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The Stealth Fundamentalist Evangelicals

What do Hillary Clinton, W, and I have in common?

We’re all baptized Methodists.

It was founded by John Wesley, his younger brother Charles, and George Whitefield. John and Charles had participated in the Holy Club at the University of Oxford. Members took Communion weekly, fasted, abstained from “sinful” pursuits, and practiced charity. They were labeled “Methodists” because of the way they used “rule” and “method” to regulate their behavior in compliance with their religious beliefs. It was not exactly a compliment (Hey dude, we’re going to the kegger, what do you mean you’d rather pray bro?).

But it wasn’t really Methodism yet. In 1735 John and Charles went to Georgia (the United States one) as ministers and missionaries to the Native Americans. They were complete failures and basically got shipped back to England on the next boat.

In 1738 both Charles and John experienced evangelic conversions (“I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”) and began to preach what Gene Scott (the “honest” Elmer Gantry) called Paulist Unmerited Favor by Grace.

In summary that doctrine holds we are all sinners and salvation and eternal life are not the product of pious works but faith. It is faith that leads to pious works (and prosperity and other signs of God’s favor) but they are merely a byproduct. Gene contrasts this with Jamesianism and the teachings of the Pharisees which concentrated on ritual participation and pious works.

Actually Paulist ecumenism (in the cultural sense) is the reason that Christianity is not some obscure Judaic sect and we don’t all practice Mithraism instead.

John and Charles adopted the presentation style of George Whitefield who’d been a somewhat more successful missionary in Georgia and was preaching in tents because no church would have him. Whitefield was a closet Cavinist who thought that a limited number of people were predestined (God is omniscient) for salvation and the rest doomed to damnation, among other pernicious doctrines. Still he fell in with the Wesleys in no small part due to Charles’ composing skills. People loved his hymns and even today they’re standards in most mainstream Protestant Churches (Catholics tend to more Continental tunes).

The Wesleys and Whitefield had huge fights over predestination and also over “entire sanctification” in mortal life (basically whether it was possible to act in a Christian manner, free from the appearance of evil, despite our inherently sinful nature). Whitefield begged them in friendship not to let these theological differences separate them and they settled on these principles-

  1. People are all, by nature, “dead in sin”, and, consequently, “children of wrath”.
  2. They are “justified by faith alone”
  3. Faith produces inward and outward holiness.

Equally-

  1. A person is free not only to reject salvation but also to accept it by an act of free will.
  2. All people who are obedient to the gospel according to the measure of knowledge given them will be saved.
  3. The Holy Spirit assures a Christian of their salvation directly, through an inner “experience” (assurance of salvation).
  4. Christians in this life are capable of Christian perfection and are commanded by God to pursue it.

Whitefield was waaay more popular than the Wesleys but he died in 1770 before the ball really got rolling.

While still technically Anglicans, Methodists were viewed as heretics and charlatans, full of “Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism.” Traditionalists didn’t like their emphasis on a Born Again experience for salvation, justification by faith, and the constant and sustained action of the Holy Spirit on true Christian’s souls. Theophilus Evans wrote, “The natural Tendency of their Behaviour, in Voice and Gesture and horrid Expressions, to make People mad.”

As if belief in an all seeing, ultra powerful sky god was not mad on its face, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ultimately though the split with The Church of England was the result of the Revolutionary War when John Wesley in 1784 responded to a perceived shortage of preachers in the United States (there is never, ever a true lack of people with voices in their heads who think they are talking to and for God) by sending a contingent of Ministers who were certified by The Church of England to perform the ordinary clerical magic of converting wine to human blood and bread to human flesh (yes, Christians practice ritual cannibalism, get over it).

In the very beginning women were full and equal participants, that changed as early as 1800. Other reasons for its reputation as a Church of Social Justice include early advocation of childhood education, but the primary basis was aggressive evangilization among Black African Slaves and more recently Hispanics.

The Church of my youth (well, up to the age of 12 when I became an avowed atheist though I remained a nominal member until I was 14 so I could still participate in Choir) was distinctly Social Justice and had a large number of African American congregants. I’m told today the membership is predominately Hispanic. The building itself is a rather impressive Neo Gothic pile of stone now dwarved by skyscapers with a separate Chapel, Reception Hall/Gym/Stage/Cafeteria, a bunch of interesting meeting rooms with decaying overstuffed high backed Chesterfield chairs and other antique furnishings, and a eight lane Duck Pin Bowling Alley in the basement.

When you got to the final level of Sunday School you met in the Alley. It was a huge disappointment, you couldn’t play during class (Christianity had been dead to me for years, I don’t want you to think that put me off).

My family switched affiliation at my sister’s desire (all her friends went there) to the local Church which was a dump of strip mall construction with an attached mini-school that also housed administrative offices. It too had a Chapel and a Reception Hall/Gym/Stage/Cafeteria the basement of which was a big open space meeting room that my first Boy Scout Troop used (more about my horrible experiences in the BSA later).

My sister immediately joined the Youth Group which was, in fact, nothing but a…

You see, there’s that word again. How about “Hook Up” Club where you could share your first intimate sexual experiences with a bunch of your sister’s BFFs after which they could titter and gossip about your technique or lack thereof.

Ick.

Again, my atheism was well defined by this point and I’d already been invited by my teacher to stand outside, alone, in the hallway during “Morning Exercises” because of my disruptive habit of reading during “Silent Prayer”. I was a troublemaker I was.

The other thing about the local Church was that it was waaay more fundamentalist/evangelical than the one downtown, I could hardly tell the difference between it and the Tongue Speaking Snake Handling Assembly of God (a denomination notorious for its lack of credentialism and reason). That prompted the research you see reflected in this piece (my motivations for abandoning Christianity and all belief in God are unrelated) and to my shame and horror I discovered I had belonged to a Cult barely differentiated from the Baptists!

It would have been worse in Michigan where the fundamentalist/evangelical strain is even more dominant than it is here in the relatively liberal Northeast as I’ve discovered in conversations with relatives and others over the years (I’m not a militant atheist, I usually just bite my tongue and nod my head which is exploding). Thank goodness my parents moved so I could grow up relatively normal!

Having that background I am not at all suprised when I encounter stories like this-

Only Christians can own cottages at this idyllic Michigan resort
By John Agar, MLive
July 31, 2017

Just outside of Petoskey, on the shores of Little Traverse Bay, is an upscale community with hundreds of Victorian-era cottages, most decades old, and a unique form of self-governance.

Under an 1889 state law, the cottagers’ association can appoint a board of assessors, deputize its own marshal and maintain streets and buildings on collectively owned land.

The association requires owners to have good moral character.

But its requirement that owners be practicing Christians – ideally, members of the United Methodist Church – is what has come under fire.

“This is not a neighborhood association where they cut the bushes and mow the lawns,” Northville attorney Sarah Prescott told MLive and The Grand Rapids Press.

The Bay View Association in 1959 did away with a requirement that owners be Caucasian. But religion restrictions — one including a quota on Catholics, the attorney said — remain, and have upset some cottages owners and prospective buyers. Sometimes, owners cannot leave their cottages to a surviving spouse or children because of their religion, Prescott said.

The association was only recently notified of the lawsuit and has not yet responded, but Executive Director Mike Spencer said in a statement he is confident in its legal position.

He said that the association –named one of the 12 “Prettiest Painted Places” in the U.S. for its colorful, well-kept “gingerbread” cottages — welcomes everyone, including renters and the greater community, to many events and programs held at the campus.

“Like most private associations, there are specific requirements for membership. Our membership requirements have been part of our history and we understand that some of our members or the general public may disagree with them,” the statement said.

“The Bay View Association of the United Methodist Church is an ecumenical, private, voluntary membership, organization,” the statement said.

“Unlike many other private properties and private associations, Bay View welcomes the public to our grounds and to experience our programming. We are not a gated community and anyone, regardless of age, income, race, gender, national origin, or religion is welcome on our campus and to attend our events.”

The site became a gathering place for Michigan Methodists in the late 1800s. It was accessible by rail and steamboat.

The “preaching stand,” now in the Bay View Historical Museum, was its first building. Cottages, streets, parks, a chapel and hotel followed. Religious and educational programs grew. So did recreation and performing arts.

Well-known leaders and entertainers have appeared. A Summer Assembly Program continues.

“Recreation and sports have not been forgotten at Bay View,” its website states. “Tennis, swimming and sailing are enjoyed by all ages. An active program of clubs, games, athletics, crafts, camping, hiking and music for children of all ages is carried on under full-time leadership. A social program for Junior and Senior High young people under trained leadership, is centered in the ‘Rec Club’ building on the beach.”

The 337-acre property consists of 444 cottages, two privately owned inns, a bed and breakfast, administrative buildings and a wooded area known as “Bay View Woods.”

There is a library, along with the museum, among over 30 public buildings. Stafford’s Bay View Inn provides a stunning view of the bay.

The association owns the land, leasing it to cottage owners.

Prescott, the attorney, said she represents cottage owners whose children and grandchildren cannot inherit cottages. One of her clients, who eventually would have inherited her parents’ fourth-generation cottage, was denied membership and the right to be a co-owner because she had converted to Judaism.

Because cottagers cannot sell on the open market, they are left with only a “small segment of willing buyers,” she said.

She said that Bay View, founded in 1875, was later recognized under the 1889 Summer Resort Act that gives such associations significant governmental power, including deputizing a marshal to enforce bylaws and even make arrests.

The original articles for membership and cottage ownership called for a membership fee, for an applicant to be of “good moral character” and have reached the age of 21.

“However, over time, Bay View has aligned itself with and endorsed and promoted the Christian religion, even as it maintains and uses State-delegated police power,” Prescott wrote in the lawsuit.

“Hence, while Jews and other non-religious families once owned homes in Bay View, in or around 1942, the Bay View board adopted a resolution rolling back almost 70 years of tolerance of religious diversity and stating: ‘… no person shall be accepted as a member of this association or be allowed to rent or lease property or a room, for longer than a period of one day, unless such person is of the white race and a Christian … ,” Prescott wrote.

The race requirement was removed in 1959 but the religion test remained, with “further restrictions on the precise sect of Christian owners” from the 1960s to 1980s, the lawsuit said.

During that period, Roman Catholics could only comprise 10 percent of ownership, the lawsuit said.

A bylaw change in 1986 required prospective buyers to provide a reference letter from a pastor, the lawsuit said.

Prescott said that the state rejected Bay View’s efforts to be an “ecclesiastic corporation” with the United Methodist Church controlling its affairs.

The state Court of Appeals said in a 2015 opinion noted that membership in the association is “restricted to practicing Christians.”

“While the numerous charitable and benevolent activities (Bay View) engages in are certainly admirable, it appears (Bay View’s) primary purpose is to provide an exclusive summer vacation community to those who meet its restrictive membership requirements and have the financial means to purchase a summer cottage.”

The lawsuit asks a judge to change the association’s bylaws, including requirements that members be practicing Christians and that the majority of association trustees be members of the West Michigan Conference of the United Method Church.

In response, the association said: “There is a simple process that members of the Association can follow to initiate bylaw amendments to change the membership requirements. Prior bylaw amendments proposals to change the membership requirements have been voted down by our members. They simply have not had enough votes in the past, so it appears that this group is now seeking to change our membership requirements through a court decision.”

Now Stars Hollow North Lake is a private development but you own your property and there are no restrictions on what you build (no matter how ugly) that are not State imposed (can’t just dump your toilet into the lake). Every Owner has access to the Beach/Open Space (not frequently policed mind you unless non-resident vandals start causing damage) and those without waterfront have a free guaranteed slip at the marina.

And you don’t even have to pay your Association fees which go to maintaining the common property though every one of your neighbors who do will know your name and where you live. Just saying.

Is there a good whiff of “privilege”? Sure, these are people’s dacha. On the other hand we don’t control the whole lake and there is no gate. Most homes are not Mansions (though some are, and they are sneered at behind their backs) and most boats canoes, kayaks, dinky sail boats, or put-put fishing boats. A few people like to water ski and they have restrictions about the hours they can operate and where they can go (which are mostly ignored).

So I’m not immune to criticism nor do I claim to be.

1 comment

  1. ek hornbeck

    Vent Hole

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