The history of evangelicalism in America is shot through with fear—but it also contains an alternative.
White conservative evangelicals in America are anxious people. I know because I am one.
Our sense of fear, perhaps more than any other factor, explains why evangelicals voted in such large numbers for Donald Trump in 2016 and continue to support his presidency.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson once wrote, “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” The great poet of the Jersey shore, Bruce Springsteen, sings, “Fear’s a dangerous thing, it can turn your heart black, you can trust. It’ll take your God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”
Robinson and Springsteen echo verses in nearly every book of the Bible, the sacred text that serves as the source of spiritual authority in evangelical life. Moses told the Israelites to “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.” The Hebrew God told Job: “At the destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the beasts of the earth.” The Psalmist wrote: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”
The Gospel of John teaches Christians that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” St. Luke writes: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Despite all these scriptural passages, it is still possible to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of a people failing miserably at overcoming fear with hope, trust, and faith in their God. But it is also possible to find evangelicals, drawing deeply from Christian theological resources, who sought to forge an alternative history.
A history of evangelical fear might begin with the 17th-century Puritans in Salem, Massachusetts, who feared that there were witches in their midst threatening their “city upon a hill” and their status as God’s new Israel. They responded to this fear by hanging 19 people.
But other evangelical options were available. As Puritans began to lose control over Massachusetts Bay, they might have turned to their sovereign God for guidance and trusted in his protection to lead them through a new phase in the history of the colony. Or they could have heeded the warnings put forth by those—such as Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, or the growing number of Baptists in the colony—who saw potential problems with such a close relationship between church and state.
Our history of evangelical fear might also include a chapter on the early 19th-century Protestants who feared the arrival of massive numbers of Catholic immigrants to American shores. They translated their panic into political organizations such as the nativist Know-Nothing Party and religious tracts cautioning fellow believers of the threat that such “popery” posed to their Christian nation.
But other evangelical options were available. Biblical faith requires evangelicals to welcome strangers in their midst as a sign of Christian hospitality. While some of the most prominent evangelicals of the era, such as Charles Finney and Lyman Beecher, were spewing anti-Catholic rhetoric, other evangelicals could not reconcile such hatred with Christian love. These evangelicals, as the historian Richard Cawardine has written, “could be found in all evangelical denominations” in the 1840 and 1850s.
A history of evangelical fear might also note that Catholics made up just one front in the battle for a Protestant America. “Infidels” made up the other front. At the turn of the 19th century, evangelicals went to war against unbelievers, deists, skeptics, freethinkers, and other assorted heretics who threatened the Godly character of the republic.
Elias Boudinot, a former president of the Continental Congress, agonized that unless he and his team of evangelical Federalists curbed the influence of the followers of Thomas Paine, the United States would end up like the Church of Laodicea in the Book of Revelation: “Because you are lukewarm [in your faith] … I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Jedidiah Morse, a Massachusetts minister and the author of geography textbooks, worried that the Bavarian Illuminati, a German anti-Christian secret society, had infiltrated America to “abjure Christianity, justify suicide, advocate sensual pleasures agreeable to Epicurean philosophy, decry marriage, and advocate a promiscuous intercourse among the sexes.”
When “godless” Thomas Jefferson was elected president of the United States in 1800, frightened New England evangelicals thought the Virginian’s henchmen would soon be arriving in their towns and homes on a mission to take away their Bibles.
Sometimes, the process of reporting a column is infuriating, and that happened with this column. I’m writing about some of the latest sex scandals in the Catholic and Baptist churches, in particular the revelations (first reported in the Houston Chronicle) that hundreds of Baptist figures committed sexual assaults, including rapes of children as young as three.
What’s infuriating is not only the sexual assaults themselves, but also the way some prominent Baptist blowhards like Jerry Falwell made a name for themselves thundering against gays, even as rapes were unfolding with impunity in their own church network.
But I think it’s also worth exploring whether the problem doesn’t go beyond individual pedophiles; to me it seems the problem is also of unaccountable and patriarchal church structures that relegate women to second-class status. Read my take!
The candidate has made a career of willfully misrepresenting the ideas he claims to stand for.One of his arguments was that the founders were aware of no religion other than Christianity, and therefore, the First Amendment gave only Christians the right to free exercise.One of his arguments was that the founders were aware of no religion other than Christianity, and therefore, the First Amendment gave only Christians the right to free exercise... that the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom only for Christians, for example, or that many communities in the United States stagger under the burden of Islamic sharia law — underscore both his hypocrisy and his tenuous grasp of reality.
.. I decided to play along. By Moore’s logic, I suggested, another clause of the First Amendment, freedom of the press, applied only to newspapers and not to other media because the founders had no knowledge of radio, television or the Internet.Moore, rarely at a loss for words, was stumped for a moment, but he quickly regained his composure and resumed his bluster.
.. Moore also asserts that he is a Baptist. (He is a member of First Baptist Church in Gallant, Ala.) Once again, his behavior belies that claim. The Baptist tradition in America is marked by two characteristics. The first is that only adults and older children, not babies, may be baptized. The second is a belief in liberty of conscience and the separation of church and state , which grew in part out of Baptists’ persecution as a minority in early America.
.. For more than three centuries, at least until the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979, Baptists patrolled the wall of separation between church and state. Speaking at a rally on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on May 16, 1920, Baptist theologian George Washington Truett proudly declared that the separation of church and state was “preeminently a Baptist achievement.”
.. Historically, evangelicalism once stood for people on the margins, those Jesus called “the least of these.” Evangelicals in the 19th century advocated public education, so that children from less-affluent families could toe the first rungs of the ladder toward socioeconomic stability. They worked for prison reform and the abolition of slavery. They advocated equal rights, including voting rights, for women and the rights of workers to organize.
.. The image that Moore has tried to project over the course of his career — as
- a constitutional authority,
- a Baptist and
- a representative of evangelical values
— is false, even fraudulent. The voters of Alabama have the opportunity to unmask him as the imposter he is.
County sheriff says they weren’t at First Baptist at the time of Sunday’s massacre
Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr. told CNN Monday that Devin Patrick Kelley’s former in-laws have attended First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, although they weren’t in church Sunday morning.
.. Kelley had been denied a license to carry a firearm in Texas, the state official said. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told CNN that Kelley was still able to buy a high-powered rifle from an Academy Sports and Outdoors store in San Antonio.
.. Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for two counts of assault on his spouse and on their child. He was given a bad conduct discharge, confined for a year and reduced to the rank of E-1.
Some at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) called for the firing of any SBC official who supported the rights of Muslims to build mosques, and they recommended the removal of the ERLC’s name from the amicus brief. Some even went so far as to posit that Muslims do not deserve the same religious freedoms as Christians.
.. Those Baptists continuing to oppose Moore should take time to consider the history of their spiritual forefathers.
.. While today we tend to think of America as the world’s beacon for religious liberty, a city on a hill, 17th- and 18th-century Baptists would have begged to differ. In the colonies, Baptist rejection of infant baptism was considered abhorrent by the established churches. To Anglicans, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians, this deviation from tradition was demonic and divisive.
.. Baptists endured harassment, including, fines, prohibition against their services, flogging, and even jail time. Massachusetts outlawed Baptists altogether in 1645, calling them “the troublers of churches in all places.” As a result of the government’s response, much of the populace developed a distinct hostility toward the Baptists.
.. This motivated many Baptists, and other non-Protestant minorities, to remain loyal to England throughout the American Revolution. It was hard to support a rebellion for “equality” of representation when many of the revolutionaries didn’t regard Baptists as religious equals. Baptists’ loyalist leanings only brought them further political animosity.
.. John Adams even told Backus that a shift in the solar system was more likely than an end to the established church of Massachusetts. Thus, persecution against Baptists endured throughout the American Revolution. They continued to be taxed to support the established churches but received none of the revenue for themselves (a.k.a. taxation without representation).
.. They preferred to depend upon the power of God, rather than government, to accomplish the purposes of the church.
.. Backus noted that religion was “a voluntary obedience unto God which therefore force cannot promote.”
.. Everyone, including Muslims, is made in the image of God, possessing inherent dignity that is expressed in and through human capacity to hold sincere religious beliefs.
.. The hypocrisy of those who criticize interfaith alliances for common purposes, like the alliance in the New Jersey mosque case, is that while they accuse such coalitions of putting politics before God, their underlying motive is to use the government to bolster and secure the faith of their choice. In reality, they are dishonoring the Baptist tradition of religious liberty established by those before them. What’s more, their position is short-sighted. Given the present shift in American demographics, it might not be too long before the Baptists are once again a powerless minority.
The Babylon Bee is Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire.