Fundamentalism: 1 a: a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching, b: the beliefs of this movement, c: adherence to such beliefs 2: a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles
“..the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” – 2:Corinthians 3:6
With all of the progress towards a vision of spirituality and a Christian faith which is more inclusive, thoughtful and centered on the core teachings of Jesus which I seem to see manifesting in society as of late-call it the inception of what I feel could be a great epiphany or spiritual awakening, or just a general shift away from fear and on a path towards more having open hearts and minds, I sincerely feel as if many of the prayers of the LGBT Community and our supporters are being answered.
In recent weeks, we have seen the shutdown of Exodus International accompanied by a formal apology from its leader, the Supreme Court acknowledging the unfairness of attempts to discriminate against the LGBT Community via DOMA and Proposition 8, and every day it seems as if more hearts and minds are opening wider to create a more inclusive world where all are equal, sexual orientation is a non-issue, and people work together to help, understand and accept one another despite our differences – a world like the one I feel Christ envisioned, and the one I feel God Wants for us all.
But every so often, I am reminded that there are still some great hurdles to be overcome down the path to such a destination. For all of the opinions voiced online, in print and in the media which seem to embrace that perhaps the message God gave us through Jesus was not one of fear and judgment but rather one based in love, mercy and compassion, it seems there is always a commensurate collection of opinions which perpetuate the old and archaic visions of a wrathful, jealous, divisive and angry interpretation of God, one which I feel is more crafted to represent humankind behaving at its worst. For every Christian who seems to speak out in favor of the virtues of the social messages of the Gospel, and the call to base our actions in a fashion congruent to the loving nature of Christ and the call to emphasize Love over Law and religious dogma, there seem to be three or four who are virulently vocal that any Christianity not based in a literal interpretation is not only counterfeit and blasphemous, but outright “discriminatory” of “real Christians.”
As with most other LGBT Christians who are all too familiar with this same rhetoric (which is now distributed far more freely and efficiently than it once was since the advent of the information technology driven age we live in; no one has to picket outside anymore when they can just post hateful remarks on someone’s Twitter, Facebook, or blog), I mostly just tune it out and avoid it. I know these types by their fruits, and the fruit is mostly sour, poisonous and force-fed. I have learned the valuable lesson that feeding the internet trolls and engaging in one sided debates is an exercise in futility and pointlessness and merely absorbs time I could and should invest in doing my part to bring something positive into the lives of another. An unfortunate side effect of all of the online conversation of any serious matter is that with the anonymity of a screen name like “Warrior4Christ” or “BibleIsTheLaw” one can feel more emblazoned to reduce people to pixels and make statements that can hurt much more freely than face to face.
One key fact that I have thankfully embraced is that attempting to argue with someone who is not there to listen to and attempt to understand alternative views but is only present in the conversation with their full interest vested solely in annihilating the opposing view is not a productive use of the time God Has Blessed me with in this life. Long story short: most times I don’t even think about the entire fundamentalism mantra. I would much rather focus on spiritual growth, and how to best use the gifts God Has Given me to make life better for myself and even more importantly, for others. That being said, there are certain situations where things are face to face – or at least in a state of personal communication via voice – where things come up that you cannot avoid by closing a browser window.
It was a somewhat routine conversation that I was having with a relative (one who I tend to find myself “agreeing to disagree” with regarding certain matters of faith and spirituality) when just one comment they made reminded me not only just how vast a difference in belief they and I have on certain issues, but how valid a belief system Christian fundamentalism remains for a great many people. We had been discussing a very complicated conflict in between my Mother and another of my relatives. The second relative (the one being discussed who was not present in the conversation) has been in the past very vocal about the fact that they are an atheist, and I mentioned to the one I was speaking to that although that was that relative’s choice and I did not judge them for it, I did feel sympathy for them. “I just could not make it through life without God,” I said.
The relative I was having the personal conversation seemed a bit taken aback and said, “Well, I hope (the relative who had come up in discussion) enjoys what they have in this life, because I am not too optimistic about their eternal salvation, and eternity is forever, although I will be praying for them.” And it struck me, through the fear and sincerity in their voice, that they were genuinely upset in their thought that this individual was going to be damned to eternal punishment. It was a concrete fact to them: there was not any way around what they considered to be a fact. They were absolutely convinced this person would be punished forever for their non-belief. They truly believed (even if through willful cognitive dissonance) in a God that would be that small and vindictive.
I responded with “I just feel sympathy for those who don’t know God, as that to me IS the definition of hell.” To which the response came, “Yes, but what about the afterlife?” I paused for a moment, and came back with, “I would imagine an afterlife of not knowing God’s Love would be equally bad.” I mentioned that I always pray that anyone who is not aware of God’s Love might come to know that they are loved, and then quickly moved to a different topic, out of knowing that the person I was talking to (as open minded a person as they are most of the time regarding social issues) attended an extremely legalistic fundamentalist Christian church and this could get really messy and unpleasant.
Just how legalistic is the church they attend? To cite an example, their billboards in the past have depicted people writhing in flames along with scripture quotes, and statements such as “Are you certain where you will spend eternity?” Certain members have referred to Democrats as “demon-crates,” and what few LGBT members they have (and I know there are a few) are about as deep into the closet as one can hide. Quite a few members are all over the latest media fabrication the irrational fear that as LGBT rights grow stronger and members of the LGBT Community are more accepted in society that Christians will be “persecuted” if not outright jailed.
This is one of the few relatives who I currently am not out to as bisexual, but I feel fairly certain that they know that I am. I’m not certain that they would have any issues with it, and knowing the kind of person they are, I don’t feel that I would be constantly met with a lot of “turn or burn” rhetoric. However, it is just an issue we do not discuss. They do know that I am a Christian, but with very liberal views which I think cause them to be “suspect” of the validity of my beliefs and uncertain of my “salvation,” but for the most part, the “agreeing to disagree” and seeking common ground seems to work best. I knew from experience that attempting to discuss my theology with them regarding certain issues was, and has been an exercise in frustration for both parties.
I found this entire exchange very disconcerting, not for the atheist relative, but for the one I was speaking to. Perhaps it was because I had once believed as they do, in a horrific interpretation of a God capable of what I consider to be petty vengeance embodying traits of humankind at its worst. A God that would not only deny someone the privilege of carrying on eternally but submit them to an eternal state of agony, all for not following or conforming to a specific set of rules and an extremely narrow parameter of “acceptable behavior.” While I have long since let go of the idea of any sort of literal interpretation or understanding of a “hell” – as I often say, before I knew of God’s Love, my life was hell, and it is a place I never want to return to – I do remember how painful the idea of an “eternal hell of banishment and punishment” was to consider. “Hell” to me now is a state of being and a condition of the soul which one can cease residency in at any time by letting go of fear and negativity and embracing God’s Love. But for the person who clings to or is ensnared in certain schools of fundamentalism, it is just as real as anything. For some fundamentalists, it is not a possibility, but a certainty. I cannot feel anything but sympathy for anyone who is held prisoner by that belief.
It also made me feel a little down because of the distance I have with this person. The feeling of not knowing how that conversation was going to end had it continued. And I also took into consideration other relatives, who in the past had allowed their allegiance to fundamentalist beliefs, ideologies, and memes create a vast distance and separation between us. There were some relatives in my past who became so dedicated to fundamentalist views that every meeting, every conversation was monopolized by scripture wars and conversion attempts, to the level that we could no longer communicate well. I made every effort. I fully acknowledged and respected the fact that although I did not share their beliefs that I did respect the importance of those tenets to them and still loved them unconditionally. Unfortunately, when they passed on, they were no longer on speaking terms with me due to my refusal to respond to an ultimatum that was issued to me: to either accept their belief system as truth and repent or my refusal to do something I feel would have been far worse, to lie and say that I had.
And finally, it made me grieve for those who I know and have known in the LGBT Community who have come out to friends and even their own parents who maintain fundamentalist Christian views and who have been the exception where they actually do not open their hearts and minds to attempt to understand, to love unconditionally and re-evaluate their faith in order to accept and embrace someone for who and what they are, but instead steadfastly hold to fundamentalist teachings and reject their loved ones. The parents who force their teenaged child who comes out as LGBT into the deceptive and false trap of “reparative therapy” or force them out to live on the streets, the lifelong friends that suddenly transformed into enemies because one came out to the other, the LGBT teen who never came out and instead took their own life because they were constantly bullied by others for being LGBT who felt as if they were “justified” to invalidate another because their church told them “the Bible says it was okay.” And the list could go on, but there is one common denominator which I constantly see at the root of all types of discrimination and even in rare instance the acts of hatred towards the LGBT Community: the continued justification of such behavior being attributed to “Christian beliefs” – and in this case, beliefs which are based in fundamentalist Christianity.
Although I have personally long since abandoned the old and psychologically crippling set of beliefs that eventually caused me to reject what we refer to and know of in this society, day and age as “fundamentalist Christianity” (and developed a stronger relationship with God through Christ in the process), I am at times reminded that for others these beliefs are equally as sincere to those who elect to maintain them as my own beliefs are to me. The instance with a relative was one, and I have had several friends and colleagues, as well as others in day to day life who subscribe to fundamentalist tenets. For as angry as I felt at one time towards fundamentalists, I learned over time that not all of them are from the same cloth, and some important lessons and reminders that while there are always some who fit a preconceived stereotype (more on that in a few minutes), I have come to see in a few wonderful instances that communication is entirely possible, and that sometimes the divide is not as great as it might initially seem, even with the vast differences in opinion.
Looking back for a moment at the actual first definition of fundamentalism:
1 a: a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching, b: the beliefs of this movement, c: adherence to such beliefs
This is what I think most of us think of when we hear the term “fundamentalist Christian” (aka “born-again Christian” or “Bible-believing Christian” and these days, to snag a term the media seems to use most predominantly, “conservative evangelical Christian”). These are individuals who we most often envision driving around with bumper stickers that say, “The Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it” or the “Marriage: One Man One Woman” ones, who send those chain e-mails about ways to shut down LGBT equality or a woman’s right to choose and are actively involved in making their beliefs into laws governing society, who are determined to aggressively convert everyone else to their way of believing, and invest a considerable portion of their lives engaging in such. And there are a great many that do identify with all of the above, and possibly more. However, this is not always the case.
Yes, I have met and I still do encounter those who are just as judgmental, pushy, and in some cases downright abusive. But I have actually had the pleasure in my life (once I got to know some who identified themselves as a fundamentalist or conservative evangelical) of discovering that not every single person who has a radically different set of my beliefs fits the preconceived notions. I have met those who respectfully agree to disagree and who are willing to engage in conversations without being judgmental; they are the ones who take Jesus’ admonition not to judge in Matthew 7 or the Great Commandment as having more weight than one or two archaic passages out of the Old Testament. I have met a few who are open to the thought that maybe Creation was not precisely as it is written out in the book of Genesis to the letter. And I have even met a few who were not anti-LGBT, and even went so far as to say “that’s not my place to make a judgment call, that is God’s and between you and God.” I have had thoughtful and intelligent conversations and civil discourse which was respectful with some of these individuals, where we honed in on the common ground issues which we did agree on, and on the points where we were divided considerably, we were able to agree to disagree. And I have to state, I had a great deal of admiration and respect for the fact that it was based out of their allowing their belief in the Jesus of the Gospels – when He taught that we are not to judge and to value everyone as our neighbor to hold more relevance than one or two verses of Leviticus.
A word about stereotypes, and one reason I learned to strive to let go of them: It is very easy, especially considering the mistreatment LGBT individuals have been the recipient of from many self-identified “fundamentalist Christians” in the past, to automatically be on the defensive (and in some cases, that might be rightfully so) or cast our own pre-conceived judgment based upon a label someone has claimed or issued for themselves as a “conservative evangelical” or “fundamentalist.” It is easier for anyone to categorize everyone into this or that group. But as a bisexual, I know better than to do that.
When I came out as bisexual over 15 years ago, I learned all about how frustrating and counterproductive stereotypes can be. To name just a few: “Bisexuals are all just confused, it’s a phase. Bisexuals will sleep with anything that moves. Bisexuals are just gay or lesbian people who can’t come all the way out. Bisexuals are all flaky and/or not trustworthy. Bisexuals just want to have heterosexual privilege”. While in some cases and with some people, all or some of them might apply, I don’t identify with any and neither do the majority of other bisexuals I have met.
While there are some who identify as bisexual and later identify as homosexual or heterosexual, there are a great many who have been bisexual all of our lives; it’s just like heterosexuality or homosexuality, it’s how we were Made. Yes, there are some bisexuals who are very promiscuous, just as there are homosexuals and heterosexuals who are; but there are others who are monogamous, or others like myself who have honest committed relationships with one female partner and one male partner and will not go outside of those relationships. And if you are an out bisexual – and open about such, there is no special privilege protecting you from the homophobic. Unfortunately, there are some bisexuals who act irresponsibly and have hurt or betrayed partners or spouses, but it isn’t all of us. But I was the victim of all of these statements being assumed merely by stating the fact of my orientation, and had all of them cast my way towards me by not only heterosexuals but also some in the LGBT Community as well.
But those are not the only reasons I know it’s never a good idea to jump to conclusions about someone. As a Christian, I have also been met with stereotyping by atheists: “You can’t be LGBT and Christian” is a phrase I heard far more times than I care to remember. Many of my gay, lesbian and transgender friends have been the victim of plenty of generalizations and assumptions as well; I won’t go into a full and lengthy list of examples, but not too long ago one of my gay friends posted a list of immediate assumptions and stereotypes that people have about gay male couples which are absolutely not true for everyone. Some, yes, but absolutely not all.
The point I am making here is that as much as I might disagree with the tenets of fundamentalist Christianity is that I don’t feel that it is always accurate to lump all fundamentalists into one group. There are those who are willing and desire to find what factors we might have in common and who sincerely desire to communicate and attempt to better understand and accept one another, and work together on the goals which should be common to all Christianity: compassion, mercy, doing the work of God in the World through being unconditionally loving to others and carrying on Christ’s Command to help those in need and make the world a better place.
I do simultaneously acknowledge that depending upon the level of fundamentalist belief and what it states or how that particular sect interprets it, the nice and respectful fundamentalists that desire to learn how we can work united rather than maintaining division based upon differences do end up being the exception rather than the norm. As far as I am concerned, if someone wants to interpret the Bible as literally true, and attempt to follow it exactly as they understand it to the letter, and they are at peace with that decision and have truly committed to it out of personal desire rather than fear of consequences and repercussions should they fail to do so, and they can do so while being considerate and respectful of all others as I feel Jesus taught is the path to God, then that is just as much their right as it is for someone else to elect to not believe in God at all, or for someone to be LGBT and Christian, or for anyone to be who they are in a way which is respectful and considerate of others.
But part of the very teaching of some fundamentalist Christian churches and movements have at the core the imperative to either convert or reject: if a person will not conform, they’re out. The mission seems to be to not only maintain a literal interpretation of the Bible, but to coerce, intimidate and outright force those beliefs on others.
Herein is where it can become very problematic: when one person’s faith is dependent upon the imperative to convert the other to conforming to those exact narrow and fear based beliefs – when a person is no longer content to merely believe and to follow what they feel is fundamental to being a Christian in their eyes but feels the requirement to force that belief on to others by whatever method necessary – well, there’s the issue in a nutshell.
I think for a better understanding of that, it helps to examine the reasons why a fundamentalist Christian would feel that imperative or be compelled to adhere to those beliefs at any cost to their own well -being or that of others.
First and foremost is that old devil – what I feel is the real “devil”: fear, the opposite of love. Regardless of how steadfast we are in our faith, all of us as human beings, regardless of belief have our times of questioning: Why are we here? What really does happen when this life comes to an end and what is next? Why do bad things happen to good people? What does it all mean? Or sometimes, the big question can be summed up as just plain, “Why?”
Fear of the one thing that we can be certain of, of the unknown and that God is a Mystery in many ways where we have to rely completely upon faith to fill in the blanks, leads many to having the very type of mindset that breeds the type of fundamentalist thought which is accompanied by the urgency to make sure everyone else thinks exactly as we do. (And it is not limited to Christianity or even spiritual matters, although that is the most common venue for it to occur, although I will touch on that later as well).
Someone who believes in the Bible as a document to be taken literally or has been trained through repetition to a certain dogma might honestly feel compassion and terror for someone who does not, or that they would or will be separated from their loved ones for all eternity lest they “correct the error of that person’s ways.” And in some instances, this is a very real fear to the person who is blinded by it. The only solution I feel that those of us who are LGBT and have fundamentalist Christian family who feels this way have is to maintain strength in our own faith that God Loves us with an Unconditional Love, and radiate that in our words and actions to the concerned loved ones as reassurance. Pray not to change them, but just for them to know the Truth of God’s Unconditional Love.
There’s a second type of fear that a fundamentalist who adheres to a literal and legalistic Biblical interpretation can also be a victim of in my experience, and it is that old demon called insecurity, often traveling with its ugly cousin, uncertainty. I used to hear an old saying from a hardcore fundamentalist Christian I knew when I shared what I believe: I suggested that the Bible was filled with metaphor, and filled with truths about God, but that to take it literally based upon the knowledge that we have as human beings which we have developed since the time in which it was written could mean that perhaps we should seek out the core messages and apply them contrasted with life as we know it today by viewing many of the stories as parables and commentaries on human nature and how we can grow in our faith and closer to God. His response was always a defiant:
“You believe EVERY word of the Bible, or you don’t believe ANY of it!”
Black and white. This or that. All or nothing. My way, or the highway to hell. I’m sure many of us have heard this one before. It’s a meme that seems concurrent in fundamentalist Christianity, not too unlike the one which attributes anything in natural history or science which is contrary to a literal understanding of the Bible or any other religious path as “the work of the devil,” who many fundamentalists seem in my experience to be lurking about at every corner waiting to entrap one’s soul and seem to credit with more power than God! To me, if one tiny part of one’s faith, a small brick of dogmatic thought missing or out of place could cause the entire foundation to come crashing down like that, it seems as if the entire faith is on a precarious foundation. Is that really faith?
That type of defensiveness and the need to convert others to one’s exact beliefs in order to successfully maintain them to me is indicative of a certain level of insecurity. In my experience, there is a certain level of deliberate cognitive dissonance being employed, as it is necessary to maintain a literal understanding of the Bible and when anything poses a threat to that, the solution seems to be to seek a strength in numbers approach by first encouraging others to see things their way, and when that is unsuccessful, intimidation through fear, and when that fails, force. In my experience, when someone is unsure, afraid or insecure of a belief or an opinion, often the response is to attempt to obliterate the alternative point of view.
I wanted to take a moment here to take a look at the second listed definition of fundamentalist and share an interesting observation:
2: a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles
While it is not wrong in my opinion for an individual to elect to personally adhere to a set of principles, I do feel that if they are not comfortable doing so, or are insecure in their feelings there can be a tendency to want their point of view to be seen as the superior or the ONLY correct one. It is not limited to Christianity or religion. A person can become a fundamentalist on any issue. I see it in politics, and even in non-belief.
I was once a member of a support group online for those who had been caught up in legalistic fundamentalist Christianity where others would share their stories. One person attempted to post a thread discussing how “all Christianity was a lie and harmful” and many agreed. As a liberal Christian I posted a response requesting that I did not feel this was true, and shared my beliefs, which are more radical than even most liberal Christians I know. No one was fond of this, and a few took it upon themselves to point out how wrong they thought I was and how “delusional” I was for believing in God. They were every bit as fervent in their pressure to “convert” me to atheism as some fundamentalist Christians had been to convert me to a heterosexual monogamous conservative Biblical literalist. It was then that I began to understand that fundamentalism was not confined to just Christianity.
Although this was not the case with me, I have known other bisexuals who, in the process of coming out were of the belief and very vocal about it that they believe “everyone is bisexual whether they admit it or not.” Their believing that is fine, if they want to, even though I know that isn’t the case. But they were still developing their own understanding of self-identity at the time, and it was easier for them to do so by wanting everyone else to be like they were rather than embracing the gift of the unique way they were created. I do recall suggesting that it is never a good idea to invalidate others to feel better about who you are, nor is it necessary or advisable. I just never felt the need to make others like me in order to feel confident in what I believe.
And it can be a somewhat dangerous and slippery slope for those of us who are liberal Christians as well should we ever become tempted to feel as if our beliefs as liberal Christians somehow make us more valued by God than fundamentalist Christians. I have seen it happen before – just last week when Pat Robertson made some hurtful comments about the LGBT Community when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, I noticed a few who asserted he was going to or should become the victim of some type of “punishment” from God or end up in hell. I cannot believe how some who have been a victim of the same kind of accusation, of being in danger of eternal punishment or a wrathful God would wish that on someone else for whatever reason. Sure, I would pray that God might bring someone who persecuted me peace so they would not be hurtful to others, but to wish hell on another? Judgment is exactly what Christ advised against, regardless of what kind of Christian we are. A better solution to me is ask God for the strength to overcome the hurt from words others might have caused us and seek to forgive and love those we might perceive as an “enemy.” Fighting fire with fire never works and is against all I feel that Jesus represents.
Another reason I encounter those who wish to continue is fundamentalist thought is because it supports some form of “cosmic justice” that sometimes people feel the need for in life. I have seen those who relish the thought of anyone who hurt them, betrayed them, or was unkind being “left behind” in the rapture where they were taken up to be with the people just like them, and anyone who they did not like was damned. Rather than truly forgive, perpetuation of the fundamentalist memes allowed them the opportunity for indirect retribution and vengeance. Is that true forgiveness of those who have wronged one, to allow God to avenge them? Or is true forgiveness learning to comprehend that we are all equally loved by God, and that although that person who wronged us may end up reaping their own consequences of hurtful actions towards others through cause and effect, we should wish them God’s Love and a sense of joy that might prevent them from hurting others again rather than returning hurt for hurt? To me any need for vengeance, temporal or eternal is in direct violation of everything Jesus taught.
Many who insist upon remaining in literal and legalistic fundamentalism and who push their beliefs aggressively onto others could also be doing so out of a sense of envy and resentment of those who are no longer trapped or who have never been a victim of the type of fear that such a worldview can create. “Misery loves company” is how the old saying goes, and if they are prisoner to a belief system which is limiting to their own happiness it could cause them to want to pull others into that pit of despair alongside them. Perhaps they are LGBT and closeted, perhaps they are uncomfortable with a demanding God of regulations rather than embracing a God of Love that allows us to fully be who we are while practicing kindness and love towards others and being the Good Samaritan, or perhaps they simply cannot believe every word of the Bible as literal even when it is “demanded” of them. They long for a way to Love God and follow Christ which does not yoke them with all of the fear and low self-esteem which fundamentalism can give rise to, yet the terror of retribution prevents them from having the strength to do so. These people don’t need to be feared by us – I feel they need prayers of Love more than any. The idea that fear is not only preventing someone from connecting with others but ultimately with God is just another perspective that makes me appreciate what Paul was getting at with the whole “letter killing but the Spirit giving life” comment.
There are two other factors I see as being reasons why others who are of fundamentalist thought being adamant about wanting to have everyone think as they do, and these two are perhaps the ugliest of all the reasons.
One is a form of fear that leads to a need for exclusivity and somehow sanctions prejudice and judgment of others. I have seen men who loved literalistic fundamentalist Christianity as it supported their sense of patriarchy and rule over women, and men and women who embraced it as it made them feel that their homophobia and ignorance towards and prejudices against LGBT individuals as acceptable. Not too many long years ago (and I am sorry to say, in some areas today), add in racism, anti-semitism and xenophobia to that list as well. Some want to remain a part of it for political reasons, as there are more than a few fundamentalist churches who are unfortunately and tragically using Christ’s church as a vessel to influence others to vote for legislation which would continue these types of prejudices in society. Jesus did not say “Go and legislate the Bible.” This is to me one of the most tragic reasons one would embrace fundamentalist Christianity, and one I pray would never be the reason for anyone to want to continue in it. However, this is not the worst reason of all, in my opinion.
Perhaps the very worst reason I have seen people adhere to fundamentalist Christianity – sometimes it is combined with one or all of the above, but in a few instances, it is for this alone – is sloth and a method of avoiding responsibility.
I had a talk once with someone who was very much involved in a fundamentalist church who had recently said some very hurtful and abusive comments to someone I was friends with. It was not regarding sexuality or sexual orientation, it was a dispute over another issue entirely that ended in them destroying the other person’s property, screaming insults, and physically threatening them. I asked if they had made an apology and offered to pay for the damages, and they told me they had not.
“That’s why I am glad to be a Christian, I am forgiven. You accept Him as your Lord and Savior and it’s all done washed away.”
It was if the magic words of the “Sinner’s Prayer” had for this person somehow abdicated and absolved them of responsibility and accountability to another for their actions. He may have well have said to me “Oh I am Saved, I don’t have to do anything for anyone because I said the magic words.” I asked him kindly if he would pray on it and see if there was anything more he felt God thought he should do. I walked away from the situation and even told my friend to pray for him, because I thought someone who could be that unaware of how their actions could hurt another could use more love in their life.
I am sorry to say that’s a true story, though thankfully I have never encountered that one again. But it is true that there are is a faction of the fundamentalist church that is of the belief that it is not kindness to others which earns them eternal life, but adherence to dogmatic beliefs, with no works necessary or required to become closer to God. And although fortunately I have seen (especially in more recent years) more fundamentalist churches offering to give of themselves and their resources to those in need (rather than the offering paying for a new beach home for the Pastor or a new mega-church building) I have unfortunately been witness to a few fundamentalist churches where the only instance in which they would extend their help out to others was conditional; they would only assist if they could push their beliefs on others, not merely because it is what Christ taught. The emphasis is on conversion, not mercy. I feel a real sense of sympathy for those who feel that salvation and touching Heaven is only through having the “correct beliefs” and not through letting faith become action and letting God Work through them to help and assist others, for I feel they are missing out on one of the most wonderful aspects of all that being a follower of Christ has to offer us: doing our part.
Those to me are all reasons why I think people still cling to Christian fundamentalism and some thoughts on such. Hopefully if there is anyone struggling to let go of old fundamentalist beliefs, or if you are striving to communicate, cooperate and learn to get along with those in that belief system you may find some of those thoughts beneficial in assisting in the process.
I long since let go of those types of fears, although it was a long and slow process of trust, faith, and spiritual growth and my journey continues every day. I am a radically liberal Christian and a happy bisexual man who is about as far from a fundamentalist Christian as it gets. That being said, in one way, I suppose you could say there is still one aspect of my faith which I consider as “fundamental”. It’s very short, it is one that I feel was issued directly from God through Christ, and at times can prove every bit as challenging as a huge list of rules:
“You shall love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 34: 37-40
That is the fundamental cornerstone to my faith. The Great Commandment, or the “Golden Rule,” as spoken by Jesus to one of the Pharisees, who were the “fundamentalist Christians” of His time on Earth, among those who viewed His emphasis on Love over Law as heresy, which would eventually lead to His crucifixion and sacrificing His life so that we might know a better way to know God and find Heaven here and now by learning to love, value and care for one another. It covers everything, and is to me the most important Gift God ever Gave to us.
To me, that is not the only aspect of my faith, but it along with the teachings of Christ, is the one constant and at the core of everything. I consider the first Commandment to be the highest form of expressing the first; through our love for one another is the highest form of honoring God. I know that God Loves all of us, each and every one, Unconditionally.
I don’t believe in a physical place called heaven or hell I will go to in this life or the next, but I know that my own actions and thoughts can put me in either state of being, and if I trust in God and put love first in my dealings with others, I can stay in the former rather the latter. I know in my heart that my natural sexuality and sexual orientation do not classify me as “unnatural” or a “sinner in need of redemption” but just as a unique part of God’s Diverse Creation, and I elect to use the gift of my sexuality with love, care and responsibility. I know in my heart that my being bisexual and in committed and honest relationships with both a woman and a man is not in any way a sin or affront to God, just as I know that it is no more a sin for a man to love another man or a woman to love another woman than it is for a man and a woman to be in love and express that love. I know that being affirming and accepting of those on differing religious paths than mine or no religious path makes me any better than they are or vice versa, and that I don’t have to limit God’s Wisdom to a literal reading of the Bible – I know that God is ever present in life and did not stop Speaking when the Bible was finished. Letting go of all of the old dogma and minutia, even if it means surrendering any type of “black and white” belief that was never good for me in the first place has made me at peace and closer to God than ever. I can read the Bible and obtain spiritual strength unfiltered by fear and rhetoric.
With just those two Commandments, that does not mean I am taking the easy road, however. My neighbor is not just the person close to me, or my loved one, or my friend, or a kindred spirit in my life, or a person who agrees with me, or even a person who I like. It’s the guy who calls me a fag. It’s the person who threatened me. It’s the fundamentalist who says I’m going to hell. It’s the person who hurts my feelings. It’s the person I would call or perceive as an enemy. It’s someone who tries my patience, invalidates me, or makes me angry and causes me to lose my temper. And my faith tells me to seek God’s Guidance, to pray for the strength and to strive to always do my best to love everyone and be loving and giving to others, regardless of what kind of day I am having, how I am feeling and however they treat me. It’s not the easy road to always attempt to and commit to doing the right thing, but in my heart, it is one, and the only one worth traveling. It is the very least I feel I can do to express my sincere gratitude for all that God Has Done for me.
It makes me no better to God and in my thoughts no better of a Christian than someone who has a fundamentalist mindset and has chosen that path. If someone wants to continue on a belief of Biblical literalism, if they are truly happy, I say let them. I will not attempt to change their views, as I know I would not want someone to do that to me. It is not their beliefs that hurt me or anyone else, but rather the stepping beyond them as a personal choice and attempting to force them on others through whatever method which is hurtful. Experience has taught me time and again that one of the keys to true joy and peace is in learning to let go and let people be who they are; more often than not, in doing so, we find ourselves surrounded with those who allow us to do the same.
I disagree with Biblical Literalism and fundamentalism. Those beliefs are not for me and are incompatible with my understanding of God as I know God. It’s not the beliefs that are the predominant issue, though; as with anything they can be misused if they are forced on others or used as a method to control others or hurt others, which to me violates the very things Christ taught.
I accept the fundamentalist Christian as my neighbor who I am called not to bully into thinking like I do but just to love them as they are. They have the right to believe as they wish. Where I feel they are out of line is when they push the belief that EVERYONE ELSE must do the same, and even more so in their allegation that it is their responsibility to intimidate or terrify others who believe differently into sharing their views. I maintain that if any person is secure and strong and truly believes something, they do not feel an imperative to force their beliefs on another.
I do wonder if in more cases than not the adherence and terror of letting go of all of the dogma, legalism and minutia which seems to be substituted for the social gospels as more pertinent in many fundamentalist churches is perhaps it is because that Greatest Commandment is a really tough challenge.
Love your neighbor as yourself. Treat them with the same measure of love with which you would desire to be treated. Again, Jesus does not mean just the neighbors that we like, not only the ones just like us or who think and believe as we do, and not just the nice neighbor. It means EVERYONE. For the fundamentalist evangelicals, yes, that means the LGBT Community, and even the crazy radical bisexual like me and for my LGBT Christian friends, it means the very fundamentalist Christians who at this very moment are likely in a state of panic and outrage, praying and planning for a defeat to the recent victories of LGBT rights. The ones who rejoice when our rights are limited, and furiously work towards sanctioning continued discrimination, the one who we perceive as enemy but who Christ calls us to love back even when they show hate (even when that hate is poorly concealed behind the “hate the sin not the sinner” tagline).
For anyone, regardless of the type of Christian faith, is it easier for someone to cling to dogma and ritual, to a set in stone, black and white assortment of regulations and attempt to adhere to a “one size fits all” set of rules, or is it easier to let go of a primal need to be “right” and have the last word and seek God’s Guidance and the teachings of Christ to develop the strength to truly love ALL of our neighbors?
I cannot speak for everyone, but for me, and I would hope for others, the latter is the only choice and the one path that has led me closer to God than anything I ever found within fundamentalist teachings. Loving my neighbor, and realizing that means to love everyone, period. It’s easy to love the people who love us and who we like, agree with, and have no conflicts with. The real challenge comes when we must find the strength to acknowledge that “My Neighbor” means everyone, even those who might persecute us and return hate with love, unkindness with forgiveness, judgment with non-judgment. Jesus never said it would be easy. But with faith, anything is possible, and when you reach a place where you have been able to glimpse the Christ and God in all people regardless of differences, to be so at peace with God and yourself that there is no need to fear or see anyone as an enemy due to differences, and to touch the life of another in a positive way in letting God’s Love flow through you to another, the reward that is a result is more majestic, glorious and breathtaking than any physical “place” called “Heaven” ever described in any fundamentalist teaching – for it is truly full of genuine riches.
Whatever your beliefs, and wherever you are on your journey, I wish you the peace that comes with knowing that God transcends any one set of beliefs, and is all Love – as close as every breath.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.