Fundamentalists and Evangelicals as Outsiders

Fundamentalists and Evangelicals as Outsiders November 20, 2020

I did not know it was acceptable to otherize another group but John Fea does so by bringing up a recent sociological study of white and black evangelicals. (“Stigmatize” once worked verbally before “otherize” became a way to stigmatize “stigmatize.”) Once upon a time, some historians, like R. Laurence Moore, saw the value of outsiders resisting the dominant culture in America. Such resistance was not deviant or sectarian but basic to being American. (Think, in contrast, to the way many evangelicals show they are normal Americans by advocating for the latest public health measures during Covid-19.)

Instead of looking at mainstream society to understand American identity, Moore proposed outsiders as alternative version of being American.

outsiderhood is a characteristic way of inventing one’s Americanness. Despite what Frederick Jackson Turner wrote, most people who lived in this country did not gain a sense of what it meant to be an American by going to the frontier. Far more of them gained that sense by turning aspects of a carefully nurtured sense of separate identity against a vaguely defined concept of mainstream or dominant culture. (xi)

A similar pattern defined fundamentalism (and tricked down to evangelicals):

This does not mean that the political involvement of Fundamentalists was cheerfully chosen. Their view of the twentieth century, when stripped of its hysterical assertions of conspiracy, provides a not unreasonable account of what actually happened. American government began to grow in unprecedented ways shortly after 1900. From that day to the present, a great deal of legislation was passed, which though often defended in the language of a value-neutral social science, bristled with moral implications. It did not take religious Fundamentalists long to conclude that they were being caught in a trap. They were losing control of their lives, and the lives of their children, to a new class of experts who denied the forces of moral authority as a guide to pragmatic social planning but who in fact were engineering a evolution in the moral behavior of the country. With a few more turns of the screw, Christopher Lasch and Jerry Falwell might jump into one another’s arms. Ronald Regan, although a divorced man, has been successful with evangelical audiences not only because of his stands on morality, but also because of a personal presence that is completely untouched by the signs that indelibly mark the professional expert in contemporary America. (159)

If you could write that about fundamentalists, Jerry Falwell, and Ronald Reagan in 1986, as Moore did, imagine thinking that the evangelicals who voted in 2016 for Donald Trump were doing something odd compared to what an older generation of conservative Protestants, isolated from the mechanisms of elite power, were doing when they left mainline Protestant churches or voted for politicians who were truly outsiders with the networks of national media and educational institutions.

Imagine too what an evangelical might think of this older outsider identity if he or she, though reared by outsiders, has a Ph.D. from a good university and aspires to be included in national discussions about the affairs of the country. He or she might hold on to an evangelical identity but use that to provide insider information to publishers and editors of publications that can use reports to make sense of born-again voters. But the understanding that so often comes through this back-scratching process is one with insiders setting the terms for what it means to be an outsider or an alien. But if being an outsider is basic to being American, then fundamentalists and evangelicals are no less American than editors of books and magazines.

Image (AP Photo)

"Excellent point! Billy Graham would shoot himself if he read CT. Graham hated socialism while ..."

Do You need a Special Initiative ..."
"Yes. When we’re baptized by water it is that we’re testifying to our congregation that ..."

Fundamentalists and Evangelicals as Outsiders
"But it was considered to be a believer's baptism. He identified as "born again" and ..."

Fundamentalists and Evangelicals as Outsiders
"Being a Calvinist, probably everyone he's ever met."

What Is Wrong with David French?

Browse Our Archives