Yesterday I wrote about the Fundamentalists’ view of Scripture and why I disagree with their claim that “Scripture is God.” Today I want to talk more practically about the ways the fundamentalists I know read Scripture. Truth is, I can get over their view of Scripture, as long as they read it, which many do. But as I conversed with the most ardent of Fundamentalists, I discovered they don’t just believe Scripture is inerrant, they also believe that 1950s, “traditional” America was the best expression of the Kingdom of God. So their reading of Scripture tends to read 1950’s American culture into the text, rather than hearing the text speak to the new things God is doing in the 21st century.
This wouldn’t be so bad if fundamentalists understood the 1950s. They paint pictures of “traditional American values” with white picket fences and families getting along and the husband as the head and spiritual leader of the family that watches wholesome television and follows the laws of a just government that legislated Christianity by mandating prayer in schools. Then they proof text this picture with shady exegesis and angry homiletics that insist we need to return to God and God’s white picket fences.
To be sure, some of that picture is desirable but if you study the 1950s or the 1940s, 1930s, or even the 1800s or way back to the founding of America you will find “traditional America” only ever existed on a billboard selling Coca-Cola. The truth is that the 1950’s were an incredibly evil time in the United States. It is true that fathers were the heads of the family but all that meant was the government and church fully supported spouse and child abuse. In that decade thousands of black people were killed by sheer prejudice (source). People who were not crazy could be locked up in a mental institution without trial and the government taxed 87% of the top earners’ incomes (source). The teen pregnancy rate was higher that it has ever been (source). The average age of death was still hovering right around 60 (source). In sum, the 1950s were only a glorious decade for white, middle class men between the ages of 20-50. And if you go further back in time from there the picture just gets worse.
To be sure, I do long for a day of white picket fences and happy families living in peaceful homes but that day is likely to be in the future because you won’t find it in the past, especially in the United States.
This brings me to the greatest harm perpetuated by fundamentalists. They are overwhelmingly pessimistic. By painting such a beautiful picture, then placing that picture in the past, they argue that God will only destroy us as we move into the future. This cynicism has led to deep obsession on the doom and gloom in Revelation, which has furthered the bitterness and pessimism that refuses to see God doing anything good in the world.
In contrast, when I read all 1,189 chapters of Scripture I am overwhelmed with optimism. In our Great Book God has a way of bringing about peace and love and good for, through and in all the good and all the bad. I cling to the claims in Job where God says, “I make it rain in the desert” (Job 38:26). Jesus picks up on this in the Sermon on the Mount where he says, “God makes it rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). A God like that fills me with hope for the world to come because we serve a God who pours out blessings for anybody and everybody to pick them up.
So I reject the fundamentalist claim that every step away from 1959 is a step towards the horrid end times. Instead I long for the day that is coming when Jesus will return and establish his reign on earth as it is in heaven. On that day I will probably join hands with my crazy fundamentalist cousins and sing the songs of praise, knowing that despite their inquisitions, cynical pessimism and misplaced dogma God still used them to feed hungry people, clothe the naked and house the homeless. That is a crazy powerful and crazy loving God. Come, Lord Jesus.