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Tuesday, June 27, 2017


The New Republic has a story aptly titled The Silence of the Lambs about a scandalous child sex abuse case in an extremely conservative Baptist missionary organization called the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE). It really is horrific. Young girls under the influence of a charismatic leader in the mission field were seduced, drugged, molested, destroyed. The group -- its leadership and its membership -- sought to cover it up and gloss it over. They blamed the girls and told them so. Lives were destroyed. Justice was canceled. It was awful, truly awful.

The article, however, makes an assumption. The core of the problem in the ABWE was not the man doing the deed or the people involved in the cover up, but the beliefs of the system. "Silence and submission make fundamentalist Christians a ripe target," they tell us. "Fundamentalists preach strict obedience to religious authority." As proof that fundamentalism is the core problem, the article lists four "venerated patriarchs" of "fundamentalism" (as if "fundamentalism" is some sort of organization) -- Doug Phillips, Bill Gothard, Josh Duggar (spelled "Dugger" in the article) and Toby Willis -- who were enmeshed at one time or another in massive sexual misconduct cases. Now, we can scratch our heads and say, "Really? Josh Duggar is a 'venerated patriarch' of 'fundamentalism'?", but that's not the point. Apparently authoritarianism is a main part of "fundamentalism" (I keep putting it in quotes because the article seems to think of it as some monolith of beliefs and structure ... it's not.) The article cites "fundamentalist precepts about the nature of sex and women" as the prime reason that the girls, not the perpetrators, were blamed. And the cover-up itself was a "product of the sprawling, disparate world of Christian fundamentalism." At the core, then, very clearly "fundamentalism" is the problem. The reason there is sex abuse in fundamentalist circles is fundamentalism.

I want to say, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." "Fundamentalism" is defined as "A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles" on the Free Dictionary and as "a religious movement characterized by a strict belief in the literal interpretation of religious texts" at Probably fairly accurate. Since the root of the word is "fundamental", "fundamentalism" would be a strict adherence to fundamentals. Yeah, that's tough to figure out. In the case of Christianity, it would be strict adherence to the fundamentals of what God says. Hey, this isn't that hard. And, yet, it seems to be nigh unto impossible to avoid "It's a hateful belief that all men are lords and masters and all women are to be used and abused and anyone who disagrees ought to be shot." Not in there. In fact, to arrive at that point would be a denial of ... the fundamentals.

You see, the abuse (which does occur) of people, of Scripture, of authority, of privilege, and all that is abuse, not "proper use". Not all "fundamentalists" believe what this author claimed to be basic "fundamentalist" beliefs (such as "authoritarianism", "silence", "strict obedience", or some strange "precepts about the nature of sex and women" that would have a bearing on this discussion). Scripture doesn't support that pastor who did such horrible things to those girls or the leadership that covered it up or the followers who accused the girls rather than the perpetrator. It's not in there. That some abuse God's Word to make you think it is doesn't make it so. That people do it "in the name of God" doesn't make it so. To lay the accusations, then, at the feet of a belief that calls for adherence to basic biblical principles when those basic biblical principles are ignored and tortured and abused themselves is not rational, reasonable, or right.

But, today we've arrived at "rational, reasonable, or right" as something to be ignored. It doesn't feel right, so we're going to stone it to death. And "fundamentalism" becomes an epithet, a disparaging term all by itself. It's a handy way to marginalize the entire question without actually examining the points. Do not think about what the word means. If you hear it, recognize that the person using it is good and kind and the persons or beliefs about which it is being used are evil and horrible. Just look at Josh Duggar or ISIS and you'll see. Fundamentalism is evil. We know this as a fundamental belief!


Marshal Art said...

Wow. That's a really long article, so I'll ask you straight up: Did the author cite any legitimate source for her understanding of the terms "fundamental" and/or "fundamentalist"? I've never been made aware by any fundamentalist of attitudes toward woman as described in your excerpts. Who besides cultists and those who regard solid Christians as cultists sincerely believe that's common among fundamentalists?

And I really like that subtitle, referring to "Catholic-sized" scandals, as if the cliche of "pedophile priests" isn't as much hyperbole and sensationalism as fact.

Stan said...

Who needs to cite sources? News is news, the media is truth, and how dare you question them? (Have you noticed how much of news reporting these days is "Twitter reaction was ..."?) In truth, the author is only using the current (faulty) use of the term "fundamentalist" as modern readers might understand it. They're reporting and castigating in line with public opinion. No one else cares.

(And I'm with you. What "fundamentalist precepts about the nature of sex and women" is she talking about? I'm seriously not getting it, except that, as in the rest of the article, she's referring to the abuse of the biblical fundamentals that is foisted off as "fundamentalism".)