I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another rip-roaring week has come and gone in the offices of ILYBYGTH. Here are some stories you might have missed:

Anti-Muslim? Or pro-secular? School-prayer debates in Ontario.

Forget about free speech and violent protests for a second. At WaPo, Jeffrey Selingo argues that there are much bigger problems to worry about in the world of higher education.Bart reading bible

Southern evangelical churches wonder what to do about their Confederate monuments.

Summer vacation is here. From the Fordham Institute, Christopher Rom says we need to get rid of it. And it’s not because we’re not all a bunch of farmers anymore.

Jerry Falwell wants in. But other university leaders want out. Queen Betsy’s Ed Dept is having trouble filling its ranks.

The more things change…Southern Baptist Convention debates an anti-racism resolution.

More Trumpian tragedy: Cabinet meeting relives the opening of King Lear.

Helicopter parenting and the authoritarian personality: Pratik Chougule makes the case at the American Conservative.

Teaching climate change: A rundown of the latest developments.

DeVos’s Ed Dept. closes a sexual-assault investigation at Liberty University.

What do we do when a religion is all about racial violence? The question of Odinism.

Will vouchers help? Only at the edges, two researchers claim. Positive effects from vouchers are due to something else.

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More Proof that Conservatives Won’t Win

Every once in a while a progressive pundit will howl a warning about the fundamentalist conspiracy. Watch out, we’re told, rich and sinister conservatives are organizing a vast army to mount an electoral coup of this great land. We see more proof today that these warnings are more fantasy than reality. The nature of conservative religion tends to work against any insuperable fundamentalist coalition.

The end is near...

The end is near…

From the beginnings of America’s modern culture wars, fundamentalist-watchers have warned of the coming fundamentalist storm. In his 1927 book, The War on Modern Science, Maynard Shipley warned that the fundamentalist “forces of obscurantism” threatened to overthrow real learning. As Shipley put it,

The armies of ignorance are being organized, literally by the millions, for a combined political assault on modern science.

Ever since, science writers have warned of this impending threat. Isaac Asimov, for instance, warned in 1981 of the “threat of creationism.” Such unified anti-scientists, Asimov believed, had made great strides toward setting up “the full groundwork . . . for legally enforced ignorance and totalitarian thought control.”

Yikes.

But these Cassandresque warnings tell us more about Asimov and Shipley than they do about real fundamentalists. In practice, the nature of conservative Protestantism in America has usually made any sort of collective action impossible.

In the 1950s, to cite only the most obvious historical example, fundamentalists split from evangelicals over the question of Billy Graham’s crusades. Fundamentalists refused to embrace Graham’s wildly successful outreach, in spite of Graham’s conservative theology. Why? Because Graham also worked with liberal and progressive Protestants. Instead of making a pragmatic decision to support Graham as the least-bad option, fundamentalists instead clung to a purer separatism.

Conservatives' best hope?  Or biggest threat?

Conservatives’ best hope? Or biggest threat?

These days, too, conservative Protestants often refuse to win. Most recently, we see a protest among conservative Calvinist Southern Baptist pastors against conservative Seventh-day Adventist Ben Carson. As we’ve noted in these pages, Dr. Carson is a profoundly conservative religious thinker. And he seems like the best hope of religious conservatives in the 2016 elections.

Yet as Christianity Today reports, Southern Baptist conservatives have dis-invited Carson from their annual meeting. Carson’s Seventh-day Adventist beliefs, some SBC pastors noted, put him at odds with Baptist orthodoxy.

They’re right, of course. Seventh-day Adventism holds to many peculiar theological doctrines, including those in the prophetic writings of Ellen G. White.

But the refusal of Calvinist Southern Baptists to welcome a prominent Seventh-day Adventist helps demonstrate why Isaac Asimov and Maynard Shipley could have relaxed. Among conservative Protestants, suspicion and even virulent hatred of theological near-neighbors have long roots. The notion that a fundamentalist army—a creationist army—is organizing in conservative colleges and meetings just doesn’t match reality.

Could conservatives win? Sure. But intra-conservative clashes like this show how difficult it is for conservative Protestants to act together.

The SBC and Fundamentalist America

The Southern Baptist Convention is changing.  All of us who hope to understand Fundamentalist America should be watching very carefully.

We know it is a mistake to equate the SBC with conservative Protestantism, but as America’s largest Protestant denomination, one that has been firmly under conservative control since the 1980s, watching the goings-on among SBC members can tell us a lot.

Historians know that today’s political conservatism is a fairly recent phenomenon.  As Baylor‘s prolific Barry Hankins has described in Uneasy in Babylon, before the 1980s the SBC was dominated by relatively moderate leaders.  It was only in that decade that the SBC became the conservative powerhouse that it remains today.

More recently, SBC leaders agreed that churches could adopt the name “Great Commission” Baptists.  The goal was to distance the SBC from its reputation as an outpost of regional obscurantism.

The Reverend Fred Luter, SBC President

Similarly, as Ingrid Norton noted in a recent piece in Religion & Politics, the SBC elected its first African American president, the Reverend Fred Luter.

What does this mean for Fundamentalist America?  As we’ve argued elsewhere, it implies that the close historic links between racism and cultural conservatism may be breaking down.  It seems to make sense to more and more residents of Fundamentalist America to unite across the color line.  After all, with so many deeply traditionalist Americans from ethnic minorities, the ability to unite around cultural issues would mean a huge boost for the power of traditionalism.