You Might Be an Evangelical American Christian Fundamentalist If . . .

Yes, I’m afraid it’s possible you just might be an Evangelical American Christian Fundamentalist[1] if:

(Apologies if anyone found this attempt at light-hearted humor offensive.)


[1]   Obviously, I am using the terms “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” in an informal, colloquial way here. For those who want to understand them more precisely, fundamentalism was a Christian movement that became especially popular in America in the early 20th century. Fundamentalism chiefly opposed theological liberalism, or modernism, in the mainline Protestant churches, insisting on strict adherence to certain traditional, “fundamental” beliefs. Evangelicalism broadly refers simply to the idea that salvation and Christian identity is a matter of personal faith (as opposed to church membership or baptism, for example), but these days the term is probably most often used with reference or similarity to the movement sometimes called neo-evangelicalism that emerged out of fundamentalism in the 1950s when evangelist Billy Graham broke with his fundamentalist background to begin working in cooperation with non-fundamentalist Christian organizations. Since then, evangelicalism in this new sense has struggled to define its own theological boundaries as an identity somewhere between fundamentalism and mainline Protestantism. In its core theology it is usually much closer to fundamentalism in my observation, with most churches and organizations that call themselves “evangelical” still insisting on roughly the same set of basic doctrines that the fundamentalists did. At any rate, in referring to Evangelical American Christian Fundamentalists in this list, I mean that the characteristics (or caricatures) I mention are often, though certainly not always, typical of people on the more fundamentalist side of the American neo-evangelical spectrum.

Also, in spite of this list being inspired by Jeff Foxworthy’s characteristic jokes, please do not infer that Evangelical American Christian Fundamentalists are rednecks.

[2]   This is a reference to History Forgotten, an anonymous essay widely circulated on the internet. There is an obvious factual discrepancy here, in that there were actually 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. I suspect the writer may have erroneously based his claim on David Barton’s video America’s Godly Heritage, which states that “most of the 55 founding fathers who worked on the Constitution were members of orthodox Christian churches, and many were even evangelical Christians.”

I have no reason to doubt the founding fathers’ church membership, and it’s certainly probable that some of them were indeed “deeply committed Christians.” However, my interpretation of the majority of them is that their understanding of “Christianity” was very different from how most evangelicals, or certainly most fundamentalists at least, would define it. It’s true that they often ascribed high value to things like “true religion” and “Christian principles,” but what many of them meant by those phrases seems to have had little to do with personal trust in Christ’s atonement as fundamentalists would define it, or even with belief in his deity or resurrection or anything else that would be considered a fundamental doctrine of Christianity in the traditional sense. Rather, they mostly seemed to be talking about a general system of human ethics and decency that lined up with what Christianity teaches in the Golden Rule, much like the core emphases of the most liberal of mainline theologians that fundamentalism is so staunchly opposed to.

The following quote from John Adams illustrates this point. Note his inclusion of universalists (who believe everyone will be saved), Arians (who believe Jesus was created), atheists (who deny the existence of God), deists (who deny God’s continued activity in the world), and people who believe “nothing” (i.e., agnostics) in the set of those who are bound together by “Christian” principles:

There were among them Roman Catholics, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anabaptists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists, Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists, and Protestants qui ne croyant rien [“who believe nothing”] . . . all educated in the general Principles of Christianity and the general Principles of English and American Liberty. . . . The general Principles on which the Fathers achieved Independence were the only Principles in which that beautiful assembly of young gentlemen could unite. . . .

– John Adams, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1813

(Later in the same letter Adams also referred to several radically anti-Christian Enlightenment philosophers, including Hume and Voltaire, as those whose writings would be “in favor of these general Principles.”)
[3]   Note that the phrase “under God” was not officially added to the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954.
[4]   The phrase “In God we trust” first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin, and has appeared on all coins since 1938. It was not declared the national motto until 1956, and did not begin appearing on paper currency until 1957.

This page copyright © 2009 Edward A. Morris.  Created February 16, 2009.  Last updated August 4, 2014.

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