Are “Fanatics” Increasingly Shaping America?
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I recently viewed a documentary from Germany, but in English, entitled “Evangelical Christians in the USA | DW Documentary.” It is free on Youtube if you care to watch it. “DW” stands for “Deutsche Welle”—maker of documentaries in Berlin. When I examined their web site it seemed to me that most of the leaders of the organization depicted and named were of Middle Eastern descent.
I always watch such documentaries with a suspicious “eye.” What’s the agenda here? This one purports to be about “evangelical Christians in the USA” but focuses almost solely on Baptists in the South and, so far as I could discern, all what I would call fundamentalists.
I did not see any acknowledgement of the diversity of evangelicals in the USA. For example, although most African-American Christians in the USA do not call themselves “evangelicals” (although there is a Black National Evangelical Association), their spirituality and theology is “ethos-wise” evangelical (as I have defined and explained it here many times before). Nor did they show any of the numerous Hispanic Pentecostal churches.
The camera lens and interrogater behind or beside it focused almost exclusively on very conservative Southern Baptist-style churches in southeastern states such as Georgia and South Carolina. There is a long segment in the middle of the documentary about the Noah’s ark recreation and museum in Kentucky which made me certain I never want to go there. The theme of the documentary makers seems to be that American evangelicals are (all) anti-science.
The documentary ends with a segment showing a highly armed “evangelical” militia group in (I believe) Georgia that wants to guarantee that America remains a Christian country. The last sentence in the documentary was America is “increasingly shaped by fanatics.”
There may be some truth to that, but my complaint is that the documentary makers did not travel far enough or depict sufficiently non-fundamentalist evangelicals. The impression anyone would get from this documentary is that all American evangelicals are fundamentalists of a very politically, socially, and theologically conservative, even reactionary, type.
This is a sensational documentary that lacks balance and is very misleading about American evangelicals. Much better was Randall Balmer’s PBS series (I don’t know where it may still be available) entitled “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture.” That was on PBS television years ago, and it was based on Balmer’s book of the same title. Balmer showed the real diversity of American evangelicalism including African-American church life.
The documentary from Germany troubles me deeply as I continue to identify as “evangelical.” I wonder when, if at all, I will have to stop that. So far I haven’t found a suitable label to substitute for it and I am too stubborn to give it up just because the media have tried to brand all American evangelicals as right-wing, anti-science, obscurantist fanatics.
I could easily send the makers of this documentary an email (email@example.com), but what good would it do? I’m convinced (this is my opinion) they wanted to portray American evangelicals as dangerous “fanatics” increasingly shaping America. I could be wrong, of course, because I can’t read their minds, but my impression is the depiction of American evangelicals was intentional and biased.
Please watch the documentary on Youtube and say here what you think. Keep it brief. Remember that I have said that evangelicals in America are much more diverse than this documentary depicts, so if you are going to say you agree with it, deal with the question of why the documentary focuses almost exclusively on Southern evangelicals/fundamentalists. Where are the African-American evangelicals, Hispanic evangelicals, moderate evangelicals educated at Wheaton, Gordon (and Gordon-Conwell), Baylor, Fuller, Bethel, Denver Seminary, etc.? (Here I mean mainly pastors and their congregations.)