Is it Time for Another Great Awakening?

I was at a breakfast meeting with friends Trenton Davis and Derek Peebles from the Economics of Compassion Initiative’s Jubilee Circle. During our conversation, Trenton brought up some research he’s been doing on the conditions that led to the Civil War. I am a history nerd, so I knew that the early 1800’s were filled with all sorts of economic ups and downs, large multi-national corporations like the East India Company spanned the globe. The British Empire had ruled for hundreds of years. Slavery was a global business and central to the accumulation of wealth for the British Empire and later the United States. It was also a time when our institutions as a country were being built or re-thought and re-imagined. There was a sense of deep moral questioning on our identity as a country and our commitment to one another, what bonds us together.

The social upheaval of the early 19th century gave rise to the 2nd Great Awakening. It was a religious revival that led to the resurgence of the church in America. This movement also gave fuel to the abolitionist movement. Several of the leaders of this movement gave rise to preachers like Lyman Beecher and Charles Finney who called for renewed commitment to faith where ending slavery and reconciliation were central. Altar calls during this time were marked by a call to make a stand againstslavery. 

The 2nd Great Awakening did not prevent the Civil War, but it laid the foundation for ending slavery. It gave folks a sense of agency and that they could be the change that they wanted to be. However, it didn’t go far enough.

What struck me in my breakfast conversation with Derek and Trenton is that upheaval of the the early 1800’s can be compared to our cultural upheaval today. Our institutions are either in decline or in transition, the political debate has become toxic and partisan, violence is being inflicted upon our schools and neighborhoods, faith communities are in peril as their numbers dwindle and as they search for identity, and we cannot seem to find our shared humanity as folks stockpile weapons and look for safety by building walls rather than seeking union. Large corporations control a vast amount of wealth and influence our government as well as other governments. It can seem hopeless at times and that we no longer have personal or communal agency.

We are still a relatively young democracy and country. Some would say we are even a flawed democracy and our social fabric is fraying if not already torn. What we need now is another Great Awakening, which, I believe is already in motion and has the potential of going much further than the previous Great Awakenings. This is not simply a movement around a specific dogma or belief, nor is in dominated by any one group. This is a movement rooted deeply in faith and in the desire to connect and to see our neighborhoods and communities flourish. It is a movement that is calling institutions towards re-functioning and to a place of support and encouragement rather than control.

This is a movement rooted deeply in faith and in the desire to connect and to see our neighborhoods and communities flourish.

It is also a movement that is calling us towards equity in relationships and racial reconciliation. movement that rejects the notion of divisiveness and fear that keeps power in the hands of a few. It is a movement that leads towards maturity and awareness of our shared humanity and that we are all created equal in God’s eyes regardless of skin color, economic isolation, gender, identity, sexuality, etc…it rejects the labels that divide us. The only label that matters is “human”, and that we are all created in the image of God, which means that we are created good and loved.

It is not an Awakening of “certainty” or absolutism, it is an awakening towards what Dr. Walter Brueggemann calls “relational fidelity”. That is the trajectory of the notion of Jubilee in the Torah, and in the Christian tradition as well as many other faith traditions.

It is not an Awakening of “certainty” or absolutism, it is an awakening towards what Dr. Walter Brueggemann calls “relational fidelity”.

If we are to address the issues of our day, the issues that divide us. We have a need for a change of heart, a change of mind. A word that sometimes is misunderstood is “repentance”. It simply means just that, a change or transformation of heart and mind. Transformation cannot be legislated well, it cannot be controlled or manipulated. True change, growth, transformation, repentance happens when folks are allowed their full agency in their humanity and can come to a place of recognition, awareness, or “awakening” if you will of who they are and their need for community.

This Great Awakening is calling for folks to stand up, to walk forward, to be counted as people committed to ending all that divides us, to put an end to any “ism” or injustice that puts folks on the margins or dehumanizes them. It is a movement that will call our country, our world towards union, or, as we say in my tradition, “communion”, or sharing together in unity. And, in so doing, can address the pressing issues of our day with different questions, out of community and in community with others.


About the Author

Rich Jones is the pastor of Fleming Road UCC in the Finneytown neighborhood in Cincinnati. He is on the board for Economics of Compassion and Oasis Cincinnati and is an organizing team member and community connector for The Parish Collective. He also coaches cross country at Finneytown Schools and is an obsessive runner. His spouse, Debbie, is a PTA and they have two teenagers, McKenzie and Brennan.

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