When asked “what is a fundamentalist?” I often quote George Marsden’s famous response that a fundamentalist is “an evangelical who is angry about something.” However, I’ve begun to realize that in many cases this definition does not go quite far enough in showing that when a good fundamentalist is very wroth and full of all manner of anger against something, he inevitably chooses to attack people instead of deeds and personalities instead of doctrine. In short, it’s almost impossible to be a good fundamentalist unless you’re not only angry about “something” but also angry at “someone.”
Someone is ruining Christianity. Someone is dooming America. Someone is sending souls straight to hell. We must find that person and call them insulting names in a sermon to the great amusement of the congregation.
Including the angry at “someone” in the definition of fundamentalists also helps to show how stereotypical fundamentalist behavior is hardly exclusively found in Independent Baptist Fundamentalism. When non-Baptist pastors who are otherwise hip, cool, and trendy get in their pulpits or on their computers and begin to cross the line from contending for the faith into the world of sneeringly condescending to their fellows then the seeds of destruction are already sown in their bosom.
It saddens me to see that so many fundamentalists become disillusioned with the graceless slings and arrows cast from IFB pulpits only to become the followers of other equally graceless men and movements. Fundamentalism dressed in skinny jeans and playing praise music is fundamentalism still the same. Being a fundy is never about a specific set of standards but is rather a misunderstanding of God and ourselves that results in a graceless attitude towards our fellow man. Some Baptists do it. Some Catholics do it. Some Republicans do it. Some Democrats do it — and on and on the list goes.
Pick any issue near and dear to your heart and think of those with whom you disagree. If we cannot speak with grace and love to those on the other side of that issue then we should have a care. Perhaps it’s time for us to take stock and reevaluate our motives to see if we have become the mirror of the very thing we hate. We all have the potential to create our own new version of fundamentalism.
On a personal level I spend a good deal of time in reflection trying to walk the fine line of attacking problems not people here on SFL while demonstrating absurdity, bad doctrine, hypocrisy, abuse, and plain old silliness. Sometimes pointing out those problems is best demonstrated by featuring a specific person but as much as I may be accused of hating fundamentalists, I try my best not to hate them or anybody else in this world. I would love nothing more than for for fundy pastors to humbled, fundy churches to be healed, and for fundamentalist universities to begin the work of helping instead of hurting.
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far. Perhaps grace will also lead us all home some day.
How do you measure success? In fundyland it’s almost always done in terms of standards kept and appearances maintained. Looking righteous is an end in itself.
So often we hear the glorious claims of wonderful outcomes for people who follow the fundy path. Never mind if they are happy or well-adjusted. Don’t ask if they are honest or decent to their fellow man. Do they appear to conform? Do they seem to obey? This is all that matters.
“They practiced courtship instead of dating and they were married for 53 years.” And they made each others lives a living hell. He cheated. She secretly drank. When he died she only felt relief. “God truly blesses us when we try to follow his plan for marriage!”
“This wonderful family hasn’t missed a single church service in the last 10 years!” The children sit petrified of being hit and screamed at when they get home if they put a foot out of line. As we speak the little girl has a 101 temperature but she was dragged here anyway. “Surely God honors their faithfulness.”
“Every single one of his six children and eighteen grandchildren are now in full-time ministry!” One will be indicted this week for fraud for embezzling from his church. Another is an atheist who just can’t get up the courage to admit it that he doesn’t believe his own sermons. A third regrets every day of his life that he didn’t follow his dreams away from fundamentalism. “This man is a shining example of how to train up a child!”
The devil is in the details.
Time in fundyland is neatly sliced into three categories as follows.
The Glorious Past
The Glorious Past encompass everything from the time that Noah put the dinosaurs on the ark up through the time when our old senior pastor still ran the church and had dinosaurs running the music program. These were the days when things were done right. The biggest sin anybody committed was chewing gum in church and those people were summarily stoned to death. It was the era when missionary stories still happened in real life instead of just on flash cards. People were white, women were silent, and life was good.
The Glorious Future
This time will come only when fundamentalists end up running things. The jury is still out on whether that’s done by sweeping into office on the Republican ticket or by coming back to earth and just killing all the infidels in a post-Tribulation bloodbath. Either way the fundies are really excited about the prospects. A good time will be had by all (except the infidels).
The Present Conflict
Life in the present isn’t like it was in the old days so we’ll spend our days working to usher in the glorious future instead of wasting time on the present world. Don’t bother with art and music and culture, it’s all going to burn. There is only one mission and that is to swell the ranks of fundamentalism and prepare the troops for battle. Payday will be someday but not now. Life now is mostly pain and drudgery as well it should be. As it is written: He hath given us all things richly to enjoy the promise that some other day we’ll have fun. To the work!
For all their posturing about being separated from all other Christian denominations, Independent Baptist Fundamentalists do a fair number of activities which are familiar to other Christians. They have sermons, they sing songs, they memorize Bible verses, and they evangelize in one form or another. But what marks the stark contrast between the fundamentalist and so many others is the internal logic that drives the choice to do these things or do them in a particular way. A thing is not worth doing until it’s worth doing scared.
Most Christians might memorize portions of God’s word so that it will be in their heart and mind for them to meditate upon in times of need or during personal worship. The hardcore fundamentalist, though, is just as likely to memorize God’s word so that when the Communists come to steal and burn his Bible (or possibly replace it with a Good News For Modern Man) he’ll still have a little of it left. It could happen any day now.
Many Christians enjoy playing an instrument or participating in music during worship for no other reason than that it is a pure expression of joy and worship. The fundamentalist, however, might be playing the piano because if she ever stops God will likely make her hands fall off to punish her. He does that kind of thing. I think it’s in Leviticus.
Still other Christians look forward to church services as a respite from the daily struggle, a place of refreshment and of touching a bit of heaven here on earth. The fundamentalist on the the other hand knows that skipping church increases their chances of being decapitated, hit by a car, or becoming a Peace Corps volunteer by about 18,000%. There’s a proof text for that in the Bible somewhere too — but I haven’t memorized it yet.
The call is clear: whether ye eat or drink or whatsoever you do, make sure you’re driven by the purest of motives. And the greatest of these is paranoia.