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“”For much of American history, evangelicalism was aligned with progressive political causes. Nineteenth-century evangelicals fought for the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, and public education. But contemporary evangelicals have defaulted on this majestic legacy, embracing instead an agenda virtually indistinguishable from the Republican Party platform.
|—Randall Balmer, 2006|
Evangelicalism originally meant Protestantism, though the term is sometimes loosely defined. Over time, evangelicalism among English speakers has come to mean a branch of Christianity which is centered on the following:
- The need to be "Born Again" as an adult.
- A strong focus on the Gospel as good news, on bringing Christianity to others.
- A renewed focus on the resurrection aspects of Jesus in both one's spiritual life and in one's personal day-to-day expressions of life.
- Strong belief in the authority of the Bible.
Evangelicalism is often contrasted with "liturgical" Christianity (e.g., Roman Catholicism, high-church Anglicanism), which puts more emphasis on liturgy, religious ritual, and church tradition and is often derided by the practicioners of the former as "law" and "religion".
There have always been Pietist movements within more traditional church structures. Evangelicals claim that this goes all the way back to the Book of Acts in the New Testament, but early Church fathers seem more Catholic than happy clappy. Modern evangelicals stem from Anabaptists, Puritans, and men like John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) in America, particularly Jonathan Edwards & Dwight Moody.
From the 1980s on, evangelicalism backtracked from its more progressive roots and became associated with dauntingly conservative causes, supporting the American right with the informal formation of the religious right. Because of this conservative push — emphasizing such things as biblical literalism, an increase in the teaching of creationism in schools, and politically "pro-life" stances, etc. — people generally associate evangelicalism with fundamentalism, especially in the United States, due in no small measure to the large influence of the television, and the dominance from the 1980s forward of fundamentalists on television. Pundits sometimes refer to the religious right as the "evangelical vote", though this may not be accurate, as a sizable minority of evangelicals (African-Americans in particular) vote Democratic. Many evangelicals are also fundamentalists and supporters of the religious right, but not all.
Other evangelicals have associations with groups like the Methodists who support social justice, and evangelicals do not necessarily support the American religious right. For example, Randall Balmer considers himself an evangelical but believes that the religious right are hijacking evangelicalism.
- Randall Balmer, Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical's Lament, Basic Books, 2006. ISBN 0465005195
- Evangelicalism, theopedia.com.
- "The fundamentalist-evangelical split". Beliefnet.
- Chip Berlet, Religion and Politics in the United States: Nuances You Should Know. publiceye.org, 2003.
- Evangelical: Religious Right Has Distorted the Faith. NPR, 23 June 2006.