(Content Note for spiritual abuse)
This is week two of a series I started last week on fundamentalism. I thought I would attempt to focus on one foundational issue from which all the other issues in fundamentalism stem. Most of the problems with fundamentalism are so interconnected, I’ve really struggled with where to start. Or where to stop once I started writing down different subjects. So, I decided this is a good place to start theologically at least: God as Judge/Angry with humanity.
More accurately, why fundamentalists treat people who “sin” a certain way so terribly (specifically queer women) can be directly attributed to how they view morality as a whole. Fundamentalists like to focus on having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” because they believe this saves you from an eternity in Hell separated from God forever. Also, you want to avoid the Tribulation, so better get “saved” before that…and since we don’t know what time that will occur, you need to do it asap. Most would start conversations with people outside their churches with a God loves you, but you’re a sinner type of conversation. They will most likely quote John 3:16.
And of course, once you accept Jesus “into your heart,” you have to tell others about Jesus so that they won’t die and go to Hell. It’s all about policing others’ morality and making sure they’re set for eternity. Whether they agree with you or not. Now, it’s important to make a distinction here, I think, between fundamentalists and evangelicals. There’s definitely some overlap, but the two differ significantly. Both groups would agree that Jesus is the way of salvation (John 14:1-6), but fundamentalists tend to be much more about rules and have a different eschatological belief (what they believe about the end times can be VERY different). Evangelicals tend to emphasize grace more and have similar concerns about morality…just not as adamant about the hell, fire and brimstone part of sharing the Gospel.
In case you’re wondering where the spiritual abuse part of this comes in, it’s coming. Because fundamentalists believe this about eternal salvation, they also believe in moral absolutes. I don’t have problems with moral absolutes per se but they present their ethical system as having no grey areas. All things have a moral value to them–nothing is neutral. And all things tend to have spiritual value to them–psychological ailments can be considered a spiritual problem. I struggle with depression but it’s not because of some hidden sin in my life that I haven’t dealt with. That’s what they would tell me.
Ultimately, fundamentalism’s view morality in a way that distorts how they see people. If you’re struggling with a certain “sin” (Read: sexual sin) you’re probably going to be treated like less of a person. I can almost guarantee it both from my own experience and the experience of others. This can lead to damaging consequences for LGBTQ people in fundamentalist churches because when someone views morality in a way that distorts humanity, this in itself presents an ethical dilemma. They think they’re being moral, but choosing between treating a person like a person or like a “sinner” who needs to be punished or policed is a big deal. This leads to controlling someone else’s life because of concern they are either not “saved” or they need to repent.
This is abusive. You can call it legalism or fundamentalism or whatever the hell you want but either way it is both spiritually and psychologically damaging. For queer folks, it leads to self-hatred and it can be very dangerous. It is also this view of morality that leads to churches excommunicating their queer members or encouraging parents to kick their kids out of the house. Because God is an angry God and God is judge…so if you’re truly a Christian, you need to not sin.
Primarily the views expressed above have led me to realize they’re wrong because of how I’ve been treated recently. But even growing up, I used to have a deep sense of urgency that something was not right in my world. And that I had to figure out what that was. I felt this for the first time when I was 12. Now at 25 I feel like maybe I can finally deal with that sense of urgency and do something about it. It’s also lead me to view ethics from a different viewpoint.
I guess you could say I’ve mostly turned to what is referred to as situational ethics or situationalism. Of course, I am told this system of ethics is lacking by most evangelical Christians, but it can be defined as determining what’s right based off what is most loving, what promotes freedom, human rights, etc. This is just where I’m at right now. It could totally change in the next year. I personally believe that love is a pretty good reason to treat human beings with dignity and respect. I can see some flaws in it as many people can say that the most loving thing in one situation might be different than what I would say. There are inconsistencies as with any other ethical framework. Either way, I think it’s better than teaching people to hate a part of themselves just because the version of God they believe in says they have to.
I can honestly tell you I don’t know what I believe about Jesus being the only way of salvation, or about Heaven and Hell right now. I am very uncomfortable with an angry God who sends people to hell because they didn’t believe in him or know about him (is God even a he though? I’ll get there…). But I am equally uncomfortable with a God of love. Why? Because it is the opposite of what I’ve known God to be. When you’re taught that, Yes, Jesus loves us, but only if we stop sinning so God can love us based on our performance–how much less we sin…I have to wonder if that’s right. If that God as Judge can also be the God who loves.
Just some closing thoughts for the series as a whole:
Other topics I’m planning on covering in the next few weeks are Purity Culture, End Times, Happy vs Holy, and Self-Care vs Selfish to name a few.
Also, I’m at a point where I think I’m seriously considering writing a book because think it’s needed.
Lastly before I post some resources that are helpful for this post, I’d like to have YOUR help and input on some things you’d like me to talk about. And I would even maybe like to interview some of you who have grown up in fundamentalism/are queer.
Especially, if you have left fundamentalism and/or decided to even leave the faith, I’d like to share that story. If any of this sounds at all interesting to you, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org which is the email account I’ve set up for the blog.
Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther – The author grew up in a fundamentalist cult basically that focused on the end times a lot. It’s a hard read but helped me process some things.
Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans – This one is good for those struggling with their faith and wrestling with doubts. I am currently rereading it because I think I’m at a place where I can glean more from it than the first time I read it.
Love Wins by Rob Bell – I know…we were taught this was heresy, but it’s actually quite good.