The Christian Fundamentalist Movement
As it exists in America, the Christian fundamentalist movement is comprised of Protestant evangelical fundamentalists who seek a complete restructuring of the social and political order, so that all proceeding generations may be brought up in accordance with their doctrine. The most central tenet to their movement is the idea that their sacred scripture, the Bible, is indisputably inerrant, and provides a strict set of rules and guidelines that can be applied to a person in any context.
In Martin Marty’s anthology “The Fundamentalism Project,” he explores the role that fundamentalism plays in politics, the family, and society as whole. Understanding that “fundamentalism” is a word often misused or wrongly attributed to certain groups, Marty’s works primarily aim at distinguishing the term, and illustrating it’s distinct origin. Furthermore, he describes the integral role of women in sustaining a movement that is essentially patriarchal, and helps us to see how this fits into Manuel Castells notion that the patriarchal family may soon be a thing of the past.
Defining and Distinguishing “Fundamentalism” Fundamentalism, in the most general of senses, is a strategy used within religious communities to reclaim their sacred past, and therefore maintain their identity as a distinct group. They refer to selected doctrines and scriptures, which are considered to be the “fundamentals” of their beliefs. They are zealously driven by a sense of self-preservation, and the need to convert their adversaries (who, in their case, is anyone but themselves) (Marty, 1). Protestant fundamentalists fit this definition well.
They emerged in the early 20th century in opposition to, what they considered to be, an increasingly morally corrupt world. They have since continued to revere the “fundamental” requirements for salvation by basing every aspect of their lives on the perceived “divinely inspired” writings of the Bible . Several central features of Protestant fundamentalism shape its identity not only as a religious faith, but also as a strict, oppositional, closely-knit social cohort.
The first of these is evangelism, which fundamentalists hold to the up-most importance. Since they see only themselves as saved, they xpend most of their energy on convincing outsiders that they must avoid eternal damnation through conversion (to fundamentalism) by broadcasting evangelical messages over radio and television and various other means. Secondly, fundamentalists believe in a strict biblical inerrancy. That is, they claim “that the only sure path to salvation is through a faith in Jesus Christ that is grounded in unwavering faith in an inerrant Bible,” and that “the Bible can be trusted to provide an accurate description of science and history, as well as morality and religion” (Ammerman, 5).
Hence their upsurge at the turn of the 20th century, when various scientific and philosophical theories (such as Darwinism) that did not adhere to the written word became increasingly accepted, and they sought to turn everyone back to the strict, unwavering accuracy of the scriptures (Moore, 46). Thirdly, fundamentalists are a pre-millennialist group who use their faith in the Bible to “predict the future,” that is, the coming of the End.
This belief provides them with even more motivation to evangelize, because they think there is only a limited time before the second coming of Jesus and thus a limited time to save non-believers before they are condemned to hell. Lastly, separatism is one of the more crucial features of fundamentalism, because it is the basis for how fundamentalists exist in society. They insist that a true believer will not only follow a strict set of guidelines for his or her own life, but will also shun any person who does not share their lifestyle.
In fact, it is this desire to ostracize the mainstream population that originally set fundamentalists apart at the emergence of their movement, as they share much in common with closely related factions such as conservative, or evangelical Christianity. For example, fundamentalists agree with conservative Christian’s “traditional” understanding of such doctrines as the Virgin Birth, the historical accuracy of Jesus’ miracles, and the imminent second coming of Christ. However, not all conservative Christians agree on how one achieves salvation, which is where evangelical Protestantism veers off.
While certain conservative Protestants consider themselves “saved” if they are baptized and active, faithful members of their church, only evangelicals believe that salvation is solely for those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior and devote their lives to living in his name (a tenant crucial to fundamentalism). And, since many evangelicals place revelatory powers in experience, they cannot all be considered fundamentalists who seek revelation through the scriptures alone.
But still, for most of the early 20th century, “fundamentalists” and “evangelicals” were barely distinguishable; both groups “preserved and practiced the revivalist heritage of soul winning and maintained a traditional insistence on orthodoxy” (Ammerman, 4). It wasn’t until fundamentalists chose to actively oppose liberalism, secularism, and communism in a militant fashion that they ostracized themselves from the rest of society, which evangelicals sought to remain in. Historical Background of the Fundamentalist Movement
In every society social change proceeds at an uneven pace. Some society members embrace change with relish, while others find it oppressive and troubling. And, when people feel that change is being imposed on them, many will find it necessary to resist. Such was the case with America’s earliest fundamentalists. The early 20th Century Fundamentalist Movement sprung from the Great Awakening in objection to its principles of liberal theology, German higher criticism, Darwinism, all which appeared to undermine the Bible’s authority.
The growing discontentment of numerous religiously conservative Christians pushed them to unify and organize, aided by the emergence of a twelve volume series between 1910 and 1915 titled The Fundamentals. This collection was conceived by a Southern California oil millionaire and edited by Bible teachers and evangelists. It contained ninety articles, twenty-seven of them devoted to the Bible, which outlined clearly what were thought to be the essential, fundamental beliefs of Christianity that could not be compromised.
It detailed fundamentalism’s core tenets, specifically: The inerrancy of the Bible, the literal nature of the Biblical accounts (especially regarding Christ’s miracles and the Creation account in Genesis), the Virgin Birth of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross, and the bodily resurrection of Christ (Witherup, 7). These provided the disunited body of participants with a single set of goals, prompting them to ban together to enact change and essentially transforming fundamentalism into a specific movement.
However, throughout the following decade this new religiously conservative coalition against liberalism was merely a nagging voice of dissent, still widely considered bigoted or anti-intellectual, and failed to gain significant credibility (Marsden, 124). Fundamentalists remained divided on several key issues, which prevented them from gaining any real solidarity. For example, while most fundamentalists were mainly concerned with biblical inerrancy, many were more focused on dispensationalism, a eschatological theology concerned with the so-called “end of times.
At this end of the spectrum a “small group of dispensationalist spokes-men pushed the cultural pessimism to its logical extreme,” who used rhetoric that “was certainly not in any way connected with positive, progressive reformism” (Marsden, 125). This prevalent face of fundamentalism was in no way appealing to the American public, and was counter-productive to the movement. In 1925, the infamous Scopes “monkey trial” brought to the forefront of the American Public the clash between modernity and fundamentalists.
The trial concerned a high school teacher, John Scopes, who was convicted of teaching the scientific theory of evolution in opposition to the biblical teaching of creation. Though the fundamentalist prosecutor William Jennings Byron won the case, liberal press coverage of this legendary trial ultimately led to a severe loss of public support. Nevertheless, Byron would go on to becoming one of the most popular and appealing faces to the movement, and would continue to fuel its growth. The economic depression of the 1930’s provided a context in which fundamentalism could not easily thrive.
Such dark times called for a comforting, optimistic theology…characteristics not often attributed to fundamentalism. However, this sense of social crisis brought to the fore moral reformist leaders like William B Riley, who began to stress political change as essential to fundamentalist goals. A number of conservative conferences in New York City and Philadelphia led to the formation of a larger and more comprehensive organizations the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association and the Fundamental Baptists of America.
Having also lost control of the denominational seminaries, fundamentalists regrouped around a set of independent Bible institutes and Bible colleges. Many of these schools, such as the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and the Bible Institute of Los Angeles not only provided instruction to their students but assumed many of the duties formerly performed by denominational institutions. They published periodicals, broadcast from their own radio stations, held conferences, and maintained a staff of extension speakers.
They operated like a denominational headquarters, providing a bond between otherwise isolated congregations (Bruce, 55). Although fundamentalism was pushed to the fringe of the Christian community by the new Evangelical movement, it continued to grow as new leaderships arose. The Baptist Bible Fellowship, formed in 1950, became one of the largest fundamentalist denominations. By 1975 there were 34 Regional organizations, 16 active military chaplains, 11 student chaplains, 1261 individual members and 614 churches. A total of 28 missionary organizations were members of the IFCA movement.
They included 13 church extension missions, 11 home missions, and 4 foreign missions. Five Bible institutes and colleges also were members. Then, in 1979 Jerry Falwell pushed the movement into political sphere by founding the Moral Majority, a civic organization that crusaded against what it viewed as negative cultural trends, especially legalized abortion, the women’s movement, and the gay rights movement. It also lobbied for prayer in public schools, increased defense spending, a strong anticommunist foreign policy, and continued American support for the State of Israel.
The Moral Majority led a new generation of fundamentalists beyond simply denouncing cultural trends and back into an engagement with contemporary life in the political arena, a place where they have been quite outspoken for the past couple of decades. For example, fundamentalists were strong supporters of President George W. Bush and played an important role in the election of Republicans at all levels of government. They also continued to promote conservative positions on various questions of social policy.
They took advantage of the post-cold war liberalist attitude by zealously lobbying for political and moral reform at abortion clinics, funerals for homosexuals, etc, to make their point loud and clear. According to Marty Martin, fundamentalists entered “a new phase of intense activism in the aftermath of the Gulf War (1990-1991) and the collapse of the Soviet Union, in a world that now seemed beset by an inward turning of peoples, or by antipluralist particularisms” (Marty, 7). Even further fueled by the ultural revolution of the 1960’s and early 70’s, especially the assaults on traditional standards of family and sexuality, fundamentalists sought to completely re-structure American culture. They continued to promote conservative positions on various questions of social policy, and given that their “end” is in sight, have been increasingly forceful in doing so. In other words, the fundamentalist movements’ participants believe that their time is running out to achieve their movement’s goals, therefore they need to take advantage of every opportunity they can.
In fact, “the politicization of fundamentalistic evangelicism in recent decades and its unexpected resilience as a political force points to another larger story in American culture, the weakening of the progressive modern scientific liberal consensus that seemed to be building in the first half of the 20th century” (Marsden, 255). Fundamentalism and The Family According to Marty, the fundamentalist desire to return to a “sacred past” is the motivation behind their focus on re-establishing “the family” as a staple of social order.
They believe that the “traditional” family is one reminiscent of 17th century Puritanism, a time when religion played as large a role in society as it should now. Christian fundamentalist see the family as the ultimate authority, as it has become a “potent symbol of an idealized moral order” (Hardacre, 131). Thus, “the imperative to ‘return’ to an idealized form of the family is perhaps the highest priority of the fundamentalist social agenda” (Hardacre, 131).
They see the family as the divine infrastructure that is the basis for all other institutions in society, and are encouraged by spiritual leaders to make the home a moral haven from a corrupt world. The “traditional” lifestyle that is so revered by Christian fundamentalists is a patriarchal one, in accordance with the Bible. As a result, women willingly assume the subordinate position which is widely considered anti- feminist.
In their idealized family, the husband is the sole breadwinner who exercises final authority in all matters, and the wife’s role is simply to serve her husband, children and God. Additionally, females in fundamentalist households are taught to stifle their sexuality, as it could be used as a tool to manipulate the males in society. And, “women’s personification of tradition also takes the form of (often explicit) restrictions on their physical movements away from home” (Hardacre, 139).
In order to stick with “tradition,” women are often required to forego education beyond basic literacy, and employment in leading sectors of the economy (and most other professions). Especially from a feminist standpoint, it is oftentimes difficult to see why women would become such passionate advocates for a creed that deepens their subordination to men and requires them to relinquish most of their power. However, within fundamentalism, the female role of motherhood is considered to be the most crucial foundation for the family and society as a whole.
Since many fundamentalists chose to homeschool their children, these mothers are also the sole educators for their oftentimes many offspring. And, as a large part of their educational focus is on Biblical study, females are called to pass on the meaning of their sacred scripture to the next generation. So though their perpetuation of patriarchy is widely considered anti-feminist, fundamentalist women do not see themselves as such. Instead, they see themselves as carrying out the ultimate female duty as God calls upon them to do.
The Quiverfull movement is a smaller, more recent group who share the same desire for a “traditional” patriarchal family. They are a movement of people who believe is eschewing all forms of birth control, and willingly accepting as many children as they conceive. Not only are they unwilling to prevent pregnancy, but in the same effort to maintain patriarchy wives are required to engage in sexual intercourse whenever their husband so chooses, oftentimes resulting in frequent reproduction.
The basis for their lifestyle is found in Old Testament Bible verses in Psalm 127:3-4 that proclaims “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward; As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them” (Quiverfull). Despite the premise of their movement being selection from a religious text, the Quiverfull movement is self-described as non-denominational, though it is often described as both evangelical and fundamentalist.
Though their members are predominately evangelical (if not evangelical fundamentalists), look closer will see how they really fit in as a subset to the overall fundamentalist movement. As was just mentioned, the foundation of Quiverfull beliefs comes from a literal translation of the Bible, a characteristic of evangelicism and fundamentalism. And, they don’t only base their reproductive habits off of the Bible; Quiverfulls maintain that the Bible is inerrant in it’s entirety. In consequence, Quiverfull families base their familial structure off of the same scriptures that fundamentalists do, creating the same male-headed families.
However, it would probably be inaccurate to say that all members of the Quiverfull movement share the same desire for separatism that is characterized in the participants of the fundamentalist movement. The fact that they do not self-describe themselves as Christian fundamentalists (though they do refer to the “fundamentals”) alone is suggestive of their less-exclusive nature. For example, if I were to decide now that I want no part in birth-control or family planning, and advocated that as the correct way of life, I would be part of the Quiverfull movement despite any of my other personal ideologies.
Nevertheless, the premise of the movement coincides with objectives of fundamentalists, so it still can be considered a contribution to the success of the larger Fundamentalist movement as a whole. The Fundamentalists Identity In Castells’ “The Power of Identity,” he provides three origins of “identity building,” the basis for the formation of “purposive collective actions whose outcome, in victory as in defeat, transforms the values and institutions of society” (Castells, 3).
One of these, “resistance identity,” is similar to McAdam’s idea of “oppositional consciousness. The latter is vital to the success of any social movement, because the creation of a common enemy creates solidarity between its members, allowing them to link their experiences of injustice to their oppressors, thus providing them with a common obstacle. This type of identity-building “constructs forms of collective resistance against otherwise unbearable oppression, usually on the basis of identities that were, apparently, clearly defined by history, geography, or biology, making it easier to essentialize the boundaries of existence”.
In this case, a collective identity is formed in response to dominant institutions or ideologies, just as fundamentalism emerged to combat the scientifically-progressive ideologies of the early 20th century. Fundamentalism is understood to be “the construction of collective identity under the identification of individual behavior and society’s institutions to the norms derived from God’s law, interpreted by a definite authority that intermediates between God and humanity” (Castells 2, 13).
Thus, to be properly perceived by fundamentalists one has to share their commitment to a authority, as they do in respect to patriarchal order and God. Castells also argues that the new global order with its uncontrollable processes of globalization and individualization of identity is accompanied by several brand new demographical tendencies. Among them there are the high rates of divorce, separation, delayed marriages, children born out of wedlock, violence in the family, gay and lesbian couples, single lifestyles etc. Castells 2, 26) All of these challenge patriarchalism by undermining its material and ideological bases, and Castells sees the Christian family as the only source of stability to this order. He claims that American Christian fundamentalism is not a rationalization of class interests, or territorial communal movements, but is rather “a political process of defense of the moral, Christian values” with the help of images from the past projected into the utopian future (Castells, 25).
Therefore, fundamentalism derives its strength from the American culture with its deep religiosity as well as “familistic individualism” and pragmatism as a shelter from solitude and uncertainty of the contemporary world (Castells). Fundamentalism: A Self Sustaining Movement For its participants, fundamentalism began with the formation of the scriptures and its sustainability is inevitable due to its universal validity. The only threat to its existence is the event after which worldly matters are no longer a concern to fundamentalists: the imminent second coming of their savior, Jesus Christ.
Until then, fundamentalism continues to exist in the social order as a well-organized, un-relenting, unified movement, fighting to influence American institutions in accordance with their beliefs. And, with America in the midst of major political and religious upheaval, there has never been a better time for fundamentalists to impose a structural change on our society. Concerning its sustainability, the fundamentalist movement has a clear, unwavering set of tenets and goals which can apply to every society.
Furthermore, the solidarity of it’s members has been highly influenced by the movement’s ubiquitous enemy: contemporary American culture. Their formation of an oppositional consciousness has been inherent in their basic dogma, and their list of enemies remains lengthy and ever growing. Their political opportunity has also continued to grow in strength, with an increasing number of right-wing conservatives standing behind their cause. This increase in ideological allies has been paired with a decrease in the strength of repression in society, as more and more Americans have become sympathetic to the fundamentalist message.
This has been partially due to the post-9/11 need for revenge against a common enemy, which called for Americans to ban together and generally promoted the idea of returning to the “family. ” This idea is further supported today by public figures like Sarah Palin and Glen Beck, the latter of whom is regarded higher in public-opinion than the president himself. Even despite their philosophical differences, evangelicals and fundamentalists have come together in their plight to change the schooling system, in opposition to secular humanism.
Together they seek a “God-centered education that emphasizes character development and spiritual training,” which requires a totally upheaval of the standard American educational system (Rose, 456). They have pressured public schools to remove certain books from classrooms and libraries, to teach scientific creationism alongside (or in place of) evolution, to eliminate sex education entirely, to adopt textbooks that reinforce “traditional” American values, that can be found in the scriptures and to avoid “controversial” subjects in the classroom, such as sex or evolution (Rose, 453).
Protestants have developed their own branch of Christian schools, which though may not be strictly comprised of fundamentalists, is most popular among the more separatist and conservative wing of the evangelical movement. Since the 1960’s enrollments in non-Catholic religiously affiliated schools, or schools of which the majority are evangelical, have increased some 149 percent (Rose, 454). These schools have been the fastest growing sector of private education, with approximately one million students (K-12) enrolled in roughly ten thousand schools, which equates to 20% of the total private school population.
The goal of this alternate form of education is to restore religious authority in society, re-strengthen parental authority, and educate their children while protecting them from “drug, sex, violence, and the lack of discipline in the public schools” (Rose, 455). The schools form a sort of protective bubble around the fundamentalist youth, limiting their knowledge of diversity and progressive society. At fundamentalist universities, the Bible is the only form of literature that students study, and many times neither group discussion nor essay writing is part of the regular curriculum (Rose, 461).
In other words, students read (for the most part) only the Bible, and do not practice the normal skills that an education requires. This singularization of their knowledge successfully teaches children that fundamentalism is not only the right way, but the only way to live. All in all, it is clear that Protestant fundamentalism is concerned with protecting the sanctity of their ideology in every aspect. Worship, education, the family, friends, recreation, etc. must all adhere to a strict set of doctrinal beliefs, which can only be found in their inerrant Bible.
Due to their confined nature, there is little room for desegregation with people of other faiths, which helps to perpetuate the distinct roles that women and children play in this sometimes described anti-progressive or anti-modernist movement. In their plight to change the schooling system, fundamentalists have merged with evangelicals to oppose the secular humanism that they consider to be contaminating their children’s minds. Together, they seek a “God-centered education that emphasizes character development and spiritual training,” which requires a totally upheaval of the standard American educational system (Rose, 456).
In addition, their patriarchal communities have restrained the role of women, keeping them solely in the households to raise and sometimes educate their children. Furthermore, children are encouraged to confine their friendships, dating partners and spouses within the church, allowing little room for outward mobilization. For the most part, they constrain their children to educating them only the “basics” of Protestant fundamentals, and by rearing them in such a male dominated environment, perpetuate an anti-feminist ideology (Hardacre, 134). Conclusion
It is the fundamentalist insistence on “uniformity of belief within ranks and separation from others whose beliefs and lives are suspect” that has shaped a fervently unique demographic (Ammerman, 9). Their determination to accumulate ideological allies through zealous evangelism has taken fundamentalism from being a theological doctrine, to existing as a strong and ever growing social movement. Their separatist nature has led them to develop their own faith-based communities, churches, schools, universities, radio stations, television shows and more.
By creating their own neighborhoods and penetrating the education system, fundamentalists have succeeded in mobilizing and growing in size and authority.