Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Dominionists: An Informal Guide
Historically, it seems to me that the evangelical movement in America most probably has its roots in the tail end of the 19th century after the Civil War. Between 1870 and the turn of the century, a large number of 'utopian' religious societies and--let's call them what they were--cults sprang up around the country. The Oneidans of the Northeast, the snakehandlers in the South, the Shakers, the Spiritualists, and even Joseph Smith's Mormons in the West all had elements of what eventually evolved into evagelicism after WW I when there was an explosion of healers and itinerant preachers a la Elmer Gantry. That's when the emotional 'testifying' that had long been a feature of black churches back to slavery began to appear in 'Revival Meetings' that were mostly white.
To some degree, the vibrant emotional responses in evangelical services were probably a reponse to the dry intellectualism and heavy social component of mainstream Christian churches at the time. Eastern society, for example, was divided not just by wealth but by church affiliation, and even members of New York's 400 could be cut off from Society if they didn't go to an approved church. The churches of which Society approved tended to be bloodless, unthreatening, Sunday-only events where sin was rarely mentioned unless it was the 'sin' of poverty, and well-heeled members of the upper crust never had to fear sermons about the money lenders in the temple or the 'eye of the needle'.
Revival Meetings were exactly the opposite.They demanded that you, as a parishioner, have a personal relationship with Christ that was more like he was a member of your immediate family than an accountant you hired to balance your checkbook, and it wasn't enough that you had such a relationship--or said you did--you had to 'testify' to it, share it with the rest of the Congregation. To an evangelical of the 20's and 30's, a 'private' relationship with Jesus was a sign that you were suffering from the sin of Pride, cutting yourself off from the rest of your Brothers and Sisters in Christ so as to have him all to yourself. It isn't an accident that treating someone who refused to share that relationship as if they were hoarding food that belonged to everybody reached its height during the Depression.
That emotional, very personal relationship with the Saviour remains a a defining characteristic of evangelicism. Evangelicals come in all stripes, sizes and beliefs but they have a number of things in common that help set them apart to the outsider, and that's Number 1.
1) 'Jesus lives in my house.' Evangelicals often talk of a 'living Christ', as if Jesus was present in their lives every day, guiding them. They quote the New Testament as often as the Old Testament, and the Sermon on the Mount is a big one. Conservative evangelicals quote the OT more often but they all believe that Jesus must be experienced in a real way as a force in their lives.
2) 'Spread the Good News.' An important component of evangelical belief is the idea that they have not just a duty but a responsibility to bring the 'Living Christ' alive for others. Proselytizing is an integral part of their faith for most evangelicals. It's what they're on earth to do--'share' their personal experience with Christ in order to convince others to do likewise.
This component undoubtedly comes from the previous age (see above) and would seem to militate against evangelicals adopting the kind of closed-off, Us v Them insularity so common to fundamentalist sects. But Lorie Johnson commented that she sees a growing insularity throughout 'Christian culture'.
I've learned in my studies that the moderan Christian culture occupies a parallel universe of sorts, walled off from secular culture in a way that most mainstream people would find surprising. They homeschool, they have their own books, music, entertainment, social circles- even their own financial advice people. If you belong to a megachurch, you can pretty much get all the things you want or need right on the campus. I found a link to a blog called Sheepwatch on another post, and the writer nails it:Maybe, but it seems to me that would fly in the face of evagelicism's historic mission to reach out. If that is indeed what's happening, I would have to take it as a sign that some evangelicals have moved much closer to fundamentalism than I had thought, and that's not a good thing."Jesus said to be fishers of men but too many Pastors had turned into being keepers of the aquarium."It's a very insular world, and very much an echo chamber. Note how uniform a lot of their websites, sermons, and press releases are? That is deliberate. It's more for their members than for us. The aquarium comparison is especially apt when you see all this stuff targeted at them. They're literally a captive audience.
3) 'Born again.' I may be wrong but my experience with evangelicals is that being born-again is something wished-for, something desired, perhaps, but not something that is required. You don't have to be born-again to be an evangelical...but it helps.
Though fundamentalists share a lot of the attributes characteristic of evangelicals, there are a couple of important differences.
1) 'Mine eyes have seen the Glory....' You'll notice that I didn't add 'literal belief in the Bible' to the above list. That's because some evangelicals believe it and some don't--probably more don't than do. In any case, once again, it isn't required. With the fundamentalists, though, it is.
In order to be a fundamentalist, you MUST believe in the literal truth of the Bible--that Jonah was swallowed by an actual whale, that the sun actually stopped in the heavens when Joshua blew his trumpet at Jericho, that Lot's wife was turned into a physical pillar of salt. For a fundamentalist, the word 'Bible' and the word 'metaphor' do not belong in the same sentence. That belief in the literalness of Biblical stories is what defines fundamentalism--if you don't have it, you can't be one. Period.
2) 'My way or the highway.' If evangelicals believe in proselytizing, fundamentalists believe in conversion. It's an important distinction. Where evangelicals want to 'spread the word', fundamentalists demand that you obey the word. Now. Or else.
Evangelicals and fundamentalists both believe that they live in an imperfect world, a world ruled more by Satan than by God, but their responses to that belief couldn't be further apart. The evangelical wants to sell you something in the hope/belief that doing so will make the world a more godly place. The fundamentalist wants to force the world to conform to his belief primarily because he finds it intolerable to live in a world which does not. Thus the closing-off that Lorie talks about, the Us v Them separation we're all familiar with, is much more likely to be a dominant feature of fundamentalists than evangelicals.
By these defintions, I think it's quite clear that Lorie is wrong when she says, 'Think about Jimmy Carter. He's a fundamentalist Born Again Baptist, but he's not a Dominionist.' Carter may be a born-again Baptist but he is most certainly neither a fundamentalist nor a Dominionist. He is an evangelical, and a liberal one at that. Psyche said it better than I could.
Not sure about assumption that fundamentalists "generally prefer to keep to themselves." What they tend to share is belief in literal interpretation of the bible. Beyond that, suspect there is a range in degree of activism. Certainly, many of them function as foot soldiers for religious right groups such as FOF, AFA, PTC, Promise Keepers, etc. This group can be extremely active in terms of e-mail, letter-writing, phone campaigns and, at times, demonstrating.Both were responding to Chip Berlet's suggestion that there are as many different types of fundamentalists as there are different types of evangelicals.
There are a wide variety of fundamentalists, some of whom are unhappy with dominionism in general and the Christian Right in particular. So I was trying to tease the categories apart...With this, I can't agree. In my experience, fundamentalists come in only two categories: open theocrats and potential theocrats. I have never been able to identify any significant differences between the various fundamentalist sects. Logically, it would make sense that I couldn't: a literal belief in the Bible doesn't leave much room for variation. It's a binary world in which either you do or you don't and if you don't, you don't belong. But I'm open to learning different if Chip wants to expand on his statement.
3) 'Gimme that Old Time Religion...' Fundamentalism virtually ignores the New Testament message of forgiveness and tolerance in order to embrace the Old Testament message of revenge and intolerance. Fundamentalists are easily twice as likely to quote OT scripture to prove their point than NT scripture. As I've said elsewhere, their Jesus is a Warrior with great powers and very little interest in forgiving anybody anything.
The fundamentalist Christ has been re-imagined and re-defined through the prism of the Old Testament. He is a Fire-God of anger and revenge, the opposite of everything we used to think Christ stood for. He has little time for the poor, tolerates only the narrowest possible definition of 'Christian', seethes with righteous hatred of outsiders, is intolerant of those with different views, and despises wimps--he will come the next time clutching a sword in one hand and a .45 caliber automatic in the other.And he'll use them. Against non-believers.
Dominionists can be very simply defined as fundamentalists who have taken the next step: they are actively working to make a world they can live in. That is the only difference between them that I can see. Otherwise, they believe the same things for the same reasons and feel the same way fundamentalists do, only more so, and they've decided to do something about it.
Obviously I've provided lines of demarkation that are far more fluid than I've made them sound. My intention is only to provide a base from which we can begin to understand the differences between the three groups so we don't, as Chip correctly fears, start lumping them together.
But I must add that, personally, I see little significant difference between fundamentalists and Dominionists. They are natural allies. Their belief systems are the same and they are equally intolerant of diversity in any of its forms: religious, social, educative, or even scientific (witness the ID absurdity and the 'War on Christmas' idiocy). The only thing that separates them is that one group believes it has a better chance of getting what it wants if it makes its own insular world to live in, apart from Satan's influence, while the other is determined to parlay its power into forcing the creation of a godly society in which it is comfortable for its believers to live because everyone is made to believe what they believe and live as they want to live. 'Diversity'--which they experience as Satan's sword plunged into their heart--would be forever banished and the comforting sameness of autocratic uniformity would become the rule rather than the exception.
That's a very thin line, and it is this that makes them so dangerous. The fundamentalist community is growing, and as it does it provides Dominionists with acres of potential recruits. The evangelicals are a whole different ball game.
Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Dominionists: An Informal Guide | 21 comments (21 topical, 0 hidden)
Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Dominionists: An Informal Guide | 21 comments (21 topical, 0 hidden)