Fuller Theological Seminary

What is 'fundamentalism'? Hint: Grab a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook

What is 'fundamentalism'? Hint: Grab a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook

THE QUESTION: 

What is (and is not) “fundamentalism”?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

One of The Guy’s weekly memos for getreligion.org recently proposed that “fundamentalism” has become such an abused and misunderstood label that maybe we media folk should drop it altogether.

The Guy was provoked to go public with this heretical idea when The New York Times Book Review  assessed a memoir of life among Jehovah’s Witnesses. The reviewer, who teaches at Harvard Divinity School, said repeatedly that Witnesses are “fundamentalists.”

Ouch (see below).  If the Ivy League elite and the nation’s most influential newspaper are confused, it’s time to consider scrapping such a meaningless word.

Not so long ago, most people understood that a fundamentalist is by definition a Protestant, usually in the U.S., and a strongly tradition-minded one with a distinct flavor and fervor. Some quick history.

The term originated with “The Fundamentals,” a series of 12 booklets with 90 essays by varied thinkers from English-speaking countries that were distributed beginning in 1910. Along with standard Christian tenets, the writers defended and the authority and historical truth of the Bible over against liberal theories coming mainly from Germany.

That founding effort drew support from “mainline” Protestants, “evangelicals” and proto-“fundamentalists.” Brothers Milton and Lyman Stewart, the Union Oil millionaires who funded the project, were lay Presbyterians. The authors were reputable scholars ranging from Anglican bishops to “mainline” seminary professors to Bible college presidents. The tricky issue of the creation accounts in the Book of Genesis was not assigned to an extreme literal interpreter but respected Scottish theologian James Orr.

The budding movement was further defined by insistence on the “five points of fundamentalism,” namely the Bible’s “inerrancy” (history without error) as originally written, the truth of biblical miracles,  the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, his bodily resurrection from the dead, and “vicarious” atonement through his death on the cross to save sinners.

Notably, these points were defined by predecessors of today’s rather liberal Presbyterian Church (USA). After a dispute over clergy ordinations in New York City, the General Assembly of 1910 required affirmation of the five points by clergy candidates, and reaffirmed that policy in 1916 and 1923.

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RNS: Fuller seminary is 'homophobic' after it kicks out a married lesbian student

RNS: Fuller seminary is 'homophobic' after it kicks out a married lesbian student

Here at GetReligion, we’ve critiqued endless stories where a gay student (or faculty member) didn’t get the memo about the sexual standards of an evangelical Protestant or Catholic institution that they have chosen to attend — even when they actually signed the documents.

Whether they’re called covenants, creeds or behavior codes, such standards are moral, doctrinal and increasingly legal agreements between students and these private voluntary associations. Sometimes students are made to sign some sort of statement attesting that they’ve been informed of what these standards are.

Typically, the standards demand, among other things, that students not engage in extramarital sex. And “marital” is defined as marriage between a man and a woman.

Alas, a recent Religion News Service story forgot to ask those basic questions in its story about a lesbian seminary student married to a woman. Instead we hear of the “homophobic” seminary and the guileless student.

(RNS) — Over her four years at Fuller Theological Seminary’s campus in Houston, Joanna Maxon had come out to most of her teachers and classmates, and many knew that she was married to a woman.

But after Maxon turned over a copy of her tax return, filed jointly with her wife, as part of her annual financial aid application earlier this year, a complaint about her marriage was brought to the dean. In October 2018, less than a year before she expected to graduate, she was suddenly dismissed.

Months went by before Maxon could stand to make the situation public.

“It took me a while to get to the point where I could talk about it,” Maxon said. “It feels like trauma.”

But once she was ready to share her story in June, Maxon’s wife and friend got into contact with Brave Commons.

Then the story turns into a press release.

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How will U.S. evangelicals affect 2016? For that matter, what is an 'evangelical'?

How will U.S. evangelicals affect 2016?  For that matter, what is an 'evangelical'?

With an unusually scrambled Republican presidential campaign heating up, and with so many pious candidates, the usual media thumbsuckers about evangelical Protestants and 2016 are already appearing.

Yes, again.

Somehow, political reporters remain more fascinated with this predictably Republican bloc than non-Hispanic Catholics who will be the biggest religious “swing vote” (as usual),  or Jews, whose lockstep loyalty to the Democrats could be eroded by President Obama’s foreign policy.

Jason Horowitz of The New York Times portrayed evangelical clout in the person of David Lane  of the American Renewal Project. Among other efforts, Lane hopes to recruit 1,000 clergy to run for office in 2016. (How would that impact the quality of sermons and pastoral work in their 1,000 churches?) Horowitz says instead of top-down, publicity-seeking groups like the onetime Moral Majority, Lane is building a “ground-level” network of believers, working “mostly behind the scenes.” 

But are politicized evangelicals a big deal or a blip? The recent feuds over gay marriage and “religious freedom restoration” bills suggest the latter.

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