In 1776 in the United States churches emphasized loyalty to the 13 independent states when King George recalled all his priests and bishops to England. Spiritual renewal ran like wildfire through the American frontier, churches being swept up in a pentecostal revival that made people pray, sing and read their Bibles like never before. And people had never before had so many copies of the Bible. With little education on the frontier, churches and preachers simply read the Bible and prayed, spawning a new uniquely American version of fundamentalist Christianity.
Native Americans in the east, who had become Europeanized and owned farms, had been stripped of their land in 1830 by Congress and President Andrew Jackson, and had been moved on the Trail of Tears to be settled in the west, only to be attacked again after the Civil War, when their land in the west was wanted by white pioneers. Alexander Campbell wrote one article against the relocation of the Cherokees, Barton Stone wrote some sermons in the Cherokee language, and one preacher, James Trott, who was married to a Cherokee, spoke out against the Trail of Tears. Other denominations spoke out, but the Restoration Movement remained mostly silent (or openly hostile) as the Cherokee land was stolen and thousands died on the Trail of Tears.
The Civil War (1860-1864) was the result of economic power shifting from the plantation South to the factory North. The North felt that slavery was wrong, though the North had their own version of slavery: factory labor. Factory labor was not based on race, but was based on ethnicity: mostly immigrants from Europe working 12-14 hours per day in unhealthy conditions, including children. A few preachers in the Churches of Christ spoke out against slavery: Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone and others. The Restoration Movement split along North-South lines, initially over instrumental music in worship, the richer north becoming the Disciples of Christ/Christian Church, and the poorer south becoming the Churches of Christ worshipping a cappella. (The Baptist Church split along slave lines: the north becoming the American Baptist Church, and the south becoming the Southern Baptist Church.) The Civil War today is depicted as a war about slavery, which was only one of the points of contention.
After the Civil War the North attempted to reform the South. The South felt that their communities were no longer safe, and started an underground vigilante justice system, the Ku Klux Klan. The Ku Klux Klan survives today as a white supremacy group that claims to practice a form of Christianity (singing The Old Rugged Cross at most of their rallies).
After the Civil War soldiers who wanted to continue killing were used to commit genocide against Native American tribes.
Very little was said about the genocide of the Native Americans. Christians of all stripes moved in and took over Native American land as fast as the soldiers could kill the tribes off, the preachers establishing congregations and building church buildings on conquered Native American land, congratulating themselves on their Bible knowledge, prayers and baptisms. The Bible was not read as a God-breathed record of people’s discovery of and relationship with God throughout the ages, but as an authoritative chronicle delivered by an autocratic God word for word to be followed uncritically and unthinkingly.
The thing that made Jesus the angriest was when religion served to preserve a corrupt thieving system. The Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages demanded that everyone obey the kings and lords and pay a tithe to the Catholic Church. Reformers like Saint Francis of Assissi, who defended the poor, were marginalized by the Catholic Church.
Just so today you can find churches that support health and wealth theology, right wing politics, left wing politics, no politics, gay rights, no gay rights, hating gays, civil rights, authoritarianism, women’s rights, no women’s rights, etc. We choose the church that suits our politics and our family background.
Or perhaps we just don’t listen to the sermons. One sociology research project in 1989 found that members of conservative churches differed little in authoritarianism levels from liberal churches and non-Christians. The only difference in the churches was found in the ministers. So the ministers were congratulating themselves in holding together their liberal or conservative constituencies, but their members were no different from each other or the world.
So how are fundamentalist churches similar to the Ku Klux Klan?
1. Myopic view of the world. They see the world from their own viewpoint, not from the viewpoint of any other group. They cannot understand why Moslems in Iraq do not appreciate American troops in their country.
2. Our group is the in-group, all other groups are the out-group, leading to racism, and ethnocentrism. Martin Luther King was once referred to as “Martin Lucifer Coon” in a church of Christ sermon in Arkansas in the 1960s.
3. Simple answers and extreme thinking, uncomfortable with ambiguity and gray areas. An example of this is the inability of people to see why a criminal needs to have a lawyer in court.
4. Stereotyped views of roles, e.g. the roles of men and women.
5. Loyalty to family, troop and country, regardless of how much wrong they are doing. Torture is okay as long as it is used on non-Americans. Nuclear bombs are okay as long as they are pointed at Russia.