Nondenominational: The Lost Tribe of Evangelicals

Mark Kruger

Mark Kruger

Late blooming political scientist & historian, Net engineer, programmer, technology expert, bad speler, consultant and business owner.

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  1. Avatar Sir Arcane says:

    Questions I would ask to determine if I would consider someone “evangelical”:
    1) Do you consider yourself Christian?
    2) Is climate change real and man made?
    3) Should abortion laws be stricter?
    4) Should the theory of evolution be taught in public schools?
    5) Should marriage be limited to one man and one woman?
    6) Do you consider yourself Catholic?
    7) Should you have to pay less tax?
    One point for each yes on odds and each no on evens. 5 or more points to qualify.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sir Arcane says:

      A “yes” on #6 would get me to say “yeah, that person ain’t an Evangelical”.

      (And I’d change to ask if they consider themselves Catholic or Orthodox.)Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

        Same for a “no” on (1). The others seem to be culturally bundled proxies as much as anything else.

        Now since I’m not religious maybe this is a reasonable heuristic whether someone is an Evangelical though you will get false positives and negatives.[1] Then again, I have no idea how Mark’s fellow parishioners would answer those questions. Like zero.

        [1] No test is perfect!Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

          “Christian” is one of those weird terms.

          Do I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth? No, I do not.
          Do I believe in the existence of God? Well… after we hammer out a definition of God to our satisfaction, I’m pretty confident that we’ll either get to “no” or a definition that is so different from what most people mean when they say the word that it’s effectively useless for the conversation.

          But I’m pretty freakin’ Protestant. (And I am fluent in pre-oughts Evangelical.)Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

            “Do you believe in the existence of God?”

            I always like to rip off Neil Gaiman when thinking about that question. “I do believe in God, but that’s not what you’re actually asking me. What you’re asking me is, ‘do I believe in a magic sky ghost that directly responds to prayers in ways that humans can recognize and understand’ and no, of course I don’t believe in that. But I do believe in God.”Report

            • Avatar Pinky in reply to DensityDuck says:

              That is a pretty lousy answer. People could be just asking if you believe in the existence of God. I mean, no one assumes that a “yes” answer means that you have orthodox beliefs within any particular religious tradition. If you’re right about the questioner’s real intent, then you look arrogant and insulting. If you’re wrong, you look arrogant and foolish.Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

            Do I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth? No, I do not.

            This for me seems to be the basic “Christian” question. Someone says yes, they’re Christian, and if they say no, they’re not Christian.

            Are there some edge cases either way? Sure.

            But… at the same time, internalizing the basic worldview, being fluent in the underlying cultural conventions, is more important than what you actually believe in in your heart for other religions.

            Probably has something to do with the real emphasis that Christianity, and especially Protestantism, and especially especially Evangelical Protestantism place on faith, rather than adherence to set ethical code or participation in ritual life.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

              Pulman’s quotation stuck with me:

              But because of my upbringing I’m a Christian atheist, and I’m a church atheist. And I’m very specifically, because I was brought in my grandfather’s household and he was a Church of England priest when the old prayer book was used, so I’m a 1662 Book of Common Prayer atheist, a Hymns Ancient and Modern atheist, and King James Bible atheist.

              In the same way, if someone wanted to know “is Jaybird a Christian”, there are answers that are very much “no” to that and answers that are very much “yes” to that.

              In the same way, “Evangelical” means something very specific.

              But it also can mean “Tribal Affiliation”.

              And sometimes it just means “we have drums on the stage”.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Sir Arcane says:

      Makes me think of the old joke:

      1)Do you consider yourself to be a Christian?
      Me too! Welcome friend!

      Is climate change real and man made?
      Me neither!

      3) Should abortion laws be stricter?

      4) Should the theory of evolution be taught in public schools?
      Preach it, friend!

      5) Should marriage be limited to one man and one woman?
      Amen, brother!

      6) Do you consider yourself Catholic?
      Of not!

      7) Should you have to pay less tax?
      We are simpatico, truly spiritual travelers!

      7)a Should investment be subject to the passive loss carry forward, or should they be realized in the first year?
      They should be realized in the first year.


    • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to Sir Arcane says:

      This seems a tad facetious but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and answer. 🙂

      Only number 1 has a predictable answer among movement conservatives. Some of these answers would be fairly sharp contrasts with traditional “christian right” evangelicals.

      Speaking of my church number 2 would be an emphatic yes, real and man-made – as would most churches I’ve visited. Young movement conservatives are very concerned about the environment and see caring for it as a way to honor God and love others.

      While movement churches are generally pro-life there are a not insignificant minority of of pro-choice folks attending. A high percentage are probably uncomfortable with late term abortions – and they are hardly outliers on that score.

      With regard to 4 they just aren’t hung up on evolution. It neither adds nor detracts from relationship with Christ and therefore you can pick your flavor. It’s fun to argue about over pie but not something to circle the wagons over.

      movement churches promote and celebrate marriage as between men and women, but they are not hung up on sex. There’s a bunch of stuff that is just “meh” for all the folks under 35 or so. In our church there are many gay and lesbian couples. I suspect they don’t talk about whether they are married or not – so the stage is still likely “don’t ask don’t tell” but the wind is definitely changing and there are now movement churches that cater specifically to the LGBT community.

      6) It’s a question that requires knowledge of the proper use of the word “catholic” and an understanding of orthodoxy. That’s beyond the realm of knowledge of most movement attendees. Shallow theology (mostly centered around soteriology and biblical inerrancy) that lends itself to experimentation – that’s the watchword. There’s Personal relationship with Jesus, grace, love, evangelism and devotion. Everything else is pretty flexible. Where a person’s individual beliefs differ from that of the church they are not ostracised or denied opportunity to serve. Leadership just tends to say “we wrestle with a lot of issues and don’t know everything.” It seems healthy to me.

      Seven is a silly question. No one talks about taxes in church as a theological issue with any sort of controversy. Complain if you want. Work for or against politically. But what does God want? Meh – pay your taxes. that’s the general approach.

      From the pulpit comes constant reminders at the church I attend – you needn’t be pro-life/conservative/anti-gay/creationist to know Jesus or be a full participant. It’s simply not about any particular buzzy cultural issue.Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Mark Kruger says:

        Regarding question seven, my Presbyterian minister once gave a sermon on whether you tithe on your gross or your net, after taxes, expenses, etc. Of course the answer was “net” because we’re Presbyterians. Our Baptist ministers probably answered “on your gross” because that’s how they roll. 🙂

        I’m from deep in Appalachia, and like everyone else there, I think our Baptists might be a couple decades behind the other evangelicals on the innovation front.Report

        • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to George Turner says:

          Tithing is something they talk about definitely. And movement evangelicals (evangelicals overall) are extraordinarily generous to BOTH faith based and community based charity (re: Putnum, Theiss-Morse)Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Mark Kruger says:

        I really think this question is perhaps slightly less silly than that (and I really appreciated your other answers):

        Seven is a silly question. No one talks about taxes in church as a theological issue with any sort of controversy. Complain if you want. Work for or against politically. But what does God want? Meh – pay your taxes. that’s the general approach.

        Religious communities (and really most communities) don’t have members who decide to be a part of that community (or recognize other people as part of the community which is at least as important) based on checklists. But members of the community will have things in common and those things not be much related to what appear to be defining features of that community.

        This leads to correlations that can be used to inform outsiders (and to a lesser extent insiders) when the question is ambiguous even if they don’t seem particularly relevant because, you know, it’s never discussed from the pulpit.

        OTOH I say slightly less silly because just because (7) is conceivably that sort of question doesn’t mean it really is that sort of question.Report

        • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to pillsy says:

          If the question is how do evangelicals feel in general about taxes would say in general they favor lower taxes – so taken with everything else it could be a marker of sorts.

          But that’s a broad brush that paints a lot of folks on all sides of the isle. If the question is “do they ‘preach’ lower taxes” as some kind of a tenant or “belief” the answer is decidedly no. They complain about taxes and the weather, but they don’t hang theology on it.

          If anything they have a belief that taxes are an obligation that should be paid cheerfully rather than begrudgingly – that attitude fits with their overall attitude about money as something given to them that is NOT their own as is to be stewarded carefully. That’s why they are by some counts orders of magnitude better tithers relative to other denominations.

          I apologize for using the word “silly”. I should have said “in my view that question may be irrelevant”.Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to Mark Kruger says:

            Yeah it would only make sense as one question of many, and would likely have much less weight than others.

            I apologize beforehand for the metaphor because it’s fraught and has potentially negative connotations that I want to explicitly reject up front [1], but I kinda think of things like this as diagnostic criteria.

            [1] No I don’t think people who are religious, or have this specific religious affiliation are crazy, sick, or unhealthy because of it.Report

    • Avatar Sir Arcane in reply to Sir Arcane says:

      Shorter and MUCH more cynical version:
      1) Do you consider yourself a Protestant (neither Catholic nor Orthodox) Christian?
      2) In the last election, did you vote mainly or exclusively for Republican candidates?
      3) [extra cynical] Do you consider yourself white, and make less than $57k/yr?Report

  2. Avatar Marchmaine says:

    Thanks for that view from across the river; I doubt I’ll have much more to say than that.Report

  3. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Mark, have you read much of Phyllis Tickle’s Great Emergence theory, that Christianity is undergoing one of its 500 year cycles of crisis and rebirth?

    I found it fascinating, but am not adept enough at religious history to know if it really makes sense or not.
    I do sense that the Christian faiths are undergoing some sort of tremendous change, I just can’t see where it is leading.Report

    • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      I have heard of the theory in discussion but never studied any of her work. Thanks for the reminder!Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      I will say that the current onrush of liberal orthodoxy–cancel culture, mobbing, extreme anger at secular sins like the improper use of pronouns or cultural appropriation–does leave me thinking that there’s potential for a Christian revival movement. I could imagine someone 2000 years from now telling stories of a great prophet who hung out with tax collectors and whores and Trump voters…Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Yea verily, He banged the whoore Magdalene thereupon compelled her to sign a NDA to avoid shame, thence ordered all children under two years of age to be ripped from their mothers arms and caged.

        A leper came unto Him and begged alms, and He scorned him saying “You loser! You are a total loser, the worst!”

        Thence He spake unto the crowd:
        Blessed are the rich, for more will be given to them
        Blessed are the haughty, for chicks dig a winner.
        Blessed are the grifters, for God loveth a trickster.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    There is an old joke about a conversation between Napoleon and a Catholic priest. Napoleon tells the priest that he will destroy the Catholic Church within 10 years. The priest replies “You fool! We have been trying to destroy ourselves for one thousand years. Why do you think you can do it in ten?”

    There are 320 million people in the United States. 7 billion in the world. Evangelicalism is going to be around for a long time.

    But I do think a lot of evangelicals are hypocrites for their undying love of Trump and almost everyone under 40 realizes it. I think they have lost all claims to the moral high ground, if they ever had one.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      But I do think a lot of evangelicals are hypocrites for their undying love of Trump and almost everyone under 40 realizes it.

      I think that that’s why almost everybody under 40 supports Bernie.Report

    • “But I do think a lot of evangelicals are hypocrites for their undying love of Trump and almost everyone under 40 realizes it”

      “A lot” are but “some” aren’t. Or all are, but “many” recognize it and try to live the paradox. “A lot,” “some,” and “many” can be used to describe every single demographic on this earth. Including the ones you and I belong to.Report

    • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      This characterization is part of why I wrote the article. During the primary Trump won those folks _identified as evangalicals_ who did not attend church. So they were cultural evangelicals – the one’s who say “hey I was raised baptist so I guess I’m baptist.” But among evangelicals who attend church more than 1x a month Trump got little to no support. This is where the media get’s it wrong for the reasons I’ve mentioned – they have no metric to separate wheat from chaff.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Mark Kruger says:

        How about during the general and now? The Evangelical leadership sure as hell supports Trump.

        Actions have consequences and votes are action. It is one thing not to support Trump in a primary. Holding the line and not supporting him once he gained the nomination is another thing. As far as I can tell, the most consistent anti-Trumpers were the jewish neocons, not the evangelical conservatives. Jennifer Rubin doing the biggest switch and is now a moderate Democratic voter, more or less.Report

        • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          There IS NO evangelical leadership. There is no one who “speaks for evangelicals” writ large. And especially no one who speaks for non denominational “movement” evangelicals as I describe here. There’s no pope, no patriarch, no Dalai Lama, not even a lorax. There are some celebrity preachers but they no more “speak for” evangelicals than Kim Kardashian spakes for big bottomed women.

          That’s part of the point. They are a hidden constituency often unfairly caricatured. and how they vote is under reported too due to methodology as I’ve described. There’s plenty of D support here Saul. When these folks hear the words “Christian right” on cable they don’t think, “oh that’s us.”Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Mark Kruger says:

            Yes and no. This feels a bit like special pleading and no true Scotsman. Yes Protestantism is decentralized. Yes there are progressive Evangelicals that loathe Trump and the Republican party. But Jerry Falwell Jr., Tony Perkins, James Dobson, and a host of others are still all for Trump and they head major organizations within evangelical and/or fundamentalist Christianity in the United States. They do influence or lead churches where many attendees are hardcore Trump supporters.Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to Mark Kruger says:

        This makes sense.

        Myself, I have not problem with Christians. I rather dislike (what you call) “cultural evangelicals.”

        As I like to put it, the guy in a pickup who wants to beat me to death with an axe handle probably doesn’t go to church.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Mark Kruger says:

        It’s been a while since I’ve seen polling on this, but religious attendance is a stronger indicator of partisan preference than religion. In fact, from what I’ve seen, it’s stronger than sex, class, or race (except for black support for Democrats).Report

        • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to Pinky says:

          Indeed yes! but it’s _not_ a useful indicator of evangelicalism per se because it doesn’t capture doctrine or denomination or any markers for evangelicalism. It’s a sticky wicket how to capture (in a study) all the folks of a network of belief with no central label or institution. Ask about attendance and mixed in with evangelicals are devout Catholics, presbyterians, episcopalians, etc. So yes it’s useful in that conservatives “tend” to attend church more often than heathen liberals 😀 But that doesn’t show the break outs for evangelicalism.Report

          • Avatar Pinky in reply to Mark Kruger says:

            Right, yes. There are at least three things being discussed on this thread: belief, practice, and culture. And the meaning of the word “evangelical” has hard to pin down in all three.Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to Mark Kruger says:

            Yeah I assume [1] it’s true that more regular attendance for Catholics is also a marker of partisanship but that doesn’t make them Evangelicals!

            [1] And am serenely confident that I will be immediately corrected if I’m wrong.Report

  5. I have some personal acquaintance with evangelicalism. (See here for a probably too long explanation of my personal history:

    Even with my own background, much of what you say is new to me, largely because my personal, fisthand experience with anything that might be called an evangelical peretered out around 1996 or so, although I still have one sibling who identifies as pentecostal. So thanks for your post.

    “So I come to this topic with love, experience and expertise – all of which makes me a little defensive.”

    I know how you feel, even if my background is a little (or even a lot) different. That is a challenge, I think, for someone who truly believes (for various definitions of “truly”). If evangelical Christianity is what it claims to be, then the types of things that make one (e.g., me) defensive, mostly revolving around identity issues, are non-Christian, or a challenge to the faith. Maybe I’m off-base in saying that, especially when I call evangelical Christianity an “it” and you’re making an argument (I think) that it’s a “they.” (Please correct me if I’m misreading.)

    Even if I am misunderstanding some of your argument, thanks for writing this post! It’s great to get that perspective.Report

  6. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    I think that what we have here is the current iteration of the discussion of who is and is not an Evangelical. The classic example is the Methodists, who were the Ur-Evangelicals until they got reclassified about a century ago. See also: the American Baptist Churches.

    Given that your church has gay couples and sings about evolution, this sounds to me to be what is sometimes called the “Emergent Church” or “Progressive Christianity.” So far as I can tell, these mean Evangelicals who vote Democratic. Are they real true Evangelicals? It depends on who you ask. From my Lutheran perspective, they look an awful lot like Evangelicals, if you look past the pelvic issues. So I would say yes, they are Evangelicals. But if the history of the Methodists repeats itself, this suggests that they will end up reclassified.

    Either way, it doesn’t really matter in the long run. But in the meantime it makes it a confusing topic for discussion.Report

    • Avatar veronica d in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      It’s a basic semantics problem. The dictionary definition of “evangelical” is rather different from what the term means in contemporary political discourse.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to veronica d says:

        If by dictionary definition we mean the Bebbington quadrilateral, this is a description of the 18th century movement by a modern historian. It is a perfectly sound definition for that purpose, but breaks down quickly when we move to later versions. The only element that I think holds up throughout is conversionism, and I am prepared to be corrected on that point.

        Given that there is nothing like enough theological coherence to provide a definition, this is a sociological problem. We can trace the genealogy of the movement, but as soon as we allow for a branch to be redefined as not-Evangelical, we need criteria for determining when this transformation occurs. That is all we are really discussing.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to veronica d says:

        Which is to say, I agree with you.Report

    • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      Richard – great points. I’ll try to respond – forgive me for long windedness. 🙂

      If you believe that “evangelical” is a term that carves out largely cultural issues related to “is” or “is not” a sin then you could be right. Evangelicals have certainly wasted more than their fair share arguing about behaviors. But note that evangelical churches have believed a whole basket of things over the years that they do NOT believe now – or even believe the opposite of now. The behaviors they condemn or condone change rather dramatically – mostly through cohort (generational) change as is happening now.

      What’s stayed the same is the “personal gospel”, basket of theology (soteriology and inerrancy), innovation/experimentation – much of which is driven by evangelistic zeal. Denominations are reclassified through atrophy, not adherence to a group of cultural dos and don’ts. This process is actually predictable.

      A la Fukayama, an institution can turn its current state of practical or temporary beliefs or values into an intrinsic value system of it’s own – in other words, belief or intrinsic value in the system or institution, not as a vehicle but as an end in itself -i.e. “I am a baptist” rather than “I attend a baptist church”.

      It leads to inertia and a tendency to “protect the status quo” (the value is in the institution rather than in it’s utility). This impulse to resist change in service to the institutional status quo is what results in splinters – like the United Brethren (I think they came from the Methodist church) or the various flavors of methodism. Change grinds on in spite of institutional inertia and groups calve off to form new groups and the process starts again. Methodists may not be thought of as evangelicals any longer but there are plenty of groups with roots deep into John Wesley.

      Moreover, evangelicalism can thrive WITHIN denominations and very often does! There are many active hot spots that tend toward movement evangelicalism. For example, Hosanna Lutheran church in Lakeville MN has 15,000 members and thousands in attendance each week at several satellites. It’s part of the Lutheran synod but it is indistinguishable from a movement evangelical church in most respects. It’s young, vibrant, and high tech with concert like worship services.

      While the core theology is Lutheran the style and emphasis are distinctly evangelical. This has caused conflict with the synod and periodically there is a push to leave the Lutheran church and become nondenominational .

      This scenario happens frequently within established denominations as main line pastors with some energy see the appeal of movement evangelicals to youth and are trying to find some way of growing or energizing an atrophied congregation/institution.

      At least that’s how I see it at this point. Great thoughts! Thanks.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Mark Kruger says:

        A couple of points: Biblical inerrancy is actually a late entry to the game. It arose with the Fundamentalist movement of the early 20th century. Fundamentalism in turn was a faction within Evangelicalism, rising in response to Modernism in general, and in particular the application of the methods of textual criticism to scripture. Hence the “inerrancy” bit. It was the non-Fundamentalist Evangelicals who later got reclassified as not-Evangelical. Essentially all strands of white American Christianity that are classified as “Evangelical” today derive from the Fundamentalists or the Pentecostalists of the early 20th century. (I often get pushback on this because “fundamentalist” has since taken on a secondary sense of “crazy people.” I am not using the word that way here, but rather as a historical designation.)

        Lutheran churches and Evangelicalism: I frankly have my doubts. There was an effort back in the ’80s to create a Lutheran megachurch, called the Community of Joy in Glendale Arizona outside of Phoenix. I have watched it from afar for decades, as it gradually became less and less Lutheran. It left the ELCA a decade ago, started accumulating associate pastors with no Lutheran background whatsoever, and now has merged to become a satellite of “Dream Cities Church,” which in turn is Assemblies of God. In other words, it is no longer Lutheran in any sense.

        I am less familiar with Hosanna, but looking up their website, I eventually dug down to where they list affiliations. The only Lutheran bit among their affiliations is Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ. This was created in 2001 as a landing place for congregations leaving the ELCA. The exit process includes a requirement that it be from the ELCA to some other Lutheran body. The desire to exit was usually, though not always, over the Gay issue. In some cases, as in the Community of Joy, LCMC was just a layover on the way to somewhere else, but it has made an effort to be a real denomination in its own right. The jury is still out.

        Is this Hosanna’s first step away from being Lutheran? I don’t know. Their website has a page full of pastors, but no indication where, or if, they went to seminary. This is not itself damning, but it is a red flag. I’m not saying that ten years from now they will be rolling in the aisles speaking in tongues. But it happened in Arizona.Report

        • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          I’m somewhat familiar with Hosanna having attended many times and I am friends with their pastor. I suspect, like many churches, they consciously eschew denominational mentions in marketing. There are plenty of AG churches that do this as well. So I know they still “belong” to the synod – though beyond that my knowledge of Lutheran polity is admittedly weak. 🙂

          Good notes on inerrancy – that helps me quite a bit. I won’t push back on “fundamentalism” – but I still avoid the term when at all possible. 🙂Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Mark Kruger says:

            “Fundamentalist” is really the only word to use in the historical context. It is their word, after all, and there isn’t any readily available alternative.

            Hosanna: looking at their “worship” page, it looks promising. It has its share of blather: “At Hosanna Church we want to humbly and boldly be a church that looks more like Jesus. We do that by multiplying the hope and heartbeat of Jesus through irresistible love, generosity and unity.” That is the preamble to the money pitch (which, by the way, shouldn’t be on the worship page–that is tacky). I prefer “Look, we have to pay the bills just like you, so pony up your share,” but that’s just me.

            And they clearly had a minimum quota of uses of “relevant” and “authentic.” Also “meaningful.” A request for a dispensation allowing fewer uses would have been all for the good.

            More seriously, I see a claim that they “regularly” celebrate Holy Communion, and there is a mention of incorporating creeds. These are good signs. It would be far better to actually say when they have Communion, in case a potential visitor wanted to partake in it (or avoid it, I suppose). And I’m not sure what it means to “meaningfully incorporate” a creed in worship, as contrasted with a non-meaningful incorporation. But they are at least making a gesture.Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Mark Kruger says:

            “Hosanna Church pastors, preachers, and worship leaders are humble and authentic followers of Jesus. ”

            Presumably some of them wrote, or at least signed off on, this webpage. Talking about how humble and authentic you are is not a good look.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Mark Kruger says:

        A note on the Wesley bit: You are right that some strands of modern Evangelicalism look back to Wesley. Early Methodism was impressively fractious. Some of the spin-offs ended up not having “Methodist” in their names, but nonetheless kept some form of Wesleyan theology. Some of these, in turn are still classified as Evangelical, though the main strand of Methodism is not. Early 20th century fundamentalism was layered atop older strands of Evangelicalism. This is a characteristic of much of self-identified “conservative” Christianity, coming up with notions formerly undreamed of, and claiming that thus it has always been. (Exhibit A: abortion.)Report

        • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          Next post that touches religion I think I might Run it by you and PD shaw. you guys are awesome. 🙂Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Mark Kruger says:

            I am big fan of the idea that if you want to understand what is going on today, you have to understand what went on yesterday, and the day before that, etc… In that light:

            Are you looking for some summer reading? If so, Diarmaid MacCulloch’s “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” is superb. Oh, you planned also on frittering some of your time away with eating and sleeping and want something a bit more focused? Then go with Frances Fizgerald’s “The Evangelials: The Struggle to Shape America.”Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      I think we agreed and disagreed on this topic before, but my view is that evangelicalism was the product of the Second Great Awakening in the U.S., best exemplified by Methodist, but impacting other Protestant sects as well. Much of what the OP describes is a part of that (reducing tenets to simple belief; erosion of denominationalism, emotional appeals through gatherings of song and dance). Throughout the 19th century they were associated with various social reform movements (anti-slavery; temperance; prison reform). They both believed in the value of works and were great moralizers.

      The backlash began toward the end of the 19th century was a view that evangelicals were engaged in pure emotionalism, and there needed to be a restoration of the fundamentals of what it means to be a Christian. The key fundamental advocated by the Princeton school was Biblical literacy, whereas Evangelicals were more willing to adapt the basic premise of Christianity to the circumstances of the time.

      It’s difficult to put political labels of left and right on religious disputes, but essentially fundamentalism appealed to those that felt something had gone wrong and had greatest appeal in the impoverished South, where something had certainly gone wrong. But the context of the dispute was that wish-washy, Evangelicals were to blame.

      So, basically, I chafe at the term “religious right” when used to combine these conflicting groups. Evangelicals may or may not vote Republican, may or may not oppose abortion, etc. Fundamentalists more clearly adhere to positions on these.Report

      • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to PD Shaw says:

        PD – I tink I mostly agree with this. Your first paragraph is spot on.

        Fundamentalism is a term I avoid most of the time because it’s so loaded and is often used with other world religions as well – so it has a sort of radical cross over effect. Dividing between “fundamentalist” and “evangelicals” is fraught as well since inerrancy IS a tenant of both.

        But yeah – “Religious right” as a term has run it’s course. Media uses it and keeps searching for a spokesman. They miss the days when James Dobson and Jerry Falwell had enough juice to “speak for” the movement. They have missed the diversification of evangelicalism under their noses I think.Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Mark Kruger says:

          Inerrancy is a tenant of both, but not literalism. This Gallup question by Gallup is pretty close to identifying the split:

          Which best describes the Bible: (1) Actual word of God to be taken literally (31%), or (2) Inspired by Word of God (47%).

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to PD Shaw says:

            That is an interesting poll, but a terrible question. “actual word of God” and “to be taken literally” are distinct propositions. It is entirely possible to believe the Bible to be the “actual word of God” while assigning non-literal interpretations to all or part of it. Indeed, in the real world even the most hardcore self-identified literalist does this. (Give me a literal reading of “The Lord is my shepherd.”) “Inspired by word of God” is borderline gibberish, and who says it, whatever it means, is incompatible with “ancient fables, history, legends, recorded by man”?

            I suspect that most respondents translated the question, focusing on the word “literal” and its absence, and answered accordingly.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to PD Shaw says:

        You are using “evangelicalism” different from how historians of religion use it. As they use it, it is a religious movement that arose in the 18th century in northern European Protestantism. If you are using the word in a historical way that excludes, e.g., George Whitefield, this usage is decidedly non-standard.Report

        • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          Agreed – I’m using it how it is understood by evangelicals, media folks who write about it, and by pollsters and study authors overall who would certainly recognize my nondenominational “movement” churches as evangelical.

          Unless you were talking to PD – in which case I’m out.Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          I’m not sure how you could have understood me to have excluded Whitefield, when I specifically mentioned Methodism as an example. For purposes of the discussion of American religious movement; it’s the Second Great Awakening that was far more influential, not because the First was not an evangelical movement.Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Whatever happened to the nice and simple word, Protestant?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

      They became Catholic.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Protestantism has had different strands since Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli had a sit-down in 1529. It went poorly. While for some discussions the catch-all term “Protestant” is useful, for other discussions you have to make finer distinctions.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I remember growing up (being raised Catholic), I thought all non-Catholic christians were simply “protestant.” I didn’t see much difference between, say, Lutherans and Baptists or Pentecostals. To the extent I conflated them, I thought what we would call “main line Protestants” were more like what we would call “evangelicals” than vice versa. I was surprised, later when I went to college, to meet a lot of main line protestants were weren’t very much like the evangelicals I had known (and partially identified with).

      None of this even starts to mention the orthodox churches, which were never on my radar until I moved to my current neighborhood in Big City, in which a large number, probably a majority, of the residents belong to an orthodox church.Report

  8. “Back then, Pentecostals scandalized tradition when blacks and whites met together and women preached as ordained pastors.”

    As I noted above, my experience was only my experience and no one else’s, and it’s more than 20 years old.

    But….the specific congregations I was in were predominantly white and were probably guilty of the type of default white racism that groups of white people tend to be guilty of when we’re together, even though they/we weren’t out and out racists. The two congregations I was involved with did have larger numbers of hispanics, and at least a few African Americans, but there seemed to be a real separation between “white” and “nonwhite” congregations, especially between “white congregations” and “black congregations.”

    I’m not saying that as an indictment or anything. I’m not even trying to challenge your rendering of the history of Pentecostalism. But it’s just my (retrospective) observation.

    (Apologies if the above has already been mentioned elsethread. I find some of the comments here so anger inducing to read that I’ve decided not to read most of them, lest I choose to say something I regret. I’d just like to reiterate my thanks to you for discussing this topic.)Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      My understanding, which is purely academic, is that the racial mingling of the Azuza Street Revival, was unstable. You can find mixed-race Pentecostal churches, but you can find even more monochrome Pentecostal churches.Report

      • Mark Kruger Mark Kruger in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        Richard and Gabriel – yeah it resegregated somewhat as the fires cooled. There are plenty of multi-racial pentecostal churches around (a large one here in NE), but it’s not the rule. I would add that at least in the AG (where I have a good bit of extra knowledge) they see this as a problem they are continually trying to poke at and solve with mixed results. The idea that the racial mingling was “unstable” is a good phrase and matches the time and place.

        Nondenominational churches tend to give time and effort to racial issues both from the pulpit and in practice. They exist as a critique of the church so this is one area they see their role as prophetic. They get it wrong a lot – but they do attempt to address it.Report

        • Avatar Maribou in reply to Mark Kruger says:

          The pentecostal church next door to us here in CO (which is more than 100 years old) is mostly African American in membership but there are a half-dozen-to-a-dozen white members too.

          Just a data point, but they are as legitimately and intensely Pentecostal as the racist weird ones that make me uncomfortable and which end up on the news a lot more often. Now if only the racist weird ones could cotton on to that…Report

  9. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    Mark, I meant to comment yesterday and the post slipped away from me. Just wanted to say I really enjoyed it and learned quite a bit. Very interesting stuff…Report