Yesterday we learned that Jerry Falwell had been found dead. Something I've noticed since then is that in television broadcasts (the one by Charles Gipson, for example) and in written notices, Falwell is referred to as an evangelical. So far, I have seen the word "fundamentalist" only once, and that in a quote from James Dobson, not in a description.
Now, I know, news people have not earned a reputation for knowing what they're talking about when it comes to religion. So I can only wonder. . . . In the minds of news writers, does the term "evangelical" mean something like "any Christian who is right of center"? Do they think that "evangelical" is a synonym for "fundamentalist"? Did they decide that, since being any sort of religious fundamentalist means you're pathetic, they'd take it easy on the deceased by calling him by another name? Or is there something more sinister going on here?
No doubt, in the days ahead, some of Falwell's worst moments will be recalled. For example, I quote from an already-published story:
"In 1999, he told an evangelical conference (emphasis mine, FB) that the Antichrist was a male Jew who was probably already alive. Falwell later apologized for the remark but not for holding the belief. A month later, his National Liberty Journal warned parents that Tinky Winky, the children's TV character, was a gay role model and morally damaging to children. "
If Falwell is identified as an "evangelical," then the news media will have done much to erase the real differences between fundamentalism and evangelicalism. The latter group, today's true "evangelicals," emerged when they rejected the radical separatism, anti-intellectual tendencies, and weak social concern of fundamentalism.
To refer to Jerry Falwell as an evangelical is a category mistake, at best. At worst, it is an attempt to link Falwell and his follies in the spotlight, with every political candidate known as any sort of conservative Christian.