Friday, October 12, 2012


I greatly hesitate to post this - though admittedly mostly because some people possibly involved know who I am and read this blog.  However, this blog is about the lessons I've learned on leaving Fundamentalism, and this was a big lesson, so here goes.

I've already mentioned that we are currently attending an Episcopal church, which is a pretty far cry from any Independent Fundamental Baptist church.  The church we attended before completely breaking with Fundamentalism was a halfway-house for us - still quite conservative but many Fundy hangups were absent or at least less emphasized.  (Ironically enough, the teaching at this church woke me to a great deal of fundamentalist heterodoxy and peculiarities of the services there made me more comfortable with liturgical worship.)

Shortly after starting to attend Halfway Fundy Church, the pastor preached a message on grace that was freeing.  I especially remember him saying, "Grace is messy."  The point was that if you see another Christian doing something you may not agree with necessarily that isn't in a clear-cut area, don't judge.  Dialogue with that person.  Find out how what that person is doing brings them closer to God, and understand that it is God who leads.  It was a refreshing change from the usual sermons on keeping your testimony spotless and your mint tithed.

This church also put a heavy emphasis on being involved in a local Body - not in a controlling manner such as I have seen in the past, but with the emphasis that we are so desperately interdependent on one another that we need to be attached to a local church.  When people left the church they were encouraged to find another one as soon as possible so they could be "released from the care" of Halfway Fundy Church in a members' meeting.  In my experience it had always been done graciously and possibly even with a sense of relief that the person had found another church to plug into.

So, coming from a church that emphasized grace, dialogue, and interdependence I expected at worst intense discussion over our choice to join an Episcopal church, but by no means condemnation.

Sometimes my naivete astounds even me.

After we moved we kept in contact with our "shepherding group" - a smaller church group that met together in place of a Wednesday night service.  We shared with them some of our struggle and also shared with them that we were thinking about joining this Episcopal church.  The conversation was supportive and with implied trust that we were doing our best to follow the Spirit.

We then emailed the pastor to see what needed to be done to be released from Halfway Fundy Church's care.  The initial emails were light, but just before the members' meeting they suddenly began to be a lot heavier and filled with dire warnings about the Episcopal church's stance on things such as Christology, abortion, homosexuality, and women.

I wasn't there.  I cannot relay exactly what happened.  But the pastor advised us that at the members meeting, "no one was comfortable" with our choice, and several even voted not to release us.  The eventual consensus was that they couldn't not release us, but the release came with a warning essentially that we were doing a very dangerous and probably wrong thing.  With all that consternation coupled with an emphasis on the Body's interdependence, how many people do you think discussed this with us?


No one, either before or after that meeting, has had *any* contact with us on this subject.  Only those in our shepherding group even knew anything about it ahead of time.  (I have no idea if anyone from that group was at the meeting.)  One couple questioned us about it a few months later but that was due to a social networking status, not the member's meeting.  The conversation was warm and edifying on their part (and hopefully on mine as well).  I still think of them with particular fondness for their kindness.

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not upset that nobody kept tabs on us.  I'm an introvert myself, I understand how difficult it is to reach out.  Life is busy, and sometimes it seems like someone just left when it has really been months.  Had we needed, we could have reached back ourselves.

But what I can't get over is that this matter of conscience - not sin - resulted in such a kerfluffle with absolutely no one talking to us directly about it. If this were such a terrible choice and people were so concerned, why was there no follow up?  Honestly, my theory is that it wasn't a terrible choice, so the Spirit of God just didn't prompt anyone to seek us out.

We immediately wrote back to the church leadership expressing our hurt and dismay at how the situation was handled.  We felt accused of having no spiritual discernment, of not knowing anything about the Bible, and felt summarily dismissed.  Nearly a year later, we have had no reply of any substance.

So grace is messy - except when what the other person does is too far out of your comfort zone.

When you realize that the best part of Fundamentalism is still Fundamentalism - well, it's a heartbreaking lesson.


  1. I read your post the day you put it up. I’ve waited until now to comment because I wanted to be sure that I was clear and not being reactionary with my comments. (We know what happens when I respond right away on my first impressions. )  And first of all, I have “kept tabs” on you since you left. I read your blog and we are friends on facebook. I may not always comment but I keep up as best I can. Second, I was at the meeting at church. And what the pastor described as “uncomfortable” would have been better expressed as “concerned.” Yes, a few people did ask questions about your choice. And I don’t remember the vote so I can’t really say how many voted against releasing you. I wasn’t one of them. At the time of the meeting the elders shared the same concerns about the Episcopal church with us that they shared with you. We were told that they had shared those concerns with you. Now, I can’t speak for the church. I can only speak for myself. Am I concerned about your choice to join an Episcopal church? Yes. Why didn’t I ever discuss it with you? I can give you a long list of reasons but in the end it boils down to this: Fear. Fear of being misunderstood. (“We felt accused of having no spiritual discernment, of not knowing anything about the Bible, and felt summarily dismissed.”) Fear of losing contact. I have lost more than one friend because I felt the need to discuss a difference. You and your husband are my friends but you know that M holds a very special place in my heart. You moved half way across the country and I didn’t want to miss seeing him grow up, even if it’s just pictures. Maybe that sounds sentimental and silly but in the end, that’s why I never said anything. I pray every day that God will give you discernment and wisdom as you seek the truth. I should have said that sooner. I’m sorry I didn’t.

    1. Oh Mandy, I wish I could hug you right now.

      You know what else we Fundamentalists - especially female Fundamentalists - are good at? Taking on guilt that isn't ours.

      You're right. You kept tabs on us socially. You read my blog and knew probably more than most about what we were going through and why we chose that church. And despite being in the know more than just about anybody there, you didn't vote "no". In no way did you exhibit the behavior I'm talking about here. You identified it yourself that you didn't. You have no reason whatsoever to apologize.

      I'm not busting anybody's chops for solely being concerned. We all could use as many people concerned about us as possible, honestly. I'm also not necessarily fussing about people not voicing their concerns to us directly. What flabbergasts me is the public discussion and condemnation of a non-sin matter coupled with *no* communication from the people making the decision. That's the really Fundy part of all this. The accusations and dismissal we felt was because of the public nature of the discussion in which we were in no way involved. If our email and Facebook walls had been inundated immediately after the meeting with questions and concerns, then great. If the meeting had ended with "Hmm, there's a lot of uncertainty here, why don't those who have concerns go and talk to them over the next couple of weeks and we'll revisit this at the next members' meeting?" then great. That's grace-filled, that's charitable, and that's normal.

      We had even responded to the leadership's concerns to help them understand that their concerns were either not issues at this church or we had identified them already but were willing to live with them for the time being. Were only their concerns presented and not our responses to them?

      So you didn't express your concerns specifically, big deal. Again, that's not the real issue, and it's ok to be afraid. I understand that fear, I really do. It's not a small thing to have a discussion sometimes, especially to those of us who grew up Fundy. We have been taught that ideas are more important than people and that mere discussion is dangerous. That's part of the problem I'm trying to expose here.

      You want to know the real irony? My biggest fear in posting this was your response. You were my son's second mommy for a long time, and I value what you mean to me and my family. I'm not about to throw that away over a discussion of ideas, especially now that I'm a recovering Fundy. If someone gets nasty then I'll set boundaries, sure. But just about any discussion is better than silence.

      And hey look! We're talking about it now. And I still count you as one of my dearest friends from our time in Fundyland. Discussion is a lot safer out here.

      Peace to you.

  2. It was good -- even warming -- to read the interchange here. What you said in your post and comment make sense. Since I am part of this church and have great loyalty and love for it (as you did/do too), I want to learn from our failings and do better in the future. What happened to you was wrong and hurtful. Please forgive us and pray for us.

    Thank you for writing. Writing helps us express things that are sometimes inexpressible until they are written out. Writing is clarifying and cathartic. Thank you for being respectful yet honest, for taking the risk to write. The risk is that we may not always "get it right" -- we might think or say the wrong thing sometimes. But even if we do, that's OK. Like you said, that is how conversation gets started.

    And, honestly, R and I love you guys more, not less, because of what you have written. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you, John. I'm sorry I didn't reply earlier; for some reason this comment never showed up on my notifications.

      And thank you again for being the only ones who have discussed our church choice with us. You two have always stood out as exceptionally kind people in my experience.

      I will do my best to continue to pray for you all. It will be on my prayer beads, however. ;)

  3. I'm finally getting back to this discussion. Not that I haven't thought about it, but things got really crazy around here and exhaustion has become my new best friend lately. I have also hesitated because I want to ask a question, but no matter how I phrase it, it sounds like I'm having an attitude when I ask. So please know that this question comes in complete sincerity and without any trace of attitude. :)
    How should we have handled our concerns? You said that part of what bothered you was the public discussion. Should the elders have gone first to your Shepherding Group leader to see what they knew/thought? How would you have wanted them to share their concerns? I'm asking, because the way it was handled was obviously not the best way. I'm just not sure how those concerns should have been shared. I know that people (including me) should have contacted you personally afterwards, but what should have been done differently up front?
    I hope that was clear. If it wasn't, I'll try again. :) At this point I'm just trying to understand where the process went wrong initially so that hopefully, it can be handled differently in the future.

    1. Well, things are crazy around here too, so instead of being able to reply immediately, I just thought about it for a while. :)

      First of all, no matter what your "attitude" is, it’s a fair question. (That should probably be another post in and of itself – we fundamentalists are great at rejecting any form of criticism, no matter how valid, if we deem the other person’s "attitude" to be imperfect. It’s very convenient.) And again, it wasn’t the public nature of the discussion so much as the public condemnation of a relatively minor decision with zero contact by people in the congregation who were doing the condemning.

      Initially I started to dig into a list of specifics, but then I realized that was inadequate. A few examples might be illustrative, but still inadequate. Because the basic answer to help you "understand where the process went wrong initially" is, in essence that it shouldn’t have been such a process.

      But really, what do I wish had happened?

      I wish we had said, "God led us to a church to worship Him here," and the reply had been, "Praise God. God is good. Go with God." That’s all. We didn’t ask for advice, we just asked to be released from care.

      But there were concerns. Fine. I wish the concerns raised had taken into account the definition of grace that was in the sermon I referenced. I wish they had been answerable – no matter how we replied, it wasn’t good enough. The pushback we kept getting was bewildering, and I think we didn’t realize we were playing for keeps until the members’ meeting.

      I wish expressing the concerns hadn’t been coupled with odd reassurances that people still liked us and that we were such good examples when we were in Halfway Fundy Church and that we were still loved. We were "still liked"? Eh? And if we were such good examples when we were there, why wasn’t anything we said taken seriously? And if people stopped “loving” us because of the label on the church building we walked into every Sunday, then that’s not love, it’s enmeshment. It was just all so weird.

      I wish we had been treated like the Spirit-led adults we were being assured we were. I'm not sure how else to describe it.

    2. And after thinking for an even longer time off an on, I think the final part to this question is that I wish someone - anyone - in the congregation had stood up and said something approaching any of the following: "Wait a minute. This shouldn't be such a big deal. Why is this a problem? Why don't we all talk to them first?"

  4. Well, we would never take a vote to "release" you. We think you're adults; we don't own you. Actually, we're rather big on free will.

    The angst we inspire never fails to surprise me. What is so threatening about the Episcopal Church Welcomes You? Perhaps because we welcome people who are not all alike...