by Preston Mayes
Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism occupies a surprisingly influential place in the history of both Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism considering its length (eighty-seven pages). That influence can probably be traced, however, to two factors. First, its publication occurred at a critical juncture in twentieth century church history. It was something of a call for reform from within a Fundamentalism that included elements that were starting to desire an increased influence in society in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II. Furthermore, this call was eventually both heeded and rejected with equal fervency on both sides of the issue. Second, Henry lucidly articulated the major issues that eventually came to divide theologically conservative Christianity into two of its larger present-day factions. Though Henry did not exhaustively lay out his conclusions in his brief work, he did discuss all of the issues on which the two camps disagreed.
One of the more important issues for Henry was Fundamentalism’s lack of influence in social and political issues. He felt that though the time for bringing such influence to bear on the pressing issues of the day was optimal, Fundamentalism was ignoring its responsibilities to society at large. He states,
During the past two generations, creative ethical thinking was done by those whose ideology was divorced from New Testament supernaturalism. . . . Nothing is clearer today than that the Fundamentalist was dismissed with an almost perverted lightness, when he warned that the non-evangelicals were not delving deeply enough into the nature and destiny of man to prevent a dark disillusionment. After all, the judgment of two world wars stands now with the appraisal of the Fundamentalist.
The troubled conscience of the modern liberal, growing out of his superficial optimism, is a deep thing in modern times. But so is the uneasy conscience of the modern Fundamentalist, that no voice is speaking today as Paul would, either at the United Nations sessions, or at labor-management disputes, or in strategic university classrooms whether in Japan or Germany or America.
Henry concluded that Fundamentalism had abdicated this role in society due to a desire to avoid confusing biblical Christianity with the liberal social gospel.Though Henry was a premillennialist, the largely dispensational Fundamentalism from which he eventually broke was supposedly encouraged toward a disinterest in political and social involvement, because it looked for a future kingdom and not a present one. This characterization of Evangelicalism as interested in these issues while Fundamentalism was disinterested in them persists to a degree even now. Reichley, in his assessment of the re-emergence of Evangelicalism in the political arena, noted, “Not all Evangelicals have been swept up by the religious new right. Many Fundamentalist preachers in the separatist tradition continue to rail against the blasphemy of mingling religion with politics.” During the 1980 presidential campaign, Bob Jones III described Jerry Falwell as “the most dangerous man in America so far as Biblical Christianity is concerned.”
That these characterizations persist is understandable. Henry’s work has now influenced four generations of believers, and at the time he was probably quite correct about the lack of involvement in such social issues. This paper will argue, however, that Fundamentalism does indeed demonstrate evidence of profound interest and involvement in social and political questions. In fact, Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism have essentially paralleled each other in their level of interest in political and social concerns. For some time following Henry’s work, the interest of both in such issues waned only to see it renewed in the 1970s due to a number of factors.
Why then does the characterization of the two movements persist? Several reasons suggest themselves. First, the interests of Fundamentalists and Evangelicals played themselves out in practice in different ways that are consistent with the variations within them. Fundamentalism does have an interest in helping the less fortunate become the more fortunate, but it does so on its own terms. Since its approach is markedly different from the culture at large and probably even different to a degree from Evangelicalism, its interest easily may be misconstrued as either a lack of interest or as simply supporting the status quo. In this case then, the debate needs to shift from questions of who is or is not interested in social and political questions to whose methodology is most in line with what God expects.
Second, Fundamentalism devoted most of its effort toward issues that were most important to its own constituency. For example, during the 1970s Fundamentalists devoted a great deal of attention to securing the right to run their own Christian day schools. Public education was also a topic of national concern during this period, but for different reasons (such as, declining student performance and forced busing). Fundamentalists suggested that such problems were traceable to the breakdown of the family, the secularization of the educational process in the United States, and permissiveness on the part of parents. Unfortunately, their concerns were largely ignored, and society must bear the blame for their actions in this regard. On the other hand, however, Fundamentalists probably were guilty of addressing the issues without fully understanding their complexity. To the extent that they were guilty, they should have corrected the flaw. In any case, though they were involved in the political process in educational issues, their choice of specific issues gave the impression that they did not care about the plight of the disadvantaged in society when it came to education.
Finally, Fundamentalists are, admittedly, more concerned about maintaining theological purity than they are with helping to sustain a moral culture. This caused a reaction on the part of Fundamentalists as soon as they felt that Evangelicals were giving up certain conservative theological distinctives in order to gain cultural influence. Methodologically, Fundamentalists were unwilling to use strategies that some Evangelicals were adopting. The reaction to these strategies produced the impression in the minds of rank and file Fundamentalists that political activism is wrong. Furthermore, such reaction was viewed to be consistent with the long held belief that Evangelicals are much more interested in political influence. Positions on such complicated issues need to be carefully nuanced, and in the process many may misunderstand what the position really is.
First, a brief historical survey of the attitudes toward political and social involvement will be conducted. Due to the nature of the issue and the space constraints of this article, secondary sources will provide the basis of this summary. For the purposes of this article, political involvement is considered to be any attempt to influence government policy whether through lobbying efforts, legal action, or election campaigning. Social involvement is considered to be any attempt to help poor or disenfranchised elements in society. Though the two will often overlap, they are not always necessarily involved in addressing an issue. For example, government antitrust legislation would be an example of political action designed to have the social function of protecting the average citizen by ensuring fair competition; rescue missions in inner cities would be an example of attempting to address a social problem without using a political approach.
Second, a survey of a Fundamentalist approach to political and social involvement will be undertaken. This survey will use articles from the magazine FAITH for the Family, published from 1973–1986 by Bob Jones University, to assess such attitudes.
The magazine was targeted to a general church audience, so it was not restricted to academic or pastoral concerns. Furthermore, it was published during the period of Evangelical resurgence in politics and the founding of the Moral Majority. Finally, it was published by an institution that has a long history of influence within some segments of Fundamentalism on a national level.
The survey will begin with a discussion of articles taking a position on the level of political involvement that Christians should have. Next, it will look at selected social issues of national importance that the magazine chose to address. Finally, it will discuss the reaction of Fundamentalism to methods employed by Evangelicals and former Fundamentalists as they re-emerged in the political arena during the 1970s and 1980s.
Attitudes toward Social and Political Involvement, 1925–85
Conservative Christianity in the United States has enjoyed a long tradition of involvement and influence in political and social concerns. During the nineteenth century it “took the lead in social ministry,” as believers sought to live out the practical implications of their Christianity. This practical involvement found expression both in acts of care for the destitute and in a desire to influence public policy, a desire which continued into the first quarter of the twentieth century.During the 1930s and ’40s, however, the Fundamentalist coalition showed a marked decline in interest in social and political concerns. This decline can be traced to two overriding factors.
Factors in the Decline
In the area of social concern (ministries focused on meeting the needs of individuals), the declining interest stemmed, at least in part, from a backlash over the theological controversies with liberal church leaders. The liberal leaders, while retaining an emphasis on social benevolence, substituted a liberal theological stance toward sin and the supernatural nature of the Bible for the traditional conservative emphasis on these topics. This particular theological/social conjunction came to be known as the Social Gospel. The ensuing Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy was primarily theological in nature, but it generally produced a greater hesitancy within conservative camps to engage in social ministry because of its newly acquired association with liberalism.
By the time of World War I, “social Christianity” was becoming thoroughly identified with liberalism and was viewed with great suspicion. . . . When fundamentalists began using their heavy artillery against liberal theology, the Social Gospel was among the prime targets. In the barrage against the Social Gospel it was perhaps inevitable that the vestiges of their own progressive social attitudes would also become casualties.
So in this case, Fundamentalism allowed the liberal wing of the church to mold its agenda in a direction that it had not previously gone. The national upheaval produced by the Depression and World War II also probably tended to divert people’s attention from social ministry due to the overwhelming scope of the problems.
In the area of political concerns, Fundamentalism was similarly maneuvered out of its earlier interest in influencing public policy by an unfortunate series of events. During the early twentieth century, Fundamentalist political involvement focused on “three relatively distinct issues: antievolutionism, Prohibition, and anti-Catholicism.” Concern over the growing Catholic presence in the United States abated to a degree after immigration quotas were established in 1924 and the candidacy of Catholic Democrat Al Smith ended in defeat in 1928.The experience of the Fundamentalist coalition regarding the other two issues, however, unfolded quite differently (which is to say, unsuccessfully). The defeats in these areas exert a heavy influence over conservative Christianity even to this point in history.
Prohibition initially seemed to have succeeded. A coalition of groups of varying theological persuasions supported the temperance movement that culminated in the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment. Euphoria over the creation of a “dry” country quickly faded, however.
The problems that Prohibition created are well known: the illegal manufacturing and sale of liquor were widespread. Discontent with this legislation quickly surfaced even among those who had been its major supporters. By the end of the 1920’s, the Fundamentalists were essentially alone in their attempts to maintain the legitimacy of the Temperance movement and Prohibition.
So, this eventual defeat emphasized the distinction between conservative Christianity and the rest of the country. Fundamentalists felt that if public sentiment could turn against them so quickly in an arena where they had previously enjoyed their greatest success, then their prospects for continuing to influence the direction of public policy were probably very dim.
Conservative attempts to squelch the teaching of evolution suffered a similar “win the battle, lose the war” outcome. Statutes prohibiting the teaching of evolution were approved in several states, but the aftermath of the Scopes’ trial, which was technically won by the conservatives, again dampened enthusiasm for involvement in social causes. A hostile media took advantage of the trial as an opportunity to caricature the Fundamentalists as backward and unsophisticated.In similar fashion to Prohibition, what seemed to be an ability to influence public policy quickly became a failure and a liability.
Resurgence in Political Involvement
Though Evangelicalism has typically been portrayed as more politically involved than Fundamentalism, neither was particularly active from the period of the Depression through the 1960s. To be sure, Evangelical leaders such as Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, and Billy Graham campaigned for such an agenda, but “neither Graham nor the right-wing preachers had much success during the 1950s or 1960s in stirring the Evangelicals to political action.”Though a few Fundamentalist leaders continued to address political issues (Billy Sunday in the early 1930s and Carl McIntire in the 1950s are two prominent examples), the movement was generally inactive as well. The one exception to this inactivity was a growing concern with the spread of Communism in the aftermath of World War II.
Events during the 1960s and 1970s, however, re-energized the interest of both groups in political, and to a lesser extent, social issues. This time, the interest was encouraged by a growing number of televangelists who emphasized the threat of national moral collapse due to a growing secularization of American culture and a series of Supreme Court rulings hostile to generally accepted Christian principles.Evangelicals and Fundamentalists alike emerged from relative inactivity to engage at much higher levels in public policy debate and legislation.For example, both groups were enthusiastic supporters of the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980 and 1984. One cannot conclude, however, that such involvement took the same form in both groups. Generally, each engaged in politics in a way that was consistent with its own theological moorings. For both, however, that was encouraged and engagement did generally take place.
In summary then, both Fundamentalists and Evangelicals have tended to maintain an attitude of acceptance toward involvement in the political and social arenas. Though the original New Evangelicals spoke of creating a conservative coalition that would do this, their actual success was quite limited. Fundamentalists were very similar in their desire to influence public policy, even if they were less convinced that anything would actually be accomplished by it.
The Fundamentalist and Government
The following survey of articles regarding the Christian and his government in FAITH for the Family provides a good representation of how Fundamentalists in the orbit of Bob Jones University approached such issues. Articles on this topic are sprinkled throughout the entire thirteen-year run of the magazine. Ironically, Norman Pyle addressed the topic in the very first article of the inaugural issue. He began by noting that the believer’s first duty is to obey God, an approach he supported by reference to Peter’s statement in Acts 5:29 that believers should obey God rather than men. He was also careful to point out, however, that this command must not be abused to support an agenda, and that proper channels must be used in order to effect the desired changes. In so doing, he distanced his position from some of the more radical tactics that were used during the demonstrations of the 1960s and early 1970s.
The Christian must be certain that a clear command of God has been breached and not merely his personal preferences violated. It ill behooves Christians to follow the lead of the civil rights radicals in personally choosing which laws they deem just and fair and obeying only those laws.
In this country, we still have opportunity to influence government policy through the ballot, free assembly, and the right to petition government and appeal our grievances. It is true that these measures at times appear to be useless. However, this is often because good people are indifferent to their use. As Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., has said, “Every nation gets the kind of government it deserves.” Perhaps this godless, materialistic, pleasure-loving generation deserves the problems it has created.
However, every Fundamental Christian has the responsibility to aid his country in being what it ought to be and promoting righteousness in every area of life. This of course includes the right of protest. The Apostle Paul, when beaten and jailed without cause or trial (Acts 16), refused to ignore it and slip out of town quietly, but demanded public apology from the authorities. In Acts 25, concerning a different matter, he made direct appeal to the highest government authority, Caesar himself. He was proud of his Roman citizenship. He did not consider himself a sanctified “doormat,” and did not simply say, “all we can do is pray,” when he was mistreated by civil government.
Pyle continues the article by laying out in very general terms an agenda of issues which should be of concern to Christians, because they either threatened the ability of believers to worship freely in the United States or had the potential to greatly undermine public morality. He discussed the issues of fair and equal access to radio and television air time, IRS harassment of religious institutions under the guise of racism, the advisability of making tax dollars available to private as well as public schools, government involvement in lotteries, government sanitization of the liquor industry by taxing it to support programs, and the growing approval of the pornography industry by government officials. He concluded with another call for Christians to become involved in political issues.
Jesus said, “Ye are the salt of the earth,” but if the salt has lost is power to preserve and flavor, then it is worthless. May we continue to seek by prayer, protest, and positive action to preserve what God-given principles still exist in our country, and flavor our moral atmosphere with the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A three part series by Richard Hand entitled “The Christian and his Government” appeared in three consecutive issues in 1984, toward the end of the magazine’s publication. Part two began with a summary of scriptural principles regarding how a Christian is to relate himself to his government. The goal of the article was to encourage every believer to make a concerted effort to submit to the authorities placed over him. The author also asserted that if a believer must choose to disobey human government, it must be because he has chosen to obey God instead. The article seems most interested, however, with how a Christian might go about addressing a grievance through proper government channels. Hand stated, “Knowing and living by these biblical principles will help the Christian or his ministry avoid unnecessary confrontation with civil government. Yet confrontation may arise. Must the Christian be a doormat for any government agency or official to walk on? No.” Hand continued by explaining the separation of powers among the three branches of the federal government in the United States. There is a legislative branch to make laws, an executive branch to carry out laws, and a judicial branch to execute justice once such laws have been violated. Such separation was instituted in order to protect citizens from unjust officials.
Our nation’s founders openly confessed the sinful nature of man. They declared that governments are needed to restrain men, but that the men in government must themselves be restrained. This belief caused them to conclude that power must not reside in one man, nor in any one group of men. . . .
If any branch violates its prerogatives, there are checks and balances that can be asserted against it. . . .
Thus a Christian ministry under fire by a particular agency or branch of government may gain victory by resorting to another branch that can check the power of the first. At times Satan’s influence in one branch may be greater than in another. As Christians we must not surrender our freedoms without a diligent and respectful battle in their defense.
Hand’s intent was to lay out a philosophy of how Christians might go through proper government channels in order to redress their legitimate grievances and receive justice. In a fashion which echoed Pyle’s sentiments from 1973, Hand concluded,
Just as the apostle Paul properly asserted his procedural rights as a Roman citizen, we may do so today as citizens of the government under which we live. Recent signs suggest these rights are slipping away. Perhaps that is because too few Christians understand them, and fewer still defend them with tactful perseverance.
Several other articles reach similar conclusions. Robert G. Bearce suggested that Christians should “participate in civic affairs. Attend public forums and open meetings of the city council. . . . Display the American flag, even when there is no holiday. Vote in local, state, and national elections.”In a 1928 article adapted and reprinted in 1977, E.Y. Mullins objected strongly to the idea that preachers should not be involved in politics. He noted,
In addition to the politicians, some preachers and religious people themselves seem to have accepted the urging that preachers keep silent on politics and confine themselves to the “simple gospel.” They are in worse conflict with their Bibles than are the politicians with the Constitution. . . . [If preachers do not preach on these topics] the “simple gospel” would have to be modified and preachers would have to preach in the interest of every kind of righteousness except civic and political righteousness.
Though they are less explicit in their statements than those cited above, two additional articles published in conjunction with the national celebration of the Bicentennial of the United States extol the virtue of a Christian being involved in his government.
Finally, two related articles appeared in 1983. The first was a short biography of Presbyterian missionary Francis Makemie. Makemie was sent to the New World as a missionary in 1681. He preached with a fair degree of success in America and was basically unhindered in his efforts until the Church of England was made the official Church in Virginia and Maryland in 1692. He was eventually put on trial for preaching without a license in both Virginia and New York. His refusal to allow the government to impede the progress of the gospel was one of a number of events that would eventually secure religious freedom for all citizens of the United States. Overall, the article was used to portray a positive example of a Christian who used the existing legal channels when important religious rights were threatened.
The second related article outlined the steps that should be taken when one writes a letter to a congressman. Among other suggestions, it advised the writer to be well informed of the issue, to the point, respectful, clear, and grammatically correct. The goal of this article was to encourage people to actually get involved in the political process at this level by outlining the appropriate steps to take.
Advocacy Issues among Fundamentalists
The previous section demonstrated that the charge that Fundamentalists were completely aloof from the political process is false. Their genuine goal was to try to influence the process as much as possible, providing that they did so in a way that would not violate any biblical command or principle. Yet, the stereotype of the premillennial Fundamentalist who entirely withdrew from the process persisted. Why was this the case? The likely reason for this stereotype is due to the types of issues that they chose to address, coupled with the theological perspective from which they addressed them. The brief survey below will conclude that even as Fundamentalists were seeking to gain freedoms that were important to them (the right to run Christian schools, for example), they opposed some of the proposed solutions to the pressing social issues of the day as they were understood by the national consciousness (the Equal Rights Amendment and race relations are two prominent examples). Their particular positions on these issues were misinterpreted in one of two ways: they were portrayed as against legislation which would alleviate the plight of the poor and for the status quo, or they were portrayed as uninterested in the political process altogether.
Christian and Public School Legislation
FAITH devoted more articles to the subject of education than to any other topic with social or political implications. The articles may be broadly divided into two categories. First, some advocated involvement of Christians in public schools or chronicled the struggles of individuals trying to influence public school policies in morally conservative directions. One investigative report assessed the textbook war that broke out in central West Virginia in the mid-1970s. In this case, the local school board had voted to adopt textbooks in spite of the fact that “80 percent of the parents . . . [were] up in arms over the profanity, blasphemy, anti-American sentiment, and anti-Christian philosophy contained in [them].” By the time the report ran in FAITH, the school board had bowed to public pressure and adopted a very conservative set of guidelines for choosing textbooks. Even in this investigative article, however, Rumminger offered the following advice:
Lest the reader think the end of the battle is at hand, let me sound a word of warning. There may be a few token concessions in attempts to cool the protests. The liberal forces may even concede the West Virginia skirmish. If they do, watch for redoubled efforts to smear the good people of the Mountain State as “ignorant” and to discredit their leaders as “extremists.” The whole idea is to discourage concerned Americans in other states from taking action for fear of ridicule and slander. This is not a time for fear.
Additional articles objected to the extension of maternity benefits to unwed teachers, the liberal advocacy platforms of the National Education Association, and the humanistic goals of the public education system. In each case the conclusion was the same: Christians should educate themselves on the issues and get involved in the educational process to promote public morality in accordance with their rights and responsibilities as citizens.
No fewer than twelve articles were dedicated to addressing the threat to Christian education from various government agencies. Specific court cases involving Christian schools in the following states were addressed in separate articles: California, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, and Virginia. Other articles supported the right of Christian educational institutions to continue to maintain their status as tax exempt organizations. One article praised United States Representative John Ashbrook’s opposition to the adoption of a racial quota system by the IRS for private institutions. He objected to the “procedure, which would be used to determine the tax-exempt status of private and parochial schools, because it would lead to federal control of such institutions.”A 1982 article argued on the basis of a 1970 United States Supreme Court decision that tax exemption of religious schools should not be considered a federal subsidy, and should therefore not be treated as an issue of government supporting religion. Finally, eight pages of the July/August 1983 issue were devoted to a discussion of the ramifications of Bob Jones University’s loss of its tax-exempt status in a Supreme Court case.
The discussion of educational issues demonstrated that Fundamentalists were indeed interested in influencing public policy regarding education and in working to safeguard their rights. Two of the most pressing debates regarding education that received national attention during the 1970s were the measured drop in student achievement from previous decades and the lagging progress in the performance of minority students. The latter issue, which led to forced busing of students, was particularly volatile. There were no articles devoted exclusively to either of these topics in FAITH, though a number of articles on the demise of public morality and secularization of the United States were certainly relevant to the performance issue. At a time when public education was becoming more and more hostile to Christian principles, the response of most Fundamentalists was to withdraw from it and begin their own Christian schools. To be fair, it should be noted that the public sector was certainly not receptive to the solutions that Fundamentalists would have proposed. In a sense, Fundamentalists had already lost the battle and knew that large segments of the educational establishment did not want their input. That subtle fact was insufficient, however, to insulate Fundamentalism from the charge that they were disinterested in the plight of the less fortunate in matters of education.
Impoverished or Oppressed People Groups
FAITH ran a number of articles discussing the plight of oppressed people groups. Most prominent were a number of articles on the Middle East and/or Israel and on the Irish pastor/politician Ian R.K. Paisley. A lesser number of articles addressing the situations of people in Taiwan (political conflict with mainland China), Korea (religious persecution), and Ethiopia (famine) were also published. So, the magazine was definitely concerned about the issues surrounding these people. Due to space constraints, this section will focus on articles dealing with the Middle East and Ethiopia. The articles on the Middle East suggest that while Fundamentalist leaders were very concerned with these issues, the majority of individual Fundamentalists were not acting on the message (probably due to a lack of understanding of the depth of the needs). The article on Ethiopia suggested a viewpoint on the topic that would be at odds with anyone who favored socialistic or communistic solutions to problems. Since in this case Fundamentalists were not approaching the topic in the same way as some of the dominant voices of the day, they again became susceptible to the charge that they were disinterested in such issues.
The Middle East
The articles addressing the situation in the Middle East give evidence of trying to handle the issue in a fair and balanced manner. Bob Jones began one such article as follows.
A fair and impartial discussion of the Middle East situation will satisfy neither the Arabs nor the Israelis because such discussion will involve some criticism of both parties. . . . A man who criticizes Arab terrorism, for example, is accused of being pro-Israel; and one who has a critical word about Israeli policy or methods is immediately charged with anti-Semitism. The biased pro-Israeli Christian should remember, however, that it was the Jewish prophet Isaiah speaking under divine inspiration who said, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Therefore, if one is to examine the current situation in the Middle East in a biblical fashion, he must be neither pro-Israel nor pro-Arab but, rather, pro-righteousness.
This type of analysis again appeared in two articles addressing the 1982 attacks on Lebanon by Israel. The attacks were launched by Israel to eliminate the ongoing threat of Palestinian Liberation Organization military action from bases located within Lebanon. In his own assessment of the situation, Jones again showed both familiarity with the complexities of the situation and sensitivity to the suffering of the civilian population of Lebanon.
Israel’s intrusion into Lebanon as far north as Beirut and her indiscriminate bombing and shelling of that city are vicious and reprehensible. It might be understandable that the officials of the Jewish state felt it incumbent upon them to destroy or remove the PLO fortresses and encampments in southern Lebanon from which rockets and shells were being launched on upper Galilee and northern Israel, generally; but when this was accomplished, the Israeli blitzkrieg should have come to a halt.
The January 1983 issue carried an article by Victor Sadaka, pastor of a Fundamental Baptist church in Beirut, Lebanon. He chronicled the struggles of people of the city and critiqued the actions of Israel, the PLO, and even Christians.
My shame and embarrassment when asked about the so-called fundamental, Bible believers’ unconditional support of Israeli cruelty, exploitation, and aggression is hard to describe. . . . Bible believers for the most part have done little or nothing to help the Lebanese people, while liberal groups have been quick to help. For example, the much-criticized UNICEF has worked around the clock digging wells, and the WCC has sent medical teams and supplies. Mother Theresa, the 72-year-old Catholic nun . . . also came to Beirut and helped rescue orphans buried under the rubble of their orphanage. Several had already starved to death, but she carried a number to safety in East Beirut. Therefore, the second priority of our ministry is to help needy people, many of whom will have no income for many months.
The article ended with an editor’s note giving a plea for relief funds and an address where they could be sent. It again shows why Fundamentalists might have been portrayed as disinterested in the poor. In their zeal to support the persecuted Israel, many Christians overlooked the sins of Israel itself. Of course, the very presence of the article suggests that the leadership of Bob Jones University was concerned about the lack of a proper Christian response to the issue, both in terms of how to view Israel and how to respond to the human crisis. That was their purpose in running the article, and overall it shows a desire to understand the issues involved so that the testimony of the church would not be harmed.
A 1984 famine brought widespread starvation to Ethiopia. The famine was initially blamed on drought by the U.S. news media and on colonial-style agriculture by the Soviet Union.The article quoted both Time and Newsweek magazines, however, and placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Ethiopian government. The government had apparently spent forty-six percent of its gross national product to purchase weapons from the Soviet Union while neglecting more pressing needs. When relief supplies started to flood the country from abroad, “the Ethiopian army diverted food for its own use while refusing food shipments to provinces where rebels are active.” The report summarizes its conclusions as follows:
Christians have been moved with compassion to help the needy Ethiopians. But in light of the problems caused by Ethiopia’s Communist government, many Christians have been reluctant to send money to relief organizations, and rightfully so. Besides, “there is reason to believe that relief shipments, though necessary, only aggravate the fundamental problems,” Time reports. Earthscan, a London-based environmental news service, agrees: “Food aid saves lives but can also undermine long-term local self-sufficiency.”
So, while supporting the notion that Christian aid would be appropriate in this case, the article suggested that the real problem was the oppressive government under which the people lived. Such a suggestion could be construed as a lack of concern, especially on the part of those who are hostile toward Christian principles. In reality, however, it was simply a suggestion for a solution that addressed the problem on a more foundational level.
Advocacy Issues among Fundamentalists (Cont.)
Minority Groups in the United States
Two groups were particularly vocal in their demands for civil rights during the 1970s: women and African Americans. FAITH ran several articles addressing both. In both cases authors addressed the issues in accordance with their own theological positions, but such an approach was bound to get them labeled as unconcerned with the plight of minorities by numerous individuals who opposed their positions.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), proposed in the 1970s as an amendment to the United States Constitution, ostensibly sought to secure equal rights for women. In general, those who addressed the topic supported the notion of equality for women, but objected to elements of the amendment which would also erode social mores and weaken the family unit. Teresa Hicks Bunetta wrote:
Realities with which fair-minded people would not argue are woven throughout the fallacious arguments on which the women’s movement rests. It is important to face those realities in order to recognize the fallacies. Injustice to women has occurred: employers have denied women equal pay for equal work; women have frequently been portrayed as less intelligent and somewhat less significant than men; educational opportunities . . . have often been given to men rather than to equally qualified or better qualified women; the list goes on. The questions are these: are injustices to women the driving force behind the women’s liberation movement? Does job discrimination necessitate the push for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment? I believe that the answer to both of these questions is no. Specific legislation has proved to be the best means of assuring women of their constitutional rights without at the same time destroying the very traditions and institutions which preserve our society.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 Subchapter VI: Equal Employment Opportunities (42 U.S. code 2000e-2) guaranteed equal pay for equal work, and the Employment Opportunities Act of 1972 (Public Law 92-261) forbids discrimination in every aspect of employment. . . . If any woman is discriminated against in employment, she is entitled to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which will pay the costs of processing the claim and filing suit for back pay.
Through the rest of the article, Bunetta objected to the ERA because it would have formalized abortion rights, probably would have led to the legalization of homosexual marriages (she cited one U.S. Senator and a Michigan Law School professor in support), and would have undercut a biblical view of marriage. She stated: “Most women view marriage as a 50-50 proposition and shudder at the notion of the wife’s obedience to her husband. They have never learned and probably have never seen the beauty and harmony which exist in a Christian home in which the husband is in submission to the will of Christ and the wife is in submission to her husband.”Overall, Bunetta nuances her position to account for the biblical data while still allowing a legitimate role for women in the workplace. Her statements reject the agenda of the more vocal elements in the feminist movement, however, and could probably be used by them to support the notion that Fundamentalists do not really believe in equal rights. The truth is that they do, as long as an inerrant Bible is allowed to dictate the roles that the equal genders will play. But the recognition of any role difference was and still is unacceptable to most proponents of the feminist movement.
Two articles addressed topics of interest to African Americans. The first discussed the enactment of legislation to make the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. a national holiday. The article did not actually discuss the situation of African Americans in the United States, but it did come out very strongly against the notion of honoring Dr. King, because his liberal theology and especially his Communist ideology were violent, subversive, and ultimately unhelpful for the black community.
In December 1964, after having resigned as Attorney General, Robert Kennedy was interviewed by Anthony Lewis, liberal columnist of the New York Times. In the interview he defended J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI against accusations of being anti-civil rights. When questioned about Hoover’s statement that King was a “notorious liar,” Kennedy responded that King was in a very vulnerable position due to his associations with known Communists and his private life (immorality). These had been substantiated by the wiretaps.
King’s private life and the full extent of his Communist connections have been sealed up in the National Archives for 50 years, beginning in 1977. How else can you protect a “hero” who happens to be a traitor and a fornicator. . . ?
Should he be honored for the benefit of the black people of this country? No, for in the words of Julia Brown, an undercover agent for the FBI who happened to be black, “Mr. [sic] King was one of the worst enemies my people ever had.”
The second article outlined the political tensions that existed in the nation of South Africa during the 1980s. Though the article addressed an international issue as opposed to the domestic situation, it is helpful as a reflection of the attitudes of Fundamentalists toward a similar issue in another country. Bob Jones argued that skin color was not the primary problem and that the strategy of various world governments to address the situation was foolish.
Politicians both in America and in Europe, seeking to present themselves as broad-minded, without prejudice, and opposed to any type of discrimination, are making fools of themselves by their eagerness to involve themselves in a problem they neither understand nor have the intelligence to solve.
The problem South Africa faces is not solely or even primarily a color problem. It is a problem of civilization versus savagery, of European culture versus tribal superstitions and manner of life. There are some, indeed many, blacks in South Africa who have received a good education and are qualified for positions requiring skill and leadership qualities, as are many blacks in this country. Some are from families who have been settled in the country for generations. To integrate them into a hitherto white-dominated society would present no insoluble problem, but many of the blacks in . . . South Africa are not more than one generation or two generations from savagery and cannibalism. They are deeply divided by tribal, religious, and political loyalties, and these various groups are sometimes hostile to each other, reacting on the basis of these loyalties—not on the basis of what is best for the country.
His analysis also attempted to understand the position of the white government while not ignoring the minorities.
All men of tender heart and good will feel a sympathy for the blacks of South Africa as well as for the coloreds and the Indians who make up a large part of its population. It seems to me, however, that it is time more people felt and expressed sympathy for the South African whites and their government also. This writer certainly would not want to be in the place of the government of the Republic of South Africa—attacked from all points of the compass except the South Pole for trying to maintain law and order in the face of a dangerous situation.
On the whole, the article recognized that blacks in South Africa were as capable as anyone else, provided that they have adequate education, to occupy leadership positions in government. Though it is an argument from silence, one can assume that Jones would reach similar conclusions regarding African Americans.
Taken together, these two articles provide unique insight into why the Fundamentalist movement might have acquired its reputation for being much less involved than the Evangelical movement. First, the articles both date well into the 1980s. The magazine did not address the issue of race relations in any major article during the 1970s. Given the national attention focused on the topic in the late 1960s and even the early 1970s, one would have expected an article on it at some point articulating a Fundamentalist position. One can only speculate on why this was the case. That the University would not have been afraid to state its position even if it would be unpopular is undeniably true (it clung tenaciously to its policy of no interracial dating throughout the duration of its court case with the IRS). In any case, the failure to address the issue would have almost certainly given the impression that Fundamentalism was unconcerned about the minority issues.
Second, the types of solutions that Fundamentalists proposed, as well as the tendency to assign blame for problems even to the oppressed minority, were rejected by many advocacy groups in the United States. Former Fundamentalist Jerry Falwell had visited South Africa and made statements similar to those of Jones regarding the situation only to retract them when confronted with opposition. Jones himself argued,
In the main, Dr. Jerry Falwell’s estimate of the situation . . . was fair and accurate, even to his statement about Bishop Tutu; we can only regret that under pressure from Liberals, Dr. Falwell apologized for having stated a pretty obvious truth. Few sincere and honest men . . . won a Nobel Peace Prize in recent years. A recent South African immigrant to the U. S. commented, “Bishop Tutu is so red that if he stood next to a fire engine, it would blush. He was never heard of until he got his Nobel prize.”
In a very real sense, liberal politicians in the United States had made the situation in South Africa an extension of the racial tensions at home. Jones may or may not have erred on the side of kindness in his assessment of the white minority South African government, but even if his assessments were completely accurate, his message was at odds with a major domestic agenda that was aggressively supported by its proponents in the United States. It would therefore be labeled as racist and contribute to the idea that Fundamentalism was not at all concerned with social issues.
Conflict with Evangelicalism over Social Engagement
As argued in the previous section, Fundamentalism as represented by Bob Jones University did address social issues. It did so, however, from within a worldview that was not shared by society. Since the voice was discordant with much popular sentiment, it was unfairly misconstrued as a lack of involvement. One might disagree with the methods Fundamentalism employed or with the issues they chose to address, but one cannot deny that they tried to address them. At the same time, however, Fundamentalism was definitely more concerned with maintaining its doctrinal purity, standards of personal morality, and evangelistic emphasis. They saw the greatest threat to these distinctives emanating from the New Evangelical movement. Evangelicalism had also reentered the political arena during the 1970s, and Fundamentalists felt that Evangelicals had started to soften their theological positions in order to attain both religious and political influence.Some Evangelicals justified their program by recourse to the so-called “Cultural Mandate.” G. Archer Weniger articulated his understanding of this mandate as
a devised social-political-religious concept that redeemed mankind has two commissions to discharge: first—the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) to evangelize individuals in every nation; and second—the responsibility to Christianize the culture and structures of society and, by effort, to bring the world under the sovereignty of God.
By this time the Fundamentalist movement had become almost exclusively premillennial. In this case, premillennialism did not eradicate all desire to be politically involved, but it did interject an element of realism regarding what Fundamentalists might be legitimately expected to accomplish.
Two basic weaknesses of the “New Evangelical” approach are the unscriptural idea that man can change unregenerate society [otherwise called the cultural mandate] and the false concept that evangelicals can reverse the apostate trend of ecumenical denominations by “infiltrating” them. . . .
The cultural mandate . . . attempts to make the social gospel (which, by Biblical definition, is another gospel) the second half of a balanced message.
It must be admitted that this particular article appears to give up any hope for Christians influencing society through political channels, and perhaps this particular author would have agreed with that assessment. Later articles, however, clearly establish that the main concern was the theological compromise in which the Evangelical movement was willing to engage in order to be involved. In terms of priorities, Fundamentalists would not sacrifice their main goal of evangelism of their society in order to be politically involved within their society. They felt that morality and theology were tied together, and the latter can never be sacrificed in the interests of the former, because where theology goes morality will eventually follow.
The program of the Moral Majority, founded by Jerry Falwell, provided the impetus for much of the writing on this topic. Falwell’s group sought to band together people of various faiths, but similar morality, in common cause to promote morality in the United States. The basic position of Bob Jones University was first articulated in a 1980 article.
“Everybody is for the Moral Majority except Bob Jones, and they don’t like me anyway,” spoke Dr. Jerry Falwell in a chapel service at his college last spring. Neither part of that statement is true. Everybody does not like the Moral Majority, and Bob Jones does like Jerry Falwell as a person. However, that does not blind our eyes to some of his basic wrongs which include the Moral Majority. Basic principles of scriptural separation are the issues. All personalities aside, the issues must be faced for what they are so that we might stand with the Lord and His Word, even when we have to stand on the opposite side from people whose personalities are attractive. . . .
When theologically differing religious leaders get together to promote moral reformation, they are engaged in an ecumenical activity. Since our morals spring from our theology, the implication is that members of the Moral Majority are in theological agreement. Every Christian is bound to agree on certain matters of morality with Catholics, Mormons, etc., and when we fight together for these areas of common belief, we imply a basic . . . commonality in all areas of belief. . . .
Most pastors I know would not call up the local priest and invite him to lunch to persuade him that their congregations should be merged into a united effort opposing abortion in the city. However, if there were a secular organization in their city opposing abortion, a godly pastor would feel no hesitancy offering his congregation’s assistance to a cause they agreed with. A Catholic priest might do the same thing with his people. If such happened, they would find themselves “riding the same train” to get to a common destination. There is no compromise in that. But for the pastor and priest to pool their resources to “own a railroad” is something else altogether. . . .
Furthermore, cleaning up America’s morals is not the church’s mission. Preaching Christ is our mission. . . .
It has long been the mission of liberal Protestantism to make men feel respectable by trying to help them clean up their bad habits, restructure their misdirected lives, and become more productive and useful citizens. That only makes them more “respectable” sinners. Hell will still be their eternal home. . . . It has sought to make them feel less guilty and more saintly and, thus, makes them further from the reach of Christ, Who said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). What this nation needs is to feel more sinful, not less.
Three basic themes emerged in the article. First, a Christian’s first duty is to spread the gospel; nothing should detract from that primary duty. Second, however, a Christian may and perhaps even should be engaged in the political process. Finally, a Christian’s political involvement must never create theological confusion or erosion. These themes continue to be articulated from various angles throughout the remainder of the magazine’s history.
Taken as a whole, the articles again illustrated why the perception that Fundamentalism was uninvolved persisted. Clearly, they supported the position that a Christian has a legitimate role to play in society and that he should play it. The authors uniformly tempered their involvement, however, by asserting that theological purity is more important and by arguing that sinful people probably will not want the morality that Christians espouse. By comparison, these theological restrictions on a political agenda make Fundamentalism appear less involved in politics than Evangelicals. Evangelicals (and former Fundamentalists such as Jerry Falwell) certainly appeared more involved because they had a public presence in the form of various ecumenical organizations. Furthermore, the Fundamentalist position could be rightly characterized as walking on a “theological razor blade” as it tried to grapple with the tensions involved in being both heavenly and earthly citizens. Whenever the tension required that theological concerns outweigh political involvement, Fundamentalists chose in favor of the theological, and it may appear that they were rejecting any presence in the political arena. In reality, however, they were simply going about it in accordance with their own predetermined guidelines.
The longstanding charge that Fundamentalism is disinterested in political and social involvement in society cannot be sustained, at least in regard to Fundamentalism as represented by Bob Jones University from 1973 to 1986. Fundamentalist leaders encouraged people to get involved in the political process so that a Christian voice could be heard on the issues. To be certain, they did not expect that their goals would always be realized, but they felt that the attempt should be made nonetheless.
The ongoing caricature of Fundamentalism as uninvolved is probably due to two factors. First, they addressed issues which were most pressing to them in a manner consistent with their own theology. It is probably true that at times they discussed those issues from an outsider perspective, and that such attempts are bound to misrepresent the interests of those involved. Yet it should also be admitted that advocacy groups tend to be blind to their own part in their problems and often assign blame on anyone but themselves. That is a basic flaw of fallen human nature that knows no racial or economic barriers. Conservative Christians, whether Fundamentalist or Evangelical, provide an easy target when they suggest a solution to any public problem that is consistent with either good morality or conservative orthodoxy. Both can become victims of “straw man” argumentation, the defamation of an argument by the misrepresentation of it.
Second, Fundamentalism has continued to labor under the charge that it has abdicated any role in society because of its continuing disagreements with Evangelicalism. Due to theological concerns, Fundamentalists will not engage in certain activities (specifically forming organizations with other Christian groups) in which Evangelicals have typically been involved. In addition, Fundamentalists have spoken out strongly against Evangelicals who do form political groups with other religions. It is not difficult to see how the Fundamentalist dictum, “Christians should not be involved in organic union with unbelievers for political causes,” can be confused in popular or even academic thinking to become “Christians should not be involved in political causes.” That confusion is buttressed by the parallel histories of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism as both developed during the twentieth century. Given the stated positions of Bob Jones University, however, it seems warranted to conclude that the dividing line between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism did not involve political and social involvement.[churchpack_divider style=”solid” margin_top=”20px” margin_bottom=”20px”]Carl F.H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947), 34.
A. James Reichley, “The Evangelical and Fundamentalist Revolt,” in Piety and Politics: Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Confront the World, ed. Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Cromartie (Washington: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1987), 89.
It should be noted that Bob Jones Jr. was the editor for the entire thirteen years of the magazine. In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this article was a student at Bob Jones University from 1984–1990 and holds two degrees from the institution.
Robert D. Linder, “The Resurgence of Evangelical Social Concern (1925–75),” in The Evangelicals: What They Believe, Who They Are, Where They Are Changing, ed. David Wells and John Woodbridge (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975), 197.
George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 80–84, discusses the specific benevolence ministries that were conducted by conservative Protestants with dispensationalist and Keswick tendencies.
Marsden, 91. Carl Henry, writing in 1976, noted traces of the same concerns in his own day. He states, “Renewed evangelical commitment to social engagement has been somewhat fogged by ecumenical depiction of this phenomenon as a belated endorsement of the ‘social gospel’ that a generation ago provoked the fundamentalist withdrawal from ecumenical socio-cultural commitments.” Carl F.H. Henry, Evangelicals in Search of Identity (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1976), 62.
James Davison Hunter, Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987), 117.
Hunter, 118. The lack of concern over this issue generally, though certainly not universally, persists today. This is probably because the Catholic Church is not viewed as a threat to society as it was in the early twentieth century. During the Papacy of John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church was often an ally in the fight to maintain a high standard of personal morality (e.g. it opposed abortion and supported the idea of marital fidelity). At the same time, its inability to hold on to an increasing percentage of its membership in the North American Church means that it really does not exert a significant amount of control over their lives and decision making processes. Many Catholics are nominal, so the prevailing feeling is that the Catholic Church may contribute to social stability without making evangelistic activity in the United States overly difficult by dominating the lives of its adherents.
See David O. Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850 (Greenville: Unusual Publications, 1986), 219–22, and Marsden, 184–89. Marsden notes that in the aftermath of the trial Fundamentalists became very vocal in their opposition to evolution. Unfortunately, some of their actions lent a degree of credibility to the caricature that was developing in the popular arena (188–89).
For a discussion of Evangelical political engagement, see Hunter, 125–30. For a discussion of Fundamentalist political views, see Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Bible Believers: Fundamentalists in the Modern World (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 198–203.
Norman Pyle, “The Christian and Government,” FAITH for the Family (March/April 1973), 3. All subsequent references to the magazine use the abbreviation FAITH.
Ibid., 14–15, 21.
Richard Hand, “The Christian and His Government, FAITH (October 1984), 8.
Richard Hand, 8–9.
Richard Hand, 9.
Robert G. Bearce, “Patriotism in Perspective,” FAITH (July/August 1975), 11.
E.Y. Mullins, “Preachers and Politics,” FAITH (November 1977), 9. The heading for the article humorously suggests that objections to preachers’ involvement in politics are often motivated by purely partisan concerns. It notes, “North Carolina Senator Zebulon Vance, when asked if he did not think it very bad for preachers to meddle in politics, answered with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘Well, it all depends on which side they meddle in.’”
Pete Steveson, “What is Patriotism?” FAITH (July/August 1976), 27–28, and Horace F. Dean, “The Christian’s Responsibility to His Government,” FAITH (November/December 1976), 4–5.
David O. Beale and Terry Kane, “Francis Makemie: Champion of Religious Liberty,” FAITH (May/June 1983), 4–5, 12.
Judy Groff, “Writing for your Rights,” FAITH (July/August 1983), 15–16.
Elmer L. Rumminger, “W. Va. Textbook War,” FAITH (January/February 1975), 6.
See Raamie Barker, “Back to School, Back to Court,” FAITH (September 1978), 6; Carleton Agee, “The NEA: Agent for Social Change,” FAITH (October 1984), 3, 10–11; and John Steinbacker, “Education: Public,” FAITH (March 1979), 1.
“In Defense of Liberty,” FAITH (December 1978), 11.
John Stophel, “Is Tax Exemption a Subsidy?” FAITH (May/June 1982), 10–11.
Bob Jones, “Palestine in Perspective,” FAITH (January 1979), 5.
Bob Jones, “Middle East Aflame,” FAITH (September 1982), 10.
Victor Sadaka, “Serving under Siege,” FAITH (January 1983), 5, 14.
Staff Report, “The Tragedy of Ethiopia: Who’s to Blame?” FAITH (April 1985), 7. Blaming the tragedy on colonialism is a typical example of Soviet propaganda. As the article notes, “Although Ethiopia was occupied by Italian troops from 1935–1941, it was never a colony.”
That women should be considered a minority group seems somewhat strange given the fact that they make up more than half of the population. Since they have historically not held leadership positions in society, however, the label does fit from a sociological point of view.
Teresa Hicks Bunetta, “Feminist Folly,” FAITH (May/June 1978), 3. For a similar assessment of the movement, see Beneth Jones, “The Mini-Amendment with Maxi-Consequences,” FAITH (July/August 1974), 17–18.
Norman Pyle, “The Real Martin Luther King Jr.,” FAITH (March 1984), 7.
Bob Jones, “The Problem in South Africa,” FAITH (December 1985), 9.
Bob Jones, 10.
Bob Jones, 10.
Note, for example, the following editorial by Bob Jones that appeared in the March/April 1975 issue of FAITH: “We are sometimes referred to as ‘fighting Fundamentalists,’ but the adjective is unnecessary. If a man is a Fundamentalist he is a contender for the Faith. If he is not contending, he is not a Fundamentalist. The Bible commands us to ‘put on the whole armour of God.’ You do not put on armour to go to bed and sleep—it would make mighty uncomfortable pajamas. Armour is worn in battle, and we are in the midst of a warfare.
“Those who give aid and comfort to the enemy are traitors. The ‘New Evangelical’ is guilty of treason. He consorts with the enemy, embraces the enemy, flatters the enemy, and sides with the enemy in attacking those who love the Bible and know it is important to obey the Bible and defend it. The ‘New Evangelicals’ have a great deal to say about love, but they show very little love for those who are Fundamentalists. They do, however, have a great deal of love to pour out upon infidels and blasphemers of God’s truth.”
G. Archer Weniger, “The Deadly Menace of the Cultural Mandate,” FAITH (May/June 1974), 7.
G. Archer Weniger, 7–8.
Technically, Falwell still considered himself a Fundamentalist. At this point, however, Bob Jones University had broken with him and identified him with the Evangelical movement because of the methods he employed in his political campaigns.
Bob Jones III, “The Moral Majority,” FAITH (September 1980), 3, 27.
See Frank Bumpus, “Guidelines for Political Involvement,” FAITH (October 1980), 4–5; Collins Glenn, “Enforced Morality Does Not Produce Revival,” FAITH (July/August 1982), 12–13, 21; Bob Jones, “Editorial,” FAITH (November 1984), 2; Staff Report, “New Religious/Political Group Formed,” FAITH (November 1984), 7; Frank Bumpus, “Ecumenical Politics: Joining with Cults in Political Causes Leads to Spiritual Compromise,” FAITH (March 1985), 6–7; Bob Jones III, “The Ultimate Ecumenism,” FAITH (September 1985), 3, 9–10; and Victor Sadaka, “The Authority of Scripture and the Mission of the Church,” FAITH (October 1985), 12–14. The heavy concentration of articles on the topic is instructive. They are clustered around the 1984 presidential campaign. By this time, segments of Fundamentalism were concerned that new-found political clout would lead to a new round of theological compromise.