New Orleans was established to protect French interests in the Mississippi valley and to link France’s North American claims to those in the Caribbean. At about this time, French explorers and missionaries also established Niagara, Vincennes, and Fort Duquesne, which later became Pittsburgh, effectively encircling the English colonies on the Atlantic coast.

1728 CE Benjamin Franklin’s “Articles of Belief”

Franklin penned his unorthodox religious beliefs while still a young man. Like those of other cosmopolitans of his time, Franklin’s ideas reflect the influence of the Enlightenment, according to which reason, nature, and liberal Theism were emphasized over revelation, scripture, and the God of Christian tradition.

1733 CE The Georgia Colony Is Founded

Georgia was founded as a southern defense against Spain. It was settled by English debtors, but German Moravians arrived soon thereafter. Anglicanism was formally established, but Baptists and Methodists became dominant.

 1740 CE George Whitefield and the First Great Awakening

Whitefield, a priest of the Church of England, fanned local religious enthusiasms into a religious revival with an evangelical preaching tour in 1740. During this Great Awakening, Protestant revivalism took shape. At the same time, American Protestants came to see themselves as part of a single national community, an important development when political tensions with Britain increased later in the century.

1740s CE Presbyterian Migrations Soar in Pennsylvania

Presbyterianism grew as a result of the substantial influx of Scotch-Irish immigrants to the colonies after 1740. Presbyterianism eventually spread throughout the middle and southern colonies.

1747-48 CE German Churches Unite

Germans struggled to maintain their ethnic traditions in an English-speaking society. In 1727, the German Reformed Church was organized in Philadelphia, one of the city’s oldest congregations. Twenty years later, the founding of the Lutheran Pennsylvania Ministerium marked an effort to unite all Lutherans in America into a single organization.

1758 CE Baptist Foundations in the South

Shubal Stearns and other New England Baptists moved south in 1755 and founded the Sandy Creek Association in 1758 at Sandy Creek, North Carolina. This action laid the groundwork for later Baptist expansion. The itinerant farmer-preachers favored by the Baptists were highly successful in gaining numerous converts on the southern frontier.

1766 CE Methodist Foundations in New York

Methodism, which began as a movement within the Church of England under the leadership of John and Charles Wesley, was reorganized as an independent denomination in America after the revolution. Its successful use of circuit-riding preachers and camp meeting revivals helped it to thrive on the expanding frontier of the early nineteenth century.

1769 CE Spanish Fortunes in the Far West

The founding of mission San Diego de Alcalá in 1769 marked the expansion of Spanish Catholicism in the West, where twenty-one Franciscan missions in California eventually stretched from San Diego to San Francisco. These extended the Spanish mission work in the Southwest, which had begun in the late seventeenth century.

1773 CE An Early Black Independent Church

David George, a slave preacher, was an elder in a Baptist church at Silver Bluff, South Carolina, who took charge of the congregation when its white minister withdrew. George’s church is often cited as the first independent black Baptist congregation.

1774 CE The Quebec Act Outrages the Colonials

England’s victory in the French and Indian War of 1756-63 eliminated its French rival. The Quebec Act of 1774, which strengthened Catholicism in Canada and established Canada’s border at the Ohio River, was perceived by colonists as an act of British treachery and as a threat to their religious freedom. This parliamentary action fanned revolutionary sentiments on the eve of the Declaration of Independence.

1774 CE Shakers Establish Alternative Communities

“Mother” Ann Lee and the Shakers arrived in New York state in 1774 and established a religious community near Albany two years later. By 1794, they had twelve communities in New York and New England, the beginnings of a tradition of Christian utopian communities.

1776 CE The “Declaration of Independence” and Civil Religion

The appeals to the “Creator” and to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” contained in the Declaration of Independence served as the foundation for American civil religion, a flexible set of religious ideas that envisioned America as central to God’s plans, while making no reference to a particular religion or denomination. During the revolution, these appeals allowed people of many different religious convictions to agree to propositions about freedom and rights, while avoiding theological controversy.

1775-1783 CE The Revolutionary War

Advocates for the Enlightenment, established clergy, and dissenters all played important roles in the revolution. The war served as an inspiration for American civil religion, as ideas such as liberty and freedom were seen in a religious as well as political light, and revolutionary leaders like George Washington were transformed into quasi-religious symbols of the new republic.

1789; 1791 CE The Constitution and Bill of Rights are Adopted

The adoption of the Constitution set in place new rules for the relations between religion and American society. Article Six prohibited religious tests for office and the First Amendment portion of the Bill of Rights (adopted in 1791) stated that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

1790 CE First Roman Catholic Bishop

John Carroll, a European educated priest from an old Maryland family, was appointed America’s first Roman Catholic bishop in 1790. Carroll charted a course between traditionalism and forms of religious liberalism inspired by the revolution, a perennial balancing act for leaders of the Catholic community in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

1794 CE Origins of the AME Church

Richard Allen founded the Bethel Church in Philadelphia in response to racial exclusion in the local Methodist Episcopal church. This marked the origin of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which formally incorporated in 1816 and is the oldest black denomination in the country today.

1794 CE Russian Orthodox Mission Begins in Alaska

This first Alaska mission marked the foundation of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America, which long remained distinct from other Orthodox churches that arrived during the nineteenth-century migrations. Cooperation among the various ethnically oriented Orthodox churches has a long and complex history, but it has increased during the twentieth century.

1801 CE Cane Ridge and the Camp Meeting Tradition

At Cane Ridge, between ten and twenty thousand people, both black and white, gathered for a series of revivals in the backwoods of Kentucky. This began a tradition of camp meeting revivalism that played an important role in the expansion of evangelical Protestantism on the American frontier.

1805 CE The Rise of Unitarianism in New England

The appointment of Henry Ware as Harvard’s Hollis Professor of Divinity in 1805 signaled the emergence of Unitarianism as a significant intellectual and religious movement in New England. Unitarianism, along with Universalism, which was founded in 1770, marked the flowering of theological liberalism in New England.

1810 CE American Overseas Missions

Missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Overseas Missions left New England for Asia in 1812. While concerned primarily with the conversion of “the heathen,” these missionaries also began to establish important personal and scholarly links between the East and West that deepened over the course of the century.

1810-40 CE Voluntary Societies

Numerous voluntary societies composed of members of leading evangelical Protestant churches were founded to publish tracts, undertake home missions, and engage in acts of charity. These interlocking organizations not only undertook the moral and religious reform of the U.S., but also helped maintain the dominance of Protestantism.

1821 CE The Rise of Urban Revivalism

Charles Finney, a Presbyterian minister, forged a new form of revivalism in response to the growth of urban communities and undertook a highly successful revival campaign in the industrial towns along the Erie Canal in upstate New York. His emphasis on moral perfection also contributed to the temperance, abolition, and women’s rights movements.

1829 CE David Walker’s Call for Abolition

David Walker, a black freeman, became active in reform in the Methodist church in Boston. His “Appeal,” published in 1829, denounced Christian hypocrisy and warned of a dire fate for America unless slavery was abolished. Along with the writings of Frederick Douglass and others, the “Appeal” became an influential text in the abolitionist (or antislavery) movement.

1832 CE New Sects and Churches on the Frontier

Revivalistic religion and utopian optimism about the future of America encouraged the rise of many new sects on the frontier. Under the leadership of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, the largest of these groups joined to form the Disciples of Christ in 1832, a new American church that by the early twentieth century was considered a part of the Protestant mainline.

1836 CE Ralph Waldo Emerson Publishes “Nature”

Emerson, along with Henry David Thoreau, captured the mood of transcendentalism, a romantic offshoot of Unitarianism. Texts such as “Nature” marked the transformation of traditional Christianity by modern philosophy and signaled the emergence of literature as a source of inspiration in American religion.

1840s CE The Catholic Population Soars

The arrival of Catholic immigrants from Germany and Ireland permanently altered the religious landscape of America, and the Roman Catholic Church became the single largest denomination in the U.S. by 1860.

1843 CE Protestants Resist Revivalism

Traditionalists Protestants such as John Williamson Nevin, a professor at Mercersburg Seminary in Pennsylvania, resisted what they viewed as the emotional excesses of revivalism. A Presbyterian, Nevin allied himself with the German Reformed Church in 1840. In The Anxious Bench, he attacked Charles Finney’s revivalism and defended the church’s traditional sacramental life.

1844 CE American Millennialism Creates a New Church

Millennial expectation was pervasive in the decades before the Civil War. The movement led by William Miller, who predicted the end of the world in 1844, was the most conspicuous. When Miller’s prophecies that Jesus was to return did not materialize, some of his followers, under the leadership of Ellen Gould White, organized the Seventh-day Adventist church in 1860 to perpetuate his teachings.

1845 CE The Southern Baptist Convention

When some evangelicals in the north espoused antislavery ideas, schisms along regional lines appeared in the Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist denominations. The Southern Baptist Convention, organized in 1845 to defend the validity of slave holding, eventually became the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.

1845 CE Phoebe Palmer and the Holiness Movement

Lay evangelist Palmer was instrumental in the growth of the Holiness movement, which flourished in the late nineteenth century. She published The Way of Holiness in 1845, led hundreds of revivals, established urban missions, and emphasized that holiness was immediately available to the believer through faith in Jesus Christ.

1847 CE Mormons Establish Deseret in Utah Territory

Mormonism arose in upstate New York in the early 1830s under the leadership of Joseph Smith. Under Brigham Young, Mormons later established a communal society in Utah. Mormonism’s political separatism and teachings on polygamy led to persecution and serious clashes with the federal government in the years prior to the Civil War.

1848 CE Oneida Community is Founded

Religious enthusiasm and zeal for reform fostered the creation of utopian communities. The most successful was Oneida, a community devoted to Christian perfectionism, established in upstate New York by John Humphrey Noyes.

1853 CE Congregationalists Ordain First Female Minister

In 1853, Antoinette Brown Blackwell became the first American woman to be ordained a minister. Universalist Olympia Brown was ordained the following year. Some other churches followed suit, but a broad-based trend toward women’s ordination would emerge only in the middle of the twentieth century.

1859 CE Darwin Publishes The Origin of Species

The publication of Darwin’s theories of evolution marked an important watershed in the relationship between modern science and traditional Christianity. The increasing authority of Darwinian ideas also created severe strains between liberal and conservative Christians later in the century.

1861-1865 CE The Civil War

The Civil War, the bitter struggle between the North and the South, proved as traumatic for American Christianity as for the nation as a whole. The controversy over slavery not only divided the U.S. on regional lines, but also caused schisms in several Protestant denominations. The devastation wrought by the war led many preachers to see it as an occasion both for divine judgment and for national renewal.

1866 CE African-American Citizenship

The end of slavery and the emancipation of slaves after the Civil War fostered the growth of black Christianity in the South, even though the failure of Reconstruction and the establishment of the principle of “separate but equal” in 1896 blunted its impact. But over the course of the century, independent African-American churches flourished, becoming the most influential black-controlled institutions in the country.

1874 CE Women’s Christian Temperance Union

An outgrowth of antebellum reformism, this temperance group became an important political force under the leadership of Frances Willard, who linked moral reform, temperance, and the protection of the family to women’s rights.

1877 CE James Gibbons Named Archbishop of Baltimore

Gibbons was the most influential leader of the Roman Catholic church in the late 19th century. He attempted to forge a distinctly American form of Catholicism that combined traditional theology with progressive religious and political values. Many of the initiatives of Gibbons and allies such as Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul came under Vatican disapproval and did not prevail in the longer run.

1877 CE Japanese Gospel Society in San Francisco

This society was among the earliest expressions of Asian-American Protestantism. The further growth of Asian-American churches was hampered by widespread anti-Asian sentiments and restrictions on Asian immigration.

1879 CE Zion’s Watchtower Begins Publication

Zion’s Watchtower became the official publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Founded by Charles Taze Russell, the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Their refusal to swear oaths and to enter the military later led to landmark Supreme Court decisions regarding religious freedom.

1879 CE Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science

Eddy founded the First Church of Christ, Scientist. The Christian Science movement taught a distinct form of Christian mental or spiritual healing, which reflected the growth of interest in healing and metaphysics in New England.

1880 CE The Salvation Army Comes to America

British Methodists William and Catherine Booth founded the Salvation Army in 1878 and the organization officially came to the United States two years later. The Booths intended the hierarchical organization and elaborate charitable system they created to supplement traditional evangelism and spread the work of saving the souls of the downtrodden. Although their primary focus was on converting individuals to belief in Jesus Christ and guiding them to experience otherworldly blessings, the practical relief efforts sponsored by the Salvationists demonstrated to the poor that the new denomination took seriously both the social and spiritual aspects of Christianity.

1880-1920 CE Migration Challenges Catholic Leadership

Millions of Catholics from south, central, and eastern Europe migrated to cities across the continent. This immigration increased the tensions among ethnic groups within the American church, while giving an enduring multi-ethnic cast to the American Catholic community.

1884 CE Roman Catholic Leaders Mandate Parochial Schools

The Third Plenary Council of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States required parishes to open schools in order to resist assimilation. This mandate resulted in the creation of an extensive educational system that supported Catholic distinctiveness well into the 1960s.

1886 CE The Moody Bible Institute Founded in Chicago

Dwight Moody was the most important Protestant revivalist of the Gilded Age. The Institute provided traditional Biblical education, trained missionaries and teachers, and served as a model for numerous Bible schools across the country.

1889 CE Jane Addams Founds Hull House in Chicago

Hull House was an important expression of the Protestant “social gospel.” Under Addams’s leadership, Hull House programs helped to bridge the gulf between mainstream Protestants and the urban poor, many of whom were first generation Catholic immigrants.

1889 CE Andrew Carnegie Pens “The Gospel of Wealth”

Carnegie’s essay, “The Gospel of Wealth,” reflected the cautious social ideals of many prosperous Christians in the Gilded Age. He supported charity and stewardship on the part of the wealthy, while suggesting that the ability to accumulate wealth was an indication of morality.

1891 CE Pope Leo XIII Promulgates Rerum Novarum

This encyclical laid the foundation for distinctly Roman Catholic approaches to Christian social action. American Catholics applauded Leo for his support of social Christianity because of their vital interests in the success of the labor movement.

1893 CE World’s Parliament of Religions

The Parliament was an important showcase for the ecumenical aspirations of many liberal Christians. It was also the first major encounter on American soil between Christians and the representatives of the religions of Asia.

1893 CE Charles Briggs Tried For Heresy

The emerging authority of science and the new historical study of the Bible forced a parting of ways between liberals and conservatives in the Protestant denominations at the end of the nineteenth century. Charles Briggs, a Presbyterian minister and noted biblical scholar, was charged with heresy by conservatives for denying the verbal inerrancy of the Bible. Suspended from the Presbyterian ministry, Briggs withdrew from the denomination and was ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1899.

1895-1898 CE “The Woman’s Bible ” Raises Controversy

Edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “The Woman’s Bible “criticized the representation of women in the traditional biblical text and offered alternative readings affirming the religious role of women. As such, it voiced the criticism of Christianity made by women’s rights advocates in the decades after the Seneca Falls convention of 1848. Conservatives condemned it, but the book became a best-seller and went into seven printings in six months.

1906 CE Pentecostalism Surfaces in Los Angeles

Pentecostalism, which had originated at a Bible college in Topeka, Kansas, in 1901, took on new life at a revival led by William J. Seymour, an African-American preacher, at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles. It stressed gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues and healing. Within a few years the Church of God in Christ, a black pentecostal denomination, was formed.

1907 CE Walter Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel

Rauschenbusch, a Baptist minister and theologian, published Christianity and the Social Crisis which became one the most articulate mainstream Protestant statements of the “social gospel” tradition.

1908 CE Federal Council of Churches

Meeting in Philadelphia, delegates from thirty-three denominations formed the Federal Council of Churches, which became a platform for expressing a Protestant Christian voice on urgent social issues. The Council adopted a study on “The Church and Modern Industry” at its inaugural meeting. With laborers in the steel industry, the Council raised its voice against the twelve-hour work day and the seven-day work week.

1910-1915 CE Publication of “The Fundamentals”

In response to the growing authority of liberal Protestantism, conservative scholars published this influential series of books which helped to define beliefs about the Bible and Christian theology central to the rise of the fundamentalist movement.

1914 CE Assemblies of God Formed in Hot Springs, Arkansas

This denomination would become the largest pentecostal church in the world later in the century. In the mid 1970s, it was said to be the fastest growing church in America.

1914-1918 CE World War I

Although the World War I eventually called into question the confidence of Protestant liberals in human perfectibility, it also inspired a greater cooperative spirit among Christian denominations and created a new vision of the United States as a world leader.

1914 CE Universal Negro Improvement Association

Founded by Marcus Garvey, the UNIA has been called the largest African-American mass movement prior to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Many of Garvey’s ideas about black nationalism and racial pride are seen as forerunners of black liberation theology.

1919 CE “Bishops’ Program of Social Reconstruction”

The National Catholic War Council published “Social Reconstruction: A General Review of the Problems and a Survey of Remedies.” Written largely by Father John A. Ryan, this progressive call to reform was the first comprehensive Catholic analysis of American social issues.

1920 CE Prohibition Takes Effect

The passage of the 18th Amendment prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicants marked the triumph of the nineteenth-century temperance movement and a victory for a long-standing Protestant moral vision of America. The revocation of the amendment in 1933, however, signaled the eroding authority of the Protestant mainstream.

1921 CE Religious Broadcasting Begins

The first religious broadcast was on a Pittsburgh radio station. The importance of religious broadcasting, first on radio and then television, grew exponentially in the twentieth century.

1927 CE Dorothy Day Converts to Catholicism

Dorothy Day, later a celebrated Christian social activist, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1927. In 1933 she helped found the Catholic Worker newspaper, a publication that expressed her belief that living out Christ’s commandment to love one’s neighbor could transform society. The Catholic Worker movement, which affirmed economic justice, racial equality, and pacifism, has had a profound impact upon American Catholic social thought in the twentieth century.

1932 CE Reinhold Niebuhr, “Moral Man and Immoral Society “

Reinhold Niebuhr and his brother, H. Richard Niebuhr, were prominent representatives of a theological movement that grew disaffected with the optimism of mainstream liberal Protestantism. Their “neo-orthodox” theology helped to revitalize the social gospel and remained intellectually influential among Protestant leaders into the early 1960s.

1939-45 CE World War II

American participation in the Second World War encouraged the identification of nationalism and religion in the battle against the Axis powers. The unity of purpose the war created also helped spark a sustained religious revival that began in the late 1940s. In addition, religious toleration became more commonplace after 1945, as Protestants, Catholics, and Jews came to be seen as part of a single American religious mainstream that countered the antireligious threat posed by Communism.

1942 CE National Association of Evangelicals

The NAE was founded in St. Louis as a cooperative venture among numerous evangelical and fundamentalist Christians to act as a conservative counter force against the more liberal Federal Council of Churches. It played a significant role in sparking the evangelical resurgence of the 1970s and 80s.

1950 CE Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Is Founded

This organization was founded to oversee the far-flung ministries of the most prominent twentieth-century revivalist. Graham, who stood in the tradition of popular nineteenth century revivalists such as Dwight L. Moody and Charles G. Finney, rose to prominence in Los Angeles in 1947 and became a spiritual adviser to a number of presidents.

1951 CE National Council of Churches

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (a successor of the Federal Council of Churches) was formed by thirty-two mainline Protestant and Orthodox denominations. The NCC sponsored the publication of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible in 1952. The NCC provides an ecumenical instrument for theological reflection and social action, including relief work such as Church World Service.

1953 CE Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship

Founded by Demos Shakarian, this fellowship organization helped spread pentecostal beliefs and practices in mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches, and helped to lay the foundation for the charismatic movement that burgeoned in the 1960s.

1957 CE The United Church of Christ Is Formed

The formation of the UCC through the merging of denominations in the Congregational and German Reformed traditions exemplified both the movement toward consolidation among older Protestant denominations and the emerging importance of ecumenicism in mid-twentieth-century America.

1957 CE Southern Christian Leadership Conference

The SCLC was founded in Atlanta, Georgia, in the wake of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott. Its purpose was to coordinate nonviolent protests against racist laws. Under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other clergy, it became one of the central organizations of the Civil Rights Movement.

1960 CE John F. Kennedy Is Elected President

The first Catholic to run for the presidency since Alfred Smith in 1928, Kennedy’s election helped put to rest long-standing fears about a Catholic in the White House. Kennedy remains, however, the only non-Protestant to have become president.

1963 CE Pat Robertson Founds the 700 Club

Southern Baptist minister Pat Robertson founded the “700 Club” by convincing 700 viewers who tuned to his Christian television station to pledge $10.00 a month to support his work. Robertson later organized the Christian Broadcasting Network, the most successful instrument of the “electronic church.” Robertson was also able to mobilize such widespread support for his moral views that he emerged as a leading figure in Republican circles in the late 1980s.

1963 CE March on Washington

In the late summer of 1963, more than 250,000 people came to Washington D.C., to march for civil rights for black Americans. Many groups marched under the banner of churches and church organizations. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., articulated one of the strongest visions of an America free of racial bias in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

1962 – 65 CE The Second Vatican Council is Held in Rome

The Council was convened by Pope John XXIII in order to reformulate Roman Catholic tradition for the modern world. In America, the Council helped to break down long-standing Catholic insularity and to liberalize worship and theology, although some of its reforms provoked dissents and were eventually modified by John’s successors.

1965 CE Congresses Passes the Immigration and Nationality Act

The Hart-Celler Act, which resulted in a sharp rise in Asian and Latino immigration, changed the national quotas, which had previously favored those of northwestern European descent. The new immigration contributed to a realignment in American Christianity, as Christians from Asia, Africa, and Latin America increasingly became part of mainstream American life and also resulted in the rapid growth of Hinduism, Islam, and other religions of non-European origin in the United States.

1967 CE Christian Response to Vietnam War

One signal of a growing Christian opposition to the Vietnam war was the gathering of 2,400 clergy and lay people in Washington D.C., early in 1967 to lobby for an immediate negotiated peace. The group came to be called Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. Under a new name, Clergy and Laity Concerned, the organization continued beyond the Vietnam War era to focus Christian concern in the political arena.

1968 CE Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassinated

King’s assassination in Memphis marked the end of the moderate interracial Civil Rights movement and the start of more radical protests by black militants. This new era profoundly affected African-American theology and the tenor of religious belief in the black churches. In 1969, James Cone published Black Theology and Black Power, signaling the emergence of liberation theology as a significant movement in American religion.

1970s CE Southern Baptist Growth

The Southern Baptist Convention grew rapidly, becoming the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. In this period it also became more theologically conservative. However, this largely white denomination also became more racially inclusive. In 1996, the Convention voted a public apology for its support of slavery during the antebellum era.

1973 CE Abortion Rights in Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade precipitated controversy in the churches. Many Christians understood abortion to be a difficult moral choice, but one women themselves have a right to make. Others saw abortion as a sign of America’s moral failure and called for a crusade to halt it. Roe v. Wade became a rallying point and a litmus test for many Christians as they cast their votes in the public arena.

1980s CE Churches Respond to Nuclear Arms

Concerned with the dangers and ethical implications of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, many major Christian churches in the U.S. made significant statements articulating a Christian response to the arms race. Two of the prominent consensus statements were the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response” (1983) and the document of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church “In Defense of Creation: The Nuclear Crisis and a Just Peace” (1986).

1983 CE Pastoral Letter on Hispanic Catholics

In the 1980s, the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, concerned about the surge in the immigration of Spanish-speaking people and their tendency to abandon Catholicism for evangelical churches, began to strengthen its ties to the American Hispanic population.

1983 CE Response to the AIDS crisis

Several years into the AIDS epidemic, churches began to organize efforts to respond to the crisis. In July of 1983, for example, an ecumenical coalition in San Francisco formed an AIDS network, bringing together United Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, and Buddhist communities.

1988 CE Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The formation of this Lutheran denomination signaled a partial solution to the long-standing fragmentation of Lutheranism in the United States. As the religious landscape of America shifted in the 1970s and 1980s, older groups often attempted to consolidate, while new conservative Protestant groups claimed to form the new mainstream of American Christianity.

1990s CE Homosexuality and the Churches

During the 1990s all of the major denominations in the U.S. began to wrestle with the issue of welcoming homosexuals in the church community and in the Christian clergy. National church bodies studied and debated the issue throughout the decade.

1993 CE Parliament of the World’s Religions

The Parliament confirmed a sense of an ongoing realignment among religious forces as Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jains, Pagans, and New Age groups gathered together. Many prominent evangelical groups remained absent as a new multireligious America gathered in Chicago for the Parliament which was inspired by the World’s Parliament of Religions in that city a century earlier.

2000 CE Religious Right Influences Presidential Election

The election of George W. Bush, a Methodist who had been “born again,” marked a victory for the Religious Right, which had strongly supported Bush and his conservative social, economic, and foreign policies.

2001 CE “9/11” Terrorist Attack

The attack on the World Trade Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., by Islamic radicals raised the level of tension between American Christians and Muslims, as well as other religious groups of Asian origin mistaken for Muslims.

2004 CE Gay Man Chosen Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Gene Robinson became the first partnered gay person to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church, provoking widespread tensions throughout the Worldwide Anglican Communion and precipitating the withdrawal of a number of dioceses and parishes from the Episcopal Church. Other mainline denominations continued to debate gay ordination as well as marriage, which was approved by the Episcopal General Convention in 2012.

2004 CE Roman Catholic Bishops Attack Catholic Candidate

John Kerry, Democratic Senator from Massachusetts and a Roman Catholic, is publicly criticized and even barred from Communion by some bishops for his progressive stances on issues such as abortion and gay rights. He is defeated by George W. Bush.

2006 CE Woman Becomes Episcopal Presiding Bishop

Katherine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada, is elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the first woman to serve as a primate – head of a national church – in the Anglican Communion . Her election further provoked controversy among Anglicans worldwide over women’s leadership roles.

2008 CE African American Elected President of the US

Barack Hussein Obama becomes the first African American to be elected to the US Presidency. Obama, a Democrat and member of the mainline United Church of Christ, continued to be suspected by some of African birth and Muslim sympathies after his election. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor of Obama’s church in Chicago, became a campaign issue because of his speeches denouncing the United States for racial injustice.

2010 CE Supreme Court Has No Protestants

With the confirmation of Elena Kagan to replace John Paul Stevens, the United States Supreme Court consisted of three justices of Jewish background and six Roman Catholics. For the first time, no Protestant sat on that bench.

2012 CE Mormon Nominated for President

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and an active Mormon, receives the Republican nomination for President despite initial resistance by many Evangelicals suspicious of his religious affiliation. He is defeated by Barack Obama, who carries every major demographic group except white males.

2012 CE Southern Baptists Choose Black Leader

New Orleans pastor Fred Luter, Jr., an African American, is elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, which had been founded in the controversy over slavery that had led to the Civil War and associated in recent years with fundamentalist theology and conservative social positions.