American culture is currently experiencing what some, and now I, am calling New Wave Fundamentalism. The original fundamentalists stem from the early 20th Century, and was rooted largely in fear– fear over this new concept of evolution, fear that culture was growing too liberal, fear that the nation was drifting from God, and fear that it would all come crashing down if they didn’t take culture back.
(Swap out evolution for gay marriage, and you’ll get an idea as to where this is heading.)
They gave it a good run for the rest of that era. In time, however, fundamentalism drifted to the margins as Evangelicalism grew in prevalence– a movement that was reactionary against the fundamentalists, who many thought were too rigid and belligerent. While Evangelicalism shared many of the same goals, they wanted to get there differently, and give culture a better impression. A “kinder, gentler” fundamentalism, perhaps.
Like their fundamentalists counterparts, Evangelicals gave it a good run for their season, too– but times are shifting again.
Today we’re seeing a surprise resurgence in Christian fundamentalism/extremism that not many expected. Our culture is ripe for such a movement– movements like this cannot give birth or grow without the right conditions. While we *thought* they were busy building replicas of Noah’s Ark, the soil of Christian extremism was being tilled over the last 8 years, to the point where a new wave of fundamentalism is emerging– one that should be concerning to people of all stripes and flavors.
As your explainer-in-chief for all things fundamentalism, let me quickly walk through what we’re seeing and need to really be aware of. There’s a lot happening, but today I’ll just cover 3 points:
1. There’s a large chunk of Christians who believe they are “losing,” and they’re panicked as to what that means.
Ever since President Obama was sworn in, talking heads within the religious right started barking about how we are “losing.” They painted him out to simultaneously be an socialist atheist and a radical Muslim, which was a win-win since the group of people in question are afraid of both. These flames of fear were fanned by 24/7/365 conservative commentary disguised as “fair and balanced” news, which gave legitimacy to their fears, and allowed them to grow and blossom.
While the new wave fundamentalists can’t actually point to a single right they have lost (the right to discriminate doesn’t count), they are absolutely convinced they are losing them. They’re sure that the feds are just one step away from confiscating their guns, shutting down all Christian churches, and that a massive loss of religious liberty is about to take place– it’s the lie that has been fed to them, and they finally believe it.
Why is this concerning? Because when people are afraid they will do desperate things.
2. Right-wing extremists who would otherwise have nothing to do with Christian fundamentalism (or Christianity) are joining their ranks, giving them critical mass to stage a social movement.
The rise of new wave fundamentalism in America isn’t just religious, it’s massively political. However, this time it’s a little different. The Moral Majority led by Evangelicals in the last two decades was tailored specifically toward Evangelical interests, meaning the movement was largely comprised of Evangelicals. New wave fundamentalism, however, is more representative of secular, conservative extremism– they want guns on their hips, gays in the closet, Mexicans only south of Cancun, and to be separated from Muslims by no less than at least one ocean.
This isn’t grandma’s Moral Majority we’re talking about here.
Since this new movement is rooted in run-of-the-mill racism, homophobia, and xenophobia, it is drawing allies from groups of people who otherwise probably would not find enough commonality to join a “Christian” movement– essentially, they’ve now tapped into a new demographic who can help them get further in the game.
When the fundamentalists rallied around Ted Cruz, these two groups were still separated, but once they all came under the umbrella of Donald Trump, they joined ranks together, even if neither one wants to admit it. This gives them concerning numbers that they otherwise do not have on their own.
3. The leaders of new wave fundamentalism are telling the masses that they have to do something, right now.
The sense of urgency felt among the fundamentalists and secular extremists is the most concerning factor to watch. It’s one thing to have a bunch of people in society who are racist, homophobic, and xenophobic, as long as they’re just flying their confederate flag on their own porch so that the rest of us know to stay away. It’s a totally different ballgame when those people all come together to seize political power because they finally believe the “time is right” to grasp it.
Fundamentalist leaders are sounding the alarm bells like never before. You have Franklin Graham traveling to all 50 states, warning people that that America is on the verge of collapse because of things like gay wedding cakes, and that the solution is for like-minded Christians to seize more power. You have others, such as Mike Seaver from Growing Pains, broadcasting himself to the screens of local movie theaters in order to communicate an identical message: America might die if we don’t do something, right now.
So here’s the volatile concoction we have right now: we have a growing number of Christians who are convinced they are losing and that the world is closing in on them. They are gaining critical mass by coalescing with conservative extremists who don’t share their faith, but share their political goals. Finally, they have well-funded and well-broadcasted leadership, daily warning them that this is their last chance to seize power and take control of the nation.
When Christian fundamentalism faded into the shadows and focused on building arks and trying to debate scientists, there was little cause for concern and much cause for amusement.
But when those people get panicked? When they begin broadcasting their racism, xenophobia, and homophobia to the masses, and begin finding like-minded people to join them? When they have leaders traveling the country, fanning the flames of fear and warning them that this is their last chance to take control? When they’re no longer content to debate the legitimacy of the King James Version versus the NIV, but instead are focused on how to control the Supreme Court?
Yeah, that’s the kind of thing I’d keep my eye on.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.