Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fundamentalism: A Blessing and a Beating

I am a recovering fundamentalist.   I go to meetings weekly--every Sunday morning at a grace-filled church.  Ironically, I am grateful for aspects of my fundamentalist heritage.  My childhood fundamentalist church instilled in me a respect for and devotion to the Bible as the revealed Word of God.  In those early years I memorized much Scripture.  It wasn't that I was devout and preferred the Bible to my comic books; the church instilled and impressed those passages upon my mind. To this day recalling some of those passages in times of turmoil has brought me encouragement.  For that I am grateful.   

My fundamentalist past taught me the reality of objective Truth.  There are anchoring truths--realities--which, indeed, are true, whether or not I choose to acknowledge them.   That, to this day, instilled within me a passionate pursuit of what and Who is Truth.    For that, too, I am thankful.

Unfortunately, virtues pursued to excess become vices--and much of fundamentalism is about extremes, rather than balance.   The fundamentalist preoccupation with Word precluded little attention to Spirit.  My faith and life was centered on rule-keeping, rather than relationship.  It was a life of merely obeying God, devoid of loving God--or having a sense of God loving me.  My church instilled a fear-based life of obedience.  My obedience was not prompted or fueled by my love for God, but by our fear of falling into the hands of a holy God.  I was squeaky clean behaviorally, but shamed and fearful emotionally.  It was a terrible world with which to cope. 

 In our focus on truth, and this is a common trait of fundamentalism, we believed that we alone possessed the Truth.   We were very exclusive, which you would think would appear to us as a contradiction to the life and teachings of Jesus.  It wasn't a part of our consciousness then, nor is it among fundamentalists now.  If there is a disagreement in beliefs, the other party's stance or belief isn't regarded as different, but as wrong.  Consequently, even though many of my friends attended other denominations which held the same basic view of  Christ/ the Bible that we did, because they differed from us in other areas of belief we viewed them as either back-sliders or heretical, and it was our mission to "witness" to Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, certainly Catholics, and anyone else who wasn't us. 

That way of thinking breeds a self-righteousness  (which, in the gospel records, Jesus adamantly rejects) and a sense of moral superiority (which--who would have thought?--in the gospel records, Jesus adamantly rejects.)   We were concerned about the eternal destiny of these "lost souls" but simultaneously looked down upon them, loathing their language and and judging their behavior. 

Fundamentalism tends to breed a negation of life, rather than an affirmation of our existence.  Growing up I knew what was wrong, what I couldn't and shouldn't do, but I had no clue what I was meant and designed  to do.  Thou-shalt-nots prevailed.    That negation is all-encompassing; it is a mindset, the Weltanschaaung --the worldview, the way they perceive reality.  Typically, if a fundamentalist encounters a different belief or theological concept, the initial and, usually, the settled response is, "I know what is true and I know I am right; there is something spurious about this person's belief.  Be wary!!"  Seldom is there an openness to the possibility that I might learn from this other person, that maybe they have something to offer me that might enrich or expand my existing faith.  Instead, "they are wrong and it's up to me to refute them."  It's a negation of anything incoming that does not arise from their own closed system.  

I cannot adequately communicate the depth of relief  I feel in God having extricated me from that system decades ago.  It was oppressive, the dead legalism suffocating.  To be transported and transformed from a life of fearful obedience to a life that is loving response is a beautiful thing.  To move from being saved by God to being loved by God is, as they say, priceless. 

I feel a heaviness lately,  birthed on two fronts.  On an individual level, I am  feeling unfairly judged.  Someone I love very much is a fundamentalist and they are rejecting much of what and who I read--my mentors--and is the next step a rejection of me?  That would be terribly painful.  On a corporate level, our church is facing  judgment and  rejection by certain fundamentalist believers.  I love our church and so that pain is also felt by me. 

I need grace.  My initial impulse is not one of a loving response.  It makes me angry; I want to fight back.  I want to tell them how unlike Jesus they are in their condemnation, in their exclusivity.  I want to tell them that the Ultimate Judgment will not focus on whether or not we give mental assent to a certain number of theological propositions about Jesus.  We will be judged not on the basis if I held all the right beliefs about Jesus, but if I lived and loved like Jesus.   

But if I resort to that, then I am no different than these individuals who seem so judgmental.  I need grace.  I want to love when condemned.  I need to bless when seemingly cursed.  I want to bestow the love of Christ when hammered by the letter of the law. 

I have a long way to go.  I don't want my first reactive response to be one of regarding them as "freakin' fundies," but as my brothers and sisters.  And I want to love these brothers and sisters in God's family who would question my own belonging to that same family.

I need grace.

 (I apologize for the drought in my blogging.  We were out of the country the past 2 weeks, preceded by a 3 month hitch in Honduras.  I hope to re-establish some consistency in writing.  Thanks for your patience.)


Amanda said...

Oh, I can SO understand this. I've attended my current church for more than nine years, but it is a dramatically different church now than when I started. It used to be VERY strict - if you missed church, you got several phone calls - and not the concerned kind. Same thing if you didn't make your weekly contribution. Every move was scrutinized. Fortunately, right after I started attending, there was a major upheaval and I now attend a church that teaches obedience (to God, not to man) AND grace.

Steve said...

Amanda, You know the freedom, the lightness of heart that God's grace provides. I'm glad you're no longer under that heavy weight. Thank you for reading my post. Grace and Peace to you

Jan said...

<3 the bindings of man's church is why I worship at home. <3

Patricia Singleton said...

Steve, thank you for writing this post. Your ideas are very close to my own. The little church that I went to until the past few years was a church that was called "different" in a very judgmental way by many people in the town that I live in.

My childhood religion came from my 2 grandmothers. One was Baptist. The other Assembly of God. This was in the deep South of the U. S. what is often called The Bible Belt. I learned about a very punishing God - a fire and brimstone God who was going to send you to Hell if you sinned against him in the smallest way. He was not a forgiving God.

Some part of me, I must have been born with it, always rebelled against this idea of a God to be fearful of. Believe me when I say that I was very afraid of God as a child. Today my God is a loving God, a forgiving God.

About 15 years ago, a friend invited me to go to her little Unity church with her. She invited a friend and I to take a Louise Hay class that another friend of hers was teaching at the Unity church. We took 2 classes that this loving lady taught before we went to church on our first Sunday. I became a member of the Unity church and after a few years was even elected as a Board member on their Board of Directors for 3 years. I wish that I had never gotten involved in the politics of the church but that is another story entirely.

This church and its beliefs opened up my life to a spiritual journey that would not have happened in either of my grandmothers' churches or in my husband's Church of Christ that I joined for about 10 years after our children were born. The Church of Christ gave me a foundation to build on that I needed for a few years. After awhile their beliefs became too limiting for what I felt inside about God and my relationship with him. I needed more than they could give in their understanding of God.

This Unity church reenforced the inner beliefs about God and myself that I was somehow born knowing. I choose not to judge others as less than and I definitely don't consider myself as absolutely right. I have had that conversation a few times over the years when someone from the other churches try to convert me to their beliefs. I usually ask that they allow that neither of us truly knows who is right or who is wrong in their beliefs. I simply tell them that I will not try to change their minds about what they believe and I ask that they do the same for me. I simply refuse to argue. I thank them and tell them that neither of us will know what the truth of our beliefs are until we die and face God. Thank you for sharing your blog post so that I could find it on Facebook.

Steve said...

Jan, I can appreciate your frustration and possible hurt due to heavy "bindings" that some churches place upon people. Yet, God entrusts the church to be made up of people like you and me. i hope someday you might find a community of faith that loves God and focuses on loving each other and their neighbor in need.

Steve said...

Patricia, thank you for sharing your pilgrimage and the wisdom gained in the journey. The trek from Law to Grace is often long, but leads to a spacious and free place.

cath said...

Having attended many churches of various types (raised Catholic, attended Lutheran, Church of Christ, Church of God, Baptist among them), I have lost respect for organized religion, and embraced the faith of my Grammy, who never attended church but was the most god-filled person I have ever met. It was she who first taught me about God. We would lie in her twin beds at night, listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on the radio, and talk about God. And it was the faith she taught me, and the bible she gave me to read, that have sustained me through the disillusionment and helped me to find my way. God works through people, not churches. And my faith remains.

Good post Steve. Very thoughtful and thought provoking.