When to use that disputed f-word

Anyone who has followed this weblog for very long knows that, from the get-to, we have been rather upset that legions of reporters insist on ignoring the wise guidance offered by the Associate Press Stylebook concerning when to use, and when not to use, the hot-button label "fundamentalist." All together now, let's rise and quote the passage in question:

"fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

"In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself."

So, with that in mind, let's consider a very odd -- in not bizarre -- thing that happened the other day in The Politico.

Yes, it has finally happened. What we have here is a case in which a news organization had every right to use this term from American Protestant history and -- gasp -- failed to do so. In fact, this is a case in which the word "fundamentalist" needed to be used to add clarity to the story. Here is the top of the story:

A top administrator at Bob Jones University, one of South Carolina's most prominent conservative Christian institutions, plans to endorse a primary challenger to Republican Rep. Bob Inglis, POLITICO has learned.

Robert Taylor, the dean of the Greenville-based school's College of Arts and Sciences, plans to throw his support to Spartanburg County Solicitor Trey Gowdy at a public event within the next week.

Bob Jones University holds an iconic status among conservative religious institutions, and has a history of active political engagement. Taylor, who also serves as vice chairman of the Greenville City Council, endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president, even as Romney's Mormon faith raised concerns among some evangelical voters.

As the story noted, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush aroused controversy during the 2000 race for the White House by delivering a speech on this controversial campus. Suffice it to say that the word "fundamentalist" was tossed around quite a bit in the mainstream-media coverage of that event.

The key here is that Bob Jones University has always proudly claimed the fundamentalist mantle for itself, with leaders in previous Jones generations openly separating themselves from leaders -- the Rev. Jerry Falwell leaps to mind -- who formed public-square alliances with members of other Christian flocks. Thus, the Rev. Bob Jones, Jr., once called Falwell "the most dangerous man in America" among compromised Christian leaders.

Now, does the university's current leadership still embrace the "fundamentalist" label? That's an interesting question. If Politico folks have any fresh insights into that question, then by all means they need to be shared. That's a big news story.

Wait! Someone at BJU endorsed Romney? Stay tuned.

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