In modern society, the term “fundamentalism” has varied meanings. Therefore, it is important to establish what the author means by the term. The origin of the term stems from early twentieth century Protestantism. A group of conservative Protestants was very concerned about the apparent lack of morals and values in society and the inability of people of faith to effectively speak to this problem. In response, they published a series of pamphlets meant to point Christians back to the basics of the faith, expressing their conviction that these basics provide the critical foundation for any who are truly religious. They called these pamphlets “The Fundamentals,” and in so doing tagged themselves with the label “fundamentalists.”3
The pamphlets consisted of over ninety articles written by respected pastors and
theologians and published for free distribution “to ministers of the gospel, missionaries, Sunday School superintendents, and others engaged in aggressive Christian work throughout the English speaking world.”4 At least one quarter of the articles, such as “Fallacies of the Higher Criticism”5 and “The Holy Scriptures and Modern Negations,”6 were concerned with defending the origin and authorship of Bible against modernbiblical scholarship and literary criticism. Along with this emphasis on Biblical criticism, The Fundamentals also contains an entire series of articles devoted to evangelism. The place of evangelism in their movement is best expressed by the words of Robert Speer. “God in truth, is known only where men have been in contact with the message of the historic Christ. This simple fact involves a sufficient missionary responsibility.”7
These early fundamentalists were certain the values in society were in rapid decline, and science and many non-Christian philosophies and attitudes were largely to blame. Heinz Streib, in his article “The Question of Salvation and Faith-based Radicalism,” sums up many of the core beliefs of the fundamentalist movement.
inerrancy or infallibility of the holy scripture as a whole; literal understanding of, and authoritative belief in, a selection of basic propositions (which, in early Protestant fundamentalism, included virgin birth, bodily resurrection and the return of Jesus); rejection of the results of modern science wherever they contradict fundamentalist teachings; and the claim that only people subscribing to these fundamentals are truly religious.8
Nancy Ammerman, Professor of Sociology of Religion at Boston University School of Theology, suggests that “this movement provided for its followers an explanation for the apparent decline of Christian civilization and a language in which to describe their traditional orthodoxy.”9 As the effects of scientific study and new technologies exploded on the scene, conservative Christians felt the need to draw battle lines and defend the faith against this assault which threatened some of their traditional beliefs.
A classic example of the fundamentalist mindset was the “Butler Bill” passed in Tennessee in 1925 prohibiting the teaching of "any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals."10 This legislation led to the infamous Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in which a prominent politician, William Jennings Bryan, faced off against defense attorney Clarence Darrow. Darrow was defending a high school biology teacher accused of teaching evolution in his classroom. For the fundamentalist believer the matter of the theory of evolution versus the biblical creation story was an either/or situation. You could not believe in one without totally rejecting the other.
Ammerman explains that the mission to save human souls was a critical strategy used by fundamentalists in the early years, with the “call to evangelism” as an overarching theme of the period after 1925.11 While the numbers and visibility of this group experienced periods of ebb and flow over the next fifty years, this evangelistic fervor carried through into the late twentieth century as fundamentalists affected a resurgence. They built on the original networks created in the early part of the century, building churches popular for many because they provided “a haven where life makes sense. In chaotic times and places, when individuals and communities are searching for moorings, the certainty and clarity of fundamentalism often seems appealing.”12
In the latter part of the twentieth century, as the Christian fundamentalist movement was regaining strength and visibility, the term “fundamentalist” was gaining broader use, referring to members of any faith group who struggle against the threat the modern world poses to the basic beliefs of their faith. Richard Antoun, an anthropologist who specializes in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, defines fundamentalism as “a response to the questioning of the great religious traditions—Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism—in the changing world.”13 Despite the broader use by some scholars today, in this paper the author‟s use of the term “fundamentalist” will be limited to its original meaning, relating only to members of the Protestant Christian faith, and not to members of other faith traditions.
“Evangelicalism” is a term sometimes confused with “fundamentalism”. This term, which is currently an acceptable label for certain individuals and even for entire Protestant Christian organizations,14 is occasionally used interchangeably with fundamentalism. However, its origin and usage dates back centuries before the advent of fundamentalism, and it covers a more wide-reaching and diverse set of views.15 Noting that there may be some argument about the degree to which the terms are similar, the author will attempt to consistently use the term “fundamentalist”, unless a source specifically uses the term “evangelical”.
Drawing on the common points from the previous paragraphs, the definition of a “fundamentalist” may be summarized as follows: a “fundamentalist” is one who believes the Bible is the inerrant authority on faith and life, salvation is achieved only through faith in Jesus the Christ, and he or she has a personal responsibility to share this belief with non-Christians. Only those who believe these things are truly religious, and these basic beliefs held by fundamentalists are under attack today by modern science and lifestyles.
Now that the term is defined, it is important to consider why the specific beliefs held by fundamentalists might be a concern for the chaplaincy. At first glance, it would seem that a gathering of Christians with a very strong values system and a sense that society needs to get “back to the basics” would be a good thing for the Army. But the problem lies in the fundamentalist‟s compulsion to conform the rest of society to meet these basic standards. Nancy Ammerman describes the “we-they” attitude prevalent within the ranks of the fundamentalists. “Fundamentalists think they have the truth and think that others should accept and live by that truth…There are clear lines of social demarcation between believers and non-believers.”16
It is not unusual, and maybe even essential, that whatever belief system a person espouses is something that one feels to be “the truth.” The big three faith groups who have a common ancestor in Abraham (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity), all operate under the assumption that they are bearers of the truth. While there are points of agreement among members of all three groups, there are also many points of contention. These differences have been a source of conflict over the centuries. Some Christians, Muslims, and Jews have chosen to “agree to disagree” in order to co-exist peacefully with each other. Others, however, are not comfortable with just letting these differences go unresolved.
A fundamentalist cannot rest easy when confronted by opposing religious values. There is a sense, among those who hold strong fundamentalist beliefs, that anyone who believes differently is, in effect, the enemy. In fact, Antoun suggests that there is a dual sense of both an external and internal enemy. The external enemy consists of those who are not professing Christians at all. But there also exists an internal enemy, those who “…claim to be followers of Jesus but accept the norms laid down by the state and other nonreligious institutions in their daily lives and cavort with members of secular society (e.g., the National Council of Churches).”17
Evangelism, which is defined as “preaching of, or zealous effort to spread, the
gospel,”18 has been common practice in the armed forces, where members of all ranks have reached out to their peers in hopes of bringing them into the Christian fold. Historically, some fundamentalist chaplains and their endorsing organizations have seen the search for converts as the key mission of their military duty. In the 1950s, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) openly professed (in a printed article) that half of those who enter military service have no church or religious connection, and even those who claimed to be Protestant often did so only because their parents went to church. “They have no practical Christian experience. This is a ripe harvest field in which our chaplains are working.”19 The NAE was endorsing chaplains with the distinct mission to evangelize these service members. The NAE was also concerned about the predominance of Catholic chaplains, and urged evangelical pastors to sign up for service to help level the playing field. “Evangelicals must not fail the proportionately large number of men in the armed forces who are anxious that the New Testament Gospel be preached, and a real evangelistic work be carried on by our chaplains.”20
Loveland describes the situation in the mid-twentieth century through the eyes of the evangelical chaplains, stating they “…found numerous opportunities to engage in evangelization and exploited them to the fullest. Some used personal conferences and consultations to advantage.” One chaplain stated that the many opportunities to counsel with service members about personal problems were “…all potential opportunities to personally witness to a man about his need of Christ.” This constituted, in the words of one Christian and Missionary Alliance chaplain, “a „tailor-made‟ mission field for the proclamation of the gospel.”21
There exists no regulation or law specifically prohibiting evangelistic outreach by
chaplains to the Soldiers and Families they serve. The chaplains who conducted such outreach in the past were not bending any rules and were not singled out as troublemakers. But today their actions might be seen in a different light. The pluralistic nature of the military community, with its very broad base of faith and cultural backgrounds, makes it a virtual minefield for the budding evangelist. It would be tempting to see today‟s diverse soldier population as a “ripe harvest field” even more promising than in the 1950s. Yet the Army‟s focus on values, especially the value of “respect”, means a chaplain should support another person‟s right to believe and worship as he or she chooses.
Thus the dilemma exists for fundamentalist chaplains: they are expected to evangelize those who do not hold the “correct” beliefs, yet are required to respect a soldier‟s right to choose his or her religious beliefs. How can they quietly stand by and let the enemy win the battle? This is the tightrope that every chaplain must walk, but is especially challenging for the fundamentalist.