A recent meeting of the Conference on Faith and History featured a paper session titled “20th century evangelicalism.” Surprisingly, all three papers focused on conservative Protestant gender ideologies in the years since World War II.
Just a few years ago, I would have expected studies of evangelicalism to emphasize political influence. Is gender the hot new topic?
Recently Victoria Osteen, wife of pastor Joel Osteen, made some comments that concerned many Christians. Apparently, she stated that worship was not for God but for the worshiper, that when people obey God, they should do it for themselves (although she later revised some of these comments).
For many evangelicals, the Osteens are on the periphery of Christianity.
Francis Schaeffer has changed thousands of lives, including mine. This other, earlier “Pope Francis” might not bear the same weight he once did. However, a Christianity Today readers’ poll once placed him above John Calvin in influence. Following World War II, Schaeffer had left behind separatist fundamentalism to help Billy Graham and the Jesus Movement usher in a golden age of evangelical conservative prestige.
Long before Sarah Palin met CPAC and the Duck Dynasty clan discovered A&E, George Gallup Jr. famously declared 1976 the “Year of the Evangelical.” Subsequent commentators often pluralized “evangelical.” They might have done the same for “year,” too. In many years hence—1980, say, or 2004—it was 1976 all over again, to judge from the headlines. Those election years highlighted the Christian Right, a force that was not on Gallup’s radar screen back when Jimmy Carter was the prototypical evangelical in public life.
The years of the evangelicals were not only about campaign politics, however.
Mitt Romney angered evangelicals during his first White House run in 2008 by blurring the theological lines between their faith and his Mormonism. Lurching in the other direction, he irked them again by scarcely mentioning religion at all during this year’s GOP primaries.