Fundies of Color
Wikipedia defines “fundie” as:
Fundie or fundy (plural fundies) is a pejorative slang term used to refer to religious fundamentalists of any religion or denomination, although it is primarily directed towards fundamentalist Christians. The term is intentionally derogatory, and is used most commonly by those opposed to the Christian Right movement.
This is a fairly accurate definition, and it serves my purposes quite well. But what term should you use if you don’t want the built-in negative slant? In other words, what should a journalist call these people?
Most of the time, I see them referred to as “evangelicals”. That’s roughly correct, but not completely. Not every evangelical exhibits all of the traits of fundamentalism. There are also some non-Christians who align themselves with Christian fundamentalists. Ben Stein’s promotion of Expelled and other anti-science lies puts him in this category.
I came across an article on the The Maynard Institute for Journalism Education website that addresses this matter. The Maynard Institute says its mission is:
to promote diversity in the news media through improved coverage, hiring and business practices.
The article is “Media Coverage of Evangelical Christians Ignores Blacks and Latinos” by Nadra Kareem Nittle. The article’s thesis is that the media’s use of the term “evangelical” to describe old white guys such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson does not accurately portray evangelicals.
Since I’m not an evangelical and I almost never use the term as a stand-in for “fundie”, I have no stake in that particular dispute. However, I did find the article quite revealing in another way. I’ve known for a long time that black and latino evangelicals exist. It always struck me as odd that they would be aligned philosophically with people who espoused beliefs and advocated policies that were detrimental to minorities. I suppose it’s a manifestation of the No True Scotsman fallacy. The white evangelicals aren’t “true evangelicals”, so white evangelical belief isn’t the same as non-white evangelical belief.
I’ll return to the Maynard Institute article in a minute. First, I want to detour to an article by Austin Cline at About. It’s a review of a book about the Bible Belt, which looks worth reading. Here’s how Austin summarizes the history of Southern Evangelism:
What few people realize is that Southern culture changed — or perhaps corrupted? — evangelical Christianity. Southern Evangelism started out as a fringe movement, challenging the dominant Anglican institutions and practices.
The messages spread by these young, itinerant preachers threatened the authority of Southern planters and businessmen.
To be successful, preachers had to make themselves more appealing to those who were already in power in the South: the middle-aged white gentry.
Evangelicalism had to move quite a ways from its earlier promise of equality and liberation because churches which once [promised] equality and liberation ended up in the nineteenth century “upholding the equality and honor of all white men.” This is the Southern “family values religion” which still exists today, though it has spread out of the South and can be found around the nation: a religious movement that began on the dream of liberty and ended in a nightmare of authoritarian oppression.
So now let’s look at the Maynard Institute article and see if there really are non-authoritarian evangelicals:
News reports often leave the impression that all evangelical Christians are white and usually support the most conservative Republican candidates. Totally overlooked is the fact that many African-Americans, Latinos and other people of color are evangelical Christians whose views are rarely cited.
People of color, a growing segment of the evangelical community, and their positions on issues are rarely seen or heard in the media. Religion scholars and experts say it’s critical that the media quickly adjust coverage to include all evangelical Christians or risk giving an unfair advantage to candidates supported by the largely conservative, white evangelicals.
We know that there are a lot of non-fundie churches in this country, but their numbers are dwindling, whereas evangelical ranks are growing.
So if there really are moderate or liberal evangelicals, why do they tend to vote as a monolithic block? Or do they? The Maynard Institute article implies they don’t, but the post-election breakdowns I see in the media tend to show them mostly voting Republican. Or maybe that is another example of what that article is railing against: an overly-simplified definition of evangelical? If that’s the case, where do I find real data that shows black and latino evangelicals voting Democratic?
I also wonder if the fundie’s hijacking of media attention has damaged religion in this country. There may be a lot (too many!) of fundies in this country, but they’re still a minority. Wouldn’t it be funny if they’re driving down their own numbers?
If every religious spokesman on TV is a hate-filled extremist, then wouldn’t most middle-of-the-road religion-ambivalent Americans (which probably describes almost half the population) become soured on religion? Maybe that’s one reason so many Americans profess a weak belief in God but don’t bother to go to church.
Lisa Sharon Harper, author of the book “Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican or Democrat” and co-author of “Left, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics,” says the term “evangelical” has a meaning different than what is portrayed in the mainstream media.
“The media would do well not to call [the religious right] evangelicals,” says Harper, also director of mobilizing for Sojourners, a Christian social justice organization in Washington. “They’re really thinking about a political bloc. They’re not thinking about theological evangelicals.”
Harper notes that political evangelicals tend to be white, live in suburban or rural areas and have a history of supporting a conservative agenda over the past 30 years. In contrast, she says theological evangelicals have existed for hundreds of years and have challenged the status quo.
At first, I thought Harper was saying that it’s only the sanitized-for-Southerners version of evangelicalism that gets into politics. But then she says this:
“What you’re finding among theological evangelicals is there’s such a broader spectrum of issues that they care about,” she says. “It won’t just be abortion or same-sex marriage. It will also be the prison industrial complex and how that impacts the black community and the Latino community. It will be the issue of immigration.”
AHHHH!!! Revelation (so to speak)! What we have here isn’t two opposite flavors of evangelicalism, original liberal and corrupted conservative. The son killed the father! Extra-crispy Southern evangelicalism killed original-recipe evangelicalism and replaced it with some sort of cheap imitation.
Theological evangelicalism promotes racial equality, but it’s still anti-woman and anti-gay.
The article goes on to interview Ron Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania:
Views of the religious right… concern Sider because he doesn’t believe that their agenda is biblical enough.
Or Scotish enough!
A biblical political agenda would also include economic justice and environmentalism, known in Christian circles as “creation care,” he says.
Inequality of the justice system. Immigration. Economic justice. Environmentalism. All of these fall under the banner of theological evangelicalism. But there’s no room at the inn for the women and gays.
To be fair, the article does interview Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, director of public witness for the Presbyterian Church, who says:
some evangelicals do fight for health coverage for contraception because it may help women treat medical conditions such as endometriosis.
So at least one of these guys has at least a little bit of compassion for women, but note that it’s only for medical conditions. A woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body is not included.
So what have we learned, Dorothy?
We already knew that fundies aren’t very “Christ-like”. We also already knew that all Christians riffle through the Bible and pick out the parts they like and want to follow, while ignoring all that other stuff that tells them the exact opposite.
These articles tell us that the white guys choose full-flavor fundamentalism, which is full of hate and intolerance for everybody who isn’t like them. The fundies of color choose hate-lite, which has all the flavor of fundamentalism with a bit less hate.
In other words, both groups choose a religion that justifies their bigotry and allows them to oppress those who are politically and socially weaker than themselves.