Saturday, February 14, 2004

Reconsidering the Evangelicals

J. Collins Fisher's weblog speaks about the waking of the American conscience. She suggests that the US is starting to get fed up with the Christian Right. I sincerely hope that JCF is correct.

At the same time, I am uncomfortable with labeling the Christian Right as the Evangelicals. I know I often do this as I struggle for some shorthand way of naming the militant form of Christianity that has seemed to speak with such a strident voice over the last 25 years. Recently, I referred to the 60 Minutes segment, Rise Of The Righteous Army. On a second reading, I am not sure that 60 Minutes looked deeply enough into the Evangelical movement. It appears that they focused on the fringe element, motivated by their need for sensationalism.

I do not consider myself an Evangelical, as the term is used today. If it ever returns to its root definition, describing one who has a passion for proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed, I would proudly claim the label. But, as long as it is used to identify a party within the Church, I cannot see myself attending that particular party. Of course, I cannot imagine receiving an invitation to attend it either, which may make it a moot point?

Having said that, I still find myself uncomfortable with the sweeping generalizations by CBS regarding Evangelicals. I have been quite frustrated over the last 20 years with similar statements being made regarding liberals. I would hope that liberals do not fall into the same error of painting those with whom they disagree with broad brush strokes. It would be a shame to paint Tony Campollo and Philip Yancey, not to mention John Wesley and William Wilberforce, with the same brush as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

Just as any image falls short of the reality it attempts to symbolize, so words can never fully contain that which they attempt to express. They have to be used carefully.

What would be an appropriate term for the militant and extremist form of Christianity that emerged during the 20th century? For now, I'm going to use the term Fundamentalism, as it is defined by Karen Armstrong in The Battle for God;

At the outset of their monumental six-volume Fudamentalist Project, Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby argue that the "fundamentalisms" all follow a certain pattern. They are embattled forms of spirituality, which have emerged as a response to a perceived crisis. They are engaged in a conflict with enemies whose secular policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion itself. Fundamentalists do not regard this battle as a conventional political struggle, but experience it as a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil. They fear annihilation, and try to fortify their beleaguered identity by means of selective retrieval of certain doctrines and practices from the past. To avoid contamination, they often withdraw from mainstream society to create a counterculture; yet fundamentalists are not impractical dreamers. They have absorbed the pragmatic rationalism of modernity, and, under the guidance of charismatic leaders, they have refined these "fundamentals" so as to create an ideology that provides the faithful with a plan of action. Eventually they fight back and attempt to resacrilize an increasing skeptical world.
(The Battle for God, p. xiii)

Using that as a definition of the term, I think that Fundamentalism correctly identifies extremists within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I think it is also appropriate as a term to identify the angry minority within the Episcopal Church whose intent is to "punish" those with whom they disagree.

In summary; on further reflection I felt the need to make it clear that although I see Fundamentalists within the ranks of the Evanglicals, not all Evangelicals are Fundamentalists.


No comments:

Post a Comment