Guy Beaumont doesn’t always take altar pics…
…but when he does claim that he’s “not a fan” but “couldn’t resist.”
I’d like to point you today to an article by Josh Teis, a fellow alumni of Pensacola Christian College. I can’t swear that he’s writing about SFL in this post (although some recent interaction makes me suspect that is the case) but the same kind of “criticize-the-critics” mentality that often shows up when fundamentalists talk about SFL is very apparent.
I could do a point-by-point takedown of the article but most of you who have been reading here for a while will very easily see some familiar patterns including those that often show up in fundamentalist scandal spinning.
What’s unfortunate about this is that Josh isn’t some hardened old fundamentalist pastor from some generation gone by. He’s my age. And he’s perpetuating a philosophy of staying silent about problems that will inevitably reap a harvest of future pain.
I’m encouraged that he does seem to be advocating more tolerance of the wider body of Christianity but I’m also forced to wonder if it’s true (as his article claims) that he shows a truly non-critical spirit to others such as Christians who are charismatic, or Calvinist, or lovers of CCM. Perhaps we should compare and contrast what comes out of his pulpit with the tolerance that he claims to show.
Update 1: It has been correctly pointed out that Josh does not appear to still cling to his fundamentalist roots on many of the standards and separation issues that are typical of places like PCC. Frankly, I’m pleased to hear it. My point about calling criticism inherently wrong, however, remains.
When talking about leaving fundamentalism there are two movies that people reference more than any others. One is The Village which I still have not watched since I’ve already had it spoiled for me by people eager to tell me that at the end of the movie you find that after discovering the half-buried Statue of Liberty, Luke’s father can see dead people. So rather than spoil it for you too, I’m going to talk about the other one.
The other movie is, of course, The Matrix. After spending years living in a computer simulated world, our hero awakens to find out that in the real world humanity is enslaved to machines. Then he learns kung fu and bullet dodging. There’s some other stuff that happens but those are the really important bits.
There is an incidental plot line in the movie, however, involving a relatively minor character who, although he has been awakened to reality, cannot stand the ugliness that he sees in the real world. Eventually, he betrays his comrades for the promise that the machines will put him back to sleep and he will be able to enjoy the fake world blissfully unaware that it’s all a sham.
In scene of his betrayal he sits at a table eating a steak and proclaims that “ignorance is bliss.” The movie paints him as weak and despicable but if I’m being honest, I have to say that I know how he feels. Sometimes I wish I could forget too. Even though I love my freedom and know the truth of the emotional and spiritual slavery that exist back where I used to live, there are sometimes when I wish I didn’t know.
Those moments of nostalgia and longing can hit you when you least expect it, even years after you depart from fundyland. I had lunch with an old friend this week, someone I had known from missions camp and hadn’t seen in a dozen years. She talked with my wife and I about raising kids and the various trials and blessings of the last decade. She and her husband are still fundamental Baptists although a decidedly saner strain than most. They’re in full time ministry now but she’s still gracious enough to be my friend even though I’m the SFL guy. We all talked smiled and invoked the half-forgotten names of people and places that I haven’t thought of since another lifetime. It was hard not to wish in some part of my soul that I could go back to those days again.
Back there I know the culture and the people. I know how to fake it with the best of them and be as publicly pious as anybody. I know how to read the Scriptures that affirm my superiority and ignore the ones that don’t. If I went back I could have friends again, and maybe two or one of them would actually be what they seem. I could have a church again, at least as long as I walked the line. Most of all I could have the certainty of knowing exactly where my place was in the world and the assurance that all was well as long as I did as I was told.
But I can’t do that. I can’t go back there again if I want to keep my soul. There’s no way to un-see or un-hear the things that I’ve shared here over the past years. I know the truth and no matter how much I pine for the leeks and garlic of Egypt that truth will force me to be free. But I’ll beg your pardon if for a moment I grieve for days gone by for friendships made and lost and death of the life that I once knew. I’ll ask for your understanding if I should shed a tear or two for distant dreams that life has killed.
But though I grieve I cannot ever go back. The steak is a lie.
Many of you know that the last couple years have been very difficult for my family with health and financial woes aplenty. But where hardship did abound there did generosity and kindness much more abound. So many people have taken it upon themselves to lend a helping hand in ways both small and large as we continue to struggle through this time in our lives. We are as humbled as we are thankful.
Living through the charity of others, however, has revealed to me a twisting in my thoughts and a weight upon my soul that I had not realized I still bore from fundamentalism. The lesson that I learned there was simple: “Grace is debt. Blessings are debt. Kindness is debt.” Nothing in fundamentalism is free. Everything from the saving of your soul to the nourishing of your body must be repaid in full.
Who among us has not heard this charge laid to those who have left their fundamentalist church? We did so much for you! Remember when we helped your family with their electric bill? Have you forgotten those times we showed you kindness and love? Have you no shame to leave without repaying us what you owe?
So even today as my heart overflows with thankfulness for those encouraging words, that check in the mail, or those groceries given with a smile, my inner man is busy with his ledger adding credits of guilt to each debit of grace. I owe. I owe so much to so many. How can I ever hope to repay it all? I could work a lifetime and never come close.
But in my awakening soul I sometimes now can dimly see that kindness is not debt but joy. This is no ledger but only a journal, a history of thanksgiving. Here too is grace. Wonderful. Amazing. Free.