The unearthed consciousness of black fundamentalism


Sfour years ago, Carl FH Henry, the first publisher of Christianity today, produced its watershed volume The uneasy awareness of modern fundamentalism. This work represented Henry’s bugle call to evangelicals to engage in the social evils facing the world, to apply the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith to meet the needs of society without being trapped in the preaching of ‘a simple “social gospel”. Fundamentalists of the previous generation, he argued, showed a “disturbing reluctance to tackle social evils” as they isolated themselves from the surrounding world.

Listed along with “aggressive warfare,” “alcohol trafficking,” “exploitation of labor or management” and other social sins that Henry identified as too far removed from fundamentalist rhetoric and consciousness were, notably, “racial hatred and intolerance”. And that was, on the whole, an accurate assessment, at least among those Henry envisioned here as “fundamentalists” – a category mostly white in its makeup.

This hypothesis was not only shared by Henry and his contemporaries, but by historians who look back on the time. Yet while Henry’s fundamentalist consciousness might have been uncomfortable under the weight of social isolation, there is another fundamentalist consciousness from this era that has long been obscured. The conscious presence of Black Fundamentalists of the early 20th-century American religious landscape both interrupts the common historical narrative and, perhaps, might prompt the current evangelical heirs of the fundamentalist movement to reflect on their theological heritage.

The theological push behind fundamentalism …

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