The Fundamentalist Mind

So, the post for yesterday, in which I attempt to help others embrace the reality of who they are, occasions a comment from a fundamentalist Southern Baptist pastor, who also used to be my dorm mate in college. He claims that he wants me to be happy, and fulfilled in life, but then challenges me thusly: "But what about Jesus' command to deny yourself?" He in no sense wants me to be happy, and to be fulfilled in life, but wants to conform me to his fundamentalist religion. His religion is the law and his gospel is a farce. He has struggled with fundamentalism all his life and it has now consumed him. (By the way, B., your emails and comments will no longer even be read or remotely considered.)

What is Christian fundamentalism? At its core, Protestant Christian fundamentalism pertains to the fundamentals of the conservative evangelical faith, which characteristically has argued primarily for the theory of the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus (which I believe and defend), the historical reality of the miracles of Christ (which I believe and defend), the atoning death of Jesus (which I believe and defend) and His literal, not figurative, bodily resurrection from the dead (which I believe and defend). Yet, the terms "fundamentalist/fundamentalism" have evolved into a pejorative, indicating an unrelenting literalist approach to the interpretation of the scriptures, an unyielding dogmatism that betrays any semblance of grace while ignoring the place of proper hermeneutics, and a legalistic presumption masquerading as gospel truth. In one statement: fundamentalism enslaves its victims, using rhetorical weapons and manipulation, and then kills the grace in those victims.

The weapons of the fundamentalist are fear, coupled with shame, while offering his victims grace and peace through Christ -- but with one caveat: the victim must adhere to the core tenets of the fundamentalist preacher. But do not be fooled: the fundamentalist preacher will speak smoothly to his victims, warranting their sympathy as he paints himself as a martyr, and then he -- and the preacher is always male -- will preach passionately about "standing on the Word of God," as he is allegedly slandered by "liberals" and "a godless world," during which speech he will manipulate his flock into believing that their battered and soul-beaten pastor is merely defending the gospel of Christ.

The fundamentalist pastor rejects blushing as he rips biblical passages out of their contexts in order to use those passages as weapons to defend his pet dogmas. For example, let us examine the passage used by my former dorm-mate-turned-Southern-Baptist-pastor, and keep in mind the context of my post: embracing one's own inner reality (personality, flaws, characteristics, quirks, talents and passions). Jesus foretells of His crucifixion, death, and resurrection; to which the disciples, particularly Peter, react badly. He then informs His followers that, if they are to be true followers, then they must be willing, also, to die -- to "deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Matt. 16:24)

I ask you: Does this passage relate, even in the slightest, to any semblance of a notion that we are to deny who we are inwardly -- to deny our personality, flaws, characteristics, quirks, talents and passions? Is Jesus commanding us to deny our own inner reality or insisting that following Him, as a true disciple, requires that we be willing to not only die for Him but also to live for Him? In what sense is embracing one's own inner truth and reality contrary to our need, as disciples of Jesus, to deny ourselves of an imagined right to avoid either dying or living for Christ? But context matters little to the fundamentalist. What matters is law; what matters is blind obedience to rules; what is completely ignored is grace, mercy, lovingkindness. The latter are deemed insignificant to the former -- a truth that, tragically, informs us that the religion of the fundamentalist is not one of gospel but of law.

This Southern Baptist pastor forgot that once he indulged in the grace-messages of Protestant Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546). This once-hero of his boldly writes to his pastor-colleague:
If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner, and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to [or have to deal with] sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. . . . Pray boldly -- you too [Philip Melanchthon] are a mighty sinner. (link)
Now, lest anyone imagine that Luther is actually, literally, and defiantly commanding us to sin, think again. But his point should not be missed: sin is part of our fallen reality, even though we are currently, by grace through faith in Christ, justified and redeemed; and, so that sin shall not be master over us (Rom. 6:14), nor shall we fear sin and withdraw from God through Christ, when we sin, sin boldly, knowing that the grace of Christ is stronger than our sin. We must not let the reality of sin cloud our view of the marvelous grace of God in Christ on our behalf. But the fundamentalist will not allow grace its proper work. All the fundamentalist knows is law -- do, do, do and then do some more.

But let us be absolutely clear about this fundamentalist's two main issues: 1) he still believes that the Christian religion is about maintaining propositions; and 2) his primary complaint is, at its core, one of homosexuality. He is troubled that I am at home and at peace with being gay. He would rather I deny this reality for the rest of my life -- and even twists the words of Jesus as support -- than for me to embrace this reality, love, worship, and serve the Lord, love others and love myself. He would rather I maintain the cognitive distortions that led me to offend another brother in Christ years ago than to love myself, in Christ, and be healthy in mind, soul, and body. That, friends, is downright evil.

My problem with Christian fundamentalism is also my problem with conservative evangelicalism in general: most of the individuals who are duped by fundamentalism are convinced that, as long as they hold to what they perceive to be proper theological propositions, they will be saved. Those who disagree with their necessary tenets are labeled "liberals" and "godless." (One wonders, then, why Jesus did not spend more time teaching people theological propositions instead of teaching them to love God, their neighbors, and themselves. I digress.) The problem with Christian fundamentalism is in naming the movement Christian; for the teachings of Christ are not dogmatic propositions to maintain intellectually but are life-lessons to incorporate into our everyday thinking. Loving God, worshiping God, serving God is our top priority; out of love for God we then love others, but we also love ourselves. I encourage everyone to run from Christian fundamentalism because it is not Christian.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.