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Strangers and pilgrims in Lotus Land : conservative Protestantism in British Columbia, 1917-1981 Burkinshaw, Robert Kenneth


This study examines the growth of conservative Protestantism, or evangelicalism, in British Columbia from 1917, the beginning of open conflict with theological liberalism, to 1981. The period witnessed the development of evangelical institutions from rudimentary beginnings before 1920 to the rise of a complex network by the 1970's. Numerically, conservative denominations in British Columbia countered a national trend and nearly doubled their proportion of the population from 1921 to 1981. Towards the end of the period, weekly attendance at conservative churches surpassed that in mainline Protestant denominations. This study has a two-fold purpose. The narrative seeks to recount significant features of the denominational, institutional and numerical development of evangelicalism in British Columbia. At the same time, the crucial factors in its development will be analyzed, particularly those which explain its growth. Explanations which focus exclusively on socio-economic factors or American influences are rejected. Both played significant roles but neither are able to fully explain the growth and other factors must be considered in addition to them. Four are identified as playing particularly significant roles: 1. a loyalty to values and emphases which appeared endangered by modernism; 2. patterns of immigration which added relatively large numbers of evangelicals who soon identified with the wider evangelicalism, 3. larger than average family sizes and high rates of retention of children within conservative churches and 4. institutional factors, particularly the strenuous efforts spent in establishing large numbers of new congregations throughout the province. Common to all four factors is the sense shared by conservative Protestants that they were separate from the "world." Unlike religious liberals who sought to preserve Christianity by accommodating to modernism, conservatives were alienated by modernism and sought to preserve traditional evangelicalism in the face of massive cultural change. In British Columbia, which was characterized by an unusual degree of transiency, materialism and secularism, the conservative approach proved more successful. Neither branch of Protestantism grew as rapidly as the "no religion" segment of the population but, while mainline Protestantism declined proportionately, evangelicals evidenced a certainty and simplicity of conviction and action that appealed to an increasing minority of the population.

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