Craig White's Literature Courses

Historical Backgrounds

Lines of Development for Christianity
in North America / USA

(mostly Protestant, but Catholic churches have comparable divisions)


Discussing religion in public school

Mainline / Intellectual / Social Justice / Worldly line of development:

Puritanism > Deism > Unitarianism > Transcendentalism > Humanism (religious traditions adapt to social change, become increasingly secularized and dispersed through society)

If American government and business have a religious orientation, it would be in these terms. Except in small ways, though, these aren't organized religions but only attitudes.

Parallel alliance: Mainline Religions (old national churches with longstanding theological traditions of intellectual rigor + social justice:

Lutheran for Germans

Presbyterian for Scots

Congregational & Episcopal [+ Quakers] for English

+- Catholic for French & Italians)

Other terms for these divisions of churches / denominations:

  • "cool" and "hot" religion (i.e., "Mainline" are "cool," "Evangelical" are "hot")

  • churches with "high walls" (Evangelical) or low walls (Mainline) between them and the rest of the world

  • pre-Enlightenment (Evangelical / Fundamentalist) and post-Enlightenment (Mainline)

Demographic differences: Mainline religions above have low birthrates and aging congregations as children drift away from religion or toward Evangelical religions.

Evangelical / Populist / Individual Salvation / Fundamentalist  line of development:

These churches, denominations, or traditions grow from a series of Great Awakenings or revivals from 1700s to 20c, even now

less emphasis on theological learning and social justice

more emphasis on being born again, individual salvation, mystical-emotional "personal relationship"

newer denominations:

Methodists & Baptists (esp. 1800s); also Mormons, plus many "dissenting" groups in Mainline Religions

  • Methodists have now aged to more like a Mainline church above, struggling with issues of homosexuality and aging congregations.

  • Southern Baptists attempted to reverse aging process in late 1900s by going Fundamentalist, but Moderate Baptists may resemble Mainline churches with decreasing / aging populations

The Missouri Synod Lutheran Church is an aging Evangelical church that remains poised between a hot and cold church--one that insists on its exclusive hold on truth or one that recognizes the truth of other religious traditions.

Also Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, Emerging Church Movement

(Most of these groups follow Protestant tradition of forsaking tradition in order to return to apostolic model of early church)

Individual churches or denominations may be ethnically exclusive (i.e., all-white, all-black), but they are less tied to national origins beyond Scotch-Irish culture.

Class distinctions? ("Class" not only as economic but education, family & social stability)

  • Mainline / secularizing / worldly tradition: privileged classes? Sometimes observed that people who sit on boards of trustees or shareholders come from Mainline churches.

  • Populist / Evangelical churches include not only working-class whites but other races or ethnicities whose property may be limited and whose people have only their souls to give. The church appears as a supportive community instead of a diversion from one's real life. Despite relative lack of theological rigor or sophistication, religion may become symbolic code for class or ethnic resistance to oppression, discrimination.

Contemporary issues of family values, personal identity:

  • Mainline / secularizing tradition wrestles with ordination of women and inclusion of gays (+- ordination)

  • Populist / Evangelical churches emphasize heterosexual family values with high birthrates, generally ignore gay identity.

In the 1800s some of these Evangelical movements became involved in social justice movements like Abolition, but just as many supported slavery, so as usual religious orientations depended much on material conditions.