The Meaning and Misuse of "Fundamentalism" in the Press
Not every Christian is a Fundie

There is an interesting post on the Get Religion blog entitled "The Ancient Church Fathers and the AP Stylebook" about the use of the phrase "fundamentalists" in the press. As I have noted several million times, it is my view that anyone who takes their faith seriously is called a "fundamentalist" by the press, but the writer (Doug LeBlanc) points out that the term is both limited and misused.

So many people use this word as an all-purpose way of saying that someone is stupid. Fact is, I have met brilliant people who, accurately, could be described as Christian fundamentalists. And they don't handle snakes. Some of them hold doctrates from presitigious academic operations in Europe and other smart zip codes.

The bottom line: When used in a Christian context -- and you can make a case that this is the only context in which to use it -- the term "fundamentalist" has specific doctrinal and even historical content.

But, first, may the journalists in our midst draw swords (this is an evangelical or fundamentalist cultural reference) and open their copies of the bible of deadline journalism. I refer, of course, to the Associated Press Stylebook. There you will find the following passage of authoritative material:

"fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

"In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself."

In addition to that last sentence, it is important to note that AP takes the history of the word seriously.

The vague words in this reference are "strict, literal interpretations of Scripture." I get the impression these days that there are legions of journalists who think that applies to anyone who clings to all of the Ten Commandments. True "fundamentalism" is a product of the early 20th Century, which means it certainly is not a word to describe people who are defending basic Christian doctrines and sacraments. Someone is not a "fundamentalist" simply because they believe in a creedal doctrine such as the Second Coming of Christ or that salvation is through Jesus alone. It is bad journalism to use the term in such a context.

Of course, "fundamentalism" (or the more cute-sounding "fundie") are not the only terms used in the press for Christians who take their faith seriously. Try "extremists" as another example. If you are against abortion, it certainly cannot be because you believe that abortion kills an innocent human being and have a principled stand against it. No, you must be an "anti-family extremist" (at least according to Planned Parenthood). If you are against homosexual marriage, it cannot be because you have concerns about the decline of the family and the effect same-sex marriage may have on that decline. No, you must be a "conservative" or "right wing extremist" (at least according to the National Organization for Women) despite the fact a majority in this country oppose same sex marriage.

These phrases are all, in fact, ad hominems which should be eliminated from the discussion since they only serve to wrongly demonize the opposition. But then, I always hope for too much in this area.


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