Tag Archives: evangelicalism

The Day Christian Fundamentalism Was Born

26 May

For many Americans, it was thrilling to be alive in 1919. The end of World War I had brought hundreds of thousands of soldiers home. Cars were rolling off the assembly lines. New forms of music, like jazz, were driving people to dance. And science was in the ascendant, after helping the war effort. Women, having done so much on the home front, were ready to claim the vote, and African-Americans were eager to enjoy full citizenship, at long last. In a word, life was dazzlingly modern.

But for many other Americans, modernity was exactly the problem. As many parts of the country were experimenting with new ideas and beliefs, a powerful counterrevolution was forming in some of the nation’s largest churches and Bible institutes. A group of Christian leaders, anxious about the chaos that seemed to be enveloping the globe, recalibrated the faith and gave it a new urgency. They knew that the time was right for a revolution in American Christianity. In its own way, this new movement — fundamentalism — was every bit as important as the modernity it seemingly resisted, with remarkable determination.

Historian Matthew Avery Sutton suggests that 100 years ago, fundamentalist Protestantism was born. While the specific year and occasion are subject to debate, Sutton adeptly and concisely describes the concerns of fundamentalists and points out some ongoing impacts. You can read the rest of his New York Times op-ed here.

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Evangelicals and Immigration: A Conflicted History

18 Mar

In yellow paint, the words "I was a stranger and you welcomed me - Jesus" are written on brown, rusty fence slats.

Last June, a national outcry followed the Trump administration’s policy to separate children from their parents at the U.S. border. In response to the public outrage, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions pointed to the Apostle Paul’s “clear and wise command in Romans 13,” recorded in the Bible. In this passage, the Apostle urged Christians to obey the governing authorities, Sessions claimed, and implied that the asylum seekers had violated this biblical mandate. Indeed, obedience to the governing authorities has informed evangelicals’ thinking on immigration for well over a decade. When it comes to immigration, white evangelicals value the unity of families and the rule of law, with a preference for the latter. For many evangelicals, the immigration debate starts and ends with the Apostle Paul’s exhortion to “be subject to the governing authorities.”

White evangelicals, in particular, consistently favor hard-line stances on immigration. As a Public Religion Research Institute survey published last October shows, they are the only religious group which believes that immigrants threaten American society (57 percent) and which supports banning refugees from entering the U.S. (51 percent). And while evangelicals of other ethnicities have somewhat softer attitudestoward immigrants, Latino evangelicals supported President Trump in surprisingly large numbers, despite his extremely anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy proposals (49.4 percent, compared with under a third of all Hispanics), as political scientist Ryan Burge has found.

But as a look at evangelicals’ long history of ministering to immigrants and refugees shows, evangelical skepticism of immigration is a relatively recent development. Before the 1990s, evangelical Christians were busier resettling the newly arrived refugees than banning them from entering the United States. Before they became immigration restrictionists, evangelicals actively endorsed and participated in a large-scale legalization effort for undocumented immigrants (and, indeed, some evangelicals still assist undocumented immigrants in that way). In cooperation with the Justice Department’s Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), evangelical churches across the country helped legalize thousands of undocumented immigrants during the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act’s legalization program.

So begins Ulrike Elisabeth Stockhausen’s summary of her dissertation. To read the rest of her summary at Process, the Organization of American Historians blog, click here.

CAN BETHEL CHURCH MAKE REDDING, CALIFORNIA, HEAVEN ON EARTH?

18 Mar

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

Is this heaven, or Redding?

These days, the city of 91,000 at the north end of the Sacramento Valley, seems to sit halfway between the godly and the earthly—and not just because of the divine spectacles of nearby Mounts Shasta and Lassen. At the heart of Redding stands a quintessentially California church with a focus on community impact so intense you could almost call it supernatural.

Bethel Church may not be a household name in California, but it should be. Because there is no other institution in our state better at engaging with its hometown than Bethel and its 11,000-plus members.

So begins Joe Mathews’ report on Bethel Church and Redding, California. You may read the entire Zocalo Public Square story here.

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The Sins of Early Evangelicalism

26 Jan

For many evangelicals, George Whitefield (1714-1770) represents the very best of their tradition. He remains one of the few unifying figures in a fissiparous movement. At the risk of overstating things, the Grand Itinerant may serve as a basis for definition: “An evangelical is someone who likes George Whitefield” at least sounds plausible. Even historians who today question the possibility of finding such a thing as evangelicalism in the eighteenth century use labels like “Whitefieldarians” to describe a nascent religious movement that later became evangelicalism.

It’s worth remembering, however, that in the eyes of many contemporaries, the honey-tongued preacher represented the very worst of religion in their day. Critics assailed him as rancorous and divisive, and even many friends considered him a liability.

So begins historian Peter Choi in summarizing much of his argument in his new book about George Whitefield and early evangelicalism. See what he has to say not only about Whitefield but also Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano here.

Protestant Missionaries of the 19th Century and Democracy

22 Dec

The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries

For many of our contemporaries, no one sums up missionaries of an earlier era like Nathan Price. The patriarch in Barbara Kingsolver’s 1998 novel, The Poisonwood Bible, Price tries to baptize new Congolese Christians in a river filled with crocodiles. He proclaims Tata Jesus is bangala!, thinking he is saying, “Jesus is beloved.” In fact, the phrase means, “Jesus is poisonwood.” Despite being corrected many times, Price repeats the phrase until his death—Kingsolver’s none-too-subtle metaphor for the culturally insensitive folly of modern missions.

So begins a fascinating report at Christianity Today about new research by sociologist  Robert Woodberry which firmly establishes a major positive impact on various nations in the world by 19th-century Protestant missionaries. You may read Andrea Palpant Dilley’s full story here.

When George H. W. Bush played the religion card: 1988

3 Dec

George H.W. Bush was not one to wear his religion on his sleeve. But to gain the Republican presidential nomination, he felt he had to.

A New England Episcopalian, Bush was raised listening to his devout mother read from the Book of Common Prayer. Like other upper class class WASPS raised in the mid-20th century, he was a regular churchgoer.

But beyond checking a denominational box and invoking the Deity on the appropriate ceremonial occasions, Bush did not make his religion part of his political life.

Until 1988, that is.

So begins Mark Silk’s report at Religion News Service on religion in the late former President Bush’s 1988 campaign. You may read the entire report here.

The Religious World Changed in 1968, but Not in the Ways We Think

6 Aug
Media and academics in the late 1960s stressed the trends they did because they approved of them. They wanted a progressive, secular-leaning, ecumenical future, and wrote as if it was inevitable.

Media and academics in the late 1960s stressed the trends they did because they approved of them. They wanted a progressive, secular-leaning, ecumenical future, and wrote as if it was inevitable.

In recent months I have been lecturing and teaching quite a bit on key anniversaries – on the centennial of the end of First World War, but also on that other tumultuous year, 1968.

The religious aspects of 1968 are not quite as legendary as other events and trends of that year, but they are extraordinarily significant.

Re-examining them today, what is perhaps most striking is the gulf that separates contemporary perceptions of key trends from later views. What we see at the time is very different from what later generations will recognize as the truly important developments.

So begins a brief essay at Australian Broadcasting Religion & Ethics by historian Philip Jenkins. You may read the entire fascinating piece here.

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