Frances Fitzgerald was interviewed on the PBS recently because she recently published a comprehensive history of the Evangelical movement. Starting with the revivals of the late 1700s, evangelicalism became a distinctly American movement, one which set the tone for American society.
Frances Fitzgerald mentioned in her interview that one of the motivators of evangelicals is their abhorrence of change. They see the world descending into chaos.
This reminded me of when I was studying authoritarianism in evangelical churches. Two of the key components of authoritarianism is the fear of society going to hell in a hand basket, and fear of sexual decay in society. [Authoritarian is considered bad and is connected to the anti-Semitism of the Nazi party in the 1930s and 40s. Authoritative is considered good. Authoritive is not a word except in some nonstandard English families.] Authoritarianism is still connected to racist attitudes, anger at poor people, and a suspicion of the government. Authoritarian racism is evident in some of the presidents elected by evangelicals. Nixon started the war on drugs, zeroing in on the drugs that blacks and hispanics used, but not focusing on the drugs whites used. Thirteen per cent of black men are not eligible to vote in elections because of having been felons. Many states ban felons from voting.
The point is that a whole group of people can be whipped into a frenzy by just telling them that a specific issue of change in society is a symptom of the fact that our society is descending into chaos. I remember in the 1980s Dr Dobson would name a particular issue: secular humanism, abortion, the gay agenda, tax and spend politics, the National Education Association’s opposition to homeschooling, the banning of Christian influence in public schools. Dr Dobson could get a million listeners to phone or write to their representatives in congress because he said that this was the chaos they feared the most. Some of the representatives used to complain that Dr Dobson had misunderstood what a particular legislation, but they had to vote it down just because they had received so much popular opposition to it.
Many evangelicals have become severely disillusioned with the Republican presidents they voted for. Evangelicals wanted gay rights stopped and abortions ended. But most Republican presidents just gave lip service to the evangelicals. The presidential candidates said they had faith and prayed, but they did not limit the march forward of abortion rights and gay rights. Some political pundits believe that Republicans in the past have used the 25% of the population that identify as evangelicals to get elected, but never actually subscribed to their key issues.
In the 1960s and 1970s it was women’s liberation, the birth control pill, bikinis and mini skirts, sex education, rock and roll, long hair for men and the threat of people living together before they were married. In the 1980s it was AIDS, secular humanism, gay rights and abortion. In the 2000s it was the Moslem terrorism threat, gay marriage and transgender rights.
Young evangelicals today are amazed that these issues could have been such a big deal. They have grown up with these issues, so they don’t consider them symptoms of society falling apart, they consider them normal parts of their childhood.