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There's an interesting dichotomy between the US and the rest of the world in the structure of its fundamentalist Christianity. The US evangelical church is at heart extremely conservative and tends to the right wing, while in the rest of the world the evangelical movement tends to be socially activist, and tends to the left wing.

The problems seem to come from the roots of modern US evangelism. The 19th and 20th revivalist movements that formed the basis of the US evangelical church was the product of a settled agrarian society, and so was socially inclined to extreme conservatism as a result of its roots. The great wide spaces of the prairie spawned the Bible Belt and the roots of the Christian Right.

Meanwhile in Europe, the great revival movements came out of the heart of the industrial and agricultural revolutions, and produced many of the minds that formed the basis of the Labour movement (take for example the role of the young Methodist Church in the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs). Elsewhere, evangelical churches have been spurred by social injustice in all its forms - in South Africa, across South America, and in the former Eastern Bloc.

And so there is a fundamental (ahem) difference in our fundamentalists...

[See the comments for a correction from pnh. I think I need to read some more US history before pontificating again!]

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
pnh
Jun. 28th, 2005 07:17 am (UTC)
Putting it as politely as possible, are you nuts?

"The 19th and 20th revivalist movements that formed the basis of the US evangelical church was the product of a settled agrarian society, and so was socially inclined to extreme conservatism as a result of its roots. The great wide spaces of the prairie spawned the Bible Belt and the roots of the Christian Right."

There was absolutely nothing "settled" about the "burned-over districts" that spawned the revivalist Great Awakening of the early 19th century, nor about the lives of the Western and Southern rural people who fueled the evangelical Populism of that century's end.

Leaving aside the fact that the "great wide spaces of the prairie" and the "Bible Belt" are very different (if partly overlapping) geographical areas, the fact is that American revivalism and evangelicism have always been responses to wrenching social and economic change. Nor have revivalists and evangelicals always allied themselves with the political conservatism of Big Money; the leading figure in turn-of-the-century revivalism was William Jennings Bryan.

You seem to be saying that the modern "Christian Right" emerges from some kind of static rural Arcadia, and is devoted to an "extreme conservatism" that's all about the defense of eternal verities. Of course that's what they'd like us to believe, but in fact these movements were born in blood and their agendas are revolutionary, not defensive.

As for revivalists and evangelicals devoted to "social justice" as you and I understand it--we have those in America too. They simply tend to be black.
sbisson
Jun. 28th, 2005 07:27 am (UTC)
I stand corrected...

Thanks for that. I shall go look for some more to read! Any recommednations?
(Deleted comment)
sbisson
Jun. 28th, 2005 08:07 am (UTC)
Oh, the barking mad fundies are all over the place...

However in the UK, we have to be thankful for the kind who actually read their bibles and set up CND, Amnesty, Oxfam and the Samaritans and the like...

However, I'm probably just grasping at strawd here...
burkesworks
Jun. 28th, 2005 10:52 am (UTC)
However in the UK, we have to be thankful for the kind who actually read their bibles and set up CND, Amnesty, Oxfam and the Samaritans and the like...

Simon, these people are Christians, some of whom could be considered evangelical, but they most certainly are not fundamentalists. The Rev. Chad Varah, the founder of the Samaritans and a thoroughly decent liberal sort of fellow, was about as far removed as you could have got from the Robert Tiltons and Benny Hill^H^Hnns of this world.
quercus
Jun. 28th, 2005 09:32 am (UTC)
So what about Western Scotland and Ulster? Paisley's hardly a liberal.

I note that Norn Iron is already arguing over the dreadful summer parades held by those of different and "morally offensive" religious views.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4629881.stm
burkesworks
Jun. 28th, 2005 10:54 am (UTC)
Paisley, McCrea, and the rest of that gang are pretty much the exceptions to the rule, right down to the big man buying his degree from Bob Jones "University". Their suits aren't as nice as those of their American counterparts though.
cobrabay
Jun. 28th, 2005 10:56 am (UTC)
I think you may be a bit behind the times as regards what is happening in the UK as well. Take a look at what's happening in the North East of England. Two schools have been set up teaching Creationism as part of the curriculum, King's Academy in Middlesbrough and Emmanuel College in Gateshead, each in partnership between the Department for Education and the Vardy Foundation, and that group want to acquire more, some of which are existing, currently non-religious schools which will be forced to adopt an evangelical curriculum.
Outside of the UK, take a look at what is happening in the African churches, many of which have a conservative, fundamentalist viewpoint. The current furore over gay clerics within the Anglican communion is an example of this.
Our fundamentalists are not that different at all, they are just playing catch-up, and lack the numbers, but we've nothing to be complacent about.
davesslave
Jun. 28th, 2005 11:52 am (UTC)
This is a very, very interesting theory. I have wondered, myself, why the two movements are so different. I'll have to look into it more, myself.
dsgood
Jun. 28th, 2005 08:25 pm (UTC)
Some of what I think you're missing: 1) In certain ways, the US resembles England and Lowland Scotland as they used to be; it's the British who've changed, not us. Read John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. 2) Many of the more radical American Protestant groups -- Shakers, Quakers, Mennonites, Amish -- were founded in the British Isles or Continental Europe. 3) In most of the US, there was till fairly recently a sharp division between small-town people and rural people. It wasn't usually as nasty as the similar division in parts of Ireland could become; but there were walls of prejudice.

Suggested reading: Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity. New Haven, Conn. Yale University Press, 1989.

Suggested topic for study: The current divisions among Anglican churches. Note that the Americans (and Canadians) are on the radical left in the disputes over homosexuality -- or at least, their governing bodies are.
stillcarl
Jun. 29th, 2005 01:39 am (UTC)
Poor Simon. :-)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )