Not all evangelicals are like Jerry Falwell.

(Below is a watered down version of a response paper (first-person allowed) I had to write for my History of Evangelicalism and American Culture class I’m currently taking.  It was only supposed to be 1-2 pages but ended up being much longer.  I just couldn’t fully follow directions on this assignment. The assignment: identify the main argument(s) of both authors and compare or contrast the two. I’ve attached the document so you can read for yourself the essays to which I have responded. Note: this does not reflect any personal opinions or ideologies.  This is simply chunks from my response paper to assigned readings.)

Falwell (1981) vs. Wallis (2005)

What Jerry Falwell speaks of in his essay, “Future-word: An Agenda for the Eighties” portrays the coercion of politics and religion.  Staying true to an evangelical and fundamental ideology, Falwell believes that the revival of souls outweighs the reformation of the Church’s structure (Falwell, 144).  According to Falwell, the Religious Right or the Moral Majority movement, which he backs up with statistics stating that the organization encompasses millions of Americans, 72,000 of which are ministers, priests, and rabbis, “is a political organization and is not based on theological considerations” (145).  However and contradictory to his statement on what the Moral Majority is, he argues that secularism is a threat to demolish Judeo-Christian influence on American society and that liberal clergy purposely misguided the average American from the Bible.  Therefore, according to Falwell, “Since many moral problems, such as abortion, require solutions that are both political and religious, it is necessary for religious leaders to speak on these matters in order to be heard” (147).  This passage demonstrates the line Falwell wavers back and forth from more than once in his essay regarding the combination of religion and politics.  It seems as though he cannot hold a strong stance to whether or not the two can and should be combined.

Conversely, Wallis’ essay titled, “Why Can’t Personal Ethics and Social Justice-Together-Become a Real Political Choice” conveys his strong opinion on how politics and religion can work simultaneously.  In communicating how the two can work together, he plainly yet beautifully references Abe Lincoln stating, “Lincoln had it right.  We should not be to invoke religion and the name of God by…saying, in effect, that God is on our side.  Rather, as Lincoln put it, we should worry earnestly whether we are on God’s side” (Wallis, 167).  In addition, he speaks openly and strongly against war and America’s foreign policy (Wallis, 172).  Overall, as a self-proclaimed “prophetic politician,” Wallis argues that, alongside the comprehension of past historical global social movements via churches and common people, a movement can take place in America that takes a stance on traditional issues (issues related to family values and sexual integrity) and progressive issues (issues regarding war, the environment, and social justice) at the same time.

In being honest and transparent, prior to my enrollment in this class, I was that person who did not know how vast the difference could be and is between particular evangelical “movements,” specifically the differences in what Wallis and Falwell speak of regarding politics and religion in the assigned readings.  One general but important difference between the two men’s essays is that Falwell speaks directly to the five points of fundamentalism (Falwell, 149).  Reversely, Wallis never addresses any specific point of fundamentalism or evangelicalism; rather, Wallis talks about issues that are shared amongst all evangelicals and fundamentalists, like family values and sexual integrity (Wallis, 170).  More specifically, an obvious difference between the viewpoints of Falwell and Wallis is their take on war and foreign policy.  Falwell, alongside the Moral Majority, believes that “a strong national defense is the best deterrent to war…The only way America can remain free is to remain strong” (Falwell, 170).  As part of his libertarian take on the coexistence of politics and religion, Wallis firmly believes that war is not the answer.  He states, “[American] foreign policy has become an aggressive assertion of military superiority in a defensive and reactive mode, seeking to protect us against growing and invisible threats, instead of addressing the root causes of those threats” (Wallis, 172).

Both Falwell and Wallis are considered evangelicals, but on a broader scope, I think that the audiences to which they speak are entirely different in themselves.  Yes, obviously 1981 is a much different time than 2005.  But in my observation, Wallis speaks to (or as he references Dr. MLK Jr., “persuades not just pronounces”) an audience outside of evangelicals and fundamentalists.  He speaks to the spiritual American.  Moreover, Wallis takes a less abrasive approach in communicating his message, whereas Falwell uses commands like, “Do not” and bold statements like, “We are [this] and we are not [this].”  Not only are the overall messages of the two men different, their approaches and styles of communication are different as well.

I will point out a similarity between the two men’s essays.  Both are stern and communicate well their ideas and ideologies/theologies for which they stand.  However, the kicker is that they are ideas.  I, too, tend to be a little more idealistic than pragmatic in my own beliefs and theology. Are these men being too idealistic in their own ways?  Do we see similar movements today?  I want to challenge you on drawing out your opinions reflecting the separation or coercion of politics and religion.  It can be tricky stuff…

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