This post is the second in a four part series based off of my very real interactions with Christian fundamentalists. You can read post one here.
Yesterday I gave some biographical information about my experience with Christian fundamentalists and ended with a working definition of 21st century fundamentalism. I believe its two defining characteristics are the belief in the absolute inerrancy of Scripture and the clinging to 1950s American culture as the standard for Christian society and living.
I want to begin today by repeating what I tried to say yesterday. Often when dealing with fundamentalists I am guilty of committing the straw man fallacy where I meet a conservative Christian and immediately picture them as an angry, closed minded, sinner who thinks they are better than everyone else. I am repenting of that sin in these posts and instead trying to engage with the fundamentalist Christians I know and explain them in a way that is more honest.
When I put aside my hasty stereotypes and engaged with Fundamentalists I found that they are nowhere near as bad at being Christians as I assumed they were.
First off they really do want to see people join the church and become Christian. They fear becoming irrelevant and are grasping at anything (politics, movies, music, etc) that will get people to hear them out. Although I felt panicked and awkward when they announced their latest propaganda movie, I still advertised it to some non-church youth I knew because I legitimately thought the movie would get the kids interested in God. And so I do share and celebrate the evangelical thrust of the movement, even if that thrust turns more into a rhino charge at times (well, most of the time).
Second, the fundamentalists I know will listen to a reasoned argument from Scripture. What they will not respond to are exaggerations and generalizations. For example, when I make the statement, “Obviously God wants us to care about poor people” they shrug me off. But when I open my Bible to the verses in Deuteronomy 15 about open handed care and concern for the poor, they listen. When I blandly state, “well your sin is as bad as theirs” they roll their eyes at me. But when I read Romans 1 and show them that gossip is next to adultery and how Paul’s argument about “their” sin suddenly turns to the claim that “you are without excuse” they seriously rethink their legalistic attitudes. If you open Scripture with them they will pay attention and I find that admirable. However, if you keep Scripture close and substitute it for generalizations they will turn on you.
Third, they are a very generous bunch, at least the ones I know. They give a lot of money to a lot of non-profit organizations who specialize in social justice. Ironically fundamentalists hate the phrase “social justice” but when I bring up sex trafficking they are the first to write a check or ask me what to do. They donate to homeless shelters, teen pregnancy clinics, missionaries and third world farmers. And they certainly give well above 10 percent to the church. Their belief in the generous God in Scripture certainly encourages generosity on their part. Unfortunately a lot of their money goes to conservative politicians, 6 day creation curriculum and Bible museums but that is not the limit to their generosity.
This brings me to a story about the most fundamentalist family in our town. This is the family that goes to the “Fundamentalist Baptist Church,” think Obama is the anti-christ and that Jesus is coming back tomorrow because Israel fired a rocket yesterday. They readily try to test me in conversation to see if my Christianity is strong or weak. They turn every conversation about the weather to a heated debate about abortion or homosexuality or Obamacare. Simply put, they have a tendency to annoy me.
However, a year ago a girl in the high school got into a brutal argument with her mom and was thrown out of her house. She had nowhere to stay, so the fundamentalists took her into their all ready crowded home. She went with them on family vacations. Though they were financially strapped, they still bought her clothes and school supplies. All this was incredible in and of itself but then they did something I did not expect. They scheduled meetings between the girl and her mother and worked with them on reconciliation. Their purpose was clearly stated to me: “Our goal is to see them forgive each other, get along better and have a more peaceful home.” In the end they accomplished their goal and the girl moved back in with her mother.
The non Christians in town, and some Christians too, took sides. They gossiped about the girl or her mother using not so friendly terminology. They stood on the sidelines and cheered or booed their team but the fundamentalist Baptists did the messy work of peacemaking.
A few months before that another wealthy fundamentalist-leaning family in town discovered a family of six who was homeless. THey invited them into their mansion to live for a month. It was a very gracious act. Another family drove an orphaned girl halfway across the country so she could get to the public university that had accepted her. Ironically this is the same family that bad mouths all public universities.
It was these stories and others like them that convinced me to rethink my blind hatred and vicious anger against them. It is these stories I try to remember when I meet the fundamentalists on the road and they insist I advertise their new 6 day creation seminar or side with their hatred at the Obama administration. I will not do either but I will at least smile and nod and welcome them as the eccentric Christian cousins they are and celebrate God’s work through them.
I hope you keep that last post in mind when you read my post for tomorrow. . .see you then.