Fundamentalism: A Personal History

Today I’d like to share a guest post by SFL reader David Kennedy. I love to hear stories like this that end with a new beginning. Not all of us go through the same things or end up in the same place but the reality that people can find peace after fundystan should be an encouragement to us all.

“3….2….1…..HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!”

This phrase will be said many times in the coming hours of this the last day of 2011.

People are gearing up in Times Square and are ready to throw confetti and find that special kiss to ring in 2012. As I have been out and about today, I have found myself mulling around about what all 2011 has meant to my wife and I. I don’t think that I could speak justly about year 2011 without turning around and tipping my hat to
some other years as well. Here they are in chronological order…

80’s & 90’s
Some very exciting things happened to me during these years! I took my first breath, said my first words, went potty all by myself, went to school, learned to read, write in cursive, add, subtract, spel stuf write, how to smooch and met some great people along the way.

Ok, maybe I’m not completely sure what all really happened during
those years but my mother still proudly displays those photos around her house to remind us all of this exciting time.

One day during those years, I stopped banking on a prayer that I could not remember for my standing with Christ. I will never forget the day that I knelt and cried out to God to save me.

To the 80’s & 90’s, thanks for bringing me into this journey of life, for letting me learn basic educational needs, for letting my paths cross some pretty cool people, and for having the distinct privilege of knowing my relationship with Christ began during this time. I give you my official thanks and say goodbye. Now, I officially start my journey and what a journey it has been from this point. It has been one wild ride that I want to share with you!

Y2 what? I will never forget sitting in our house on Heritage Drive waiting for the apocalypse to occur 12 years ago. Well, nothing happened. What a waste of a night that was!

Shortly there after, we uprooted and moved and left the only state that I had ever known. Moving to Illinois I saw snow stick for more than 10 hours, had a white Christmas, had a real job, and saw that “Christians” could really hurt you if you were not careful. After graduation, I left the place I had called home for 2 years and moved away to college to begin the real journey of life….my life.

For those couple of years, I shake your hand with my sincerest regards, say thank you for letting me get my diploma, and kick-starting a great journey that I am still riding and holding on to. If only life would have stayed this simple!

Welcome to college big boy! I was out on my own and ready to establish myself as David Kennedy the person. I was away from home and ready to start my life but at the same time I was as lost as a golf ball in the rough. What was I struggling with? My calling? Bad choices? Temptation? To be honest, I think that all of us at one point or another have fought those fights but that was not necessarily what my fight was.

My problem was this…my conservative background.


Let me say this before I go any farther down this path, I love my family and my parents more than you will ever know. Not for one minute do I regret where I have come from or how I was raised. It has all played a piece of the puzzle of my life and I would not change it for a minute.

I was raised in a very conservative family. I refuse to sit here and list out the things that were taught to me but just trust me on the fact that there was definitely a list of do’s and don’ts. I knew that there was a list of what was acceptable behavior as a Christian and what was not.

At college, I saw many things on the list being broken. What was I supposed to do? Well, I did the easiest fix to the situation. I ran. Instead of staying and looking at it in a different light and establish what I truly thought about it all, I left. I moved away to
Oklahoma City to enroll in a school that I knew was teaching it the right way. After all, their motto was “Ask for the Old Paths”.

A few days after beginning school, I met a beautiful woman who would one day become my wife. We married and began life together. Before that blissful day of matrimony, we were able to see many things that began to throw some flags up in our eyes. Questions began coming up in conversation. Why do they say this is wrong? What is so bad about me wearing this? Is that really the way God wants us to handle things?

Though many of those questions were born from my own stupidity, irresponsible decisions, and sin in my heart, our questions still had merit. In the final days of college, I was able to have an internship at a church in the North Tulsa area. What a gutsy move by that pastor to hire a kid still in school and take a chance on him. Just like all the places my life had taken me before, I was able to build relationships with some absolutely amazing people that I still have relationships with today.

To those years, my heart is filled with so many things I could say. Thanks for letting me meet some incredible people, for letting me begin to question what I truly believed, for bringing two lives together in such an incredible way, for allowing me to see the mean side of people in leadership, and for letting me leave. At this point, I officially turn the page on that chapter in my life with incredible thanks.

Little did I know, this portion was the beginning of the end of my life as I knew it.

What would a new job, new home, and a new state bring to my life? Whew….if you only knew! We went to Michigan with great ambitions of working with teenagers and getting paid to do it! We settled in and began our lives. Working in a new church, we still had questions. Why were we doing it this way? Does this way truly please God the most?

During this time, my wife and I experienced the miscarriage of our first child. This was one of the hardest things that we walked through but had great support from our friends during this time.

Due to the financial structure of the church we were at, this position only lasted for a few months. We were told that at the end of the year, the church could no longer afford us on staff and that we would not be paid after that. What about the bills? “Kind of wasn’t their problem”, is the answer we got. Don’t get me wrong, they were not mean about it, but understand that we just did not see it coming.

We moved away from there saddened, but most of all, we were leaving with a huge financial burden on our backs. We just knew we were leaving there headed to Arkansas to a great place with an awesome pastor. Boy, were we wrong and about to walk into a HUGE mistake.

Not that the place was bad because again, we met some great people there and have some great relationships with them to this day…just not the pastor. I am not saying he is evil but I’m not saying he is the epitome of a gracious man either. When the last thing the man you work for, your pastor, says to you before letting you go 3 weeks
before your first child is born is, “Let me know if you need help with the moving truck.”, you know things were not good.

So there my wife and I were in the delivery room holding our first child with no pastoral visit, no church family, just our parents and a few friends who refused the pastor’s order to stay away. I just kept thinking that if this is what working in the ministry was all about, it was not for me.

I began looking back at the churches I had worked for and saw everything that they stood for. Many standards of dress, music, places you could go, hair length, movies, Bible versions, “every time the doors are open” mentality, and other “important” issues. Why were they so strong on these issues yet they could be some of the most mean, unforgiving, bitter, and hurtful people?

From my college, to the pastors that I worked for, I kept on wondering, surely there was more to being a Christian than that? Don’t get me wrong, I was raised conservatively yet had a loving dad. He was the exception. He was conservative, just not mad about it. For my wife and I, we had seen enough. We called foul and truly began looking at who we were and why we believed what we believed.

After being released from the hospital with our newborn, we packed up the few things that would fit in a couple of cars and moved verything else into storage. We began to heal under the love of my parents, all the while still searching for where we were at in our lives and ready to begin the next chapter of it.

To those years, I look back on them and thank God for them. Thank you for showing us the ugly side so that I appreciate the pretty side, for the people that we found in our lives that we still love today, for those who tried to destroy us, for the forgiveness that we can extend to them, for helping us begin the healing process, for
a dad, mom, and a church who loved us when we needed it most, for giving us a child to love on earth and giving us one to look forward to loving on Heaven and for letting us begin the most important phase of our life; healing.

Many times on a long drive to work, I would search my heart for the answers to the questions that I had. I had some very personal talks with God where I truly talked to him from my heart and just not out of repetition. There came times where I felt that maybe I was being disrespectful to Him, but I really think those were the times where I was just taking my burdens to Him and being transparent with God.

Quickly, I was learning that there was so much more to God than what I was taught. There was so much more to God than a list of what you can and cannot do. It was about what God did. It was not just learning about people in the Bible who were strong in their faith and never endured hardships, it was about learning about people who were incredibly weak in their faith who had a relationship with Him and
had found forgiveness, grace, and mercy from Him.

I could only find that spirit in my family and not in the churches that I worked for. However, I was taught from those churches how to make sure everyone is wearing a tie on the platform, to require teens to wear certain things to come to youth group,to have a hymn-only church, to run down a pastor/teacher that was not a member of the “right” church, and to hold a certain version of the Bible just a notch below God.

Sure, they gave me the rules, but they never showed the relationship with God that was needed. I simply found myself among the Pharisees.I found that I was not alone. Friends from all over the country had been trapped in this world of Phariseeism and were getting hurt and dropping out of their respective churches like loads of bricks. Surely there was more to it than the mess we were experiencing from “doing it God’s way” and working for “God’s men”.

I looked at what we had been through; failures, sorrow, disappointment, heartache, bitterness, and down right mean people, and I found…yes, there was more to being a Christian than what I had lived. My goal is not to “straighten them out” or try to rock the ship. My goal is to please God in all that I do. At the end of the day, that is whom I will stand before and give an account. I am not willing to stand before God with the mentality that I was taught,
trained, and told was Biblical.

We began to search for a place to go and serve in ministry. Our new home was going to have to be a place that would understand our past and not be like any other place that we had ever been before. Thank God, in 2009, we found that place. We have been serving here since then and are truly happy. We found that you can enthusiastically sing and worship God and not be sinful about it. We found that you can learn many things from people outside of your denominational flag and also found out that they are not bad guys and they actually love God too!

We also found that some things never changed. Is it ok for the methods and the way of doing “church” to change? Yes! Does the essential message that Christ really lived, He really died, and He really rose again for our salvation change? No! That is what this whole “church” thing is all about and not the way you dot your I’s and cross your t’s.

We became brand new people. Though everyone is not pleased about it, I will assure you of this, David and Alicia Kennedy are completely at peace with God about it. For my wife and I, that is what matters.

In late 2009, we found that we had miscarried our third child. We were heart-broken and sad, but also reminded that we have one more reason to make Heaven just a little bit sweeter to us.

2009, thank you for getting us to the point where we are today. Thank you for showing us that a relationship with Christ trumps any man-made rules that we can find. Thank you for letting us find forgiveness for ourselves, forgiveness for others, a love for God and people, and for making Heaven more precious to us. 2009, we hug you next and bid your farewell as we started the best part of our lives!

This was a year where we continued building upon the new foundations that we laid for our family. We began pushing through some barriers that we had in relation to trust and understanding of the pastor that we worked for. I will never forget after asking him for permission to do a really simple thing and him saying to me, “David, you can relax because I am not Pastor (name omitted).” That was exactly what I
needed to hear and what I had been longing for. I never worry about the pastor that I work for having ulterior motives in speaking to me, looking over my shoulder with doubts, or being in a popularity contest against me. All he wants me to do is love God and love the people that we are serving here in Kentucky.

In late December, our second child Cole was born and almost died before he was two weeks old. He is such a healthy boy now. We never knew that our family would depend so much on the #3 children’s hospital in the USA, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, but God knew about it and it was all in His perfect plan. To this year, thank you for letting us keep our son for a little bit longer and thank
you for letting us become a part of a great church and work for a great pastor! We grew closer to God as a family yet we did not see the fight that we were about to enter into.

I was diagnosed with testicular cancer middle of the year and am thankful to report today that I am in remission. Through this time, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and care that was extended to me during my fight with cancer. I was grateful that despite where I was in my walk with God or what church I was at;the support was there for me.

Why did it take a fight for my life to get it? Why was it ok to stand by me while fighting cancer and not ok to when I was healthy? Why can’t we just see that we have the liberty in Christ to set our standards and though your preferences are not mine, they are just that, preferences. I guess these are the questions we will never
get the answers to. Whether they agree with me or not, I am eternally grateful for all that cared for me.

This has been the year that has definitely drawn me closer to God and that He has used to make me more like Him. I am grateful that I am simply a trophy of His grace and mercy.

To 2011, I say my good byes to you. Thank you for letting me learn to fully trust in Him, for the many people who loved and prayed for me, and for a great place to work.

Here are a few things that I hope you will grasp and carry away from this story.

1. God knew it all long before I did. Jeremiah 1:5
Before we ever experienced any of the heartache, sorrow, or disappointments God was there and was never caught off guard. God is right there with you each step of the way. It may sound elementary, but humans seem to forget the most elementary of things sometime.

2. Forgiveness is possible, but only with God’s help. Colossians 3:13
Ever think you have had something happen to you that you just can’t forgive and get past? Let me just simply remind you that though it may not come easy, you can forgive because for no better reason than He has forgiven you.

3. Surround yourself with people that will look past your faults. 1 Peter 4:8
I refuse to be around people EVER again that will remind me of my past and my failures. If you have someone in your life that is constantly reminding you of where you failed and messed up, you need new people to share life with. How can someone love you when they can’t get past your failures? Clearly, scripture says something
totally different than that. As Christ said it best, “you without sin, throw the first stone”.

4. Just because you do it differently, doesn’t mean you are wrong. Mark 9:38-41
Who cares if I have different music in my church? If I do not have Sunday night services, are you going to answer to God for that? If I point someone to Christ with a different version of the Bible are you any better a child of God than I? On the flip side, how you do it at your church doesn’t matter to me. I will not stand and answer God for the way you do it at your place. If you want to worship standing on your head go ahead, but you will be the one to answer for that and not me. Just because you are doing it your way does not mean you are wrong.

I am firmly committed to the fact that I am certain that this is God’s plan for me and that’s what matters the most. At the end of the day, do not let man-made traditions, be it the “old paths” or the “seeker crowd”, dictate how your walk with God is going to be. My caution to you is this, whatever path you choose, be sure you are willing to give an account to God for it with a clear conscience.

5. Whatever you do, wherever you serve, remember it is about people. Mark 10:45
It is not about your tradition, your church, your likes, your preferences, or you ideology. It is about people. He did not die for your way or my way. He died for people. Now let’s go out into the world in which we live and make an impact for God.

Not because of our tradition or preferences, but do it because those people who are outside the walls of your place are what He died for! Again, I am not out to make a name for myself or to tear down any other ministry. Maybe this is all a part of the process of healing that I am going through. I am just sharing my story of how God has taken someone to a new chapter in their life and is growing him into His masterpiece of grace and mercy. May God bless you all!

Helloooooooo 2012!!!!!

50 thoughts on “Fundamentalism: A Personal History”

  1. Now this is a great way to start out the week. Sorry for the heartaches David and Alicia, but encouraged by God’s work in you and your testimony.

    1. Wow…thanks for sharing this story with us. My wife and I are still at that phase of trying to find the right place for us to serve…the one that understands where we came from.

      Thank the Lord you guys made it out and are healing. Does anyone know if David went to OBC in Oklahoma City?

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. May 2012 be year of continued healing and growth for all of us.

  3. It was a blessing to read this, though painful also. I’m sorry for all David and his family have suffered, and sincerely wish the best for them in the future. I will be praying for David, that his cancer will not return. 🙂

  4. Youve kept a Christlike attitude throughout all of this, that’s something that I can’t say about my own life.

    Thanks for sharing your story David.

  5. Great story of your life! I’m glad to hear that your parents were actually a source of healing for you. So many of us lose them as well in this process. God bless you and your family!

  6. God bless David and Alicia. Good for them for pressing on dispite their hyper-fundamentalist background and all the hurts they endured. Ministry can be the cruelest place to live in the fundy realm. I’m glad they got out of the extreme churches, before the children could remember anything aobut it. The ministry is often a tough place for children even in the best of situations.

  7. Thank you for sharing, David and family. If you haven’t already, I would strongly suggest you pick up a copy of the book “Tired of Trying to Measure Up” and/or “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” for you and your wife to read. I’m not trying to criticize (you’ve had far too much of that in your life already, bless you) but I see in some of your descriptions of your past the language of an abusee. What those people/institutions did was wrong. There may have been good people, but that doesn’t excuse wrong. True forgiveness does not gloss over wrong, it plumbs the true depths of the wrong, and with God’s grace, still chooses to forgive.

    May God bless you as the dear child you are to Him.

    May God continue to hold you very tightly to Him.

  8. “Many standards of dress, music, places you could go, hair length, movies, Bible versions, “every time the doors are open” mentality, and other “important” issues. Why were they so strong on these issues yet they could be some of the most mean, unforgiving, bitter, and hurtful people?” — That’s what I saw too. And I want Jesus and HIS Spirit of grace, love, humility, and compassion.

    I find point #3 very difficult: it’s hard not to surround yourself with people who remind you of your past and your failures when those voices are in your head, constantly accusing you.

  9. Thanks for sharing your story! The similarities between your journey out of the IFB realm and that of my wife and mine are very familiar.

    We just didn’t move as much, thank the Lord. 😯

  10. “I could only find that spirit in my family and not in the churches that I worked for. However, I was taught from those churches how to make sure everyone is wearing a tie on the platform, to require teens to wear certain things to come to youth group,to have a hymn-only church, to run down a pastor/teacher that was not a member of the “right” church, and to hold a certain version of the Bible just a notch below God.” ~~~ This statement could be my life except for the part about family. My husband, daughter & I left the IFB movement 21 yrs. ago but none of our family approved (and they still don’t). You are so very blessed to have your family’s support. You have been through a lot in your life & it is wonderful to see God working in you. My daughter has miscarried 2 children so I understand (through her) how painful that can be. Praying that you stay cancer free & that God will heal the hurts that you have gone through in every area of your life. God bless you & your family. Thank you for sharing!

  11. David,

    I could echo so much of your story. By the grace of God, I did not have to experience so much heartache and so much abandonment. The one truth that I have found is that even when I am dumb, sinful, and impatient, God is still faithful to me. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you on your continued journey of growing closer to him.


  12. Thanks for sharing your story. I especially like that you have discovered as have I that there are so many brothers and sisters in Christ out there to meet and serve with and love and to be loved by other than the stifled pharasaical IFBs. Yes, there are some who are still in but don’t judge our leaving and I thank God for them. I also thank God for positive happy inclusive new friends with whom I have begun to serve and have had many a great time of fellowship. It’s a major fresh start to a new year! May God direct you and your wife to where he can use you for his glory and may he grant you and your wife and children sustained good health to that end. Congrats on your fresh new life from a fellow recent escapee. 😀 How many others who read here will make 2012 your year to experience this freedom?

  13. Thank you for this. Sometimes the path God places us on is full of rocks and thorns, but, if we walk toward Him, He always binds our wounds. Grace and peace to you and your dear wife.

    You’re not the only ones walking this path…

  14. Thank you for this. We have left the IFB (I am a pastor) We are looking for a new ministry. Looking forward to what is next and the fact that we will never go back to a place where grace is talked about but rarely seen…

    1. “grace is talked about but rarely seen” — how sad but true. I could say this about love and Christian liberty too.

      We KNEW the right stuff, but our application of it was way, way off; so were the things we emphasized. Now we’re trying to focus on what Jesus said was most important.

  15. Thanks so much! I need to hear that there is Life After Fundamentalism. I don’t see how I can get out.

    1. Some circumstances make it very hard to extricate oneself from fundyland, but it can be done, even though it be at great personal cost. As we left, I kept reminding myself of this verse: “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” Hebrews 13:13 (NASB)

  16. Thanks everyone for your response to our story. People taking the time to read it all is encouraging to me and I am honored that you have looked at it. Special thanks to Heartland Baptist Bible College, Harvest Baptist Church Hudsonville, Michigan, and Faith Baptist Church Greenbrier, Arkansas for letting us experience everything! I hope our story is an encouragement to you all and gives hope to you as well. Big shout out to Darrell for posting it and for his advice on it.

    1. Ahh, so it is you who wrote the post! I’m sharing this with you in the hope that it will make you laugh. I’m sure I’m not the only one who tries to decipher what peoples’ cryptic screen names stand for on this site and when I tried to figure out yours, I came up with “dvd candy”. 😆

  17. Thank you, David, for sharing this. It’s an encouragement to even me–an “old folk”!

  18. Thank you for posting this Darrel and for sharing your heart with us David and Alicia.

    It really touches the heart of those who are still in the grips of fundamentalism (and who want out) and those who have left. Freedom is sweet.

    My favorite quote, “Thank you for showing us the ugly side so that I appreciate the pretty side”

    If I had never experienced the law than I would have never known the sweetness of grace.

  19. Wow did I ever need to see this today. My wife and I left a fundamental churcch this past year. Some of the people left behind are wonderful people, and I wouldn’t change my experiences there for anything. But the mentality there was that our relationship with God was dependent on what we did for Him. There was just no way we could do enough. We have found a church where the Gspel is preached every week, and where grace is found in every sermon. We have never been more motivated to serve Him then ever before- not out of obligation or duty or guilt- but of love for what He has done for us. My wife suffered a miscarriage this past week. Our hearts are broken. But we have grown so much this past year, that if this had happened a year ago, our attitude toward God would have been much different. Your testimony is a reminder that we are not alone in this journey. Thank you for sharing, Dave.

  20. I so loved reading this entire thing! There is just so much there that is a sort of “common denominator” for me, and probably for many here at SFL. May God richly bless you, for your faith in Him through some very dark days, and for your continuing to seek His Face. I loved this. 🙂

  21. Thanks for sharing! Exactly what I needed to hear…. my heart is still aching and the “forgiveness” is still in the working on it stages (although I thought it was done). Thank you for being so honest and transparent and reminding me that God does know it all and is using it to make me what HE wants me to be. The process hurts! But as you have shared, the results and continued growth in grace are well worth the pain.

    God Bless you and your family.

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