Dear Workshop,

On Thursday, April 5, Catherine Brekus, Associate Professor in the Divinity School will present:


“Love Thy Neighbor” a chapter from her book Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America (forthcoming from Yale in Fall of 2012)


Time: 12:00, Thursday, April 5, 2012

Place: Swift Hall, Room 400

Food: Snacks provided, feel free to bring your lunch!

Paper: Please email to request a copy of Professor Brekus’ paper.


The following is a short excerpt from the chapter:

1759. The French and Indian War is in its fifth devastating year. Many families in Newport have lost loved ones in the fighting, and because of high prices and dwindling food supplies many are also destitute. Newport’s almshouse is filled with widows and orphans who lack food, clothing, and a safe place to sleep.

Sarah spends many sleepless nights worrying about whether she and Henry might fall into bankruptcy again, but even though she can barely pay their rent, she is determined to help the hundreds of other impoverished and distressed people in Newport whose lives have been disrupted by the war. Praying to God in the pages of her diary, she promises to open her hand and heart to the “sick, poor, and needy”—a description that easily could have been written about Sarah herself. She, too, is chronically ill and has little money to spare, but inspired by Jesus’ injunction to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” she resolves to emulate three biblical characters who sacrificed their own needs for the good of others: the good Samaritan who tenderly bathed a stranger’s wounds, the poor widow who gave away her last two mites to the public treasury, and the “profitable servant” in the Parable of the Talents who treated the hungry, naked, sick, and imprisoned as if they were Jesus himself. Inspired by the words of Jesus to his disciples, she transcribes them in her diary: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” If she cannot afford to give money to the poor, she can still visit the sick, comfort the dying, and share the gospel with others, and if she feels too weak to leave her house she can still pray. “Make me a blessing in my day,” she implores God.

One of the distinctive features of the new evangelical movement was its commitment to doing good. As we have seen, evangelicals were ambivalent about the humanitarian movement because of their conviction that suffering could be redemptive, but they also absorbed its language of benevolence as their own. Although evangelicals refused to see human flourishing as the greatest good, they accepted the premise that people should strive to alleviate suffering and to create a better world, and they had obvious affinities to a movement that echoed Jesus’ ethical command to “love they neighbor as thyself.” Holding two beliefs in tension, Sarah thought that God’s plan for the world included suffering, but she was also convinced that Christians were called to alleviate it. “If you have no Compassion, no Value of the bodies of Men,” George Whitefield warned, “you are not, indeed, my dear Brethren, Christians, nor true Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.”


Best wishes to all, and I hope to see you there!


– Paul


Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact Paul Chang in advance at