Frances FitzGerald’s book, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, is mostly a trip down memory lane for me. She gives a quick history of early revival movements in America to establish her trail as to where our current state of “evangelicalism” has its roots. But the bulk of the book is spent on the rise of such organizations as the Moral Majority and moves forward. This is the time period in which I grew up and I was thoroughly entrenched in these kinds of things.
One paragraph thus far has struck hard at me. I have long given up on being a card-carrying member of ANY political party. I still have a love for politics which is being eaten away from me day by day with our current antics, but I am long over being any particular party’s water boy. Yet, reading this paragraph struck deep because of how it represents what happened to us as evangelicals (and Pentecostals) in the mid-80s with the PTL scandal.
She is explaining Jim Bakker’s “philosophy” of what he had built into a Christian Disneyland called “Heritage USA.”
The church was, then, the world. And Heritage Village Church was everything that happened at Heritage USA. Bakker had simply pasted the label “church” on all of it. He may have done that for tax purposes, but clearly he had made the label stick, for in my two days there (she had visited in 1987), I heard several people say, “This is heaven on earth.” They seem to have meant it literally, for when the Bakker verdict came down, a man amid the cluster of Bakker supporters outside the courthouse cried out, “They don’t treat murderers like they treated him. I’ve been to Heritage USA, and I felt like it I was in heaven. You were on holy ground there.”
I read that paragraph a couple of times to let it sink in. Just typing it out now, I felt the same thing: sick.
We haven’t learned a darn thing in 30 years.