thecosmicdance ([personal profile] thecosmicdance) wrote2012-10-11 12:12 pm

An Illustrated Guide to the Difference Between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals pt 2

Continuing from part one


The Types of Protestant. The Protestants are a branch of Christianity made up of several denominations descended from ones that broke away from Catholicism during the reign of Henry the Eighth. They are made up of sub types. Sub type one is called “Mainline” Protestantism, and includes Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Congregationalists (United Church of Christ), etc. Or not. Depending on who is talking.

They are fond of traditional Protestant music, décor, architecture and liturgy, but tend to be open minded about social issues, stressing fairness, charity, mutual respect, and decorum. They have not always been “liberal”, some congregations today still aren’t, depending on where in the world they’re located. And of course the line that defines “liberal” and “conservative” in regards to religion has shifted with time. They all were born initially out of either the Lutheran or Anglican churches and are what the oldest Protestant churches in America tend to be. This is the lovely white clapboard church near the old town square in every adorable little town in North America that hosts pancake breakfasts, ham and bean suppers and craft fairs.


They’re reasonably pro science, and very pro education. The oldest universities in the US, and some of its oldest and best private schools, were founded by Mainlines. Drinking and smoking are your own choice, and fine in moderation. They’re not any more pro premarital sex than any other type of Christian, but neither do they seek to prevent it at the expense of lives. Most of these churches have begun to accept homosexuality, taking positions from “it’s none of our business but you probably shouldn’t ask to get ordained” to making a point of welcoming gays in their promotional materials to ordaining gays to actually conducting same sex marriages. The Anglicans (which, as I said, many of these churches were born out of) believe in the via media or “middle road”. They find extreme positions distasteful, and strive for a balanced mix of tradition, reason, and fairness. They recognize that people who are not clergy have lives outside of their church where they need to be allowed to be human beings.

But they are also accused of being too cerebral, too devoted to social niceties, lacking in spiritual energy, disconnected from everyday reality, materialistic and snobby. Granted, many of these criticism come from people who have a slightly warped view of what all those things mean.
It has often been framed as some sort of class struggle. The middle and upper class Mainlines were thought of as too out of touch with the reality of daily life among the poor in America. After all, the Mainline churches were the churches founded by rich, white, British heritaged families, leaving any working class Christian who wasn’t a Catholic feeling like they didn’t have a voice in Protestantism.


In the 19th century, a humungous religious revival called The Great Awakening burst forth on American culture. There were actually four of those, beginning in the 1720s, but the link will deal with the details. The Great Awakenings changed religion in America forever. People became possessed with a revivalist spirit, churches erupted into a rock concert like atmosphere, so popular that the phenomenon pushed religious meetings out into parks and fields.


The salient point is that The Great Awakenings were what produced evangelicals. This grand experiment with populist religion is also what produced the Mormons, but we're not going down that road today.

Evangelical Christianity is not a denomination, but a way of interpreting Christianity that a wide variety of different denominations, unaffiliated churches, and individuals subscribe to, there’s a great deal more to it than just a somewhat intense focus on “evangelizing” or trying to convert. Evangelicals are defined by a "low church", emotions driven, adventurous, non liturgical faith that holds the Bible as a higher authority than church leadership. There are no evangelical Popes or Archbishops, only elected administrators who rarely enforce what rules there are, the only true authority is the Bible itself. Evangelicals tend to view Mainlines as people who would rather be nice than right.

The original Protestant Reformation was driven by educated people in a time when the printing press was making disseminating religious literature cheap and difficult to keep out of the hands of laypeople. The evangelical movement, while it had existed since the 1700s, really took off and came into its own with American westward expansion. And I think that evangelical rejection of too much of a centralized authority, and insistence on the freedom to go your own way even if that way is a big mistake, is a very North American compatible attitude. And this low church, personal interpretation focused belief system was excellent for a nation full of recently arrived, uneducated immigrants who often found themselves in isolated towns where there weren't enough of their own people to found a church.


Americans moving further from the East Coast found themselves without access to the big cathedrals, the (Mainline founded) Ivy League universities, the world class Mainline seminaries and the pastors they trained. They couldn’t haul vast libraries of books on wagon trains, so they took only the ones they couldn’t live without. They were many different types of Christian, all largely cut off from communication with civilization, so they evolved a Christianity that was highly adaptable and mixed beliefs in unexpected ways. Heightened, of course, by the dangerous situations they found themselves in. Settling these places was a terrifying prospect, can you imagine what it was like seeing THIS for the first time?

The denomination I grew up in was born this way, it’s Methodism meets Pentecostalism as interpreted by confused and scared prairie folk who hadn’t encountered real Methodists in a very long time.

A fundamentalist is an evangelical who , more than anything else, loathes change, and is terrified of everything. It’s absolutely essential to fundamentalists that the outside world is full of evil and terror. Every scary urban legend is one hundred percent true, and giving in on the littlest things will cause the whole structure of True Christianity to crumble.


Evangelicals, however, even conservative ones, love change. They’re almost too obsessed with keeping up with religious trends. They don’t necessarily change their actual beliefs, but they will change everything else in order to at least give the impression that they’re relevant.


Evangelicals have become so good at “matching” secular trends that they’re even able to fool non Christians…occasionally. At least until they’ve convinced you to buy whatever it is, and you see the Bible verse printed on the bottom of the bag. Or you’ve been hired by them and discover that you can be fired for engaging in behavior not approved of by evangelicals, like being gay, of another faith, or voting for the wrong person.
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Evangelical parents and authority figures try to provide fun, interesting alternatives to the things they want to discourage their children from doing.

Whereas fundamentalist parents expect their children to live with being bored and uncomfortable.