Religion and politics mingle very well in Texas
Part 14 - Fundamentalists
WACO, Texas ― Waco is a scenic town with a population of 120,000. The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame is located here; President George W. Bush’s Crawford Ranch is 28 kilometers (16 miles) away. Waco was the center of cotton production when the United States was the world’s largest cotton producing country. The Waco-Crawford area in the 19th century developed as an agricultural society reliant on slave labor. This may be why the area is one of the most discriminatory, reactionary and “anti-intellectual” places in the United States.
Michael Lind, a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., in his book, “Made in Texas,” compared the “Bush-land” of Waco-Crawford with the “Johnson-land” near Austin, Lyndon Johnson’s home territory. According to Mr. Lind, the two places could not be more different ideologically, culturally and religiously, even though they are both in Texas. Bush-land is racially and religiously homogeneous. The majority there is Anglo-Celtic; their religions are Southern Baptist, Methodist and Church of Christ. In contrast, immigrants from Germany first settled in Johnson-land. The predominant denominations there are Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Southern evangelical. Johnson-land is also racially diverse, with a sizable Mexican and black population.
During the Civil War, Bush-land supported the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan once had a visible presence here. Johnson-land supported the Union and the Republican Party.
Baylor University in Waco is the largest Baptist university in the world. According to Mr. Lind, the university, known as Waco University at the time of its founding in 1886, consolidated its position as the headquarters of Protestant fundamentalism from its early days. Mr. Lind says the evangelicals like to call Waco “Athens in Texas” despite their skepticism toward Greek philosophy. But the liberal residents of Johnson-land call Waco “Jerusalem on the Brazos,” referring to the river that runs through the city.
The JoongAng Ilbo team visited Baylor University to meet with Dr. Randall O’Brien, head of the Department of Religion, Professor Paul Stripling, former head of the Baptist Church in Waco and Professor Levi Price of the theological seminary. The Baylor campus was very impressive with oak trees, walnut trees and crepe myrtles all around it.
Contrary to Mr. Lind’s description, the Department of Religion and the George W. Truett Theological Seminary did not seem close to Christian fundamentalism. The three scholars that we talked to were all critical of the fundamentalist arguments. Mr. O’Brien went so far as to criticize President Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the dogmatic interpretation of the Bible by the fundamentalists. He seemed to retain the spirit of Yale, where he obtained his degree.
But the bookstore on campus exuded a strong impression that Baylor was a school in the heart of Waco-Crawford. Many copies of fundamentalist novels, the “Left Behind” series, were stacked on the shelves. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, famed fundamentalist writers, co-authored the work. More than 15 million copies of the series were sold. The plots involve the seven-year-long chaos before the arrival of Christ, the anti-Christ’s rule of the world from New Babylon and God’s forces protecting Israel from Russia and other invaders. The day of rapture comes, and millions of the faithful are lifted up to the sky by Christ and a chaos ensues in the world. Nicolae Carpathia, the Romanian president who in his 30s resembled Robert Redford, becomes the secretary general of the United Nations and rams through a resolution that moves UN headquarters to Babylon in Iraq. Only those who believe in the second coming of Christ and the prophecies of the Old Testament could write such a novel; the story is sure to fascinate those bent on “anti-Enlightenment” and “anti-intellectual” thought.
According to a Time/CNN survey after Sept. 11, 2001, 35 percent of Americans said they believed in the end of the world, 17 percent said it would be within their lifetime and 59 percent said they believed the prophecies of the Biblical Book of Revelations would come true.
These are sizable numbers that can wield a considerable influence in American politics. These people played a decisive role in gaining control of the party at the 1994 Texas Republican Party Convention and nominating Bush junior to the Texas governorship. With the voting rate low, support from the fundamentalists, who have a strong reason to go to the polls, is essential. It is no coincidence that President Bush made his first speech during the primaries at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. That university, which has banned inter-racial dating, is home to a Christian fundamentalism that is hostile to Roman Catholicism. It is well-established that President Bush was re-elected governor of Texas in 1998 and became president in 2000 thanks in large part to the support of the Christian right.
Mr. Bush at the age of about 40 became a faithful Christian after he heard sermons from the fundamentalist evangelist Billy Graham. Franklin Graham, a son of Billy Graham, performed services for Mr. Bush’s inauguration and the Defense Department’s commemoration of the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The influence of fundamentalists got stronger when they allied themselves with the neoconservatives of the Bush administration. Mr. O’Brien said the fundamentalists are cooperating with the neocons because both support Israel.
by Special Reporting Team