Didn’t get a thing done this week, just some thinking and maybe a page and a half of writing. Too much class prep to do with the four-year college semester starting next Wednesday.
Here’s the thing with Flintoff—at first glance, he is the wrong person to follow an extended discussion of church discipline. He did not defy authority. He did not dispute doctrine. He did not drink, abandon his family, skip Sunday services, or otherwise provoke the rebuke of his congregations. Can you see where I’m going with this? Most people did not do those things. It does not necessarily follow that most people strove for discipline as hard as Flintoff did, but it is a safe assumption that many tried.
Flintoff is good for looking at how individuals employed disciplinary thinking outside the context of church courts. As I’m trying to argue, disciplinary thinking was more than coercion, but a guide to ethical behavior in the world. We do see in Flintoff an excellent example of someone struggling with maintaining piety while living in a den of iniquity (Mississippi). His was not an individual struggle. Flintoff’s personal salvation required that his social environment and his personal communities be amenable to Christian living. But when the sinful world hectored him out of Mississippi, Flintoff did not retreat into individual despair or a congregational existence cut off from the world. He renegotiated his secular world to fit his disciplinary needs. In doing so, he reconsidered the legitimacy of his previous secular aspirations (to be a cotton planter) and proceeded with new ones (to be a yeoman farmer). He had priortizied religious needs over all others. He never recognized a boundary between religious life and the world, and enacted his religious belief in the decisions he made in the secular sphere.
(Flintoff knew then what many of us know today: North Carolina is God’s Country.)
I don’t know what y’all are thinking about this whole accountability exercise, but it has been an incredible boon for me. I think I’ve gotten more work done because I just know I have to report back some progress. Even more, focused summarizing of my thinking these last few weeks has enabled me to work through some analytical problems. And I’ve got no shortage of those.
Tomorrow I’m going to tell you that I’m going to make something of Flintoff, this week. Think I might spend this afternoon reading again about Cyrus Stuart.