The Barrister Fall 2017 - 30

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Book Review
The Evangelicals:
The Struggle to
Shape America
By FR ANCES FITZGER ALD

Reviewed by Andrew F. Fick, Esquire

I

was on my way to the courthouse, when I decided to stop by
the Bar Association building for a few minutes. In a passing
conversation, Executive Director Don Smith asked if I would
be willing to write a book review for an upcoming edition of
The Berks Barrister. Without a moment's thought (which some
might say was my first mistake), I responded "Sure." When I
asked what book he had in mind, Don said "The Evangelicals:
The Struggle to Shape America," by Pulitzer Prize winning author,
Frances FitzGerald. I was not familiar with the book, but was
more than willing to assume the mantle.
It was not long before a copy of the 740-page book was
delivered to my office. To be fair, only 636 pages were text
with the remainder comprised of a glossary and index. As I
thumbed through it, I experienced flashbacks to my days as an
undergraduate history major, 50-plus page term papers and,
of course, the associated deadlines. After that brief moment
of reflection, and a mild rush of anxiety, I sensed a small voice
somewhere inside me saying, "You can do this."
The scope of FitzGerald's work is quite daunting. In
the introduction, she attempts to grab the reader's attention
by reminding us that, in 1976, when Jimmy Carter, a liberal
Southern Baptist, ran for President, pollster George Gallup
estimated that 50 million Americans were "born-again"
Christians. She notes that, four years later, the Christian right
emerged in force, with Jerry Falwell, a fundamentalist pastor, Pat
Robertson, a televangelist, and conservative Southern Baptists
leading the charge against the gay rights movement, abortion
and the banning of school prayer. FitzGerald claims that the
sudden appearance of the Christian right shocked most political
observers. Journalists wanted to know who these people were and
from where the crusade against "secular humanism" came.
Having grabbed our attention, FitzGerald offers some
important background. She points out that many people
mistakenly equate evangelicals with fundamentalists or the
Christian right, when only a minority of evangelicals belong to
30 | Berks Barrister

either group, and
that some consider
evangelicals only
a marginal group,
when, in fact, they
constitute nearly 25% of the population. Most significantly,
FitzGerald explains that the term "evangelical" is not a political
term, but a religious one, derived from the Greek "evangel,"
meaning the "good news," or "the Gospel." She notes that
"evangelical" was the common description for the revivals that
swept the English-speaking world in the late eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries.
According to FitzGerald, the book is not an attempt to
describe the entirety of evangelical life, but rather is intended
as a history of the white evangelical movements leading to
an understanding of the Christian right and its evangelical
opponents that have emerged in recent years. She indicates that
she purposefully omits the history of African American churches
because, even though some African American denominations
identify as evangelical, their history and religious traditions are
not the same as those of white evangelicals.
At that point, with a firm foundation properly laid,
FitzGerald begins a detailed analysis of the history of the
evangelical movement. She submits that its beginnings were in
the two Great Awakenings in America - religious awakenings,
or revivals, the first of which took place in the late eighteenth
century and the second in the decades after the Revolution.
FitzGerald asserts that the lay revivalists of the Second Great
Awakening, working on the nation's frontiers, preached a
populist religion focused on individual conversions with an antiintellectual bent, while the more established preachers focused on
social reform.
FitzGerald observes that for most of the nineteenth century,
evangelicalism was the dominant religious force in the country,
but there were some issues that divided the Protestant churches.


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The Barrister Fall 2017

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