We rarely discuss opinion columns here, unless they contain content that might be helpful to mainstream reporters who are trying to cover religion news in the mainstream.
Well, here is an interesting piece from columnist Susan Campbell of the Hartford Courant that address an issue that has received a lot of attention at this here weblog lately (and the general subject has drawn lots of attention in the past) — the question of whether mainstream journalists should use that other F-word (fundamentalist) to refer to Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.
Campbell has a rare and interesting angle, for a mainstream reporter, which is captured in the headline: “Sarah, You’re Not One Of Us.” Here’s the top:
Sarah Palin may be a lot of things, but she is not a fundamentalist Christian.
In fact, she is no more a fundamentalist than Barack Obama is a Muslim. The misinformation about both candidates (she’s evangelical, by way of Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism; he’s a Congregationalist) has at its heart an ignorance that, like that fountain in the Sunday school song, runs deep and wide.
Understand that Palin will never be my candidate. I disagree with her on a woman’s right to choose, on marriage equality and on the sorry little wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, my list of reasons for not voting for her is so long that one hardly needs to bring religion into it. Still, she’s an evangelical, the tribe of Christians to which roughly 26 percent of Americans belong. A fundamentalist is a tiny, unique (roughly three-tenths of a percent) subgroup of that, and Palin doesn’t make the cut.
Campbell then covers a lot of the historical background behind the fundamentalist movement within Protestantism, which is, in fact, the origin of the term. There is much here that a reporter on or off the beat can learn.
She even knows that the movement began with a very broad ecumenical base, including writers and thinkers in churches (think Episcopal/Anglican) that are rarely called “fundamentalist” today, unless, of course, they are Africans and the story is about sexuality.
Thus, I enjoyed this background passage:
The word “fundamentalist” probably came from a series of tracts published with the money of two oil men worried that Christianity was losing its way. The tracts’ tone is fairly moderate, but people took the message — as people will do — and ran with it. The essays that stressed the authority of the Bible became bedrock for some. For years, a popular bumper sticker at my local Foodtown read, “God said. I believe it. That settles it.”
Yet every religion — including that of a fundamentalist — is more nuanced than that. And just because you’ve never heard of a church is not necessarily a good reason to be scared.
Many readers will not agree with everything in this column. But it is helpful to see this kind of material printed in the mainstream. Read it all, then feel free to criticize, if need be.