Friday, June 10, 2011

The Exodus

About 2 years ago, I wrote a note on a social networking site that charted my realization of Fundamentalism's problems and declared an official theological break from it. I received a largely positive response – however, due to fear, I limited its access to people I knew who would likely be of a similar mind.

I took it down a few months later because I heard through the grapevine that it had gotten around to some people who were viewing it as an attack on them specifically rather than on the problems of Fundamentalism in general. I have since learned that this response is a common way of diverting attention away from the real problem.

I recently re-read the declaration and think it is worth discussing in this blog because it was really the genesis of my eventual exodus. I won’t re-post it entirely because wow, was it angst-ridden. Though at times painfully accurate (like the prediction I would lose my job if I were too publicly honest about my struggle), other times it rather missed the point. I still largely stand by what was written, but I’ve since fleshed out more specific underlying reasons for the issues discussed. Hence this blog.

The following excerpts are presented here with current thoughts for contrast:

"...I have been uncomfortable with some aspects of it (fundamentalism) through the years. Until lately, I didn’t think too hard about those problems, because fundamentalism was ‘right’. The only alternative was to be 'wrong'. Right?"
And there’s the rub right there, isn't it. As a Fundamentalist, I thought (and was taught) that we were the only Christians who “got it right”. Everyone else was wrong. So to even question that Fundamentalism itself might be deeply flawed is a huge paradigm-shattering step. I still get patronizing comments that I must have just come across a few bad apples, but I’ve been exposed to a broad enough section of Fundamentalism to realize that these problems are the norm, not the exception.

“…I’m ashamed that it has taken me this long to see and speak up. There are people who are where I used to be, browbeaten into a form of religion that denies the power of God. This is a burden, a sad, heavy burden for those who are trapped there still and who don’t realize that God is so much better than they’ve been led to believe. “
It’s still sad, and I'm still ashamed. I see people responding to me in ways I probably would have not so very long ago. Now, I can't believe I ever thought that way. I think the responses are large part due to this blinding core belief about the basic "rightness" of Fundamentalism.

1. By their fruit you shall know them.
Matthew 7:15-20; Galatians 5:21-22

“Upon returning to fundamentalist circles after a hiatus in the real world, I was shocked at the behavior I saw on a daily basis.”

“Honestly, I have never been treated with such disrespect in my life until I came here.”
In retrospect, I don't think it was really disrespect per se. It was actually jockeying for power. As a person in a job with authority, I had automatic power. As a woman, I also had automatic powerlessness. Frequently, I had men (especially men in leadership/preaching positions) treat me as someone without any power because of my gender despite the power of my position. Other people of either gender treated me the way they did because they were fighting for some modicum of power in their lives – because they had been maneuvered into a position of powerlessness by others. The cycle is quite vicious.

“This experience has shown that the usual fruit of fundamentalism is instead anxiety, fear, self-centeredness, obnoxiousness, willful ignorance, obsessively controlling others deemed weaker than you, lack of love, and ungratefulness, just to name a few.”
See, I did get to the power dynamics here, though obscured by other issues.

“I have seen that abuse is rampant in fundamental circles. Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Yes, it’s real, and it happens, and it is rarely being talked about/dealt with by fundamentalists in anything approaching a reasonable manner. Again, I’m not calling out fundamentalists because they have these problems, I’m calling out condoning and covering the problem. Forgiveness and submission are twisted in a misguided fashion that ends up keeping the one being abused under the thumb of the abuser rather than helping them (or helping the abuser, for that matter). Parents provoke their children to wrath; yet only the child gets lectured about how he should honor his parents. Authority figures impose their will on those around them rather than being gentle, apt to teach, and patient; people who question their behavior are labeled as disrespectful to authority and rebellious.”
What is abuse but power used/maintained/gained inappropriately? This dysfunctional Fundamentalist power dynamic is ripe for perpetuating all types of abuse. It’s also what keeps many good people trapped in the system.

2. What fundamentalists think /say they believe vs. what beliefs their actions and words truly reveal.

"Fundamentalists say that they believe that the heart is more important than outward behavior. Yet most of the time, their actions run counter to this affirmation. As long as you exhibit a certain set of behaviors, one’s spirituality is rarely questioned. Never mind that the behaviors may be done out of a wrong motivation or solely because of an iron-fisted authority requires them."
Huge, huge issue here, and one that I plan on going into detail about in future posts. Again, this contributes significantly to keeping a lot of people in fundamentalism who should otherwise know better. They hear the words that sound right and appropriate (and sometimes may be), but miss the fact that those correct concepts are horrifically mis-applied.

3. “I will condemn you with your own words…” – Luke 19:22

If there’s one thing that seems to override much of fundamentalist behavior, it’s “being a good testimony”. We make sure our facilities and families look nice. The principle of avoiding all appearance of evil is flogged and twisted into a behavioral straightjacket - all in the name of being a testimony to the unsaved. You don’t admit to any problems you’re having in your life because, well, you know, it might give the unsaved the wrong idea. All so unsaved people can look at the sparkly shiny Christians who have it all together and want to be like that. Not to be like Christ, mind you, but to be sparkly and shiny Christians who have it all together. We’re selective on what we decide is offensive, however. Fundies are perfectly happy to hold up a sign that says “Fags go to hell”, but heaven forbid we go to the grocery store in jeans.
Fine, yes, Westboro is offensive enough to be odious even to most Fundamentalists. However, you don’t have to look very far to find a leader in Fundamentalism making statements just as offensive.

"So what does this all mean?"

"I still believe that the Bible is true; I still believe in the cardinal doctrines of the faith."

"...some may say that by rejecting fundamentalism, I have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. I counter that I have finally searched through all that dirty, mucky water and realized that there is no baby. I’m not going to argue whether it used to be there or whether it was never there before; I merely declare unequivocally that it is not there now. And I’m leaving to go find Him.”

Two and a half years after this declaration, I have finally left the world of Fundamentalism completely. I feel like I’m starting my life over again. I’ve never been more free, never loved so much, never had such a keen awareness of who God is – from His holiness to his love to his justice to his mercy. I am being completed rather than broken as I have learned orthodoxy instead of heterodoxy. God has been merciful to this self-righteous unloving servant, and I am finally in awe of His work rather than mine.


  1. I am figuratively standing and applauding, especially that last paragraph. I have to say sometimes I hesitate to join in these conversations with those of you who have done the hard work of leaving, not b/c I think you are wrong but b/c I am still there and have not done that hard work yet. I KNOW that seems cowardly and like a contradiction. I don't know what to say to that. We are still there, but restless. The only thing I know to say is that God has been slowly changing me over the years but still has not seemed to make a way clear out of the midst of all this. This post is great. Thank you for putting your journey into words.

  2. SJ, thanks again for coming by.

    Yes, it's sometimes a hard journey. I don't know if it ever ends, either. Don't feel guilty that you haven't "arrived" (whatever that means) - the journey is sometimes part of the destination. The restlessness is good. You don't know what it is to be truly full when you haven't first been really hungry.

    God leads on His timetable, not ours. Just follow Him. And don't be afraid to follow Him. He loves you.

  3. Thanks for your kind words. I am thankful our work situation is not in fundamentalism. I can not even imagine how that would feel.

  4. (I ran across you on Stuff Fundies Like, btw).

    "As long as you exhibit a certain set of behaviors, one’s spirituality is rarely questioned."

    YES. YES YES YES. I've seen this so many times. They say it's about the heart, but all the emphasis is on the outward. If you look right you must be alright! Never mind that the person is really completely disillusioned with the whole thing and borderline depressed....