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.
Pentecostalism has also changed the face of Christianity. Amidst a period of intense renewal at the beginning of the 20th century, Pentecostal and charismatic congregations developed, focusing on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostalism has embodied itself in numerous denominational entities, but its core teachings about the active work of God in healing, prophecy, and other spiritual gifts has also penetrated many other Christian denominations, from Roman Catholicism to a variety of Protestant groups.
As we move into the 21st century, Christianity still wrestles with the challenges of conflict and war, desperate poverty and political oppression, and new challenges from scientific discovery, humanism, and secularism. The United States has seen the rise of charismatic movements, mega churches, hybrid denominations, and new denominations. Immigrants from all over the world have introduced new religious ideas and practices, and Christians enjoy an unprecedented degree of interfaith encounter.
1. What is ecumenism? When did it begin, and what does it look like in contemporary society?
2. What is liberation theology? What is it based on?
3. Why could it be said that fundamentalism has a direct correlation with American morality?