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Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism as Social Movements
Did we drop out of the Bible as full blown churches, or do we have a history?
The American frontier was populated by dying native Americans being conquered by European Americans. As the bootstrap mentality of free land and building yourself up captured the imaginations of farmers, they moved across the frontier, grabbing free land as quickly as possible.
These early frontier farmers had a harsh life, and could not afford much education for their children, some could barely read, and what reading they did do usually consisted of 3 or 4 books, the primary book being the Bible. The Bible was revered as literally true. Their church buildings were at first nonexistent, people meeting in the summer in camp meetings in the open. Their preachers were circuit riders who rode from congregation to congregation repeating the same few sermons they had memorized. Many of these farmers owned slaves. Just as they saw no problem with the decimation of the native American populations, they saw no conflict with their Christianity in holding slaves.
As towns and cities grew up, churches and schools were built, and expectations of educated ministers produced more liberal interpretations of the Bible. This upset those who had been raised on literal interpretations of the Bible, especially the poorer and more rural farmers.
Most American denominations split in the 1880s through 1920s over the literal inspiration of the scriptures, and the theory of evolution.
Moberg theorizes that each new religious group goes through five stages: Starting as an enthusiastic disorganized sect and moving through three stages to a denomination that wants to be accepted by society, and then quickly disintegrating and dying out.
So evangelicals that were fundamentalists and pentecostals in the early 1900s have moved on to being a movement that wants respectability, requires advanced degrees from their pastors, and is splitting between the younger neo-evangelicals and the older.
Protestants in Europe split over the issue of the church being a state religion or the church being free. In the United States from 1920 on the nation confused their Christianity with American nationalism. This idea was bolstered by showing how ungodly the enemies of America were. The Russian revolution, and later China, showed that communism must of necessity be atheist, and therefore to be opposed by all godly Americans. In the 1960s school children were entertained with stories of fascist Russia demanding identity papers wherever one traveled, demanding loyalty and patriotism to a corrupt system, mired in poverty, trampling copyrights, banning the Bible, and banning free enterprise to buy and sell. So all godly Americans had to support the free enterprise system, American freedom to travel, freedom of the press and hate communism.
A church near where I live built a church building 15 years ago. Above the pulpit is a round window with a cross superimposed on the window. Through the window can be glimpsed an American flag fluttering in the wind. Almost every church dais in America sports an American flag. Nationalism is the religion of America.
Evangelicals were gathered under one banner by Billy Graham in 1956 when he started a magazine: Christianity Today. This coincided with the political rise of power of conservative Christians, which helped elect Jimmy Carter, and both Bushes.
Most evangelicals cannot see that these are socially influenced issues. They believe that anyone who reads the Bible would come to the same conclusions, that these are the main issues in our society. However, there are other conservative Christian groups in the United States who champion other issues. For instance the Amish and Mennonites often champion hard physical labor vs the evil of getting educated so one can laze away at a desk. They also oppose voting, serving in the military and owning handguns to defend oneself. They see these as clearly taught in the scriptures, and have opposed these for 500 years.
The Seventh Day Adventists emphasize healthy lifestyles, losing weight, exercising, fasting, eating more organic vegetables. They shy away from mainstream medicine with its emphasis on drugs and operations. Each group sees these things as clearly taught in the Scriptures.
One writer let me know she was dedicated to God by saying, "Every time the church doors are open we are there." Did God ask for that?
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