Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Stepping Away From Fundamentalism, Step Three

For me, the shortest step away from fundamentalism came with the realization that life within my family bore little resemblance to the idyllic paternalistic household that fundamentalist preachers portrayed as the biblical model for the home.

Father didn't know best at my home. Dad was more relational than analytic. He was great with kids and fun to be around when he was healthy and rested, but he was not the wisest decision maker in the house. For the most part, my mother -- who always worked outside the home -- managed the household and handled the finances and my father usually had the good sense to trust her judgment more than his own. Fundamentalism's sexist and patriarchal chain-of-command family structure never found a foothold at my parent's house. They had an egalitarian mutually submissive relationship that survived for more than fifty years while the complementarian, male-supremacist marital relationships of their fundamentalist friends crumbled all around them.

My own step away from fundamentalism's chain-of-command theology came while I was in high school. Teenage years are traditionally an age of rebellion, but I wasn't much of a rebel. Being a fundamental Baptist "preacher boy," I was a model of Christian conservatism. Nearly all my time away from school was devoted to my church, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Young Life. Those last two years of high school, however, were also my father's final two years of college. He was working full-time, taking extra jobs to make ends meet, attending classes and studying to complete his B.A. degree, and raising a family -- all at the same time. His health was not the best and he was getting precious little sleep. When he was awake, he didn't have a lot of time or patience and it was hard to reason with him. Our relationship was often rocky during this period. It wasn't until after dad graduated, began his career as a public school teacher, and assumed an ordinary schedule that our relationship returned to normalcy. By then I had moved out of the house.

I learned a very valuable spiritual lesson over those last two years of high school. I discovered that my relationship with God could still be strong, healthy and growing while, at the same time, my relationship with my father was strained.

Later, these experiences made it easy for me to see through the simplistic thought, shallow theology, and unrealistic philosophy that undergirded the seminars that Bill Gothard led on Basic Youth Conflicts in the 1970’s. Like other chain-of-command theologians, he focused exclusively on the command for children to honor their parents. He never seemed to notice the conjoining command that parents "not exasperate" their children.(Ephesians 6:1-4)

While I never had cause for exasperation with my parents, when I served as a police officer, I often filed reports and provided testimony on behalf of children who had some very real causes for exasperation. Those experiences make my stomach turn every time I hear some naïve, but well-meaning preacher describing parents as "chisels" who chip away the rough edges of children who are like "diamonds in the rough." They don't realize how many parents take that "chip away" metaphor literally.


V. H. said...


I really appreciate this series of posts and identify with much of your evolution away from religious fundmentalism. Thanks for sharing these personal messages!


Yogi♪♪♪ said...

I'm really enjoying this series.

My Mother was also a strong presence in our house. She managed the money and she and my Father, as far as I can tell made the decisions together.

They also had an easy hand on myself and siblings when we were teenagers. They were very flexible on how they handled things.

None of this is what you read in many "Christian" family books. But it seemed to work.

ParttimeSoonerFan said...

I have considered myself a Baptist for the past 56 years as I was baptised at the age of twelve. I have for many years been ignorant of some of the tenets of the the Baptist faith. I am now aware that the more educated a minister is the further he departs from what you describe as "fundamentalism" and what I describe as being a Baptist. The colleges and universites seem to be and incubator for liberalism in the church. I am thankful that the Southern Baptists, of whom I am a member, have evolved away from liberalism, which you obviously promote.