Friday, April 3, 2020

Walker Robins's "Between Dixie and Zion"

Walker Robins is lecturer in history at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. His work has been published in the Journal of Church and State, Journal of Southern Religion, Baptist History & Heritage Journal, and Israel Studies.

Robins applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Between Dixie and Zion: Southern Baptists and Palestine before Israel, and reported the following:
In the true spirit of the test, here’s page 99 of Between Dixie and Zion without any context:
…the conflict, which Britain hoped to settle by dividing the land. Creasman was not optimistic about partition; Jews and Arabs alike wanted all of Palestine, so the plan was unlikely to succeed.

After that 1938 issue, Creasman continued to foreground the conflict in her program materials. Even the 1940 issue titled “To the Jew First,” which was focused specifically on Jewish evangelism, included a description of the Arab perspective in its program materials on Palestine—a sharp divergence from the pre-1937 issues. After noting that “we find ourselves wishing that Palestine could once more belong exclusively to the Jews,” she wrote, “we must remember that the Arabs have lived in the land for many centuries and consider it their national home.” Britain had made promises to Arabs and Jews alike. Beyond pointing to those promises, Creasman wrote in 1944 that World War I had unleashed a new “spirit of nationalism,” a “new enthusiasm for democracy,” and an “atmosphere of progress” in the region. Through their unfulfilled promises, though, the Great Powers had failed to capitalize on these developments after the war. Creasman hoped that similar mistakes would not be repeated after the Second World War.

Whatever Palestine’s political fate would be, for Creasman and the WMU—as for the authors of the graded mission study series—Christ remained Palestine’s only hope. “When the Jews receive their rejected Messiah, when the Arabs realize that full salvation can be found in the cross of Christ,” Creasman wrote in 1938, “then will Jesus come again to Palestine bringing peace and good will to the peoples of this land.” She repeated much the same wish in every article or lesson dealing with the region. In one issue, Royal Service even suggested visualizations. In Mrs. Charles Mullins’s 1944 instructions for the BWCs, she advised leaders to make a display featuring a map of Palestine that was torn and stretched, “as if it were being pulled apart.” “At the left of the map paste a picture of a Jewish scroll,” she suggested, “at the right a Mohammedan mosque, beneath a swastika, above a cross.” The display was to read “Who will win Palestine?” The expectation and hope, clearly, was that the cross would triumph.


As mentioned, part of the value in viewing the program materials in Royal Service lay in seeing how program editors Elizabeth Brower Nimmo and, especially, Myrtle Robinson Creasman interpreted the sometimes divergent materials produced by other Baptists. How, for example, did Creasman integrate new material like the graded mission study series into her programming on Palestine? How did she reconcile seemingly contradictory…
I have to say — page 99 provides a surprisingly good window into the wider work! Or at least one part of it. Overall, Between Dixie and Zion looks at how Southern Baptists encountered the Holy Land in the decades leading up to the establishment of Israel, when Arabs and Jews were struggling for control of British-ruled Palestine. Part of its argument is that how Southern Baptists encountered Palestine went a long way in determining what they thought about it. The individual chapters of the book are organized according to the different types of encounter (there are chapters on Arab Baptists, Jewish converts, foreign missionaries, and even Harry Truman, among others). Page 99 falls in a chapter called “Auxiliaries,” which looks at how the Woman’s Missionary Union (the Southern Baptist body tasked with educating the Baptist public on mission fields) presented Palestine in their monthly magazine, Royal Service. This chapter is somewhat unique for reasons laid out at the bottom of page 99—the editors of Royal Service were not just presenting their own perspectives but integrating the sometimes-divergent materials produced by other Southern Baptists. The interrupted question at the bottom of the page points to the key question of the chapter—how did the editors reconcile sometimes-contradictory interpretations of the conflict in Palestine? The answer, unstated but demonstrated on Page 99, is that they tended to mush these interpretations together rather than play them against each other (you can see this in the first full paragraph of the page).

At the same time, Page 99 does not hit other main argument of the book—that, irrespective of their particular religious or political leanings, Southern Baptists consistently drew orientalist contrasts between Jews and Arabs, identifying the Zionists with the “civilized West” over and against the Palestinian Arabs, whom they identified as part of a “backward East.” While few Southern Baptists were supportive of Zionism during this time, those that did support the movement were able to seize on these widespread impressions in making the case for it.
Learn more about Between Dixie and Zion: Southern Baptists and Palestine before Israel.

--Marshal Zeringue