Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"God's Country"

Walter Russell Mead is the author of an interesting article in the current edition of Foreign Affairs journal.

I stumbled across the article yesterday while in Barnes & Noble, and read it in hard copy. The website link above contains the entire article (it is long), prefaced with the following very brief summary:

"Religion has always been a major force in U.S. politics, but the recent surge in the number and the power of evangelicals is recasting the country's political scene -- with dramatic implications for foreign policy. This should not be cause for panic: evangelicals are passionately devoted to justice and improving the world, and eager to reach out across sectarian lines."

I suggest you read the article yourself if you have any interest in Christian nationalism in America. I do have a few quibbles with some of Mead's basic assumptions, however.

For one thing, he downplays fundamentalism and broadens evangelicalism well past the borders of fundamentalism. Regarding Baptists, he shows little comprehension that the Southern Baptist Convention has become fundamentalist, not merely evangelical. In quoting Frank Page (p. 37 in the print copy) as saying (following his surprising election to the presidency of the SBC) "I believe the Word of God, I'm just not mad about it" as a way to prove the non-fundamentalist nature of the SBC, he placed the quote in the wrong context of Page referring to independent fundamentalists outside the SBC, when Page instead was backhanding the fundamentalist leadership of his own convention.

Secondly, while he correctly brands Jerry Falwell as a fundamentalist, he makes no mention that Jerry Falwell is not only a Southern Baptist, but was a leader (though an outsider) in the takeover of the SBC, the dominant speaker of the fundamentalist-controlled SBC pastor's conferences during the Takeover years, became the ultimate insider in the process, and remains a top-billed speaker at SBC events to this day (particularly opening convocations at SBC seminaries) whose frequent-over-the-top statements are never condemned by SBC leaders. In short, Mead fails to realize that Jerry Falwell, of all Southern Baptists today, is arguably the one individual that is most representative of the ideology of the current SBC (Mohler could be, if he were not a strict Calvinist; Land pretends to speak for all Southern Baptists, but simply acts out of his own hubris; Patterson would like to be the top representative, but ultimately has too many rough edges - even Falwell admits Patterson is more right-wing than he, which is really scary). Land, by the way, according to Mead, is not a fundamentalist.

Finally, listening to Mead alone, one would never pick up on the theocratic aspirations of folks like James Dobson, Rick Scarborough and D. James Kennedy.

So ultimately, I would say, Mead underestimates (and underdefines) fundamentalists. One might also argue with his other labels of "liberal" and "evangelical" Christians, but that is another discussion.

I do highly recommend the article.

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