How the Great Awakening Strengthened Equality
When a Christian evangelical revival swept through the American colonies in the mid-1700s, known as the Great Awakening, it caused many Americans to become more aware of and reacquainted with Judeo-Christian ideas in the Bible. In addition to human dignity, another idea that Revivalists upheld by teaching the Bible and the Gospel message was that all men are equal before God. This idea influenced early Americans’ views and values of equality among men.
Revivalists saw Christianity as an equalizer or non-respecter of persons regardless of race, gender, social status, economic standing, education, position, wealth, or power. Despite differences, for example, all men are in a fallen moral state before God and have broken God’s moral law. Awakening theologian Jonathan Edwards expressed the sinful condition of every person in his Doctrine of Original Sin:
All should naturally be in one and the same moral state; and not in such exceedingly different states, as that some should be perfectly innocent and holy, but others corrupt and wicked; some needing a Savior, but others needing none; some in a confirmed state of perfect happiness, but others in a state of…perfect and eternal misery; some justly exposed to great calamities in this world, but others by their innocence raised above all suffering. Such a vast diversity of state would by no means have agreed with the natural and necessary constitution and unavoidable situation and circumstance of the world of mankind.
As every person is in a fallen moral state, Edwards taught, Christ’s salvation is needed by and available to everyone. In his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Edwards echoed the Bible’s message in Galatians 6:15 of human equality in Christ: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision [Jew] nor uncircumcision [Gentile or non-Jew], neither high profession nor low profession, neither a fair story nor a broken one, avails anything; but a new creature.” In Christianity, all people regardless of differences fall short of God’s standard, and all may find peace, hope, love, and redemption in Christ.
As it were, all kinds of people were affected by the Great Awakening in New England. Edwards observed in his Narrative of Surprising Conversions, “The work in this town, and some others around us, has been extraordinary on account of the universality of it, affecting all sorts, sober and vicious, high and low, rich and poor, wise and unwise. It reached the most considerable families and persons to all appearance, as much as others.”
The Great Awakening’s teaching of the Bible-based idea of every person’s equality in God’s eyes helped to renew and strengthen the concept of equality among early Americans prior to the American Revolution. In recognizing the equal standing and worth of every person before God, many early Americans similarly recognized and valued the equal rights of and the equal application of the law to every person.
Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.
Source: Kamrath, Angela E. The Miracle of America: The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief. Second Edition. Houston, TX: American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.
1. The Principle of Popular Sovereignty – Consent of the Governed
2. The Religious Landscape of the Thirteen Colonies in the Early 1700s
3. Great Awakening Emerges in Early America – Impacting Religion, Society, Politics
4. Jonathan Edwards: Theologian of the Great Awakening
5. George Whitefield: Evangelist of the Great Awakening
6. Great Awakening Principle: The Dignity of the Human Being
7. Great Awakening Principle: All Men Equal Before God
8. Great Awakening Principle: “Born Again” Personal Spiritual Conversion
9. Great Awakening Principle: The Judeo-Christian Law of Love
10. Great Awakening Principle: The Unalienable Right to Freedom of Belief
11. Great Awakening Principle: Happiness
12. Great Awakening Principle: Purpose for Just Civil Government
13. Great Awakening Effects on American Religion: A New Church Landscape
14. Great Awakening Effects on Society: Education, Missions, Humanitarianism, Women, Gospel
15. Great Awakening Effects on American Unity, Democracy, Freedom, & Revolution
Activity: The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 5, Part 1, Activity 6: A Natural Right to Freedom of Conscience and the Equality of All Mankind, p. 179-180. MS-HS.
A Natural Right to Freedom of Conscience and the Equality of All Mankind….
Purpose/Objective: Students learn about theologian Jonathan Edwards and his well-known teachings and writings on Christian belief, life, and doctrine regarding freedom of conscience and equality, which played an important role in educating colonists during the Great Awakening.
1) Chapter 5 of Miracle of America reference/text. Students read sections Introduction, 5.1, 5.2, 5.4-5.6, 5.8.
2) Related blogs/videos (see above).
Students work individually to make a collage to depict the Great Awakening using words, quotes, symbols, and images. Examples of images might include pictures of people in outdoor meetings, revival speakers, churches, and early colonial religious settings. As a class, discuss the ways in which these words and images portray the significance, energy, and roots of the movement. The collages should portray the concepts of freedom of conscience and/or equality among people. The teacher can assess students on 1) their choice of images and quotes for the collage, 2) their demonstration of key concepts of this part of the unit, 3) the neatness of their work, and 3) their participation in class discussion related to this activity. (Credit can be assigned evenly among these four sections or weighted to give more credit for 1 and 2.)
To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org. To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.
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