The religious landscape of the Northwest Georgia area in which we live can best be described as predominantly evangelical fundamentalist Protestant. While there is a small number of atheists, agnostics and those expressing non-specific spiritual beliefs living here, we have relatively few residents of non-Judeo-Christian faiths such as Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.
The majority of believers in Catoosa and Walker counties, churched and unchurched, fall into five rather broad categories: mainstream Protestants, evangelicals, fundamentalists, Pentecostals and charismatics. These designations probably describe our local religious adherents better than purely denominational labels. But these divisions are not cast in concrete and there is substantial overlap and crossover among them.
Mainstream Christians are characterized by older, more conventional beliefs and practices. They include United Methodists, Presbyterians (USA), Episcopalians, Evangelical Lutherans and The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Some argue that Catholics and Mormons might be included here, but I think they both might argue with that.
Fundamentalists, once led by the late Jerry Falwell, are characterized by an aggressive, militant struggle against "the creeping secularization of America." Fundamentalists assume an antagonistic attitude toward many worldly pursuits, known to social psychologists as a "siege mentality." Fundamentalists include most Baptists, Churches of Christ, Presbyterians (PCA) and an increasing number of independents. Fundamentalists emphasize strict, rigid social codes and prohibitions against drinking, smoking and dancing, particularly the suggestive kinds.
Evangelicals share many beliefs with fundamentalists, principally a belief in the literal truth of an inerrant Bible. But most evangelicals are less strict and arbitrary about enforcing social codes and might even tolerate an occasional beer, glass of wine or circumspect dancing. Evangelicals emphasize personal conversion, spiritual rebirth and changed lives. President Jimmy Carter is an evangelical and for many decades Billy Graham was their acknowledged leader.
Pentecostalism largely grew out of the Methodist faith in a surge of revivalism toward the close of the 19th century. Pentecostals were loosely associated with the populist political and social revolutions. The early Pentecostals felt the Methodists had become too "citified" and had strayed from the basic Christian faith and practices. Pentecostals emphasize the gifts of the spirit, such as healing, visions and glossolalia (speaking in tongues). They are a loosely-bound movement that includes the Assemblies of God, the various Churches of God and several independent Holiness denominations. Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, both Assemblies of God ministers, can be categorized as Pentecostals, although Bakker is also associated with the non-Pentecostal charismatic movement. Rex Humbard was also an Assemblies of God minister.
Charismatics, a movement, not a belief system, are largely evangelicals of some description. But they are broadly inclusive and embrace Catholics, Methodists and even some Episcopalians and Presbyterians. It is a style, practice or attitude that emphasizes healing, gifts of the spirit and miracles, and transcends most denominational boundaries. Pat Robertson, a Southern Baptist, is a charismatic as was Oral Roberts, a faith-healing Methodist.
Unlike most mainline denominations, evangelicals, fundamentalists, Pentecostals and charismatics do not always shrink from political activism. They have on occasion supported individual politicians and parties on such controversial issues as abortion, school prayer, teaching of evolution/creation science and even national defense.
Although we have (arguably) over 300 religious denominations in this country, unlike the rest of the world we have rarely found it necessary to defend our faiths with violence as many nations have done throughout history. Isn’t it great to be an American and enjoy religious freedom and (at least some) tolerance?
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at email@example.com.