Working title?: Swedes in Roger Williams’ Garden: Church, State and Lutheran Theology Community in Swedish Immigrant Churches, 1848-1860

Link HERE for earlier (Oct. 23-Jan. 24) outlines and notes.


Scratch outline for discussion chapter [March 20]

Andersonville – Ebenezer and Immanuel on North Side

– Augustana in Andover (2017 service, capsule history of Aug., orphanage founding of LSSI – village of 534 now – Vasa & church in Mpls in Star Trib story — they fit into a creolization-decreolization pattern described by Erikson, but it is not a linear progression — Esbjörn went the other way and his family came back to America — and the trajectory was repeated at different times with different generations

— Briefly quote Eaton – ELCA expanding past immigrant roots in newspaper interviews — segue into brief discussion of Broader expansion of ELCA – ecumenism – (a) in table fellowship with Episcopalians, Methodists, UCC and Presbyterians, (b) cooperating with ECUSA and Baptist group in response to Christian nationalism

— Latino church in Madison? — salad bowl metaphor and nod at creolization, hybridity. diaspora we’re all immigrants — salad metaphor — Norwegian and Latino pastors — Norwegian as segue back to history

— Bratt talk to Augustana Heritage Society — PICK UP AND REWORK CONCLUSION FROM ALPLM PAPER HERE — ending with bit about diversity, Salman Rushdie, etc. THIS HAS BEEN PASTED IN, NEEDS REWORKING, THO’

NUT GRAF 2-3-4 HEREWhat does it tell us? (notes on legal pad by fireplace)

NUT GRAF(S) – What do long-ago squabbles about church polity and the unaltered Augsburg Confession tell us in our day of polarization, distrust of institutions and Christian nationalism?

  1. The 1850s were much like our own times – even the cholera epidemic, polarization, rancor
  2. Baird’s ecumenism, and the Home Missionary Society’s, had its limits. Swedes were considered OK because they were Protestant and “English” Lutherans were Americanized to the point Baird considered them “Presbyterian” – but conversion narrratives, Sabbath observance and some degree of new measures were normative.
  3. Swedes wemt back to first principles, grounding their membership policy in the Augsburg Confession, Luther’s view of baptism and an openness that goes back to 2nd Isaiah (Sean Freyne?)
  4. Diversity rocks [April 2:
    • how shall we live together? blurb in Subversive Puritan– RW’s story may provide answer — John Barry’s idea that Williams’ and Winthrop’s models have been in conflict ever since 1630
    • Caveat: Augustana Scandinavians retreated into denominationalism and nationalism
    • Parallel: RW was a separatist, founded first Baptist church in British North America — but retreated beyond organized religion entirely — perhaps a forerunner of today’s “none’s”
    • BUT Williams’ concept of “soul libertie” and his relations with the Indians might offer a counter-narrative to the denominationalism of the 1850s
    • We can draw lessons from his principles but more from his life, his story (cf. what Erling says about a life lived
    • Whatever else you can say about it, and however much it failed to meet 21st-century standards, Rhode Island was a forerunner of a religiously and culturally diverse polity.
    • Salman Rushdie may be the aspirational touchstone here — once said his writing “rejoices in mongrelization and fears the absolutism of the Pure. Mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world.”

Therefore, Roger Williams, ironically, sets out a useful counter-narrative.


It wasn’t just a matter of evangelism, or marketing. Asked about the then-recent uproar over rostered LGTBQ clergy, Eaton suggested dialogue and inclusion are central to her faith: 

Lutherans have a history of living with paradox. There are some things that are nonnegotiable for us. But there are other things that it is possible for people who love Jesus holding the same faith together, can have very strong, very sharp disagreements, but it does not have to lead to disunity. Things like marriage or the ordering of government or certain political positions, we can and we do disagree, but we agree on the cross.

We want to be a place that says we can disagree on things that are vitally important but still listen to each other and see in the other a brother or sister in Christ, and more importantly, someone for whom Christ died. [g]

Elizabeth Dias. “Meet the Woman Who Will Lead Evangelical Lutherans: ‘Religious but Not Spiritual’” Time, Aug. 18, 2013. ]

Transition: RW and his antagonists in Massachusetts Bay Colony were immigrants

RW can give us the key – “soul libertie”  a fundamental concept and separation goes into SC charter, may have influenced Locke and therefry the Founders, but also and perhaps more so, his experience in Rhode Island points the way to a multicultural, mutually tolerant society

Swedes only indirectly influenced to RW … but there are parallels in his “soul libertie” and Swedish resistance to normative “post-Calvinist” (my term) folk religion of Protestant America in the 1850s. Which in turn have a bright line to present-day American (read Protestant/”Judeo-Christian” exceptionalism. Damon Linker, “Calvin and American Exceptionalism,” New Republic, July 8, 2009

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In Calvinist interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, Israel was usually portrayed as a nation chosen by God to preserve his law until His Son arrived to purify and promulgate it throughout the world. Israel was thus a divine crucible and a providential conduit for the gospels. And so, it seemed, was America — a nation chosen by God to proclaim the repristinized Christianity of the Protestant Reformation to all peoples.

And Linker says it got a huge boost from anti-Catholic sentiment beginning in the French and Indians War, then post-Revolutionary War nationalism and the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings:

Call it the consolidation of America’s Calvinist consensus. What were once the rather extreme theological convictions dominating a handful of rustic outposts on the edge of a wholly undeveloped continent were now the unifying and motivating ideology of a rapidly expanding and industrializing nation. Whatever difficulties the new nation faced — from the traumas of the War of 1812 to the gradual escalation of regional hostilities that ultimately issued in the Civil War — Americans remained remarkably confident that God was committed to the survival and success of its experiment in free government and would continue to intervene providentially in its affairs to ensure that outcome.

This confidence received an additional boost from the Second Great Awakening that swept through wide swaths of the new nation in the early decades of the nineteenth century. […]


James A. Warren, God, War, and Providence: The Epic Struggle of Roger Williams and the Narragansett Indians against the Puritans of New England (New York: Scribner, 2018)

(“lucrative trading post” at Cocumscussoc, now Cocumscussoc State Park on west bank of Narragansett Bay)  69

Williams’s deed for Providence, like a number of others he helped to execute for the Rhode Island settlements, was a hybrid document. These were framed in the traditional Algonquian manner as tribute arrangements, with due respect for the native practices of reciprocity and ritual exchange, and then “translated” into the language of English contract law. Williams was keenly aware of the hybridity. He understood it was essential to abide by Indian tribute customs and rituals in deal making to ensure peace around the [Narragansett] Bay. 73 

And this, straddling two paragraphs in the conclusion:

[…] Williams’s relationship with his Narragansett neighbors reveals early glimmerings of an alternative vision of Indian-white relations in America. He saw Rhode Island as an experiment in religious liberty and frontier democracy, where people of different races, faiths, and cultures could put aside their differences and live together in a spirit of cooperation and harmony.

In the alliance between Williams and the Narragansett, and in Williams’s quest to establish a tolerant and pluralistic haven in the heart of Puritan New England, we can glimpse at work ideas well ahead of their time. […] 254


Faith Conversation: Discussion questions from Dinner Church, Peace Lutheran Church, Springfield, Dec. 7, 2019:

  • What in this text catches your attention?
  • Is this text Good News to you? Why or why not?
  • What might this text be asking of you?


Thesis statement? [Feb. 2]. When the first wave of Swedish immigrants came to America in the 1850s, their pastors found a religious landscape quite unlike what they had left behind. While they tended to be Pietists and they were influenced by British nonconformist evangelists, they were accustomed to a Lutheran state church that was evolving into a “folk church” along Nordic lines; in America they encountered a system where church and state were separated, and churches by law and custom alike were voluntary organizations that competed vigorously for members. The prevailing culture was Protestant, and the most influential denominations were descended from 17th-century Puritans in New England.

By and large American Protestants of the 1850s subscribed to the English Puritan notion of the church as a gathered community of saints.

Outline from 30,000 feet, Jan. 31

  1. Intro

2. Body

  • Prologue — in Sweden
  • Chicago — (see below for more detail)
    • Start with Powell’s description, zoom out to Chicago in 1847-50s, farther out to Baird’s account of evangelical and “unevangelical” churches in America (cf Tajfel).
    • From ALPLM paper: touch very lightly on Frances FitzGerald’s suggests that the ideal of “close-knit communities … bound by a covenant, where church and state cooperated in an effort to build a Holy Commonwealth,” had evolved into a “folk religion” that by the mid-19th century was normative in Protestant America. (NOT a folk church!) and Paul Andersen’s creolized theological backgrond and conflict over membership
    • Zoom back in to Chicago — competition from St. Ansgarius, Passavent — cholera — Rev. Andersen’s ministry to cholera-stricken Swedes — his Congregationalist background at Beloit, membership squabble with business owner — Esbjörn passes through
  • Andover
    • Open with Norelius’ first impression of Esbjörn
    • getting started / challenges — poverty, cholera, setting up a Swedish parish in western Illinois
    • Competition with Methodists and Baptists
    • relationship with American Home Missionary Society
    • Transition — Music — Esbjörn mss, etc., creolization as other parishes established and relations with other Swedish congregations …. and other Lutherans … Immanuel in Chicago — in 1851
  • Geneva and Minnesota
    • Open with consecration of the new church in Geneva
    • Northern Illinois Synod and other Lutherans – “new measures” unaltered Augsburg Confession
    • Politics and Civil War
  • Epilogue — trajectory of Augustana Synod (creolization and decreolization)

3. Conclusions and findings — ??? In no particular order: What can we learn from this? Augustana Synod in later years — ecumenically minded, welcoming. Could this reflect their understanding of Luther as interpreted by the Church of Sweden? Like any other group of people, cheerfully harbored contradictory beliefs and practices — but we can (quote Erland) look at the reaction of early pastors to what they considered a Reformed, or Calvinist, membership policy and engage with it. Like other immigrant groups the Swedes came to America and reconnected with their roots (quote guy from Calvin College in this), cf. Noll? Remember Lutherans are an immigrant church (cite book)

  • Cf. Lutheran and Reformed conceptions of church membership and community — Esbjörn’s letter to Norelius, followed by Noll (?) cf. evangelical Protestant norms — tension between Roger Williams and John Winthrop’s (Barry) attitudes to church and state
  • individualism of Calvinist churches (Fukayama?) — Swedish concept of a folk church, only emerging at that time but different to American individualism and concept of community … cite Scandinavian welfare state studies, including Church of Finland Sami, Russian Orthodox … ??? former immigrant churches in Mpls, Vasa and Madison, Wis. Quote from Easton on breaking out of ethnic ghetto
  • Does the Swedes’c conception of the unaltered Augsburg Confession say anything to us today in an era marked by us-vs.-them separatism, deep divides between peoples?

More detailed (and partially superseded) outline from Jan. 25 or so

Intro: Maria Erling quote (98). The study of history attempts … to bring the voices of the past, things once seen and felt, into a living engagement with the present.”

  • Elizabeth Eaton at Founders’ Day — “the welcoming that augustana has always  been a witness to in the greater church … It’s a model for the rest of the church, particularly in these days when the culture says you’ve got to identify which camp you’re in and separate yourself one from another lest you be contaminated by that other person.
  • 21st-century polarization, etc. — one of its roots in evangelical movement over the centuries — maybe bring in Ezra Klein’s discussion of Henri Tajfel’s in- and out-groups in Why We’re Polarized
  • Folk church — and its grounding in Luther’s arrangements in Electoral Saxony in the 1500s, Lutheran theology, etc. Cf. pietists. Augsburg Confession, Art. VII, rely on that article in JLE

Prologue: In no particular order (yet) Esbjörn and/or Norelius in Sweden — Baird at Hudsvoll (sp) — Awakening in Sweden, cf. English nonconformists, second great awakening in America clash between continental Protestantism and English/American —

  • Church of Sweden was on its way to becoming a folk church, but it wasn’t there yet. Considerable difference between a folk, or established, church; a gathered community of believers, like the English nonconformists; and the American model, which developed from 17th-century English nonconformists — Puritans —
  • Diarmand MacCulloch, discussion on Anglo-American history Diarmaid MacCulloch, the Protestant American ethos of the day was one of “covenant, chosenness, of wilderness triumphantly converted to garden … served up with a powerful dose of extrovert revivalist fervour.” The Puritan heritage led to “a Christianity shaped by a very different historical experience from western Europe.”
  • Overview of Swedish immigration — in a present progressive tense? (“In coming years Swedes would ..” etc) . Lutherans in America?

A. Chicago: Start with Powell’s description, zoom out to Chicago in 1847-50s, overall description, then mention churches (if I can find them) — at that point a Protestant town — zoom farther out to Baird’s account of evangelical and “unevangelical” churches in America (cf Tajfel).

  • From ALPLM paper: Frances FitzGerald suggests that the ideal of “close-knit communities … bound by a covenant, where church and state cooperated in an effort to build a Holy Commonwealth,” had evolved into a “folk religion” that by the mid-19th century was normative in Protestant America. (NOT a folk church!) It relied on hellfire-and-brimstone sermons leading up to an emotional conversion experience – a “new birth” or “sudden experience of God’s grace,” followed by participation in “a church community that taught moral discipline.” FitzGerald adds that this kind of conversion “was a social act in that it entailed joining a church, abiding by its standards, and becoming a role model for others, but the society thus conceived was a small one.”
  • Zoom back in to Chicago — competition from St. Ansgarius — cholera — Rev. Andersen’s ministry to cholera-stricken Swedes — his Congregationalist background at Beloit, membership squabble with business owner — Esbjörn passes through

B. Andover: Start with Norelius’ first meeting with Esbjörn — Pillsbury daughters — set up a fair approximation of a Swedish parish in western Illinois …

  • Competition with Methodists and Baptists — cf. Esbjörn’s expectations
  • Conflict with American Home Missionary Society over membership — Esbjörn’s letter to Norelius (very brief, to lay foundation for later), and Norelius’ reax
  • MOVE SOMEWHERE __ BUT WHERE? Capsule history here of the Northern Illinois Synod and Augustana — future bios as transition: Esbjörn would return to Sweden, Norelius would go on to be president of Augustana Synod, write 1890 history — Andersen — after Norwegians split of to Norway, to Norway, Milwaukee and eventually to the North Side of Chicago where he would lend his name to the Andersonville community

C. Luther’s Dear Angels in Swede Town: Transition with Carlsson’s pamphlet recommending postils … were read by fledgling churches in Iowa, Minnesota and Chicago (before Carlsson came to Chi)

  • Christmas afternoon sermon — julotta? Luther’s dear angels — in detail
  • Cf. Lutheran — two kingdoms — Leslie F. Weber, JLE: Luther, in his Large Catechism explanation of the Fourth Commandment, compares government to fatherhood in the way that civil authority is like a “father” to “as many people as he has inhabitants, citizens, or subjects.”  […] The work of the temporal power is God’s work.  Based on this representation and relationship, Luther says government is owed honor and respect.
  • Function of the church was ministry of Word and sacrament — at Andover, Chicago, new parishes on frontier — {move?with network of Swedish pastors in upper Mississippi valley and, initially, Sugar Grove, Pa., — Northern Illinois Synod — dedication of church in Geneva — hymn “ord och sakrament” — at college
  • Esbjörn’s letter to Norelius, 1856

Epilogue: Esbjörn’a report at Uppsala — the children learn English very quickly in that country.

Conclusion (findings and discussion):

Notes and futures:

  • [Jan. 17, 25] In his study of polarization [a], Ezra Klein cites research by Henri Tajfel and posits that American political loyalties, like those for sports teams, fall out along “us-vs.-them” lines separating “in-groups” from “out-groups.” Paraphrasing Tajfel, a Polish Jew who narrowly escaped the Holocaust and went on to become an experimental psychologist, Klein says “We do not need to hate or fear members of an out-group to turn on them. We do not need to have anything material to gain by turning on them. Once we have classified them as, well, them, that is enough — we will find ourselves inclined to treat them skeptically, even hostilely, because that is what we are used to [52] doing with anyone we see as a ‘them’.” … (49-55, at 51-52). I would suggest that the Puritan ideal of the church — and with it the commonwealth — as a gathered community of believers is still deep in the bones and marrow of the American body politic. Roger Williams, who formulated the separation of church and state, was almost uniquely hospitable to out-groups — whether they were Narragansett Indians, Jews or Quakers — but his fear of contamination by unbelievers, amounting almost to a phobia, was inextricably bound up with it. In the 1850s, the legacy of that fear made trouble for Esbjörn and Swedish Lutherans who were accustomed to the more latitudinarian practices of an established folk church; I would argue that this inner conflict still makes trouble for us today, and Esbjörn’s complex reaction to it is worthy of emulation.
  • PDF file available of Tajfel, H.; Turner, J. C. (1986). “The social identity theory of intergroup behaviour”. In S. Worchel; W. G. Austin (eds.). Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall. pp. 7–24.


[Jan. 23] — quote: “We may be certain that it was not a comfortable thing for the Scandinavians to know that among a certain element of the university and city population they were looked upon as plebeians and stigmatized as ‘green Swedes’; but we may be equally certain that there was on Esbjörn’s part a nationalistic prejudice which caused him to see matters in a false light and to suspect things that existed only in his own imagination.” George Stephenson, The Founding of the Augustana Synod, 1850-1860 (Rock Island: Augustana Book Concern, 1927), 111. [b] [note on 110-11 cites communication to Lutheran Observer, Feb. 24, 1860, signed “Western,” replying to comms. from “Illinoian” and “Egyptian” — denying “that there was suspicion and hostility against ‘foreigners’ at Illinois State University” that letter is in American Origin …, with derogatory quotes about Europeans assigned to Springer, Vol. IX, pp. 98ff ]


It may be that as a lawyer I [5] take the Court’s distorting lessons in American intellectual history too seriously. I must remind you, however, that a great may Americans — lawyers and non-lawyers alike — tend to think that because a majority of the justices have the power to bind us by their law they are also empowered to bind us by their history. Happily that is not the case. Each of us is entirely free to find his history in other places than the pages of the United States Reports. (4-5) Mark DeWolfe Howe, The Garden and the Wilderness: Religion and Government in American Constitutional History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.


Works Cited

Maria Erling, “Past Imperfect: Spiritual Lessons From Things Left Behind,” in Spirituality: Toward a 21st-Century Lutheran Understanding, ed. Kirsi Stjerna and Brooks Schramm (Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press, 2004), 98.

Frances FitzGerald, in The Evangelicals; The Struggle to Shape America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018), 14-20, 31-40, 54

Ezra Klein, Why We’re Polarized (New York: Avid Reader Press, 2020), 49-55.

Mark DeWolfe Howe, The Garden and the Wilderness: Religion and Government in American Constitutional History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), 4-5.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (New York: Penguin, 2009), 764-65.

George Stephenson, The Founding of the Augustana Synod, 1850-1860. (Rock Island: Augustana Book Concern, 1927), 111.

Leslie F. Weber. “Changing Lutheran Perspectives on the Role of Government,” Journal of Lutheran Ethics, March 1, 2014

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