[author] I was identifying with [walkaways from extreme fundamentalism]—that their quest for spiritual communion with God would lead them to participate in these stifling, degrading, anti-gracious communities and then breaking free of the legalism. The more I read about Christian fundamentalism, the more appalled I became. The extreme practices Christians have taken up seemed so absurd yet so oddly familiar.
I realized that most of these ideas [of extreme fundamentalism]…had floated through most of the churches we attended and probably were much stronger an influence than I noticed as a child.
[commenter] Wow, that's a powerful statement. I never thought of equating the churches we grew up in with the kind of super-fundy stuff you read about from cults, but I can see some of the parallels you are drawing. It makes me so sad that people who claim to have received the love of Jesus show so much disdain for others who are supposed to be their brothers and sisters in Christ (not to mention the rest of the world for whom Christ died.) Power and control seem to always trump grace.
[commenter] People have one heck of a time loving others, and I think it is because they see this love as a duty rather than as an opportunity to allow the indwelling Christ to live out through them.
This may actually be the crux of the whole matter. So much of fundamentalism (in any religious or social setting) is about following rules to win approval from the powerful. Whoever can demonstrate having followed the most rules, the most closely, scores the most points... except the powerful who determine the rules can change them whenever it seems someone else might actually be winning.
In Christianity (at least the evangelical and fundamentalist versions I grew up with), the biggest and most important rule is that Love is best demonstrated by Submitting. Usually in some kind of service or obedience to those in authority over you, or alternately by demanding that those beneath you on the hierarchy are taught to submit appropriately. So if Love=submission and the ones on the bottom of the heap are the ones who HAVE to submit the most… Well, who the hell would really want to love anybody else?
I stayed up late recently listening to podcasts about the ballyhoo in the Southern Baptist Convention about this new theology of the Trinity that's come out (been around for at least 30 yrs and underlies the dominionist movement but has recently been shown to be articulated by some Big Whigs of SBC and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) wherein God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have three separate wills and are covenanted to work together to manifest God's will. God is the Top Dog, Jesus submits to God (and actually has no power to answer prayer, can only take them to God) and reigns over the Holy Spirit. Therefore Father/Husband has all authority in domestic and civil venues, Woman/Wife/Daughter must follow the Father in everything and cannot have her own calling/work/agenda except as it supports the Father and Wife/Mother/Older Daughter rules over the (younger) children to make them obedient to the Father.
I got to thinking that the whole thing is just so silly. If churches and Christian literature spent half as much time preaching biblical leadership—being a true public servant working for the betterment of the whole group—as they do demanding that everyone submit, submit, submit, we might actually never have to care about who's submitting to whom and how well.
Why is Christianity about judgment and only ever so rarely about actual grace (not the "oh I'm such a worm and God is gracious that he hasn't just stomped on me" kind)? Why did I spend twenty-one years among the self-proclaimed God's People and never have a clue about grace until I read a non-Christian source?
Why did I at age 12 have to ask the pastor how to "love God and love your neighbor as yourself" if I didn't love myself? Basically the answer I got was that not loving myself was a demonstration of proper humility and an appropriate understanding of my essential worthlessness so I actually should love my neighbor better than myself. What kind of bullshit answer is that to give a kid? Hmm, the Bible doesn't support the way we've taught this child to believe so instead of changing our teaching when she calls us on it, let's just REWRITE scripture.
And now huge movements within the SBC, the largest denomination in the US, are doing this exact thing. Really, this shouldn't surprise me, I'm sure it has been going on for millenia. The powerful always get to rewrite the history (and all our scripture is historical right? More hmmm…).
So I don't think I've really missed anything by staying out of the church scene for nearly two decades. Same song, second verse, a little bit louder, a little bit worse.