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Religion Library: Christianity

Modern Age

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

Liberation theology spread to the United States, where James Cone penned his A Black Theology of Liberation in 1970. Black liberation theology was furthered by the teaching and preaching of such American intellectuals as Cornel West and Dwight Hopkins, and transformed by women such as Jacquelyn Grant, Katie Cannon, and Delores Williams. Cornel West: Public DomainFeminist liberation theology, African liberation theology, and Korean Minjung theology were among other compelling and inspiring explorations of incarnation and redemption. It was not long before liberation theologians began extending their ideas on human freedom and dignity to questions of environmental protection and health, as well as interfaith understanding and cooperation.

Americans have made significant contributions to ecumenical and liberationist movements in the forms of ideas, donations, volunteer efforts, advocacy, and influential indigenous forms of ecumenical and liberation theology. But ecumenism was largely rooted in European churches and traditions, while liberation movements found their initial expressions in poverty-stricken communities of Latin America. Another 20th-century ideology, fundamentalism, was rooted in American history and traditions, and is still in many ways distinctively American.

Fundamentalism appeared among American evangelical communities in 1920. World War I had proven enormously disruptive to longstanding cultural traditions in most parts of the world; in America, some Christians felt that American culture had lost its way. The ordered worldview of the Victorians was being replaced by the boisterous experimentation of the jazz age, while communism and atheism were winning new adherents. The introduction of the theory of evolution to school curricula threatened to undermine the authority of the Bible, while theological liberalism sought rapprochement with relativistic notions of morality and truth. Academic disciplines of higher criticism began to question the historicity and legitimacy of scripture.

By the 1940s, fundamentalist groups had organized in a campaign to place the precepts and values of evangelical Christianity at the core of American culture. Strategies included founding new ministries and Bible institutes, and reaching a broad audience through radio programs. Due to tensions with the broader movement of American evangelicalism, which was open to communication with theological liberalism, fundamentalists became separatists, resisting ecumenical efforts at Christian unity. Separatist fundamentalism remained politically inactive until the 1970s, when the formation of the Moral Majority, a political advocacy group devoted to lobbying for conservative Christian values, united traditional fundamentalist concerns with contemporary political issues, such as women's liberation, gay and lesbian activism, and abortion.


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