Vital Signs

Factious Fundamentalists

To judge by the tone, content, and amount of recent media coverage of Protestant Fundamentalism in general and television evangelists in particular. Fundamentalists are a collection of interchangeable religious parts that have grouped themselves into a united cultural force which grows stronger and more indivisible by the week. But the conclusion is incorrect because the information that supports it is skewed or incomplete. The fact is, Fundamentalists are sort of like pickles: They all start out as cucumbers, but after that it's Heinz 57 Varieties. What's more, the gherkins aren't always willing to share shelf space with the dills, and vice versa.

Nearly every variety of Fundamentalism is presented on religious television, and only victims of predetermined expectations or doctrinal illiteracy could decide that these varieties form either the makings or the product of a single batch. Under the Fundamentalist label are Positive Confessionists and Back to the Crossers, pre-Tribbers and post-Tribbers, will-of-God seekers and will-of-God knowers, prophesiers and false-prophesy denouncers.

Among the major television figures there is Paul Crouch, founder of TBN, who, called to use the "miracle of satellite" to bathe the world in Christian programming, schedules two "Praise-A-Thons" a year for that purpose, thus sparing viewers constant entreaties for money. There is Pat Robertson, the answered...

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