For many fundamentalists the entirety of their spiritual life is comprised of a series of moments in time in which they have made BIG DECISIONS. If you’re a fundy nine-year-old who has just decided in the throes of religious fervor that he’s going to become a preacher boy, never kiss a girl until he’s married, and never buy alcohol at any place where they sell gas (the details are often confusing for a nine-year old) then you had better plan on never, ever changing your mind. For he who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for fundystand.
What’s that you say, John? You want to go to a state school and be an engineer? Don’t you remember surrendering to missions during our Patch the Pirate Club back in the summer of ’91? And a missionary doesn’t need a state school, he needs training at our basement bible college…
Esther, do you really think you’re going to marry that guy you met at work? Didn’t you promise when you were but a wee girl to let your parents pick someone for you to helpmeet? I’m sure God doesn’t want you going back on your word.
Bill, didn’t you swear as a teenager that you were going to give half your income to missions for the rest of your life? Need I remind you where liars go?
There’s a reason that minors are not allowed to enter into a legal contract. If only there were the same prohibition on them entering into a life-altering spiritual one as well.
To the fundamentalist, life is a series of tests wherein the Christian is confronted with a temptation or decision that in an instant may weigh him in the balance and find him wanting. One wrong move, one little slip, or the smallest of infractions may send even the most committed fundy’s life hurtling out of control and leave him destroyed, useless, and more than likely dead in some horrible fashion.
The result of this belief results in some astounding acts of post hoc thinking, wherein the a preacher looking back upon the events will declare that it was Wednesday the 24th of June at 4:30 p.m. when little Tommy decided to skip the mid-week service and thereby sealed his fate to die in a freak cement mixer accident two days later. I mean it’s obvious, right? How could we fail to draw the obvious conclusion that one small slip can meet with unimaginable consequences?
Yet, those who study risk can tell you that almost inevitably no disaster is the result of a single decision. It takes a confluence of events compounded by multiple bad choices and usually involving more than one person’s actions to end up with a truly horrific outcome. Unfortunately, those kinds of stories just don’t have the same clear cut relationship of action to consequences that the fundy craves.
A lingering glance, a wrong word, a flare of temper, a resistance to authority, a hair out of place, or a simple act of defiance and the hammer of God’s wrath will fall upon the hapless person and smash them to bits. It’s a wonder that while walking on this precarious tightrope of sanctification that the fundy has any time to care about anybody or anything other than himself.
Imagine for a moment that you’re a fundamentalist pastor who has recently decided to make a big change in his ministry. Perhaps you’ve decided to add a bus ministry and a baptistry for children that’s shaped like a fire engine. Perhaps the move is even more drastic such as leaving your church to become a full-time evangelist or even something as far out as moving to the Midwest and starting your own end-times cult.
Whatever the case may be, you’re sure to insist that the only reason you’ve decided to make this move is that God Himself has told you that it should be done. Given that kind of authority for his choices, one wouldn’t think that a fundy pastor would care all that much whether or not the rank and file of people around him agreed with his decision or not. If God be for him, who can be against him? Why care what the unwashed masses think?
Yet, experience proves that not only must a fundamentalist pastor have God on his side but he will brook no disagreement from any mere mortal about his decisions as well. Even if he’s got one foot out the door of his ministry, voicing any apparent concern about the Man o’ Gawd’s decision to suddenly leave may well end you up called on the carpet by the new pastor to repent of your rebellion toward the old one. You can also expect haranguing phone calls from other members, anonymous notes of condemnation sent to your job or home, and possible removal from whatever ministries you happen to work in.
At any crossroads of decision the pastor knows that with God on his side, he’s in the majority — but he needs everyone else to agree with him anyway.