Browsing Tag

Christian fundamentalism


fundamentalists, evangelicals, and certainty

question mark
photography by Marc Domage, installation by Robert Stadler

My small group is a little shy of your run-of-the-mill “Bible studies” and other evangelical-culture-approved curricula, so for the past year we’ve been reading through different religiously-oriented books, and for the next couple of months we’re going through Gregory Boyd’s Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty. I’m only to chapter five, but I think I’ve already recommended it around a dozen times. I think Boyd addresses an incredibly important question I’ve heard so many people asking: what does it mean to have faith, to believe? The typical evangelical teachings about faith usually involve this nebulous idea that “faith” equals “certainty”– that you feel sure. That if you can just convince yourself that God will heal a loved one . . . that God will heal that loved one.

It’s a crazy idea, and I really do think the book is worth reading. I’ll let you know for sure when I finish it.

But, as I was reading it last week, something he talked about jumped out at me: that this approach of “feeling certain” is incredibly attractive– he describes it as “blissful.” It didn’t take me more than a second to connect this to fundamentalism, because if there’s one thing that unites fundamentalists, it is how incredibly certain they are.

When I did my series on defining fundamentalism, I asked all of you to explain what had drawn you to fundamentalism in the first place, and almost unanimously the response was that fundamentalism was comfortable– that the black and white nature of how fundamentalists approach questions made things simple. Fundamentalism is straightforward. Fundamentalism is easy, and given that we live in a world filled with horrible suffering, that this one approach to faith means you don’t have to struggle with soul-deep questions is compelling.

It occurred to me that this “certainty model of faith,” as Boyd calls it, might be what’s fueling Christian fundamentalism in America. Because, if certainty really does equal faith, and Christians are spending most of their energy trying to convince themselves, then it almost seems that becoming a fundamentalist is inevitable. It’s unlikely that evangelicals are going to go gung-ho and they’ll all start touting KJV Bibles or giving up their Christian rock, but when it comes to the practice of faith, how can fundamentalism be avoided if what we’re seeking is certainty?

There’s a term I’ve seen popping up in different conversations– fundigelical. From watching conservative evangelical culture over the past few years, I’ve noticed that there’s been a slow blurring between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. It used to be that evangelicals were insanely liberal by fundamentalist standards, but now? I can barely tell the difference anymore. And maybe that’s just because I’m a progressive Christian so everything to the religious or political right of me all looks the same, but I think I have a little more discernment than that.

I’m looking at things like the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and The Gospel Coalition, and I paid close attention to the Southern Baptist Convention last year . . . and what I’m seeing disturbs me. When men like C.J. Mahaney, whose sermons are indistinguishable from any fundamentalist diatribe I heard growing up, are the leaders of entire evangelical movements, when they are closely connected to one of the largest American denominations, it forces me to ask if whether or not fundamentalism is creeping into evangelical culture. When men like Mark Driscoll draw mile-wide lines in the sand, separating “us” and “them,” I start wondering– how truly different is modern evangelicalism from the fundamentalism I grew up in?

They certainly look different.

But are they, really? Once you get passed the haircuts and the ankle-length skirts, they don’t seem to be. Ideologically they’re practically inseparable– both sets hold to The Fundamentals:

Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture
Deity of Christ
Virgin birth
Substitutionary atonement
Physical resurrection and physical Second Coming

As a progressive Christian looking back at what I used to believe, this list seems a little… interesting. None of these things are what anyone would define as “the essentials for salvation,” but this, apparently, is the Hill Worth Dying On to fundamentalists. A specific and relatively new atonement theory, selected from among at least a half dozen others? An approach to the inspiration of Scripture that cannot be proven, not now and not in the future, since we have never had the autographa— and an approach that is, in practice, absolutely useless? A single, solitary approach to eschatology that is a massive departure from almost two thousand years of church teaching?

These are what fundamentalists in the historical sense of the term decided that they were going to be absolutely certain of– and they are the core ideas of evangelical theology. When I poke around some of the evangelical blogs that I read consistently, they tend to make it clear that in order to write for them you have to believe The Fundamentals.

When I first started writing here, when I created this blog, almost all of my focus was on the Christian fundamentalist mindset that I grew up in. But, over the last year, there’s been a slow shift in the language I use– from fundamentalism to conservative evangelicalism to evangelicalism, and it was not a conscious decision. Part of it was that I moved on from talking about my childhood to things I’ve noticed as an adult in mainstream evangelicalism, but another part of it was that as I became more and more exposed to American evangelicalism I stopped being able to make a clear delineation. There just . . . wasn’t enough of a difference for me to treat them as clearly separate things.

And I’m beginning to think that it all goes back not to what people believe, but how they believe it.


a peculiar people

Escher, “Relativity”

Salt of the earth.

City set on a hill.

A peculiar people.

In the world, but not of it.

Called out.



I wrote a post for Convergent yesterday talking about why I think legalism exists, and part of what I was thinking about the entire time was a concept that’s consistently bothered me over the last year. In an e-mail I received a long time ago, someone asked me why I had such a big problem with “the biblical doctrine of separation.” My initial response was that they’d missed the point, that it wasn’t separation at all that I was talking about– that I had a problem with Christian fundamentalism. Except, to this person, “fundamentalism,” which they proudly claimed, and “separation,” go hand in hand. To this person, and to a lot of the people I know, they’re really the same thing.

As I wrote about the “why” of legalism, I realized that there was an audience I was likely not going to be able to reach: fundamentalists. Because fundamentalists have an essentially ironclad reason for their legalism, and it comes down to the very definition of church: ἐκκλησία comes from καλέω and ἐκ, and means, literally, “called out.” Fundamentalist Christians take this incredibly seriously: if we’re the Church, we’re “called out.”

I have a book sitting on my shelf: Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church by Ernest Pickering. It’s a textbook for one of the Bible classes at my old fundamentalist college, and it lays out an argument for the necessity of separation. We must be separate, because if we’re not, we risk apostasy and corruption. We must keep our theology and our ideology pure, untainted by “wordliness” or “godless philosophies.” It’s the reason why Christian fundamentalism began, when the early leaders wrote and compiled The FundamentalsThey were worried about attacks on doctrine, about new and disturbing theologies that accommodated early post-modernism and higher criticism.

They would even go on to make the same exact argument I did yesterday: that God’s holiness demands his followers to have the same abhorrence to sin. That we must hate sin, and do whatever it takes to remove it.

Which is where legalism enters.

Every time, growing up, I heard a messaged preached on “sin,” it always, always included this reasoning. God hates sin, so we must hate sin. Except . . . I’ve never been able to really understand what “sin” is, not even when I was a fundamentalist doing my utmost to avoid it. I had this nebulous understanding that sin was “doing something God told us not to do”; but then “drinking alcohol” was a sin, and when the Bible includes “drink wine for your stomach’s sake,” that shit gets confusing.

And as I got older, and the pastor and the people in our church fell deeper into “separation,” more and more things became sin. Things that were obviously not in the Bible, and therefore could not be something God told us not to do– things like going to the movie theater or doing yoga.

Which is where “biblical principles” come in. The Bible might not explicitly condemn movie-theater-going, but we are supposed to “avoid the appearance of evil,” and some movies have all sorts of things in them that are clearly evil– how could anyone tell we were going to see Finding Nemo and not Saw? Better just to avoid the whole thing all together. Or what about dancing? The Bible has lots and lots and lots of dancing, but that wasn’t modern dancing. Modern dancing is always sexual, and doing sexual things in public is clearly not “avoiding the appearance of evil,” but embracing it. Or rock music– rock music comes from demon-summoning-African-tribal-music, and listening to it means that we’re not avoiding listening to the same “beats” that witches use to summon Satan from the depths of hell, therefore it’s sin.

If it wasn’t avoiding the appearance of evil, it was “becoming a stumbling block.” Don’t celebrate Christmas– it reminds some people of their secular/pagan days, before they were good and holy. Don’t listen to rock music– it could remind someone of when they used to do drugs. Don’t discuss philosophy– it could remind someone of when they were an atheist.

There’s no end to it. When you get into this mindset, there’s no place to stop, no place to draw a line, no way to have a healthy conversation about individual responsibility. And once you start thinking like this, it’s incredibly difficult not to get sucked deeper and deeper, and there’s no bottom. There’s always something else that can be avoided, another step you can take to become more holy, more consecrated, more set apart.

I think it’s because Christian fundamentalists have deeply misunderstood the meaning of holy. They’ve lost what it means for something to be sacred, and they’ve cheapened these glorious, beautiful things into a list.


learning the words: conviction


Today’s guest post is from Carol. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

“It’s going to be especially hard on her, because she has convictions.”

My mom was talking about my 11-year-old niece, who was about to start attending public middle school.  I had to bite my tongue and change the subject.  Did she think that I did not have the same “convictions” at that age?  To her, my becoming a liberal and dropping out of our Southern Baptist church must’ve seemed like I just…didn’t believe hard enough in the things that I had been taught. I wasn’t strong enough.

To my mom, my niece is not like the other kids her age, who are being deluded and probably have divorced parents who drink alcohol at home. And she’s especially not like those godless public school teachers who insist on exposing her to evolution and alternate December holidays.  And she’s not like me, who wavered, and then left the faith.

Just like I did when I was her age, my niece firmly believes in Southern Baptist teachings: biblical literalism, creationism, the importance of accepting Jesus as “your personal Lord and Savior,” and all the rest.  And why wouldn’t she?  Everyone she loves and trusts has told her how important it is, and she sincerely wants to do what’s right.

But to my mom, the development of your convictions should stop there.


After this conversation, it struck me that I hadn’t heard–much less spoken–the word “convictions” in years. I want less to reclaim the word itself than to banish it from my vocabulary altogether, and replace it with something more meaningful.

“Convictions” was a character trait to be admired in the world I came from: it meant that you stood up for what you believed and yelled loudly for your team. But most importantly, if you have convictions, you stick to them, no matter what arguments you might hear against them. There is, of course, a very dark side to that, because it doesn’t allow any room for questions or growth.

For me, changing my beliefs was one of the hardest things I’ve done and took strength and perseverance.  It did not mean caving to a powerful argument from someone else. Instead, it meant allowing myself to examine my beliefs and change them to something I thought was better. This was in opposition to the pressure to remain exactly like I was at age 11, when my “convictions” were just right.

Ironically, leaving my family’s faith meant staying true to my real convictions more than standing still would have.  Once I started questioning and being honest with myself, my only other choices were to live in denial, or hypocritically play a part that I no longer agreed with.


Everyone has convictions, or deeply held beliefs.  My niece isn’t unique among her peers in that respect. What is different in her case, however, is how those convictions are viewed.

“Convictions” should not mean a dogma that is handed down.  And standing strong in your convictions should not mean stubborn refusal to change or listen to other points of view.

It goes without saying that we should try to do what we believe is beneficial and promote ideas we think are good.  But we should also accept that those beliefs can–and should–develop.  Our dogma should not be more important than our actual, continually developing, convictions.


learning the words: godly woman


Today’s guest post is from Artemis. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

Growing up in a conservative homeschool family that religiously used the ATI/Bill Gothard curriculum and were heavily involved in our conservative home church, I came in contact with this term “a godly woman,” on a constant basis.  Whether it was sermon on Sunday, a book that my mom found at the local homeschool book fair and assigned as part of my school curriculum, or a side comment from a peer, I acquired a huge foundation for this term.  And I became very familiar with fear that accompanies this mindset.

What was a godly woman anyway?  The numerous scriptures, pamphlets, and books I soaked up on this topic all followed one basic pattern. A specific set of criteria to attain to be a godly woman and of course a KVJ scripture to accompany each set of criteria.

A Godly Woman:

  1. Seeks God first – Matthew 6:33-34
  2. Shows true beauty – Proverbs 31:30, 1 Timothy 2:9-10
  3. Always speaks love and truth –Proverbs 31:26
  4. Stays humble – Isaiah 66:2, Phillippians 2:3-5
  5. Serves the Lord – John 12:25-26, Colossians 3:23

As a young girl who desperately wanted to mysteriously attract the Mr. Right, I bought into all of these lies.  So what did being a godly girl look like for me?

Dress codes

Dress codes were enforced by my church, my homeschool group, and my parents, because godly girls always dress modestly.  My mom, sister, and I made our own clothing, and we followed the dress law down to the last rules.  We shopped around until we found fabric that was a small, appropriate print made up of a fabric content that would not cling to our skin.  These dresses had necklines that covered my collarbone, sleeves that came to my elbow, very full skirts that came to my ankles, and a double layered bodice (to ensure none of my curves were visible in any way). My wardrobe consisted of two to three church dresses, a few casual dresses, and a handful of play dresses.  They were accompanied by a simple pair of sandals in the summer or a pair of plain, black closed toe shoes in the winter.


As a godly woman in the making, I was not allowed to talk with guys for more than a short conversation within ear shot of my peers.  In fact, if a girl initiated conversation with a guy at church for more than one or two weeks in a row, she was automatically put on the radar and the words slut and ungodly were thrown around when speaking about her.  It was best if I waited and let the guys initiate the conversations so that way I would be off the hook and allow them to rise to their calling by being godly leaders (whatever that means).  Because of these behavior expectations, it also meant I used a very soft voice whenever I was speaking, that I constantly dropped my eyes whenever a guy looked at me or attempted to engage me in conversation, and that I stifled my laugh.


Relationships with a girl’s parents and siblings were of utmost importance.  Why? Because a godly girl grew up to be a godly, stay at home mother and wife. End of story.  A few relationships with female peers were acceptable, but not required.  I clearly remember how I was willing to do anything and everything to ensure all five of my younger brothers were ready on time for church on Sunday.  At the time I didn’t understand why I was always on cloud nine when getting ready for church or so upset when we were late.  I now understand; it was my one and only social interaction with those outside of my family each week.  Relationships are necessary and having limited social events each week set me up for a lot of unhealthy expectations and poor social skills.

The summer I was 15, my world came crashing down. My parents discontinued our membership at that church.  We left the church that constructed my entire belief system, my entire social circle, my entire religion, my entire life.  I say left, but that fails to adequately describe the deep shame, ostracization, and rejection that composed this leaving.  The following years were very confusing as I found myself personifying the woman that I had been warned about throughout my entire childhood and teen years. I graduated from high school on time and began thinking about future plans for my life. I spent time volunteering with an after school program in the inner city, fundraising and going on an international mission trip, working at a private preschool and a bookstore, and finally I began my undergrad degree.  I worked outside the home, I traveled, I made my own income, I made friendships with those whose beliefs did not match mine, I began developing friendships with guys for the heck of it, I began pursuing higher education and I loved all of it.

What does a godly woman look like to me now?

I believe the godly woman is a myth, a myth created to manipulate girls and women into pursuing something they can never attain.  I believe we are all at different stages of life, we all have different experiences, and we are all in different places with our beliefs about God, but none of this dictates whether we are a godly woman.  I no longer believe in the existence of the godly woman. I believe in the existence of true women, because a true woman will listen to her heart and follow it.  I believe a true woman will open her heart and share what is taking place whether it is happiness, sadness, frustration, or anger.  I believe that true woman celebrate life with each other, instead of engaging in shaming when we fail to meet each other’s preconceived expectations.  I believe a true woman will be willing to take risks and pursue what she wants.  I believe a true woman will follow her heart, even if it goes against what her parents taught her, even if it is very different from what she was raised with, even if it doesn’t seem to be the safest answer.  I believe that a true woman will continually further her knowledge through higher education, travel, and relationships.

And I believe all true women are beautiful, because we are all in this process of listening to our heart, sharing our heart, and learning believing our heart.  Essentially this means we are opening up and shinning the beautiful women we were always meant to be.


the magic book

magic book
by Colgreyis

I’ve mentioned before that I’m currently neck-deep in a two-year theology program (“seminary for lay people” is how it’s described). Probably one of the most shattering ideas I encountered was in the Bibliology and Hermeneutics class, when the program’s teachers were talking about how many/most evangelicals approach the Bible: they treat it like a “magic book.”

At first, I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant, but as the course went on I realized that there was something stopping me from understanding it:  I thought of the Bible as a magic book. It was an embarrassing realization at first, because I have an MA in English!* I know how to read books! And once I started seeing the Bible as a library, and each book it contains as a whole book instead of something I could chop up into soundbites (seriously, the more I think about how I used to do that, the more and more it feels insane and ridiculous) … I started realizing that my understanding of the Bible being “inspired” or having “divine authorship” had twisted the Bible into something it can’t possibly be.

I’m not trying to say that there’s no possible way the Bible could be “God-breathed,” I’m just not entirely sure what that means. All I know is that being “God-breathed” doesn’t make the Bible immune to the sorts of problems that all other books have– especially books written thousands of years ago.

But, the most dominant way of interacting with the Bible in American culture is the evangelical way. There’s a huge breadth of ways on how to interact with the Bible, especially in the Mainline Protestant denominations, but, unfortunately, those aren’t the ways that most Americans seem to see. When they see Christians interacting with the Bible, they see, largely, people quoting individual verses and occasionally twisting those verses so far beyond their context that they take on a new life, new meaning, of their own. They see Christians walking around with signs that have individual verses slapped on them about drinking, or homosexuality, divorced from their books and the overall argument of their writer. They see us celebrating Tim Tebow and John 3:16. They see references and not their corresponding verses on our bumpers. They hear us casually sprinkle our conversation with half-remembered phrases.

During my Christmas vacation, I was hanging out with a few friends who are not particularly religious. One of them laughingly threw out a phrase that I found hilarious considering it was a Bible verse (“the time has come to set aside childish things”)– and when I laughed “nice Bible reference!” he just sort of  . . . stared.

“That’s from the Bible?”

It was my turn to stare, although I wasn’t starting at anyone in particular. I was just suddenly struck by the number of phrases and sayings that come from Scripture that are now American cliches … except no one has any idea where they come from. Considering the influence the Bible has had on American rhetoric, it’s not surprising that our language is littered with biblical phrasings, but it bothered me because I realized that this isn’t much different from how Christians treat the Bible even when they know they’re quoting from the Bible.

It’s continued to bother me– at times, it outright irks me– as I traverse the internet. I’m a loyal reader of a few non-theist and atheist blogs, and when I’m feeling brave enough to wade into the comment sections, I see this happen over and over again. A Christian and a non-theist/agnostic/atheist get into a debate, and they start throwing Bible verses at each other. Usually it’s the non-theist that starts quoting specific verses, and then the Christian responds with arguments so tired they practically whimper– and they usually have something to do with “you have to take those verses in context!” And it irks me because I feel sure that this earnest Christian probably rips verses out of context on a daily basis– they’re just not usually from Numbers 5.

After the Phil Robertson/A&E/Duck Dynasty debacle, I saw a meme pop up in my facebook feed:

phil robertson

And it just made me shake my head (even as I chuckled) because they’ve done exactly what Phil Robertson did in his original interview– took a verse out of context and even paraphrased it a bit. For starters, Leviticus 10:6 is specifically addressed to Aaron and his sons, Eleazar and Ithamar (and, possibly by extension the Levites), so this is one of those times when a commandment is definitely limited and not meant to be applied to all of humanity— or even the Jewish people, for that matter. But, Robertson was also ripping I Corinthians 6:9-10 out of context and divorcing it from any historical context (not that this is his fault, he was just parroting fundamentalist/evangelical interpretations). ἀρσενοκοίτης, literally meaning “man beds” is a complicated word with an interesting history, and forcing it to mean “homosexuality” when its most common historical meaning was the enslavement and purchase of temple prostitutes is… well, wrong.

But we (evangelicals) do this all of the time.

And we dare to get frustrated when someone on the internet starts doing the same thing to the Bible that we’ve been doing for a hundred years? We dare to become angry with those who learned how to treat the Bible from us and are shocked and dismayed when they are merely modeling how they’ve been shown the Bible is to be treated?

For the last hundred years or so fundamentalism and its daughter evangelicalism have fervently sought to have a “high view of Scripture,” to defend its status as inspired and inerrant. But, in discussing these concepts, one of the common results has been to see the Bible as inherently magical. It’s ceased being a book– it’s become a tool, a sword,  and many Christians have used it to “divide asunder” all sorts of things, including ourselves.

*(full disclosure: I still have to learn French in order to get the degree. I’m working on that.)

Social Issues

Drew Marshall Show radio interview


So, a little while ago I wrote this article titled “15 Things not to Say to a Recovering Fundamentalist,” and it sort of got a lot of attention. A lot of attention– way more than I ever could have expected. When it ran on the Huffington Post, Drew Marshall, who runs a radio show in Canada, read it and contacted me for an interview. I agreed, and went onto his show on October 5. I didn’t do much to promote it beforehand because I was pretty much scared out of my mind, but it’s up on his site now, free for all of you to listen. It’s under October 5’s “God Blogger.”

Please don’t judge me for how often I say “like.” It’s embarrassing.

I hope you enjoy it.


fundamentalism as methodology


Last week I wrote a post on “15 things not to say to a recovering fundamentalist.” The reaction I got completely blew me away, and I’m grateful for the response. Rebuilding our lives after something like Christian fundamentalism has torn through it is not an easy thing to do, and I hope that the stories we shared can help in that process for some of us.

A few of the reactions I got were . . . well, let’s just call them “interesting.” Ironically, many of these comments were variations of the “15 Things Not to Say,” which I thought was hysterical. Which, granted, it’s the internet, and you’re totally allowed to disagree with me, but still. Many of these comments were also about what I expected, and, thankfully, I came prepared. However, I don’t want to respond to each comment individually (many of which I did not publish because they violated my comment policy), because my answers would be pretty much the same. Most of the really intense negative reactions came from these sections, so that’s what I’m going to focus on today.

12. “Fundamentalism isn’t really Christianity.”

Oh, boy. I get this one so much, and I’m never entirely sure how to respond to it, because damn. What do they think Christianity is then? It’s a pretty big religion, and it’s got an awful lot of denominations. If believing that Jesus is God, literally came to earth, was crucified and resurrected and now sits on the right hand of the father, and he did all of this to save us from our sins doesn’t qualify you for Christianity, I’d like to see what does. Fundamentalism is an especially pernicious sub-culture in Christianity, but it’s not something totally different. They believe a lot of the exact same stuff that most Christians do . . .

15. “Your critiques of Christianity aren’t valid, because you’re just confusing it with your fundamentalist background.”

However, fundamentalism is really just a microcosm of Christianity in general. It’s not that there’s anything about fundamentalism that is super off-the-radar crazy that makes it obviously bad. All it is, really, is a concentrated version of Christianity. Think of every single thing you’ve ever run into at your completely normal, run-of-the-mill Protestant churches, and I guarantee you that you’ll find it in a fundamentalist church. They’re not different, really, they’re just intensified . . .

Many, many, many people intensely disagreed with me about this. I got accused of a lot of stuff, as well, one of which was “obviously not knowing my history,” which is funny, because I spent over a week writing posts on the history of Christian fundamentalism in America. A lot of people thought that I was being ridiculous, that it is “so incredibly clear” that fundamentalism is, in fact, nothing like Christianity. They bear no resemblance whatsoever.

Which, in the interests of being fair, I do agree with them on one general point: I think the spirit of fundamentalism and the spirit Jesus taught his believers are not the same thing. There are really good reasons why I’m no longer a fundamentalist, but still consider myself a Christian (although a liberal one). In that sense, which one reader called the “essence” of Christianity, I tend to agree– fundamentalism isn’t what Christianity is supposed to be.

However, that’s not the point I made. While I think that fundamentalism falls far short of an “ideal” Christianity, it is not that different from the typical American evangelical or Protestant church. That’s not to say that all of Christianity has elements of fundamentalism in it. I never made that claim, and I found the experience of people putting words in my mouth on that aspect unpleasant. I said, specifically, that in your average evangelical or Protestant church, you’re likely to find something in common with a fundamentalist stance.

If you’re not familiar with Marsden’s book Fundamentalism and American Culture, and you’re at all interested in Christian fundamentalism or the Religious Right, I highly recommend that you read it. Marsden is the one who quipped that a “fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something,” and I tend to agree with him, obviously. Another good book (much shorter and lighter read) is Olson’s Pocket History of Evangelical Theology, and he makes the argument that “Most . . . evangelicals do not wish to be called fundamentalists, even though their basic theological orientation is not very different.”

Which leads me to my main point: the difference between fundamentalism and typical American evangelicalism is not WHAT, it’s HOW.

If you ask the question “what does your typical fundamentalist believe and your typical evangelical believe that’s different?” the answer is going to be, most of the time, not that much. Theologically, they share a lot of the same territory. Christian theology, which I’ve said before, is not a monolith. There are as many theological perspectives and beliefs as there are Christians. There is no such thing as universal agreement about pretty much anything (although, there are concepts like the regula fidei). However, among evangelical Christians and fundamentalists, consensus exists for many ideas.

The problem is not what they believe. It’s how they go about believing it.

I talk about Christian fundamentalism, because that’s what I have experience with. However, fundamentalism, as a concept, isn’t strictly Christian. There’s fundamentalist versions and fundamentalist groups of nearly any ideology. I’ve talked to so many fundamentalist atheists, and fundamentalist feminists, and fundamentalist Democrats, and it all gets incredibly exhausting.

Fundamentalism, at its core, is a methodology. It’s a framework. It’s a way of thinking. It’s human pride and arrogance. It’s the belief that I’m right and everyone who doesn’t agree with me exactly is completely, utterly wrong. Modern fundamentalists believe that there are some things in their ideology that simply are not open for discussion. There are certain things that cannot be challenged, no matter how badly they need to be debated. Anytime that that ideas come before the needs of people, what you’re probably dealing with is fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is rigidity, inflexibility. And it’s about advocating and promoting that inability to bend– about proselytizing some into agreeing that these are the ideas that we will fight for no matter how much we hurt people.

That is what I mean when I say you can find aspects of fundamentalism in pretty much any American church. Because, unfortunately, human nature seems to want to get fundamentalist about things. We like confidence and certainty and believing we’re the only ones who got it right. We don’t like change. Having to work through very hard, difficult questions can be a painful experience– and avoiding those questions is easy. That’s how fundamentalism can creep up on virtually anyone, even me. I have to watch out for it, too. I can get just as fundamentalist about my belief that it’s important to admit you don’t have all the answers as a traditional Christian fundamentalist can get about knowing all the answers.

Avoiding Christian fundamentalism isn’t about making sure you don’t believe the same thing they do. It’s about remembering that God is Love, and God loves us, and that Jesus said “they shall know you by your love,” and that he never said anything about “being recognizable by your correct theology.” The greatest commandment, after all, is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.


things you should say to a recovering fundamentalist


If you look at the top of this page, you’ll see a single line: “an ongoing journey in overcoming a fundamentalist indoctrination.” That is still a good summation of why I write here, why I write for you all. Because of that, I spend a lot of time critiquing. Criticizing. Rage-stomping. I do everything within my power to stand up for the oppressed, the abused, the silenced. However, although these are some of the reasons why I write, they’re not the only reasons why I write. I do my best to bring a more positive perspective when I can. Anger is healthy, and productive– there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being angry at the way things are some times. However, anger can’t be the end-all, be-all, or I’m going to burn myself out.

So that is what today is about. I got amazing comments yesterday— many of you left behind things you’ve heard that were infuriating, or heartbreaking. Some made me laugh and shake my head, others made me want to throw things. And that, my friends, is good for all of us.

However, there’s something that comes next. What are the things that we desperately want to hear from our friends and our family instead? We get a lot of flack, no matter where we stand as ex-fundamentalists. So, what are some things you’ve always wished people would actually say?


For me, it starts here:

”                                             .”
sincerely, everyone

That’s where it absolutely must begin, and I think most (if not all) of you would agree with me. It starts with quietness. It starts with listening. Most ex-fundamentalists have spent a lifetime–or most of it– being silenced. Being told to lock away and hide all of our feelings, all the rage at the wrongness of it all, everything. We were told, over and over again, nearly by everyone we knew, that the only option for us was our silence.

And, for many of us, when we finally did start talking, we were told, again, that we should really just remain quiet for all the reasons we talked about yesterday. One reader commented that most of the 15 things from yesterday were really just variations of “shut up,” and he was right. Being told to stay quiet–however I’m told– really makes me want to scream. What I need from you, if you care about me, is to listen. Really listen. It’s more than just hearing my words while simultaneously coming up with all the possible things you could say as either affirmation or rebuttal. At first, I don’t think I need you to say anything. Make me a cup of tea. Offer me a hug. Cuddle with me in a fuzzy blanket. Look me in my eyes. Cry with me. Do everything you can to understand that what I’m coming out of was deeply horrific. It’s left me with serious triggers. It’s left me with scars so bad that sometimes it takes everything I have not to run out of a church auditorium to go vomit.

I’m not making shit up. I’m not crazy. I’m not exaggerating.

And what I really need is for you to believe me.

Believe me when I say that I believe in Jesus– but I have trouble sometimes believing in God. Believe me when I say that I’m desperately searching for answers, but that I have no idea where they’ll take me. And this darkness, the shadows, the not-knowing, the gray, the uncertainty– it’s uncomfortable. It’s hard. It makes me curl up on my bed and weep, sometimes. I’m working through things– and I need to you enter this space with me. To leave your confidence, your unflappability, at the door, and ask the same questions. Maybe you’ll get to a different answer– and that’s ok. But the questions– the quest— is what matters.

“What things could I be looking for in my own church?”

Dear mother in heaven if there’s a question I want asked, it’s this one. Because I’ve been in a lot of churches since I’ve left my fundamentalist one behind, and if there’s one thing that’s been consistent everywhere I’ve gone, it’s that all churches have something about them that could “grow,” in Christian parlance. Maybe it’s no big deal. Maybe it’s a big, big deal. And you don’t have to mimic me– you don’t have to adopt all of my concerns, worries, the things I’m wary or suspicious of. Yesterday, I was talking to a friend and he sent me the doctrinal statement of the church he attends– and they affirm the stance of The Gospel Coalition (of #gagreflex fame, most recently). Which, personally, frightens me. I wouldn’t go anywhere near that church because of it. But, he’s comfortable there, and that’s ok. One of my best, most wonderful friends is much more conservative than I am on pretty much every measurable spectrum, but we love each other because of those differences.

I’m not asking you to be my clone. I’m asking you to take my concerns seriously.

Not every single last church is a hotbed for abusive activity or fundamentalist approaches to faith. But the attitude of “that doesn’t happen at my church“– it’s so common, and you could be wrong. It very well could be happening at your church. And, a lot of the time, it’s not glaringly obvious if it’s there. It could start out as something really small– something so insignificant a lot of people wouldn’t even bother commenting. But then . . . slowly . . . over time . . . it could get worse. The only way to make sure it doesn’t happen at your church is to be aware of what could happen if “good men do nothing.”

“Do you think there are some things in this theology that are harmful?”

This, heads up, will probably not be an easy conversation to have, but it’s a necessary one if the Church universal is going to have any chance of moving forward. My approach to theology is heavily influenced by my background in literary theory. Critical theories are essentially frameworks, ways of approaching and interacting with a text. You can do a Marxist reading of Oliver Twist, analyzing the power struggles and the class warfare in Dickens’ material. Or, you could do a feminist reading of Little Women— how did the patriarchal culture of Alcott’s time influence how she constructed her characters– was a feminist struggle the reason why she gave the principle romantic interest a feminine name? Why is the father absent?

I think there’s similarities between literary theory and systematic theologies. For a simplified example, a Reformed/Calvinist theology searches for God’s sovereignty in the text of the Bible. Because of my training, I’m capable of switching theological “caps”– I can think inside of the different frameworks with help from scholars and commentaries. And something I’ve learned through all of this is that all critical theories– literary or theological– have flaws. There are weaknesses in every argument; that doesn’t automatically make the argument wrong, but the point should be not to eliminate weaknesses but acknowledge the fact that they exist. This week is a syncroblog for queer theology (hint: check it out, it’s awesome)– and there’s other theologies, too. There’s feminist theology. And liberation theology. And all of them– even the neo-Reformed perspective, which makes me itch– have something to offer. Theology, like most things, isn’t a monolith. There isn’t one Supreme, Correct Theory of Everything about God.

And, being willing to admit that there are some things about your average evangelical/Protestant theology that can be incredibly harmful is a really good first step.


Now I’m turning it over to you. What are some things you’d like to hear?


15 things not to say to a recovering fundamentalist


There have been plenty of things I’ve heard since I left Christian fundamentalism after spending 14 years (more than half my life) in it, and most of them make me want to tear my hair out. So, I put out a general call for some of the gems you have heard, and here’s a few that I got back.

          1. “You just need to work through your bitterness.”– Teryn

Bitterness. It’s a good idea to pretty much never use that word in particular. Bitterness, in fundie-speak, is a tool to silence anyone who is being critical. If you’re accused of “bitterness,” it means that you are incapable of viewing any situation or person “correctly,” that you lack the capacity for love and grace, and what you actually need to work on is yourself. You’re imagining things, nothing bad is happening, and you have a screw loose. This is actually a form of gaslighting– convincing the person who’s being attacked that they’re just crazy– and we’ve been beaten over the head with it for years. Just because we’re saying things about the Church that aren’t pleasant doesn’t make us bitter. Just because we sound angry doesn’t mean we’re bitter.

          2. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” — Lydia

There are a lot of variations on this one, but it all boils down to this idea that Christianity is fine, it’s really just our personal experiences that we have to get over. And, I get why this one comes up a lot. For Christians who haven’t experienced either a) fundamentalism or b) spiritual abuse, their religion is one of the best, most wonderful, spectacular things in their life and they couldn’t imagine living without it. For us, though? It’s not even remotely the same feeling. When Christianity has been the weapon used to beat you, sometimes, throwing the whole thing out is the only healthy thing left to do.

          3. “You were never really a Christian.”Libby Anne

It’s the teachings of “eternal security” and “by their fruits you shall know them” taken one step too far. And, frankly, it’s codswallop. By any measure, people who grew up in Christian fundamentalism, prayed the sinner’s prayer, loved God, loved Jesus . . . they were Christians any way you look at it. Just because they’re not Christians now has absolutely zero bearing on if they were Christians then. The same thing goes if they don’t fit your particular criteria for what you think a “Christian” is.

          4. “If you’re not currently attending a church, you have walked away from God.”KR Taylor

People usually come to me armed with Hebrews 10:25 — “forsake not the assembling of yourselves together,” which is really just code for “real Christians go to church.” Which, seriously, asking some of us to go back to church is like asking a soldier with severe PTSD to go back to the battlefield, or asking a battered wife to go back to her abusive husband. You’re telling us that the only way we can be a “True Christian” is if we go to a building where all the other “True Christians” are once a week, and aside from sounding ridiculous, it’s inconsiderate and displays an astounding lack of compassion. If you’re telling someone who you know has been spiritually abused to get their ass back in church, all it means is that you haven’t been actually listening to us. If you were listening, you’d know exactly how hurtful and dismissive you sound.

          5. “You need to work this out with trembling and fear.”Dani

Also known as, “Are you sure you want to be asking these questions?” Questions, in many arenas of Christianity, make a lot of us uncomfortable. The unfortunate thing that I’ve encountered the most is that I grew up understanding more about the God of the Old Testament than a lot of “typical” Christians I’ve encountered since getting outside of fundamentalism. Questions like “is God really a genocidal megalomaniac?” or “How is it fair or loving to hold millions of people accountable for something they’ve never heard of?” are legitimate, but they’re also not easy. As fundamentalists, we tend to be intimately familiar with an angry, jealous, righteous God, and trying to figure out how that’s the same Person that is also supposed to be Love is hard. Beyond hard, at times. It’s downright impossible for many of us.

          6. “I wish people just knew that if they remembered how good Jesus’ love for us is, these things wouldn’t seem so hard!”Hännah

This one feels . . . empty. I’m super happy for all those people who have had amazing experiences with Jesus in their religion, but how good God or Jesus is doesn’t really change the fact that a lot of people’s lives are hell holes or that a lot of people who claim Jesus’ name have done some heinously evil things. And telling us just to ignore our “hardships” because “Jesus loves you!” is basically meaningless. It’s like splashing orange juice on a bullet wound. Sure, orange juice is awesome, and Vitamin C is good for you, but it’s not going to do anything to help.

          7. “Why do you have to criticize the Church? Do you hate Christians?”Boze

Probably more than a lot of these, this one makes me want to tear my hair out and beat my head against the wall. I think this is another example of the Christian persecution complex gone crazy.  There’s this perception that Christianity is under constant, brutal attack on all fronts, and it’s a battle we’re all gloriously and nobly fighting, but it’s going to overwhelm us at some point and then everything will be terrible. This results in any form of criticism whatsoever being perceived as an “attack.” If what we have to say about the Church isn’t all happy-happy-joy-joy, then we should just stay quiet because we’re just making Christianity look bad. To ex-fundamentalists, this is a line we’re more than familiar with. Defending the reputation of the organization at the cost of actual people is a line we know by heart.

          8. Quoting Jeremiah 29:11. Or Romans 8:28. Or pretty much any hand-picked verse about God working everything out. — Abi

Proof-texting. If there’s one thing that a lot of Christians, but fundamentalists in particular, are exceedingly good at, it’s this. Most of the pastors and preachers I’ve heard are the Kings of Taking Verses out of Context and Making it Sound Good. First of all, using verses like Jeremiah 29:11 (“I know the plans I have for you”) is bad hermeneutics.  Also, throwing single verses at us isn’t very helpful, and is really just frustrating. When Bible verses enter the conversation like this, it usually means that whoever we’re talking to is done listening, and they’ve decided the most helpful thing they can do is use a trite cliché we’ve heard exactly 164,455,795 times before.

          9. “You’re hurting the church. We need unity, not division.”

If I had a nickle.

It’s related to the “do you hate Christians?” comment, but this one is specifically an order to shut up and color. Criticisms of Christianity are not sowing division, just to be clear. There are all kinds of things that sow division– like telling the people in Moore, OK that they should be grateful that God deigned to destroy their homes, or covering up child molestation by pastors in your churches for over 30 years– but standing up for the broken isn’t one of them.

          10. “I’m a/my church is fundamentalist, and I’m/we’re not anything like what you’re describing.”

I run into this sentiment a lot. In fact, when I put out my request for this on twitter, one of the people who responded said “I’m a fundamentalist. Please don’t throw stones.” Which, was just . . . ironically funny, but also made me sigh. I use the words fundamentalist and fundamentalism to talk about a specific Christian movement, and I use the accepted term to describe it. I know a lot of people who claim the label “fundamentalist”– in fact, one of my best and dearest friends does– who don’t actually fit. There is a difference between traditionalism, religious conservatism, and adhering to “fundamentals,” which is really just Protestant orthodoxy, and fundamentalism. I’m using the term as it is modernly defined.

However, there are a lot of people who are fundamentalist and fit exactly what I’m describing, and still say this. Which, just . . . boggles.

          11. “If you are truly seeking God in this time, he will lead you to the Truth.”Trischa

And if I’m led to believing in universalism? Or atheism? Or neo-paganism? Somehow, I don’t think they’ll believe me, because “Truth” usually means “whatever I think the Bible says.” The catch in this statement is “If you are truly seeking.” And they get to determine what “truly seeking” entails. If I don’t eventually end up agreeing with them, welp, I must not have been truly seeking!

          12. “Fundamentalism isn’t really Christianity.”

Oh, boy. I get this one so much, and I’m never entirely sure how to respond to it, because damn. What do they think Christianity is then? It’s a pretty big religion, and it’s got an awful lot of denominations. If believing that Jesus is God, literally came to earth, was crucified and resurrected and now sits on the right hand of the father, and he did all of this to save us from our sins doesn’t qualify you for Christianity, I’d like to see what does. Fundamentalism is an especially pernicious sub-culture in Christianity, but it’s not something totally different. They believe a lot of the exact same stuff that most Christians do– which was a huge shock when I eventually figured that one out. But, they take the hard-edged stance that they’re the only true Christians. So, it’s always funny to me when a non-fundamentalist says the exact same thing a fundamentalist would say about them.

          13. “Be careful you don’t lose your faith.”Hännah

People are genuinely concerned about us, and just want to make sure that we’re ok. However, the concept that we could be “ok” without religion, without Christianity– it’s a little bit too far outside the box for a lot of Christians. To a lot of the people I know, living without their faith would be pretty unthinkable. Thoughts like “I don’t know how people survive without Jesus” (which is a modern remix of “you can do all things through Christ”) are pretty common among Christians– and they mean it. To be honest, I’ve said that sort of thing on more than one occasion. But, let me assure you: we are just fine. For a lot of us, “losing our faith” was the best– and hardest– thing that ever happened to us.

          14. “I’ll pray for you.”Lana

And what they mean by this is “I hope God shows you exactly how wrong you are soon!” (Thanks to Angela). Also, please avoid this one. If there’s a more empty, meaningless phrase in all of Christianity, I’d like to hear it, because I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist. When someone says something like this, what most recovering fundies hear is “I don’t care about your problems, I want to exit this conversation, and please don’t even mention the fact that you’ve had a bad experience to me ever again.”

          15. “Your critiques of Christianity aren’t valid, because you’re just confusing it with your fundamentalist background.”

And, for me, this is the one that makes me want to rage-stomp. Because yes, my background was pretty bad. Yes, the church I grew up in was pretty crazy. Yes, the easiest way I have of describing my experience is by calling the whole thing a cult.

However, fundamentalism is really just a microcosm of Christianity in general. It’s not that there’s anything about fundamentalism that is super off-the-radar crazy that makes it obviously bad. All it is, really, is a concentrated version of Christianity. Think of every single thing you’ve ever run into at your completely normal, run-of-the-mill Protestant churches, and I guarantee you that you’ll find it in a fundamentalist church. They’re not different, really, they’re just intensified. Because of that, my background makes me more qualified to speak about some issues, because I have more experience with more aspects of it than your typical church-goer. I actually know what some of these teachings do when they’re consistently enforced.


And . . . that wraps it up for me. What about you? What are some things you’ve heard that just make you go crazy?

UPDATE: I’ve written two follow-up posts. One is on the things you should say, and the other explains more about fundamentalism as a sub-set of Christianity.


going to the Faire


One of my favorite pictures of my parents was from their honeymoon, a wallet-sized photo my mother kept in the bottom drawer of her jewelry box. They’d gone to a festival, and my mom had managed to persuade dad into dressing up as a Renaissance noble. It was something I couldn’t really picture my father ever doing, but it was an image of him that I carried with me: a knight-errant, carrying his lover’s favor into battle.

I don’t know if it was because of that picture, but ever since I was little I had a fascination for all things Medieval– bordering on obsession, at times. I developed a love for ancient English history, Arthurian legends, Celtic and Norse mythology. I read any book that I could get my hands on that had anything to do with Europe in the Dark Ages– fiction or otherwise. When I discovered fantasy literature… well, now, I basically don’t read any other kind of fiction. I sneaked The Chroncles of Narnia out of the library and hid them under the bathroom sink, reading them a few pages at time. I did the same thing with The Lord of the Rings. When I eventually read Harry Potter three years ago . . . I was instantly in love.

You’d think with that level of obsession, I would’ve known what a Renaissance Festival was, but I didn’t. I had some vague notion of what it was, but the only thing I really knew about it was that people would swallow fire and swords, and that was about it.

Until I met Maria*.

I was at a summer academy for a month, and Maria was the first person I’d ever met that shared my love of all things fantasy. There were some activities that required semi-formal wear, and she’d brought her Lady Guenevere-style gown. I had the biggest girl-crush on her, and probably followed her around like a lost puppy. She described the Renaissance Festival she performed at every year, and that’s when I was hooked.

I wanted to go to a Renaissance Festival.

But, I knew that a public event like that was off-limits. Between the possibility of seeing a costumed man shirtless and the public drinking, it was not a place good Christian girls like me went to. It just . . . wasn’t done. It was inappropriate.

Well, I finally went to one this last weekend. Saying I was excited about it would be an understatement. I was practically bouncing off the walls. I decided to dress up as a Romani– well, the Disney version of one anyway, since I already owned a few of the elements, including a crazy colorful skirt and a peasant-ish-looking blouse. I bought a few colorful scarves, some bangles, and gigantic hoops and called it a day. I also spent the weeks leading up to it watching way too many makeup tutorials on youtube. Which, seriously, some of those are insanely fun.

The end result:

gypsy 1

Also, the actual Festival was pretty darn incredible. The one we went to is located on a permanent fairgrounds, so all the buildings look period. There were well over a hundred vendors– one vendor, Feywood, was absolutely incredible. They make tables and lamps and chairs out of found wood, and it’s gorgeous. There was a haberdashery that made gorgeous lace-and-satin parasols, and one metalworker– Valkyrie’s Armourer— that makes custom Wonder Woman sets– crown, bracers, belt, and breastplate– and they’re amazing. There was some amazing head pieces that I tried on:

head piece 1try on

In the first part of the day, I saw a woman dressed in a beautiful velvet gown with an underbust corset, and I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I’d seen. When I saw it hanging in the window of another vendor–Moresca— I had to go in and try it on.

try on 3

It was way out of my price range, but I felt like a princess just wearing it.

There were some fantastic shows, too– a sword-swallowing act, a joust, a hypnotist, a few comedians, and one of my favorite bands from Celt Fest was also there. It was a pirate-themed weekend, and some of the costumes were amazing. One man looked exactly like Jack Sparrow. I had to do a double take to make sure it wasn’t Johnny Depp. He got a lot of stares, I’m sure. Mostly I just had a blast walking around with people who loved something as much as I did. It was literally a dream come true.

So, what about you? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but were never allowed? Did you eventually get to do it? What was it like?