Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Have US evangelicals reached the end of the road?

Thanks to Jeff Volkmer for pointing me to an article in The Christian Science Monitor from March this year titled  The coming evangelical collapse. The article gets close to going apocalyptic and rehearsing favoured conspiracy theories, but manages to get in enough social and theological reflection on the state of US evangelicalism to give food for thought.

I am not an American, so I am a little wary about discussing the socio-political context of religion in the US, especially when I was the first to shout ‘anti-American’ when I perceived Bishop Alan Wilson’s description of freedom of religion in the US as caricature.

There are two related things that the article does not touch on: the place of race in US evangelicalism and a change in the country’s First Believer. I have this nagging suspicion that when the article talks about evangelicals that it really means white evangelicals. After all, evangelicalism in the United States has been segregated along racial lines since the abolition of slavery. Even though segregationist attitudes have mostly disappeared, the conservative nature of church institutions continues to separate US evangelicalism into two racially distinct cultures. Even the signifier ‘evangelical’ is often only used in the US context to stand for ‘white evangelical’ (this is not the case elsewhere), whereas the ‘black evangelical movement’ is called ‘Black Church’; that is the white half is designated by religion, while the black half designated by race. Perhaps it is no wonder that a white American evangelical might see only half of the picture.

The second thing here is the election of Barack Obama. His election was widely seen as a defeat for the so-called ‘religious right’ (who are, no doubt, a more complex grouping than many consider them to be). However, Obama is a committed Christian and member of the Methodist Church (which is usually seen as evangelical, but is perhaps more mainstream Protestant in the modern US context). Obama is often described as ‘liberal’ by those on the political right, but his ‘liberalism’ is widely supported in the Black Church: just mention Civil Rights Movement. Of course, seeing as African Americans are more likely than their faded compatriots to be poor, imprisoned or the victim of crime, it is little surprise that the Black Church has deeper feeling for ‘social gospel’ in place of the tendency to the ‘prosperity gospel’ that often seems a heartbeat away from the religious lifestyle advocated in the White Church. Continue reading


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Politics as a spectator sport, preventing an excess of democracy

I just came across this little video of Noam Chomsky speaking on the trend in US politics throughout its history to keep the people somewhat removed from their democracy. I can’t embed it here, so you’ll have to follow the link to watch it.

There are two things that come to mind watching this. The first is that the US has a greater quantity and quality of democracy than the UK. The US has a directly elected executive and clear checks on it by the legislature, unlike the mush of monarch, prime minister and parliament in the UK. The US has subnational entities, the states, which have a large degree of independence from central government, unlike the mostly powerless UK councils. The US at least starts from the idea of popular sovereignty (“We, the people”), where the UK has the useless compromise of ‘parliamentary sovereignty’. Therefore, any sense in which the US has consistently denied the right of the people to engage in their own government over the history is amplified in the UK context. Continue reading