Christian Fundamentalism Conference – April 2006

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Summary for the April 2-7, 2006
Christian Fundamentalism Conference
Hosted by Esalen’s Center for Theory and Research (CTR)

Written by Jacob Sherman


No sensitive observer of contemporary events will deny the crucial role that religion plays in shaping our postmodern world both for better and for worse. The once popular notion that, as far as the public arena goes, the major religious traditions are on their last legs-an idea sometimes called the secularization hypothesis-no longer seems credible. Instead of waning, the religious influence in the public is growing, both at home and abroad, presenting us with a new series of opportunities and a new spate of challenges.

In order to deal with one of the most powerful of these new challenges, the Esalen Center for Theory and Research, in partnership with TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy, has embarked upon a series of conferences convened by Joseph Montville and dealing with the issues of global fundamentalism. Having first considered modern Hindu fundamentalism in December, 2004, and Islamic fundamentalism in September, 2005, CTR turned its attention closer to home when it convened a groundbreaking conference on Christian fundamentalism, April 2-7, 2006.

This invitational conference brought together a unique gathering of scholars, ministers, activists, psychologists, and diplomats. The participants were religiously diverse representing a variety of Christian traditions (including evangelicals, Catholics, and liberal Protestants) and including participants from non-Christian and non-religious backgrounds, as well. The presenters assembled for the week included:

  • Pamela M. Creed, M.Ed., who has over ten years experience teaching both history and English as a Second Language in the US and abroad. Creed is a Doctoral Candidate at the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Her research interests include exploring the dynamics between dominant and alternative discourses, focusing on group narratives that sustain humiliation and resentment as well as apology narratives for evidence of shifts in discourse.
  • Patricia de Jong,Senior Minister at First Congregational Church of Berkely (1994-present). She is a graduate of Western Michigan University and Pacific School of Religion. Before coming to Berkeley, Rev. de Jong served as Minister of Education for Christian Discipleship at The Riverside Church in New York City (1984-88) and as Senior Minister of the Urbandale United Church of Christ in Des Moines, Iowa (1988-94). Pat de Jong’s special interests include reading, old movies, Native American art, international travel, theater and the arts. She is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry Program at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, Minnesota.
  • Barry Hankins, who is in his tenth year on the faculty at Baylor University, presently serving as professor of history and graduate program director in the history department. He also works in conjunction with Baylor’s J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. Hankins holds the B.A. in religion and the M.A. in church-state studies from Baylor and the Ph.D. in history from Kansas State University. His historical interests are primarily in religion and American culture and church-state relations, especially as these relate to twentieth-century fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Hankins has authored three books: God’s Rascal: J. Frank Norris and the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalism (1996); Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture (2002); and The Second Great Awakening and the Transcendentalists (2004). He has just completed a biography of Francis Schaeffer that should appear either late 2006 or early 2007. Hankins is also co-editor with Derek Davis of two other books. Hankins’s articles have appeared in the journals Church History, Religion and American Culture, Journal of Church and State, Fides et Historia, and others.
  • Susan F. Harding, Professor Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz. Dr. Harding has done extensive fieldwork on evangelical Christianity. Her research, long referenced by a range of authors working in the field, culminated in the The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics (Princeton University Press, 2000), which won the 2001 AAR award for excellence in Analytical-Descriptive Studies.
  • Douglas M. Johnston, president and founder of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. Dr. Johnston is a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University. He has served in senior positions in government, business, academia, and the military. Among his government assignments, he has been deputy assistant secretary of the navy (manpower); director of policy planning and management in the Office of the Secretary of Defense; and planning officer with the President’s Office of Emergency Preparedness. He has taught courses in international affairs and security at Harvard and was the founder and director of the university’s Executive Program in National and International Security.  Dr. Johnston served for ten years in the submarine service and, at the age of 27, was the youngest officer in the navy to qualify for command of a nuclear submarine.Prior to his current position, Dr. Johnston served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  In addition to other duties, he chaired the Center’s Preventive Diplomacy Program and directed the CSIS project on Religion and Conflict Resolution. In this latter capacity, he was co-editor and principal author of Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft (Oxford University Press, 1994), a path-breaking work now in its twelfth printing and second foreign language translation. He also edited and was principal author of Foreign Policy into the 21st Century: the U.S. Leadership Challenge (CSIS, 1996) and Faith-based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik (Oxford University Press, 2003).
  • Sam Keen, who describes himself as having been overeducated at Harvard and Princeton, and subsequently a professor of philosophy and religion at various legitimate institutions and a contributing editor of Psychology Today for 20 years before becoming a freelance thinker, lecturer, seminar leader and consultant. Keen is the author of a “baker’s dozen” books, and co-producer of the award winning PBS documentary: Faces of the Enemy. Keen’s work was the subject of a 60 minute PBS special Bill Moyers: Your Mythic Journey with Sam Keen.
  • Anisa Mehdi, an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist specializing in religion and the arts. She has produced and directed critically acclaimed documentary films on Islam and Muslims, writes commentary for NPR’s “All Things Considered, ” and is an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University. Anisa Mehdi is founder and president of Whetstone Productions, a New Jersey-based production and consulting company. In the course of more than 20 years in news and documentaries, Anisa Mehdi has had unprecedented access to people and places around the world. In 2003 she produced and directed the highly acclaimed National Geographic documentary special “Inside Mecca.” Previous reporting on the hajj made her the first American woman to have covered the pilgrimage for broadcast in America.Anisa Mehdi is an on-air correspondent, program anchor, producer/director and writer. She has worked for CBS News, ABC News “Nightline,” the PBS documentary series “Frontline,” the BBC, and National Geographic Television and Film. For a several years she was a correspondent on the nationally broadcast PBS “Religion and Ethics News Weekly;” for a dozen years she was arts and culture correspondent for the New Jersey Network News, a PBS affiliate. Both on-camera and behind-the-scenes, she uses dynamic visual and reportorial techniques, to bring inspiring personal stories of faith, culture and courage to a wide range of audiences. Currently she teaches in the communications department at Seton Hall University and is a commentator for National Public Radio’s award-winning newscast “All Things Considered.” Ms. Mehdi lectures frequently on the portrayal of Muslims in the media and interfaith issues. She is developing two new films: 1) on Catholic-Muslim relations in Algeria, and 2) on Muslim women. Anisa Mehdi is also preparing the biography of her father, the late Dr. Mohammad T. Mehdi, a pioneer in American-Arab and American-Muslim self-awareness. Anisa Mehdi is an avid flutist and community volunteer. She is a Trustee of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (www.shakespearenj.org), sits on the Board of Directors of Music for All Seasons (www.musicforallseasons.org), and is an advisor to the Spirit of Fez Festival International. She plays in the Livingston Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Mehdi has an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in Spanish from Wellesley College. She spent her junior year of college at the University of Seville, Spain, and attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters
  • Joseph Montville,Diplomat in Residence at American University, Senior Fellow at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University, and Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies Expertise: Conflict resolution: East Central Europe, the Baltics, the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Russia, Canada, and Latin America. Joseph Montville founded the preventive diplomacy program at CSIS in 1994 and directed it until 2003. Before that he spent 23 years as a diplomat with posts in the Middle East and North Africa. He also worked in the State Department’s Bureaus of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs and Intelligence and Research, where he was chief of the Near East Division and director of the Office of Global Issues. Montville has held faculty appointments at Harvard and the University of Virginia Medical Schools for his work in political psychology. He defined the concept of Track II, nonofficial diplomacy. Educated at Lehigh, Columbia, and Harvard Universities, Montville is the editor of Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies (Lexington Books, 1990) and editor (with Vamik Volkan and Demetrios Julius) of The Psychodynamics of International Relationships (Lexington Books, 1990 [vol. I], 1991 [vol. II]).
  • Michael Murphy, the co-founder and Chairman of Esalen Institute and the author of both fiction and non-fiction books that explore evidence for metanormal capacities in human beings, including Golf in the Kingdom and The Future of the Body. During his forty-year involvement in the human potential movement, he and his work have been profiled in the New Yorker and featured in many magazines and journals worldwide. A graduate of Stanford University, he was one of the first Americans to live at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India in the early 1950s. In the1980s, he began a successful Soviet-American Exchange Program, which was the premiere diplomacy vehicle for citizen-to-citizen Russian-American relations. In 1990, Boris Yeltsin’s first visit to America was initiated by Esalen. His other books include God and the Evolving Universe (co-authored with James Redfield),The Life We Are Given (co-authored with George Leonard), The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, Jacob Atabet, An End to Ordinary History, In the Zone: Transcendent Experience in Sports (co-authored with Rhea White), and The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation.
  • Dulce W. Murphy, founder and director emeritus of the Esalen Institute Soviet American Exchange Program that began in 1980. Murphy then became the president and executive director of The Russian-American Center (TRAC) in San Francisco, a continuation of the same program. For the past twenty-five years she has been on the cutting edge of non-governmental Russian-American relations. In the spring of 2004, The Russian-American Center changed its name to TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy, that expands our mandate as a non-profit organization to include other countries, teaming up with our Russian colleagues to that end. Track-two diplomacy involves non-governmental individuals and groups that aim to fill the moral and intellectual voids of official peacemaking leadership. Track Two’s major goal is to re-humanize relations that are dysfunctional. It works to make relationships better.
  • Rev. Dr. George F. Regas, Rector Emeritus, All Saints Church, Pasadena, CA, and Executive Director, The Regas Institute, Pasadena, CA. Rev. Regas’s education includes a BA from the University of Tennessee, a Masters of Divinity from the Episcopal Divinity School, two years as a research student with John A. T. Robinson at Cambridge University and a Doctorate from Claremont School of Theology. The predominant focus of his long tenure at All Saints Church was seeking world peace with Justice. When he retired as Rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena, CA in 1995, he established the Regas Institute.  Rev. Regas’s focus is the study and advocacy of progressive religion as a strong counter point to the growing menace and distortion of the religious right.
  • Jacob Holsinger Sherman,a staff member and conference coordinator at the Esalen Center for Theory and Research, and adjunct faculty in Philosophy and Religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies. A graduate of Pepperdine University and Regent College, Sherman is currently a PhD candidate at the California Institute of Integral Studies where he also teaches classes on the history of philosophy, romanticism, and Christian Spirituality. Jacob has written on Owen Barfield and Teilhard de Chardin, and is co-editor (with Jorge Ferrer) of The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, and Religious Studies (SUNY Press, forthcoming 2007). He is currently completing his dissertation, Partakers of the Divine: Contemplation, Participation, and the Philosophy of Religion.
  • Donald W. Shriver, Jr., Emeritus President of the Faculty and William E. Dodge Professor of Applied Christianity at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He served as president in the years 1975-91 and as fulltime teacher of ethics there until 1996. Born in Norfolk, Virginia, he is a graduate of Davidson College, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, Yale University Divinity School, and Harvard University. From the last he holds a Ph.D. in the field of Religion and Society. He was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1955 and was pastor of a Presbyterian congregation in Gastonia, North Carolina, 1956-59. He was Presbyterian University Minister and faculty member at North Carolina State University, 1962-72, and then Professor of Ethics and Society at Candler School of Theology in Emory University, 1972-75. He was president of the Society of Christian Ethics in 1980, was a fellow of the American Academy in Berlin (1999) and Visiting Senior Scholar of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa (2002). He has lectured in England, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, South Africa, India, China, Taiwan, and South Korea. He holds six honorary degrees and has traveled in some fifty countries, with longest residences in Germany, South Korea, and South Africa. He is a member of the American Theological Society. His thirteen books have treated Christian ethics as related to race relations, youth culture, economics, medicine, urban affairs, business management and political conflict. He has taught or co-taught graduate courses in ethics in various neighboring university professional schools, including the Jewish Theological Seminary and four Columbia University schools-business, law, international affairs, and journalism. His most recent work has been in human rights and issues of restorative justice. In addition to some hundred articles, his major authored or co-authored books include: The Unsilent South: Prophetic Preaching in Racial Crisis; Spindles and Spires: A Re-Study of Religion and Social Change in Gastonia; The Lord’s Prayer: A Way of Life; Beyond Success: Corporations and Their Critics;and, most recently, An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics (Oxford 1995 and 1997), and Honest Patriots: Loving a Country Enough to Remember Its Misdeeds (Oxford, 2005).
  • Peggy Ann Leu Shriver an author, Iowa-born Presbyterian, mother of three children, workshop leader and lecturer. She has served in various offices for the Presbyterian church, on the boards of numerous social justice organizations. She was on the Staff for Professional Church Leadership, National Council of Churches USA, 1989-99 and was national evaluator for the AmeriCorps Ecumenical Program for Rural/Urban Service (1994-99). She is the author of numerous books and articles including “The Waiting World Parish” from The Nature and Role of Ministry in the 21st Century;, For the Peace of the World : A Christian Curriculum in International Relations, (NCCCUSA publication, 2005); The Bible Vote; Religion and the New Right; Having Gifts That Differ;and The Divided Church: Moving Liberals and Conservatives from Diatribe to Dialogue(Co-authored with Richard G. Hutcheson, 1999). She has also published two volumes of poetry, Pinches of salt and The Dancers of Riverside Park. In 2001 she and her husband served as joint theologian practitioners for Riverside Church. They received Union Theological Seminary’s Union Medal at the conclusion of Don’s presidency. Her Doctor of Humanities degree was conferred by Central College, Pella, Iowa. Their commitments involve them in many countries, including South Africa, Germany, Korea, and Ireland.

Mention should be made of three participants who, at the very last minute, were unable to join us due to sudden medical emergencies within their families.

  • Gordon Bigelow, associate professor of English at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN, where he teaches British and Irish literature. His research is on evolving and competing views of market capitalism in nineteenth-century literature. His first book, Fiction, Famine, and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (2003) challenged received ideas of Victorian British literature as simplistically hostile to industrial capitalism, and showed how fiction from the period considers ideas that would become central to modern, neoclassical economic theory. His current research is on religious and supernatural discourse in the nineteenth century, again in its relationship to the rise of the neoclassical theory of a self-regulating marketplace. An essay based in his research, called “Let there be Markets: The Evangelical Roots of Economics” recently appeared in Harper’s Magazine.
  • Glenn W. Shuck, visiting assistant professor of religion at Williams College and an expert on fundamentalism in the modern American imagination. In addition to a number of published essays, he is the author of the acclaimed Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity (NYU Press, 2004), and coeditor, with Jeffrey J. Kripal, of On the Edge of the Future: Esalen and the Evolution of American Culture (Indiana University Press, 2005).
  • Ronald J. Sider (Ph.D., Yale), Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry and Public Policy and Director of the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and President of Evangelicals for Social Action. A widely known evangelical speaker and writer, Sider has spoken on six continents, published twenty-seven books and scores of articles. His Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger was recognized by Christianity Today as one of the one hundred most influential religious books of the twentieth century. A fifth edition was just released in April. His most recent books are The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World, Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America and Churches That Make a Difference: Reaching Your Community with Good News and Good Works (with Phil Olson and Heidi Unruh). Sider is the publisher of PRISM magazine and a contributing editor of Christianity Today and Sojourners. He has lectured at scores of colleges and universities around the world, including Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford.

More than just an academic exercise, the aim of the week was to identify constructive ways to help mitigate the violence that so often accompanies fundamentalistic forms of religion, including Christianity. To that end, three identifiable goals pervaded the week’s activities. First, it was necessary to understand what Christian fundamentalism really is. Second, a diagnosis had to be made regarding where and why this movement becomes unhealthy. Third, because the conference aimed at making a real difference, it ended by laying out strategies for engaging Christian fundamentalism in healing dialogues that can help move it from violence to greater wholeness.

Conference Summary

What Is Fundamentalism?

Most of us think we know what fundamentalism is. The term gets thrown about freely in the media and in popular culture, but as often as not, this popular use of the term is very imprecise. Frequently, it is simply a pejorative-to call something fundamentalist, in this sense, is to label some religious expression or community as being more conservative, extreme, dangerous or irrational than we would like. While Scott Appleby and others have done a great service by laying out a cross-cultural and interreligious phenomenology of fundamentalism, our conference was specifically concerned with Christian fundamentalism, which is a quite specific (and politically powerful) movement within Christianity itself. [1]

Barry Hankins, an expert on Christian fundamentalism and church-state relations, began the conference by laying out a detailed historical account of Christian fundamentalism and its impact on the Southern Baptist Convention. A second presentation by Jacob Sherman dovetailed in important ways with Hankins’ own account and so, in order to give as clear a definition and history of fundamentalism as possible, I will weave the two presentations together in what follows.

Hankins began by emphasizing the need to differentiate (in a way popular culture often fails to) evangelicals and fundamentalists. He joked that an evangelical is anyone who really likes Billy Graham, and a fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something. More seriously, although there is a fair amount of truth in the joke, Hankins described fundamentalism as a late 19th and 20th century Christian reaction to the threat of theological modernism. Throughout the 19th century, as George Marsden has shown, most Anglophone Protestant Christians simply called themselves evangelicals, and this self-identification included the mainline denominations as well as new (holiness and premillennialist) revivalist groups. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, American evangelicalism had begun to polarize sharply between theological liberals and conservatives. Conservative Christians in this period found themselves increasingly troubled by two cultural phenomena. On the one hand, higher criticism imported from Germany had begun to question the integrity of the Scriptures by calling attention to literary techniques that suggested that many of the books of the Old and New Testaments were written far later than tradition had claimed, or by calling into question the presumed authorship of various books within the Bible (so, for example, the higher criticism denied that Moses authored Genesis through Deuteronomy, or more scandalously that a number of the New Testament letters attributed to Paul, such as 1 Timothy, were written by someone else). On the other hand, conservatives were troubled by some of the claims of modern science, particularly Darwin’s claims that some saw as threatening or contradicting the Christian belief in God as Creator.[2] The central issue in both of these challenges was the question of authority: where does authority reside for the Christian church? Theological modernists reacted to higher criticism and the challenge of Darwinism by saying that authority ultimately resided in experience. Conservatives, however, felt that the authority of the church resided pre-eminently in her scriptures. As the 19th century drew to a close, the difference between the modernists and their emphasis on experience and the conservatives with their belief in the authority of scripture continued to widen and threatened to break.

The pre-history of the fundamentalist movement really gets underway with the extravagant publishing venture of Milton and Lyman Stewart, the millionaire brothers behind Union Oil Company of California (today known as UNOCAL). Between 1910 and 1915, the Stewarts commissioned and published 12 volumes known as The Fundamentals, which defended such positions as the virgin birth and the literal resurrection of Jesus, and attacked the assumptions of higher criticism. The Stewarts financed the project extravagantly so that the volumes could be distributed without charge to every pastor, missionary, theologian, Sunday school superintendent, college professor, and so on, throughout the English speaking world. Three million volumes were distributed in all. This bold and aggressive publishing campaign not only gave its name, but also bequeathed its character to the Fundamentalist movement that arose in its wake, which is why George Marsden describes Fundamentalism as the “militant defense of traditionalist Protestantism.”[3]

Hankins explained how World War I exasperated the divide within Christianity between theological modernists and the emerging Fundamentalist movement. Though it is not often remembered today, it was theological liberals and progressive Christians who championed the United States’ involvement in World War I, while conservative (especially, pre-millennialist) Christians called for restraint. The horrors of the war however, radicalized the positions of everyone involved, and conservatives soon felt that they saw something far more insidious than a merely political conflict. They began to feel that Germany, which had once been the land of Luther, had degenerated under the influence of modernism, into an overly militaristic and Nietzschean nation. Traditionalists argued that even though the United States might win the land war, it was in danger of losing the battle with German culture and so they connected the triumph of theological liberalism (which had its roots in German higher criticism) with the cultural annihilation of America itself.

Seven years after the end of the War, in 1925, the divisions within American Christianity finally came to a dramatic head when the Fundamentalists suffered two humiliating public defeats. Over the previous decades, Fundamentalists had chiefly targeted Darwinism and theological modernism. In 1925 they all but lost both of these battles. First, the highly publicized Scopes trial so thoroughly succeeded in caricaturing conservative critics of Darwinism that it continues to exert a powerful hold on the American imagination even today. Second, beyond losing the battle against Darwinian science, Fundamentalists also lost the denominations to theological modernism. Modernists and inclusivists managed a series of strategic elections in major denominations (such as the Presbyterian Church USA) that succeeded in wresting control of institutional structures away from Fundamentalist factions. Thus the defeats of 1925 marked the visible end of a Fundamentalist campaign for American culture, and over the next three decades the movement turned inward and sectarian.

Hankins related how one colorful exception to this sectarianism is found in J. Frank Norris (d. 1952), a prominent Fundamentalist pastor who waged an early (but unsuccessful) war for control of the Southern Baptist denomination. Initially, the Fundamentalist movement spread slowly in the South, chiefly because theological modernism was scarcer beneath the Mason-Dixon line and so there wasn’t much need for a militant defense of traditional faith. Norris however, whose fiery bravado earned him the nickname “God’s rascal”, felt that such militancy was a good strategy whether it seemed necessary to others or not. Norris was pastor of two early mega-churches-one in Ft. Worth, TX, the other in Michigan-each numbering about 12,000 parishioners. In his zeal, Norris sought out enemies even when they were scarce or non-existent, and thereby tried to win the Southern Baptists to Fundamentalism. He preached scandalous sermons, for example, against the Catholic mayor of Ft. Worth, making false accusations regularly and publishing them in Norris’s own newspaper. His ability to ignite controversy knew no bounds, even to the point of embroiling him in the shooting death (supposedly in self-defense) of D. E. Chipps, a local lumberman who wanted to stop Norris’s vilification of the mayor. Norris put four shots from a revolver into Chipps, earning himself a new nickname: “the pistol-packing pastor from Ft. Worth.”

Hankins recounted these vignettes because Norris was, perhaps oddly, ahead of his time and now appears a stereotypical (if overblown) Fundamentalist in many ways. Norris tried to make Southern Baptist preachers look like they were theological modernists-a divide and conquer straw-man technique that contemporary fundamentalistic authors still employ against other believers-and he saw his job as drawing a solid-border at the Mason-Dixon line that would keep theological modernism out of the South for good. Despite his efforts and his rhetoric, Norris could never succeed in winning the Southern Baptist Convention. The reason he failed is because the Convention, in the first half of the twentieth century, couldn’t see the need for Norris’s brand of Christianity. There really were not that many modernists around and so the Southern church felt itself comfortably ‘at ease in Zion’ and let Norris’s radicalism fall by the wayside.

By the 1970s and 1980s however, Southern culture had changed visibly (ominously, if you will) and fundamentalistic Southern Baptists made another attempt at gaining control of the denomination. This time they succeeded in delivering America’s largest Protestant denomination into fundamentalist hands. The charismatic preacher Adriane Rogers, the theologian Page Patterson, and the political strategist Paul Pressler rallied Southern Baptists behind the cause of Biblical inerrancy and sought to wrest control of the denomination’s presidency. At stake in this contest was more than a mere title, but a wealth of denominational infrastructure (including six seminaries, the largest missionary structure in the world, etc.). Pressler understood that if fundamentalistic believers could gain control of the presidency for ten years straight then they could control all of the committees that appoint the boards of trustees for their institutions. They succeeded amazingly and since then, there has never been another moderate president of the Convention. Hankins emphasized that while this was certainly about politics and power, we need to understand that it was also equally about theology and religion.

This takeover of the Southern Baptists was part of a larger cultural movement that George Marsden calls ‘fundamentalistic evangelicalism’. Sherman recounted the way that, in contrast to 19th century evangelicalism, modern (or “New”) Evangelicals trace the beginning of their movement to the 1940s when certain Fundamentalists sought to move beyond their sectarianism in order creatively re-engage culture. A group of visionary leaders including Harold Ockenga, Charles Fuller, Bernard Ramm, Carl F. Henry and Billy Graham called for a broad coalition of theological conservatives-a coalition that extended beyond classical Fundamentalism to include groups as diverse as the Pentecostals and the Mennonites, as well as conservatives from the mainline denominations (such the Anglicans John Stott and J. I. Packer). Despite its diversity, this coalition united around an ideal of positive evangelism (as seen in Billy Graham, for example). In 1942 the National Association of Evangelicals was founded, followed by Fuller Theological Seminary and the flagship publication Christianity Today. Initially, Fundamentalists and Evangelicals enjoyed close relations, but gradually the willingness of Evangelicals to cooperate with mainline denominations became too great for Fundamentalists to abide. When Billy Graham appealed to such mainline denominations for help in promoting his 1957 New York crusade, strict Fundamantalists broke all ties with Graham and the NAE. These ecclesiastical separatists believed that doctrinal purity alone guaranteed true fellowship, and so they needed to separate both from modernists and those who fellowshipped with modernists . After 1957, the term “Fundamentalist” is almost exclusively employed by those who felt the need to break fellowship with Evangelicals.

A new era began in the 1970s. This era, ‘fundamentalistic evangelicalism,’ continues today, and saw the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention as well as the rise of self-conscious fundamentalist influence on the American political landscape. Fundamentalistic evangelicalism marks a shift in fundamentalist strategies towards the kind of cultural engagement that Evangelicals embraced in the middle of the century. However, unlike their Evangelical predecessors, fundamentalistic evangelicals tend to build coalitions for political purposes rather than for the sake of fellowship or a kind of positive evangelistic motivation. This political motive accounts for the sense of cynicism one finds in fundamentalistic literature, since these alliances are political marriages of convenience and often little besides (for instance, in all seriousness, fundamentalists are likely to believe that their Catholic and Mormon allies in the ‘religious right’ are destined for eternal perdition). Nevertheless, such opportune alliances have met with stunning success at the ballot box, and together fundamentalistic evangelicals constitute what may be today’s single largest voting block. As Barry Hankins noted, fundamentalistic evangelicals are to today’s Republican party what labor was to Democrats in the middle in the 1950s.

Two later presentations profiled particular movements within late-twentieth century fundamentalistic evangelicalism. Susan Harding recounted her significant anthropological work with Jerry Falwell’s community in Lynchburg, VA. Harding lived for about a year with Falwell’s community in the 1980s. By this time, Falwell, one of the most prominent figures in fundamentalistic evangelicalism, was senior pastor of the mega-church Thomas Road Baptist Church, had already begun his media ministry The Old Time Gospel Hour,and had founded the Moral Majority movement, his own seminary and Liberty University. In the early 1980s, fundamentalistic evangelicals were beginning to suture together a born-again version of Christianity with certain political commitments and litmus tests. They ceased calling themselves fundamentalists in order to present a less sectarian face to the world but, as Harding notes, these accommodations to political efficacy were also changing what it meant to belong to the fundamentalist community. They were beginning to see themselves less as sectarians and more as cultural guardians with the power to actively shape history. Harding described the way the fundamentalist vision moved from one of separation to one of assimilation-they began to develop a ‘voracious’ appetite for every kind of cultural encounter and believed that they could meet, assimilate and reproduce a Christian version of every cultural artifact. Thus, fundamentalists developed Christian versions of even the most secular cultural phenomena, including Christian heavy-metal bands, beauty pageants, a creation-science version of a natural history museum, and even Christian sex manuals.

Harding found Falwell himself personally unimpressive and too polished to be interesting, but her encounters with others in Falwell’s movement proved fascinating. For example, Harding described one encounter with Melvin Campbell, a pastor in Falwell’s church. Harding went to interview him and asked Campbell how he became a pastor. Campbell began to ‘witness’ to Harding for the next hour and a half, sharing his testimony and explaining to Harding how she could be ‘saved’. When she left the office, Harding found herself barely escaping an accident at a red light and heard a voice say inside her head, “What’s God trying to tell me?” It wasn’t however, an alien voice, but Harding’s own voice that said those words. Harding was neither a Christian nor a fundamentalist, and found the experience disquieting. Had she turned her car around and gone back to pastor Campbell’s office to pray, she would have found herself a member of the community. Rather than following this typical conversion narrative, however, Harding reflected on the experience as an anthropologist, neither dismissing it, nor embracing it, but preferring instead to remain in a liminal space of open but critical assessment. The historian Timothy Webber later explained to her that she had “come under conviction,” a recognizable step in fundamentalist conversion stories. Harding described this experience as her entry in the language-world of her fundamentalist hosts. Reflecting on this experience, she noted how the boundary between belief and unbelief is much more permeable than we would like to suppose. By coming under conviction, Harding developed an unconscious belief-what she calls ‘narrative belief’-though she refused to move to the next stage and embrace this narrative consciously.

This initiation into their language-world allowed Harding to understand that when a fundamentalist says, “God spoke to me,” this is a true statement. Religion does not only function on a doctrinal level, or the level of practice and ritual, but especially on the level of language. What fundamentalistic evangelicals have discovered in recent decades is the power of their language to re-constitute the modern world along different lines, and thus they find themselves capable of assimilating and reproducing rock music, fashion, television game-shows and so forth along wholly fundamentalistic lines. She suggested that this tells us something about the world outside of the churches, as well. We can no longer presume that secularity is either self-evident or necessary. We seem to be moving quickly into a post-secular world, one in which religious narratives again play structuring roles in society. The still unanswered question is whether and what kind of religious narratives will achieve cultural dominance.

One narrative actively seeking to structure American society can be found in the Left Behind novels. This series of books, written by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, is one of the most notable events in the world of fundamentalistic evangelicalism over the last decade. Because Glenn Shuck, an expert in the Left Behind series, was unable to attend the conference due to an emergency, Jacob Sherman presented on LaHaye and Jenkins’s novels and led a discussion of Shuck’s work in this area. The Left Behind books present themselves as a kind of apocalyptic melding of conspiracy and science-fiction genres. They acknowledge that their stories are fiction but claim that they present highly plausible readings of the way that the certainties of biblical prophecy (so LaHaye and Jenkins believe) might unfold. The first novel, Left Behind, opens just after midnight on a transcontinental passenger airline half-way over the Atlantic. Suddenly, chaos erupts on the flight as passengers begin to notice empty seats where their companions once sat. It starts, for example, when an elderly woman in first class complains that she cannot find her husband; someone says he must be in the lavatory; but the reader knows what the passengers gradually realize: the other passengers are gone for good and a sudden sense of despair takes hold of those who are left behind.

What has happened, of course, is the rapture whereby, according to many fundamentalistic Christians, God will catch Christian believers up to be with the Lord, in order that they might avoid the coming seven years of tribulation during which the Anti-Christ will ascend to earthly power and God’s judgments will be meted out upon the rebellious planet. Christian prophecy belief of this particular sort dates back to the 19th century and the rise of dispensationalism, a form of prophecy belief pioneered by John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren and all but canonized later through Clarence Larkin’s charts and the copious notes in the Scofield Reference Bible (one of the best-selling Bible versions in the English speaking world). This remarkably complex system of prophecy belief-technically known as pre-millennial, pre-tribulation dispensationalism-seeks to explain the way that God acts in history, especially the way the God will act in the end of history. In contrast to more optimistic versions of Christian eschatology, pre-millennial dispensationalism is a pessimistic system that believes that the world will continue to deteriorate throughout history until it reaches its nadir at the Last Day when Christ will finally return in judgment and history will be no more. In the aftermath of the Civil War, this system of prophecy belief became popular in the United States, especially in the South, and it institutionalized itself in centers such as Dallas Theological Seminary. Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth was based on this system of belief and, by speculating about the relationship between dispensationalist theology and newspaper headlines, shot to the top of bestseller lists throughout the 1970s.

Figure 1 Clarence Larkin “Second Coming” Chart [4]

The genius of the Left Behind novels is to take the popularization of the dispensationalist intricacies one step further by clothing it in a page-turning narrative accessible even to those who find Hal Lindsey too complex. After the opening events of the rapture, the novels follow the adventures of a group of characters who find themselves left behind and must cope with life in the tribulation. A number of the story’s main characters are on board transatlantic flight mentioned above, including Capt. Rayford Steele, pilot of the aforementioned airline , Hattie Durham, an attendant on the flight and the novel’s requistite femme fatale, and Buck Williams, an Ivy League educated journalist. The plot basically unfolds as follows: after Buck succeeds in subduing a frightened passenger, the flight is rerouted to Chicago, which happens to be Rayfords’s home. Back in Chicago, Rayford discovers that his wife and son disappeared but that his “free-thinking” daughter, Chloe, an undergrad at Stanford who has been delving into feminism, is still around. The Steeles retreat to New Hope Village Church where Rayford’s raptured-wife had been spending a lot of time previous to the disappearances. Most of the members and staff at New Hope have vanished, but the characters do find associate pastor Bruce Barnes (whose faith was not as secure as he made it seem in sermons). Pastor Barnes, Rayford, Chloe and Buck Williams find a video at the church explaining that all of these events were foretold in Bible prophecy and laying out the way that they can still be saved. Through this video, they come to realize the error of their ways and accept Jesus into their hearts. Led initially by Pastor Barnes (then later by Rayford and in subsequent novels by the Messianic Jewish teacher, Tsion Ben Judah) they form the Tribulation Force and set about to save as many souls as possible before it’s too late.

The antagonist of the novels is the Romanian businessman Nicolae Carpathia, a charismatic leader who rises to international power by promising to rebuild chaos stricken nations. Carpathia’s strategy of unity and cooperation succeeds wildly and allows him to assume certain emergency powers granted by the United Nations. Having taken such unprecedented global power, Carpathia sets about unifying governments, religions, and markets based on a strange plan to create 10 regional kingdoms (all answerable to Carpathia himself), a single global currency, and a unified world religion (the Enigma Babylon One World Faith) led by Pontifex Maximus Peter II, formerly Archbishop Peter Matthews of Cincinnati. Moreover, Carpathia manages to reduce the world’s weaponry by 90% and assembles the rest under the control of the Global Community (the re-named United Nations). Carpathia, the Anti-Christ, also consolidates all media outlets and officially begins the seven year tribulation period of God’s judgment when he signs a seven year peace treaty with Israel (which he breaks after three and a half years). Needless to say, all of these developments correspond to dispensationalist interpretations of Bible prophecy and so both the Tribulation Force and the readers feel as if they have some sort of inside knowledge about the strange and frightening way in which history is unfolding (or rather, culminating).

Later novels in the series follow the spreading influence of the Tribulation Force as they set-up cell churches, make converts everywhere, and attempt to counter the Anti-Christ’s increasingly nefarious designs. The Tribulation Force members, despite being locked in spiritual combat with the world-system, manage to secure some of the most influential jobs within the Anti-Christ’s new world order; Buck Williams, for example, is hired as the editor-in-chief of Carpathia’s flagship publication, The Global Community, while Rayford Steele becomes the pilot of Carpathia’s exquisite 757 (the global equivalent of Air Force One). Central characters, such as pastor Barnes and nearly every techie in the book, regularly get killed off and replaced by other characters who are usually able to do their jobs more effectively than their unfortunate predecessors and thereby further the struggle for fate of souls left behind. In addition to their high-profile jobs, the members of the Tribulation Force display a staggering level of expertise especially in communications and weapons equipment, constantly foiling the Enemy’s plans through “the miracle of technology.”

That, in brief, is the novels’ storyline. They are easy to read, and fast paced though hardly as compelling as some of the other popular thrillers on the market. Nevertheless, the novels have sold a staggering 50+ million copies, and while the series finished after twelve books, they are now at work on prequels. Spin-offs also abound, including a children’s version of the series, comic books, an unauthorized movie (starring Kirk Cameron) and now an unauthorized, exceedingly violent Left Behind video game. The popularity of the novels is so great, and their spiritual benefits are believed to be so profound, that many fundamentalistic churches have begun giving non-Christians copies of Left Behind alongside the Bible as an evangelistic tool.

Glenn Shuck argues that the novels can read as fundamentally about two related concepts: rhetoric and power. By rhetoric, Shuck means persuasive speech and not just empty words. LaHaye and Jenkins employ a relatively sophisticated and occasionally subtle participative strategy to inform readers about what it means to be a fundamentalistic evangelical prophecy believer. The narrative allows the authors to either reinforce or introduce a particular worldview (fundamentalistic prophecy belief) to their readers in a holistic and gradual manner. By following the narrative and identifying with the characters, the reader is invited into the imaginal structures that constitute fundamentalistic prophecy belief, into what Susan Harding might call the language-world of dispensationalism. In order to make this initiation more powerful, the authors seek to induce a sense of existential and spiritual crisis in their readership-a crisis designed to strengthen or inaugurate belief in the fundamentalist prophetic worldview. All of this intends to show the reader that while cultural elites believe they have progressed beyond fundamentalism and so have left the fundamentalists behind, the truth to the contrary is that it is the cultured elites-the progressives, the liberal academics, and the so-called cultural architects-who will find themselves genuinely left behind. The reader is invited to join the fundamentalist community of prophecy believers and so identify with the community that is the true (if not yet recognized) center of history.

Beyond rhetoric, the novels are also about power. At the most obvious level, the novels’ political concerns dovetail nicely with the concerns of the Religious Right, but there is more going on in these fictions than just conservative propaganda. The authors carefully navigate two somewhat competing political agendas. On the one hand, they have to do justice to the dispensationalist God’s inscrutable concern for public policy and international affairs. Dispensationalist prophecy belief’s notoriously complex system evolved in the 19th century and has been regularly updated in accordance with international developments throughout the twentieth. Conforming to its strictures requires that the authors faithfully include various doctrines about the return of Israel to the Holy Land, the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, a series of international conflicts between the ominous nations Gog and Magog, monetary systems connected with the mark of the Beast, and so forth. These seemingly arbitrary political events are neither clearly nor closely linked to traditional Christian concerns regarding evangelism, Christ’s resurrection victory over sin and death, or the call to love one’s neighbor. On the other hand, the authors also advance a political agenda that attempts to make the world safe for evangelism and Christian discipleship. Shuck notes that the tension between these two agendas runs throughout the series and, in fact, grows more extreme as the series progresses to the point that the final books seemingly sacrifice evangelism in favor of sheer determinism. This, he says, reflects a tension within dispensationalism itself, a tension between genuine Christian responsibility, and a kind of nihilistic despair over the world’s inevitably pessimistic final state. Fundamentalistic engagements in the political realm are often frightening because one suspects that Christian principles, which can at least be subject to a political and democratic process, are always in danger of yielding to this irrational determinism that chooses policies for seemingly arbitrary reasons. Indeed, Shuck notes, there have been occasions in our country when a certain political agenda arbitrarily coincided with irrational prophecy beliefs and so found a groundswell of popular support for otherwise indefensible political programs (e.g., today, such a prophetic groundswell underwrites a number of our policies with regard to states in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).

The tensions between prophecy belief and political action can tell us a lot about the place of contemporary fundamentalism in American society. LaHaye and Jenkins wrestle with two agendas throughout the novels, moving back and forth from a justification of why prophecy believing evangelicals ought to worry about the here and now when the rapture is imminent, to a more thoroughgoing attempt to remake the world as they believe it ought to be. The novels, says Shuck, are not so much about a future world, as they are re-presentations of contemporary concerns that help believers adjust to the rapidly changing world around them. The fictions pretend to be about the tribulation but they are really narratives about how fundamentalistic evangelicals ought to behave here and now in the period that Tim LaHaye elsewhere calls “the tribulation before the tribulation.” While such political activism on the part of fundamentalists often causes others a fair amount of concern, Shuck argues that this turn towards social, cultural and political engagement is precisely what will help conservative evangelicalism ultimately move beyond fundamentalism. Engagement requires compromise, dialogue, and working with the needs of others, and serves over time to temper extremism and pacify violence.
Towards a Diagnosis of Fundamentalism

Throughout the conference, participants attempted to formulate creative strategies to encourage fundamentalistic movements away from rhetorically violent and politically oppressive stances towards a more healing and beneficent engagement with the culture. For the most part, these strategies were conceived of as ways to recall fundamentalists to the heritage of Jesus, whom Montville regularly held up as the friend of the widows and the orphans. There is a basic stance of compassion within Christianity and this needs to resume a place of centrality within the church. But how did Christianity lose this basic gospel commitment not only to the salvation of individuals but also to social justice (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for widows and orphans, etc.)? In the same way that knowing symptoms is one thing, and knowing the reason behinds those symptoms is another, it is not enough simply to know what fundamentalism is, because we also need to know what causes it. In order to get at some of the causes, a number of presentations delved back to the 19th century where they discovered the roots of certain wounds and behaviors that continue today.

Joe Montville found one significant clue to fundamentalist social policies in the groundbreaking work of Gordon Bigelow. Bigelow, who himself wanted to attend the conference but was unable to be with us due to a sudden emergency, has argued in Harpers Magazine and elsewhere that conservative evangelicals provided intellectual justification and populist support for the dismantling of social programs and charities (in particular, the dismantling of an effective parish-based system of poverty relief) during the end of the 18th and into the 19th century. In so doing, evangelicals provided a defense for (i.e., an apologetics of) a radically amoral vision of the free-market. It is therefore, no anomaly that evangelicals provided significant support for Thatcherite and Reaganesque economic endeavors in the 1980s, nor again that it is evangelicals who secured the elections of George W. Bush.

Bigelow tells the story of political-economy (the study of wealth) during the early decades of industrialization. Early political-economy theorists such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo sought to explain the unprecedented changes taking place to both landscape and the market due to the breakneck pace of industrialization, especially in Britain. Neither Smith nor Ricardo however, justified the market as a good end in and of itself. Adam Smith, for example, believed that acquisitiveness was not a virtue, but that it accidentally enriched the whole of society by distributing wealth that might otherwise simply have been hoarded (thus the pursuit of “baubles and trinkets” by the rich benefited their servants, goldsmiths, merchants, etc.). Ricardo, for his part, believed that market necessarily increased class conflict and therefore spelled the demise of pastoral harmony. Evangelical merchants, enjoying the benefits of market-driven wealth, chaffed against the pessimism in Smith and Ricardo’s political-economies. These believers proposed a radically different account of the market, one that became an apology for the market itself and the present economic order. These evangelicals argued that the free market was a state of nature (or, rather, creation), perfectly designed by God to both produce wealth and to form the human soul. The market, they argued, rewarded righteous endeavors with wealth and brought about poverty in order to prick the conscience of sinners. Poverty thus became the means by which God converted unrepentant souls and so the alleviation of poverty-far from being a Christian duty-would only serve to undermine the efforts of God himself! The squalor and toil of industrial England (think here of your preferred Dickens novel) was not something to be rectified but a punishment for sin and a spur towards conversion. In distorted Calvinist fashion, an omnipotent God bestowed wealth, like salvation, upon those whom he favored. Greed thus began to look like virtue, and the stockbroker, whom Adam Smith regarded with suspicion, was envisioned as a spiritual hero.

There is far more to Bigelow’s analysis than Montville had time to recount, but even so Montville succeeded in showing one of the ways that Christians managed to lose the Jesus of conscience, the Jesus who was always the friend of the poor and (in Montville’s words) “the original bleeding heart liberal.” [5] Bigelow’s work also suggests the way that fundamentalism continues to influence our national policies and the global economy. When we identify the market with the will of God, and imagine that is somehow a benevolent force for the alleviation of suffering, we are borrowing from 19th century evangelical theologies. Bigelow writes:

[When] Tom DeLay or Michael Powell mentions “the market,” he is referring to this imagined place, where equilibrium rules, consumers get what they want, and the fairest outcomes occur spontaneously. U.S. policy debate, both in Congress and in the press, proceeds today as if the neoclassical theory of the free market were incontrovertible, endorsed by science and ordained by God. But markets are not spontaneous features of nature; they are creations of human civilization.

Ever since the 2004 exit polls, the media has become acutely aware of what it only tangentially recognized before: the key role fundamentalistic Christians and evangelicals play in shaping America’s political landscape. Bigelow’s work however, goes beyond recognizing the power of this conservative voting block, and asks us to pay attention to a more subtle but also more pervasive fundamentalist influence: the influence of fundamentalism not on any single election but on the very way we imagine the state, the economy, and society itself.

Another theory of what accounts for especially Southern evangelical and fundamentalist militancy draws our attention to the anger at three hundred years of Northern (especially New Englander) insult and disdain toward everything Southern. Recall Georgia Senator Zell Miller’s sulfurous tirade against the Democratic Party’s Northern elites at the 2004 Republican Convention. Pamela Creed and Joseph Montville argued persuasively that a good deal of Southern fundamentalist militancy is not theological at all but rather stems from a secular, living memory of narcissistic insult and the tragic, unmourned losses of the Civil War.

Creed began by reminding the conference of the basic conflict-resolution principle that living with dignity and respect is an essential human need. Wounds form when groups are denied this dignity and respect and such wounds persist across generations. Although the dominant issues and hate-objects may change over time, long-standing estrangements are often the manifestation of a hidden but persistent pattern of humiliation. Creed explained that if we can learn why such hatreds exist then we have a chance of healing them and alleviating the wounds. With such principles in mind, Creed directed participants to consider the role that North-South conflicts have played in aggravating fundamentalist militancy.

There is, she stated, a long history of white-Southern alienation to which Northerners rarely attend. This history is really an identity conflict in which the South plays the role of the marginalized other in order for the North to assert its identity as cultured, superior, and enlightened. As even a cursory examination of 19th century newspapers will reveal, long before the conflict erupted into civil war, Northern writers were consistently lauding themselves and disparaging the South. In doing so, they created a normative border, a dualistic division between the supposedly enlightened North and the recalcitrant South. This had the effect of creating a moral Mason-Dixon line in the imagination of the country. It is important to note that this division between North and South is not self-evident, but psychologically created. It is a cultural division more than it is an ethnic one. But psychological divisions can be felt as even more divisive and painful than other more objectively visible differences, and this kind of psychological and cultural alienation leaves lasting wounds.

How was this division created? Creed pointed to the way that the Northern narrative actually elided the plurality of Southern culture. Even if we only look, for the moment, at the divisions between whites in the North and South, we have to understand that this was not a contest between two parties but between (at least) three. The South was already divided between aristocratic land-owners, mostly of English descent, and a far poorer, marginalized but prevalent Scots-Irish population. The Northern narrative however, homogenized the South, collapsing the Scots-Irish into a vision of the Southern plantation-owning aristocracy and so blaming the entire region for the blights of slavery and economic injustice. Many in the North saw this homogenized South as a liability and there was even significant talk about Northern secession. New Englanders, for their part, created an origin-myth that all but excluded the South from any laudable participation in the American Revolution. As far as New England was concerned, the American Revolution was a Northern (largely Anglican) affair, and this version of events is still taught in most public schools today. As Don Shriver added, the mostly Presbyterian Scots-Irish have been systematically forgotten and written out of our national histories, this despite the fact that the Scots-Irish (pressed early on to the extremities of the colonies) were among the chief supporters of the Revolutionary War. Indeed, Scots-Irish participation in the American Revolution was so important that some have called it a Presbyterian War and named Calvin as the nation’s real founding father.

Creed asked, Who are the Scots-Irish? She recounted how the Scots-Irish left for the South after being shunned in New England, which was not a new experience for them. For two centuries previously, the Scots-Irish had been shunned by the British, which is what forced the widespread exodus to the new continent. In Britain, the Scots had been separated from the English mainland by Hadrian’s Wall and the two societies (English and Scottish) evolved very differently. While England developed into a hierarchical and feudal society, the Scots remained a fiercely loyal quasi-warrior culture (a trait they still possess as illustrated, for example, by James Webbs’ essential history, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America). The Scots had a long history of resisting monarchial powers, one that would prove influential in the later American Revolution, and fought their own wars for independence from England on Scottish soil.

In 1610, King James of England initiated a sweeping proposal to set up numerous plantations in Northern Ireland. These plantations needed a veritable army of workers and it was especially the impoverished Scots who answered the call and left Scotland to till Irish soil. They remained in Ireland for 100 years (thus earning the title ‘Scots-Irish‘) where they suffered under the on-again, off-again restrictions imposed by the British crown. This treatment was largely responsible for the widespread exodus of the Scots-Irish to America, where they hoped to find more just working conditions and a freedom from monarchial intrusions.

We have to understand how thoroughly the egalitarian nature of Scots-Irish culture was at odds with the British hierarchical establishment. The Scottish culture was not given to the kind of indulgent privileges that characterized the British aristocracy, and cultivated instead an ethic of individual responsibility and representation. One of the chief vehicles of this ethic was the Presbyterian kirk (church), which organized itself along exceedingly egalitarian lines (thus the kirk had democratically elected leaders, elders, etc.).

The Scots-Irish exodus saw about 200,000 people arrive in America over a relatively short period of time. They saw themselves more as settlers than immigrants and so never assimilated to New England culture but preferred to remain themselves and preserve their identity. They thought that a common Calvinist heritage would lead to their being welcomed by the New England Puritans, but these dreams were quickly dashed. In this encounter, the English Puritans remained more English than Puritan, and considered the Scots-Irish as little more than barbarians. This cool reception and blatant racism forced the Scots-Irish out of New England into the Southern colonies where they finally settled.

When the revolutionary period arrived in the late 18th century, the Scots-Irish were among its fiercest supporters. While the New England narrative of American origins rightly remembers the English colonial aristocracy as the framers of the Declaration, Creed reminded us that it was the Scots-Irish who provided the troops and guns without which the revolution would have simply failed. In the aftermath of the revolution however, the differences between these cultures flared again. The Northern colonies interpreted the Declaration of Independence as a kind of mission statement that called for the social re-organization of the colonies, while the Southern Scots-Irish understood it instead as an insurance policy that guaranteed them a kind of freedom from government and the right to change it when government overstepped its bounds. Half a century later, such intractable differences in temperament and interpretation that would thrust the fledgling nation into civil war.

Thus we see that even before the Civil War, North and South already had competing narratives and deep historical grievances against one another. The war only exacerbated this divide. Northern rhetoric continued to ignore the Scots-Irish and to paper over its own racist attitudes towards them. In so doing, the North conveniently created the picture of a plantation-owning South that allowed the North to again ignore its own white Anglican complicity in the slavery system. The horrors of the war that followed are well known and needn’t be recounted here. The post-Reconstruction era however, remains a historical blind-spot for many Americans. In the wake of the war, the South was all but abandoned to its poverty and turmoil. As a whole, Southerners became vastly more impoverished, and less educated than ever before-whether intentionally or not, the war succeeded in conforming the South to the caricatures with which the North had long lampooned it. Poverty and lack of education resulted in greater political homogenization, as the South turned into almost a single voting block fiercely loyal to its homegrown leaders.

Since then, the North has rarely stepped aside from this pattern of humiliation. During the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s, Northerners again castigated the South with accusations that recalled the slanderous rhetoric of the Civil War period and Reconstruction. The irony was that impoverished Southern whites were consistently being blamed for structures that they inherited but did not institute-structures that the North installed in cooperation with Southern aristocrats. One of the most pertinent exceptions to this pattern of neglect and humiliation came with FDR’s systematic attention to the South’s economic needs. It is worth noting that these New Deal economic reforms have probably done more to mitigate North-South tensions than any other program in history, illustrating that despite the age and severity of these wounds healing between North and South is still a possibility.

Responding to Creed’s presentation, Don Shriver acknowledged how real this prejudice against the South really is and spoke about the difficulties he faced as a Southerner elected to the presidency of a prominent Northern seminary. Shriver reiterated a number of Creed’s points, pointing out how blithely Northerners castigate the South for perpetuating racial inequities, while forgetting their own complicity in these systems (something David Blight has shown exceptionally in his Race and Reunion). On top of this, the North has persistently engaged in portraying Southerners as slow, uncultured, insipid bumpkins. Cultured elites still indulge in vile caricatures of this sort, said Shriver, and he read from Rebecca Richardson’s poignant Jan. 1, 2006 letter to the editor of the New York Times pointing out the Times’s complicity in a sort of hate-speech against Southerners. For its part, the South has deployed a similarly hurtful and malicious language at the North with equal rhetorical aplomb. The point is not to blame one party but to recognize the perpetuation by both sides of rhetorical, remembered, and sometimes physical violence against the other. Shriver called attention to what Jesus recognized long ago: the only way beyond such cycles is through forgiveness and reconciliation.
Engaging Fundamentalism

So, having diagnosed some of the causes of fundamentalist extremism and social intolerance-in 19th century theologies of political-economy, on the one hand, and North-South grievances, on the other-how do we encourage the return of a benign, socially healing Christianity? One alternative to the Whiggish economic policies that Bigelow found 19th century evangelicals advocating can be found in the work of Ron Sider, the founder and president of Evangelicals for Social Action. Sider, who was unable to attend the conference because of a last-minute family emergency, has been one of the two or three leading voices calling for a fuller version of evangelical Christianity. In works like his classic, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Sider documents the privatization of evangelical spirituality and the way that evangelicals abandoned social reform to theological modernism. Sider’s work in the second half of the 20th century has been to bring back this severed side of evangelicalism, advocating strongly that faithful discipleship to Jesus requires active engagement for peace and justice. Rich Christians argues from statistical data that evangelicals have bought into the American lifestyle as fully as any other group, and that this middle-class lifestyle is opulent by the rest of the world’s standards. Accordingly, Sider reissues the gospel call for simplicity of lifestyle (such as sharing resources by living in intentional communities, conforming to a standard of living well-below the American ideal, and participating in a graduated tithe in order to distribute wealth in a more just manner).

Sider’s organization, while still a minority group within evangelicalism, has succeeded at marshalling its resources in order to have a political effect on both the church and the state. Evangelicals for Social Action promotes such causes as biblical egalitarianism for women, the creation of nuclear free zones (recognizing that nuclear weapons are an offense to the Christian gospel), structural reform for racial and economic justice, and a seamless-garment approach to life issues (that is, following Cardinal Joseph Bernadin in considering a pro-life position to equally entail the defense of the unborn, opposition to capital punishment, and the choice for diplomatic over military solutions in international affairs). Sider’s group is not easily pigeon-holed as either left or right, as its stance on life-issues illustrates. Sider has always claimed to advocate not on behalf of a political party, but merely on behalf of the gospel. Thus, in his most recent book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, Sider sounds a prophetic call for real discipleship on the part of Christian churches, demonstrating the ways that American Christianity capitulates to the culture, whether in its neglect of economic issues (a typically left concern), or in its failure to preserve the integrity of marriage such that evangelicals are statistically identical to the rest of America with regard to divorce rates and adultery. As Don Shriver noted, the terms liberal and conservative seem almost worthless nowadays, and this presents the church with an opportunity to engage in the kind of genuine renewal for which Sider has long called.

Sider represents one of the movements that Jacob Sherman drew attention to in his presentation on the varieties of evangelical identity. Sherman showed how complex and varied evangelicalism really is. Broadly speaking, as David Bebbington has pointed out:

There are four qualities that have been the special marks of Evangelical religion: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; Biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and what may be called crucicentrism,a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Together they form a quadrilateral of priorities that is the basis of Evangelicalism. [6]

Alternatively, we can consider contemporary evangelicalism as the convergence of three historical trajectories: the Reformation (marked by the twin doctrines of salvation by grace through faith, and sola scirptura), Pietistic conversionism (leading into the 1st and 2nd great awakenings), and modern neo-evangelicalism. A more colloquial definition would hold that if you go to church and more than half the people at your church put a fish on their car, you’re probably an evangelical.

Sherman pointed to Christian Smith’s important sociological work, American Evangelicals: Embattled and Thriving, as demonstrating the overwhelming religious vitality of evangelicalism according to six characteristics: adherence to beliefs, salience of faith, robustness of faith, group participation, commitment to mission (of all types), and retention and recruitment of members. For example, Smith notes that 78% of those who self-identify as evangelicals say their faith is extremely important to them, versus only 61% of mainline believers, 58% of self-identified liberal Christians, and 44% of Catholics. Moreover, 22% of evangelicals said their faith was very important, and no evangelicals answered that their faith was somewhat important (as compared to 3% mainline, and 8% of both Liberals and Catholics said their faith was only somewhat important).

Surprisingly, Smith’s data shows evangelicals outpacing all others when it comes to social involvement, as well. For example, Smith notes that:

  • 69% of evangelicals said that it was very important for Christians to work for political reform, versus 53% mainline and 49% liberal;
  • Moreover, while 62, 61, and 48 % of Catholics, Liberals, and Mainline believers agreed that “religion is a private matter that should be kept out of public debates over social and political issues” only 25 % of evangelicals (and 33% of fundamentalists) held this belief.
  • Not only in opinion, but in action as well, evangelicals topped the list-consistently volunteering, for example, more of their time than fundamentalists, mainline believers and liberals to church programs that serve the local community, to educating themselves about social and political issues, and even to participating in political protests and demonstrations.

Considering these findings, Christian Smith comments, “We must note the relative lack of activism among the liberals. If ever liberal Protestantism was distinguished by its social-Gospel activism, it appears [sociologically] to be so no more. The evidence suggests, instead, that evangelicals may be the most committed carriers of a new social Gospel.”[7] Smith therefore speaks of evangelicals as “engaged orthodoxy” and points to the continuation of what Mark Noll calls the ‘long evangelical history of restless public activism.’

Whatever else we may think of them, said Sherman, we have to acknowledge that evangelical influence is both profound and growing. In the midst of this growth, there are many opportunities since evangelical identity is not fixed. Despite the media’s notorious failure to understand the movement with any nuance, evangelicals are really not a monolith in the manner that popular culture seems to believe. In itself, this is nothing new; at least since the time of the early Puritan separation from the Anglican church, and the ideal of a Pure (or believers-only) church, evangelicals have been wrestling with precisely what it means to be evangelical. We may however, at present, be in a special time of contested identity and renegotiation for evangelicals. For example, in 1998, Roger Olson, a prominent evangelical theologian wrote an article for Christianity Today entitled, “Does Evangelical Theology Have a Future?” The subtitle of the article read: “a division between traditionalists and reformists threatens to end our theological consensus.” As Sherman pointed out, contrary to the media’s perception of evangelicals as a homogeneous voting block, the evangelical movement itself is replete with the ferment of competing claims-its coalition is an aggregate not a monolith, a patchwork quilt, not a melting pot. Its identity is internally contested and constantly renegotiated. Evangelicals share a group of symbols and processes-including certain doctrines especially concerning the Bible and the centrality of the cross, historical trajectories, and conversionist piety-but they are not agreed about the meaning of these symbols. Because of its overwhelming vitality, Sherman suggested that the most viable and strategic alternative to fundamentalism in America is not liberalism but evangelicalism.

He concluded by drawing attention to certain (media neglected) voices in the conversation that point to the possibility of a more open or generous iteration of evangelical identity. These six movements are not currently in the ascendancy, but they are in the evangelical conversation (their authors are published by evangelical presses, they teach at evangelical schools, they are covered in Christianity Today, etc.). Though reformist, none of these movements eliminate biblical priority, an emphasis on mission, or pietistic devotionalism. These six movements include:

  • Politics of Jesus evangelicals, such as John Howard Yoder and N. T. Wright, who emphasize the anti-imperial message of justice and equity found throughout the gospels and historical Christianity. This movement decisively rejects the privatization of faith as an inadequate form of discipleship and often embraces forms of nonviolence as integral to historical Jesus.
  • Evangelical resourcement, a movement that seeks to renew evangelicalism by returning to Christianity’s deepest historical roots (e.g., the church fathers). This movement-including popular writers such as Richard Foster and Dallas Willard as well as theologians such as Robert Webber, Tom Oden, and journals like Pro Ecclesia-fosters a new kind of ecumenical conversation especially with Catholic and Orthodox believers that takes place outside of traditional channels like the World Council of Churches. Also important here is the conversation with Yale school post-liberals such as Hans Frei, George Lindbeck, and Stanley Hauerwas, and the largely Cambridge-based movement of Radical Orthodoxy.
  • Evangelicals and the world religions, a new movement within evangelicalism towards postiviely engaging other faiths. This movement includes evangelical-inclusivists include like Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Leslie Newbigin, and Gerald McDermott who argue that God offers salvation not only to Christians, but also to adherents of other faiths who, through their sincerity and God’s grace, meet God without ever consciously embracing or knowing the Christian gospel. Moving beyond simply allowing the possibility of extra-ecclesial salvation, a number of these evangelicals argue for the more tolerant assertion that God reveals divine truth through traditions other than Christanity. Amos Yong, for example, who helped found the PhD program in “renewal studies” at Pat Robertson’s Regent University (where John Ashcroft is Distinguished Professor of Law and Government), argues that because the Spirit blows where it will, it speaks through other religious traditions and therefore Christian faithfulness requires that we learn to listen to what God is saying (through Buddhists, for example, or the Qu’ran).
  • Openness theology, a movement within evangelical theology that has caused a great deal of controversy for asserting a doctrine of God that places a priority on love, relationality, and responsive perfections (such as the ability to empathize with creaturely suffering, or the change one’s mind in response to prayer). Leading voices in this movement, such as Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, and William Hasker, claim that such revisions are the result of taking the Bible more not less seriously. This movement has also engaged in some of the most constructive evangelical dialogues ever with process theologians and other theological liberals.
  • Pentecostalism, the fastest growing religious movement in the world that has also been wildly influential even among its detractors (consider, for example, the transformation of liturgies over the last 35 years to include Pentecostal elements such as praise songs). Inclusively defined, there were about 525 million Pentecostals in 2000, which means that less than a century after its birth, 28% of the total Christian population and 8.65 % of the world is Pentecostal. Sociologists (e.g. David Martin) estimate that there could be over 1 billion Pentecostals by 2040. While Pentecostals in this country often conform to fundamentalistic stereotypes, globally and historically considered they are a potentially revolutionary force within Christianity. For example, Pentecostalism is statistically more urban than rural, more female than male, more majority world (66%) than Western world (34%), more poor (87%) than affluent (13%), more family-related than individualist, and more young than old. They are an active presence in 80% of the world’s 3,300 largest metropolises. Pentecostals have evolved perhaps the most radical form of Christian environmentalism yet. For example, the Association of African Independent Churches (which has over 200 million members) embraces a green-Pentecostalism whose prophets lead tree-planting Eucharists, and issue sacramental calls to defend of the land. In order to illustrate the sincerity of this African green Pentecostalism, Sherman quoted Rev. Davison Tawoneichi of the Zimbabwe based Evangelical Ministry of Christ Church, who says: “Earthkeeping is part of the body of Christ. It is so because we as humans are part of his body and the trees are part of us; they are essential for us to heal to breathe. So trees, too, are part of Christ’s body. Our destruction of nature is an offense against the body of ChristÉ It hurts Christ’s body. Therefore the Church should heal the wounded body of Christ.”

Peggy Shriver sounded a similar note in her presentation that called for us to seek constructive and creative ways to engage the evangelical movement, and to encourage its most positive sides. An accomplished poet as well as an author and activist for ecumenical issues, Shriver began her presentation with two of her own poems that spoke about the need for questioning, honesty, and a genuine reaching out to those who are different from ourselves. These verses presented poetically the heart of Shriver’s message, which is the need to move from diatribe to dialogue. For Peggy Shriver, a self-professed mainline Christian, this means moving beyond our fear of fundamentalists and evangelicals by embracing them in dialogue and joining with them when possible to achieve common goals-indeed, Shriver both explored and modeled these themes in The Divided Church, a book she co-wrote with an evangelical friend. Shriver said that we need to explore the vast middle-ground within Christianity that holds all those many Christians uncomfortable with being pigeon-holed as fundamentalist or liberal. She believes that we should especially look for dialogue with evangelicals, whom she suggests differ from fundamentalists precisely inasmuch as they are open to civil conversation with those from other traditions.

Such conversations require both sides of the theo-cultural spectrum to give a little, or at least agree to disagree on certain subjects so that cooperation on others might become possible. For example, Shriver pointed to the group Christian Churches Together, an organization of mainline and evangelical leaders that has been quietly meeting for over five years. This group has agreed to avoid certain hot-topics of disagreement (such as abortion) in order to focus, at least for the present, on the larger issue of poverty. Shriver pointed out that both liberals and conservatives can fall into the trap of thinking that absolute purity is necessary for community, and suggested that we ought instead be open to forming coalitions for certain noble causes even with those whom we are on other issues at odds with (even, she said, if these are fundamental disagreements). For example, she said, even though Jim Wallis holds a traditionalist stance on abortion and homosexuality, he has been a powerful ally to progressives by urging evangelicals towards a more socially conscious faith. Do we need to have complete unity in order to work alongside one another? Do we need to have complete unity in order to have fellowship and friendship with one another?

Shriver’s message was well taken, but also provoked some questions. George Regas for example, wondered whether compromise was always such a laudable stance, and asked whether we’d be willing to compromise on racial integration, for example. Instead of looking to an irenic evangelicalism as a solution, some participants called for a renewal of the Christian liberal tradition. Sam Keen, for example, told a bit of his own story as a segue into his approach to fundamentalism and a call to move beyond it. Keen was raised in a highly intellectual Presbyterian fundamentalist church. His mother-a self-professed fundamentalist-taught him that it wasn’t enough to have one’s heart warmed, but that the faith required intellectual effort, as well, and she herself learned Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic in order to study the Bible more thoroughly. Keen remained a de facto fundamentalist throughout college but then went to Harvard Divinity School where he made, what he calls, a decision for truth over Christianity. Keen found himself learning first from Paul Tillich and Howard Thurman and then increasingly turning towards the tradition of natural theology that he discovered in Rudolf Otto and Gabriel Marcel. In 1967 Keen found his way to Esalen where he discovered a culture already busy translating religious language into what Keen found to be a more robust and honest psychological idiom (in this vein, Keen said, that Norman O. Brown’s book Love’s Body still has few equals). From Esalen, Keen went on to become famous in psychological circles, the men’s movement, and as an analyst of the psychology of enmity.

Keen shared some of his thoughts regarding fundamentalism and the modern world. He warned us against talking too blithely about the threat of fundamentalism, for by doing so we perpetuate the politics of fear upon which fundamentalism thrives. Rather than attack fundamentalists or encourage evangelicals, said Keen, we need to refresh an intellectually adventurous liberal theology (Keen thinks theology has been rather sterile since the heady days of the sixties when death-of-God theologians, Paul Tillich, and Reinhold Niebhur graced the covers of TIME magazine). On the one hand, Keen suggested that one of the ways to revive such an adventurous theology is to recover the language of absolutes. People need absolutes but the liberal church has been squeamish about talking with such confidence. Keen suggested that torture, global warming, and other such issues could become absolutes for a revived liberal Christianity today. On the other hand, Keen also said that such a revived theology should cultivate the virtue of playful language, recognizing that our names for religious phenomena and especially for God are always negotiable and revisable. This approach was evident in one of Keen’s quips. He suggested a number of non-traditional names for God and then paused looking around the room. “Okay, you don’t like that name for God,” said Keen (paraphrasing Marshall McLuhan), “sit tight. I’ve got others.”

Patricia de Jong spoke next and told a somewhat similar story. She was raised in a conservative Reformed tradition and attended Calvin College. Her tenure at Calvin was cut short however when she was expelled for holding worship services that broke a number of school policies by including a women in prominent leadership, getting rid of the central pulpit in favor of a circular gathering, and advocating a colloquial, dialogical approach to the Scriptures. So, de Jong left the Reformed church and became a minister in the progressive United Churches of Christ. She came to Berkeley in 1972 to study at the Pacific School of Religion in the Graduate Theological Union and she has been the senior minister at First Congregational Church of Berkley for the last twelve years.

De Jong said that she saw the struggle over fundamentalism within churches as really a struggle with patriarchy-fundamentalism provides a way for men to hold on to power by opposing women’s ordination, abortion, homosexuality and so forth. De Jong seconded Keen’s call for a renewed tradition of robust liberal Christianity and she suggested that such a renewal is already afoot. She concluded by pointing to an important ecumenical document entitled “The 8 Points of Progressive Christianity”, which de Jong sees as countering fundamentalist claims. The eight points are as follows:

  1. Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus.
  2. Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God’s realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us.
  3. Understand the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus’s name to be a representation of an ancient vision of God’s feast for all peoples.
  4. Invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable (including but not limited to): believers and agnostics, conventional Christians and questioning skeptics, women and men, those of all sexual orientations and gender identities, those of all races and cultures, those of all classes and abilities, those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope.
  5. Know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe.
  6. Find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty – more value in questioning than in absolutes.
  7. Form ourselves into communities dedicated to equipping one another for the work we feel called to do: striving for peace and justice among all people, protecting and restoring the integrity of all God’s creation, and bringing hope to those Jesus called the least of his sisters and brothers.
  8. Recognize that being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails selfless love, conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege.

Fr. George Regas began his reflections by noting how life-giving and open Esalen is and how ironic it is to be speaking about Christian fundamentalism here. Regas recounted how Carl Sandburg, at the end of his life, was asked, “What is the most terrible word?” Sandburg replied immediately, “Exclusivism.” Exclusivism is a terrible word because it is a terrible reality, said Regas. As rector emeritus of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA, one of the first and most prominent Episcopal churches to perform blessings for gay unions, Regas has known firsthand the terror of exclusivism. His church and his offices have been picketed by groups holding hateful signs (“God hates fags” and “Regas burn in hell”, for example). There is a downside, Regas warned, to conviction, an arrogance of conviction against which we must be vigilant.

In place of exclusivism, Regas championed pluralism. A pluralistic position need not reflect a failure to take God seriously, but can rather issue from respect for the magnificence of the divine. As Regas said, once you allow that God is bigger than the way you think of God, you are already on the road to pluralism. This has wide implications for the way that Christians deal with those of other traditions. We ought not to imagine that we are ever bringing God to some tradition, but rather understand that God is already there in the traditions of others and so we need to cultivate an attentive heart in our dialogue with them. The Christian pretense to superiority is a base kind of exclusivism that betrays the vision of Jesus himself who was crucified for his relentless proclamation of God’s inclusive love. “For me,” said Regas, “God is best defined by Christ, but is not confined by Christ.” To say that Christ is the only way is to say that Christ is the only way for me . This is love language, devotional and not doctrinal language. Exclusivity is the prerogative of love, which is never generic but always specific to this place, this man, this woman. But we ought not to let the language of love become perversely a judgment upon others. Whether a given tradition knows about Christ or not, God is always there-spread abroad even to the ends of the Earth, as the Psalmist says-and so we must engage others with both civility and respect. It is finally only in deep respect for the traditions of others, said Regas, that we can find a way beyond the torture and horror of this last century. Regas explained that some of the practical consequences of his pluralism include support for a pro-choice position (“to coerce a girl or woman to have a child is morally repugnant,” said Regas), the public blessing of gay and lesbian unions, and the pursuit of genuine dialogue with Jewish and Muslim believers.

Regas’s remarks generated a fair amount of discussion and some questions. Barry Hankins pointed out that there is an exclusivism to inclusivism, a clear need to discriminate with regard to the beliefs of others. Regas responded that we must accept people, but not their doctrines, a phrase that some found eerily close to the conservative Christian injunction to love the sinner but hate the sin. Exclusivism, Regas clarified, looks for the reality of evil outside of ourselves and our communities. Regas suggested that a pluralist perspective differs because it recognizes that every community (our own included) has elements of both good and evil, truth and untruth. Quoting Augustine, Regas cocnluded, “Never fight evil as if it were only a reality outside yourself.”

Esalen board member Anisa Mehdi spoke to the conference from her experience as an American Muslim. Mehdi suggested that those of us who are faithful and not fundamentalists but are of differing religions have more in common than those who share a single faith but are divided by temperaments (i.e., thoughtfulness versus fanaticism). Islam is particularly congenial to such rapprochement between people of sincere faith and goodwill for it is, at heart, a universal religion. Islam revolves around the concept of tawhid, that is, unity, the oneness of God. Accordingly, the Qu’ran recognizes that the one God has never left a people group without prophets and that the Jewish and Christian revelations are in partnership not competition with Islam. For example, Mehdi pointed out that Muslims do not need Christians to bring them Jesus-they already have Jesus, who is mentioned more times in the Qu’ran than in the New Testament itself. Islam is not therefore a substitute for Christianity or Judaism but claims instead to be their fulfillment. Mehdi suggested moreover, that the three great monotheistic faiths can be pictured as forming one universal Abrahamic man. Judaism, she suggested, forms the roots or the legs, the lower charkas if you will, wherein manliness and womanliness reside. Christianity is akin to the middle charkas, the torso, the center of the heart and breath. Finally, she suggested, Islam is like the upper charkas, the thymus, the intellect, etc.

Mehdi recognized, of course, that Muslims, like the faithful in other religions, are often ignorant of their own traditional teachings. They have failed, especially in modern times, to differentiate justice and vengeance, or to remember that the essence of Islam is the oneness of God, and that a corollary of this is the positive appreciation of differences. Mehdi concluded by calling for a return to the practice of ijtihad within Islam-a traditional process for the re-interpretation and reform of the faith. She suggested furthermore, that ijtihad might provide a model for a way forward beyond fundamentalisms of all stripes, Islamic, Christian and otherwise.

Douglas Johnston and Donald Shriver presented very action-oriented agendas for how to overcome the social and cultural divisions and wounds of fundamentalism. Doug Johnston’s presentation focused on the work of his center, the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, an organization dedicated to the overcoming of seemingly intractable conflicts by engaging people in a dialogue that explicitly includes faith. Johnston is a good representative of some of those types of alternative (irenic) evangelicals mentioned in Jacob Sherman and Peggy Shriver’s talks. Accordingly, Johnston began his talk by referencing the evangelical “openness theologian” Clark Pinnock’s book, A Wideness in God’s Mercy. Pinnock argues, on evangelical principles, for recognizing God’s work in other religions, and especially for the need to move beyond tolerance to respect. Tolerance, if it is a virtue at all, is a privative virtue: if I tolerate you this only means I refrain from injuring you or discriminating against you. Respect however, includes a positive, robust, honoring response to the other. Johnston’s work is based on the recognition that, under the right conditions, people of faith tend to respect other people of faith, even sincere people of different faiths. Sincere believers recognize and respect sincerity in others. Based on this recognition, Johnston’s center aims to capture the positive role that religions and spiritual factors can bring about in brokering peace and promoting justice. His project, in other words, is one of faith-based diplomacy.

His work has been wildly successful, winning accolades from Jimmy Carter and Boutros-Boutros Ghali, and proving itself regularly on the ground. For example, Johnston’s team was invited to Sudan to help heal relations between the dominant Islamic North and the minority South. They assembled a group of Sudanese Christians, Islamic scholars, imams, government officials and so forth. Their agenda was not to overthrow the Islamic structures of the government, but rather to ask what steps can an Islamic government take to alleviate the second-class status of non-Muslims under Shariah rule? Johnston’s team moderated the discussions based upon, what Johnston calls, the peace-making and reconciling principles of Jesus (note that this does not mean trying to convert anyone, but rather that the moderators try to practice what Jesus preached). These principles include recognizing the sovereignty of God, the real wounds of history, and reverence for the transcendence of the other party’s beliefs. At the same time, while the discussions were going on, Johnston’s center had a prayer team at the meeting praying and fasting for the success of the proceedings. The meeting issued in a new a level of dialogue and respect between the Muslim establishment and non-Muslims in Sudan and even the creation of an inter-religious council that continues to work effectively for peace in Sudan. Johnston pointed to the way that the participants welcomed the inclusion of faith-appeals to Jesus, Mohammed, the teachings of the Qu’ran and of the Bible-within the proceedings. We are accustomed in this country to fear that anyone speaking about faith is trying to convert us or get something from us, but Johnston’s approach demonstrates the way that faith can be used to break down barriers and to generate respect. In these seminars, differences are overcome, and both hearts and minds are changed. His own experience is a good example of what happens in these dialogues: “As a deeply committed Christian,” Johnston said, “I have been inspired to become a better Christian based on my relationship with Muslims.”

Thinking specifically about the wounds between North and South that still exist and fuel certain forms of fundamentalist vehemence and even violence, Donald Shriver asked what sort of steps can we take to heal these wounds here in our own land? Shriver suggested a profound model for such healing when he addressed the conference on the subject of collective forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. Societies, he said, do not like to remember their negative side, but it is only through remembrance and repentance that the wounds of history are ever finally healed. Contrary to popular belief, time rarely heals-it just passes by and sometimes covers over. In order for healing to occur, we have to address not only our personal but also our social and collective sins. This means, in the first place, getting beyond the rather trivial division between secular and religious histories. We tend to treat wars and politics as one thing, and church history as another, but these are, in fact, deeply intertwined narratives. Wars, social aggression, and economic divisions often fall neatly along certain religious, denominational, or doctrinal lines, and churches cannot therefore easily divest themselves of responsibility for such injustices. So, in the second place, we are called both as citizens and believers to become astute students of history, delving into our past with rigor and honesty in order to uncover as yet unaddressed wounds, ancient grievances, and painful memories. Theological institutions, in particular, need to devote much more attention to vicissitudes of supposedly secular histories if the church is to responsibly engage in its vocation for the healing of the nations.

Careful attention to history allows us to recognize a kind of fundamentalism in memory-we pass down certain sacrosanct narratives from generation to generation with relatively fixed content and these narratives serve to recall grievances or legitimate victors. Shriver likened such memories to fundamentalism because they are impervious to data, especially new data. As these fundamentalistic memories and narratives are a source of contemporary violence, inequity, and disturbance, Shriver suggested that repentance by representatives of the offending communities and forgiveness offered by leaders of the grieved can produce genuine social healing. In a manner similar to Johnston’s approach, Shriver suggested that the same Christian principles we use to restore personal bonds of relationship apply to social, corporate and even political relationships. Even governments, he said, need to learn how to repent.

Such repentance is hard work. While collective memories may be the result of identifying with a group, they are nevertheless far from unthinking narratives, but intelligent, coherent readings of history that can only be healed through rigorous engagement. “Get over ‘forgive and forget’,” said Shriver suggesting that this formula was more fantasy than reality. Instead, Shriver advocated the harder but more robust path of “Remember, repent, and then forgive.”

As far as fundamentalism is concerned, Shriver suggested that Montville and Creed rightly see that wounds that date back to the Civil War and the calamity of Reconstruction exacerbate much of the violence of Christian fundamentalism. We need to remember the violence and aggression promulgated by parties on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, and find ways for both parties to repent. We need to listen to the common and conflicting narratives that North and South each tell regarding Reconstruction, including the ways that these official narratives both agreed, for example, to paper over persistent injustices, reaffirm racial inequalities, and subordinate the interests of black people to the North-South reconciliation of whites. It was not just a recalcitrant South that produced the horrors of segregation and Jim Crow, but, as David Blight rightly argues in Race and Reunion, both North and South collaborated in abandoning black people to a festering inequity and greater segregation than ever existed prior to the War. Healing the South, and so mitigating the aggression of contemporary fundamentalism, requires that we address these and many other issues of collective memory that Northern and Southern elites conveniently forget, but that families, neighborhoods, congregations, and large groups of people keep alive.


The conference ended with a series of brainstorming sessions during which participants sought to imagine further creative steps that can be taken to transform the political combativeness of the religious right into a more dialogical engagement with the diversity of religious and political life in American society. One of the most promising proposals involves an action-oriented dialogue of mainline and evangelical and fundamentalist Christian clergy and lay leaders on policy issues of general concern. Moderated skillfully, such a dialogue may also provide an opportunity to practice some of the peace and reconciliation making principles discussed by both Johnston and Shriver, and so help to overcome some of the rancor that still exists among fundamentalistic groups. As a result of post-workshop discussions, Joe Montville, is exploring the possibility of a small group of conservative and liberal Christian leaders pursuing the exciting recent initiative of senior evangelical leaders to pressure the U.S. government to develop a serious policy response to the challenge of global warming. This would naturally require the U.S. to cooperate with other countries and international organizations in an urgent, energetic, mature, problem-solving approach. Scott Appleby, adviser to the Esalen effort on religious fundamentalism, is willing to host such a gathering at the Kroc Institute for International Peace at Notre Dame, and efforts in this direction are underway. Such a gathering allows Esalen to continue its tradition of fostering mutually respectful and caring engagement between adversaries-as evidenced, for example, in the Esalen U.S.-Soviet exchange program-while also contributing to the crucial efforts at dealing with the ecological crisis of our planet. In this and similar approaches, we can se that the problem of religious fundamentalism and of reconciliation between religions is not an insular problem, but a comprehensive task with global repercussions.


  1. Briefly, Scott Appleby sees fundamentalism as reactive, selective, absolutist, Manichean, and millennialist. Readers interested in exploring further Appleby’s five marks of generic fundamentalism can find these described in the summary paper from Esalen’s earlier ‘Symposium on Islamic Fundamentalism’, posted at: http://www.esalenctr.org/display/fund_sherman.cfm [Go back to the text]
  2. Many 19th c. Christians felt that Darwin could be reconciled with a robust and traditional faith, and their story is well told in David Livingstone’s Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders.   [Go back to the text]
  3. Throughout this essay, I will use the capitalized term “Fundamentalist” to name the movement that arises directly out of this early twentieth century struggle against modernism. I will employ the non-capitalized adjectives “fundamentalist” and “fundamentalistic” to describe similar belief-structures and practices within groups that are not properly Fundamentalist in the above sense (such as fundamentalistic evangelicals or some Southern Baptists).   [Go back to the text]
  4. Available online at http://members.citynet.net/morton/images/lcoming.gif [Go back to the text]
  5. Interested readers should consult Bigelow’s article “Let There Be Markets: The Evangelical Roots of Economics,” Harper’s Magazine May 1, 2005.   [Go back to the text]
  6. David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, pp. 2-3.   [Go back to the text]
  7. Smith, American Evangelicals: Embattled and Thriving, p. 43.   [Go back to the text]