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I was wrong.

That got your attention, eh? Yeah. . . . probably not what you think. But confession is good for the soul, right? Let’s hope so. And I’d thought I’d give those curious rubber-neckers something really fun to print out and pass around. 😉

At first, I only tentatively studied the history of fundamentalism while at IU. A lot of the classic historians published in the tradition of Perry Miller, writing with a sort of jaundiced cynicism that fetishized separatists and just left me sad. Martin Marty is the better standard with his “carapace” metaphor for fundy communities. “No, no, no!” I thought. “Fundyism isn’t hermetically sealed like that. It’s not hard-shelled. He’s just a modernist!”

Then Stephen Stein introduced our class to Nathan Hatch, George Marsden, and Joel Carpenter — all three believing and conservative Evangelical scholars, all three well-published and sound historians, and all three saying (in sum) “Yeah, I was a fundamentalist once. But then I got over it.”

I remember telling my major professor all that and responding with “Yeah, I was a fundamentalist, and I’m not over it. I’m still a fundamentalist.” I had great hope for fundyism. I thought it could be beautiful. I mean, taking the Bible seriously is a good thing, right? A very good thing.

Now, taking the Bible seriously is still a beautiful thing! Don’t get me wrong. I guess, however, that I was a little too serious about the Bible. A little too earnest about being a woman of the Book.

But about everything else? I was naive. I was too optimistic. And I was wrong.

I was trained to be a “productive critic of rhetoric.” That means that you don’t just observe, you judge. You don’t just spit out facts, you produce something that can change the world. I was taught to assume that as human beings there’s always room for improvement! Everything we do is flawed (yes! the Academy agrees with the Church), and we must talk (rather than fight) our way to bettering ourselves.

I remember sitting in the IU Union looking at our department’s building from across the street and vowing to God that I would not waste the wonderful training I was getting. I asked God to help me put it to work. I didn’t want to just forget it. I wanted to use it. I wasn’t there to just make my employer look good; I wanted that education to change me.

At my oral comprehensive exams, one professor asked me point-blank, “How can you be a rhetorician and go back to a place like . . . Bob Jones?” The disdain dripped from his lips. I was flabbergasted and irritated, but I responded, “How can I not? Believers have always been a dominant force in the discipline of rhetoric since Augustine. Finding practical solutions with our words from the Word fits perfectly!”

I still believe it does.

I don’t know yet what happened or how to digest it. I was an apologist — and a good one. I was fully committed — loyal to the core. God had to actually push us out of the subculture — our “slice of Christendom” as I always called it.

I guess change was unwanted or feared. Apologia was considered unnecessary. Or . . . independent apologia was distrusted. I really don’t know. I was clearly “othered.” I’m coming to believe that everyone “in” fundamentalism fears that they’ll be “out,” and that fear drives them to rigidly maintain the boundaries. Everyone’s at risk. Everyone may be “out.” So when someone’s just a little bit different, when someone doesn’t fly far enough “under the radar” (as they say in Reality TV), it’s easier to vote them off the island than try to stretch the frames of acceptance to keep them there.

I had great hope for my “home” as I always called it. But my home isn’t in a movement, thankfully. It’s in a Savior. I can’t get the two mixed up.

[tags]Stephen Stein, History of American Religion, Fundamentalism, George Marsden, Nathan Hatch, Joel Carpenter, Perry Miller, Martin Marty, Productive Criticism[/tags]

12 thoughts on “I was wrong.

  1. I so relate. I, too, was pushed out, though in a different circumstantial way. It was PAINful…but over here on the other (wide beautiful mysterious) side, I admit to wondering how I managed to stay in fundyland for as long as I did.

  2. Camille, have you written here (or elsewhere) just how you came to leave fundamentalism? If not, I’d like to hear your story.

  3. I’ve been doing a lot of reading (& listening to lectures) on Francis Schaeffer recently. He actually went through a very serious crisis of faith because of the ugliness and power struggles he saw in fundamentalism. He was a card-carrying member of the fundamentalists who helped fight against Neo-Orthodoxy, but yet he couldn’t reconcile how orthodoxy always seemed to lead to ugliness. It took him several months to work through the issues, but the result was a renewed faith and the book “True Spirituality.” I would highly recommend it. Schaeffer ultimately remained a strong fundamentalist, although many fundies refused to accord him the title because he was just as “rabid” that people should be self-sacrificially loved as he was that the Bible was the rule of faith and practice.

    I love that man.

  4. Wow, Jeff, I didn’t know that! I have that book over there on my needing-to-be-read-soon stack. I’ll have to pull it up further in the pile. Very interesting. . . .

    Phil, it’s kind of you to ask. No, my husband and I haven’t really stated it all publicly yet. Even the relative subtlety that we’ve used so far has been met with quite a bit of controversy. We’re still very gunshy. In time and with prayer, I’m sure we’ll be more explicit. I have even drafted a blog post, but have it set to publish on December 12, 2012. Familiar with that date?

  5. Hi Camille, your blog is one of the few I check regularly…you are always interesting.

    I vote that you bump up the reading of “True Spirituality” and the publish date. : )

    (Of course you could be like my father and say, “Well you can vote, but your vote doesn’t count.”)

  6. I don’t remember how I stumbled across your blog, but I’ve been reading it for awhile. You lasted in fundamentalism much longer than my husband and I. When we were at Christian Heritage College (name has changed since), we were beginning to “see the light.” I remember a kid there who dressed a bit differently being told that he needed to conform as Christians should look like they are Christians. (I guess jeans are an invention of the devil!) His response was to question if he should conform like John the Baptist did and wear skins and eat locusts. When I was in high school, I was accused (by my pastor dad) of being on drugs because I liked fashion and dressed differently! I’ve always suspected that one of the prime goals of fundamentalist leaders was to control people. In reality, it’s all about Jesus–a fact that is too easily forgotten!

  7. I’ve always suspected that one of the prime goals of fundamentalist leaders was to control people.

    Truer words were NEVER SPOKEN.

  8. Through reading your’s and Grant’s blogs, I’m really not sure where you guys are now in your core beliefs. Not that I’m worried about you guys or that what I think will help or hurt you in your shift of beliefs. But, my opinion, small as it is, would say that you and Grant are going through a type of correction. Sort of like the stock market, if you will. Maybe your pendulum is still swinging so far to the other side, still spinning from the darts of hatred from so-called fellow believers, that you still haven’t quite landed back in the middle yet to say, “This is who we really are”.
    It took me and my wife five years. We are now SBC members and still happily claim the title “Fundamentalist’s. We’re just not mad about it any more.
    I’m glad to see you and your husband finding freedom. I’ve always looked up to you guys. Grant is a model leader and I still see that in his students that I go to church with.
    Have a great Sunday!

  9. I think that’s fair, Bruce. In fact, a recent post I made on a “conservative reformed” blog describes just that. Here we are, and where do we go? So many people are going “over there,” but uh . . . ew. No. I’m not going over there.

    So I think I know where we’re headed. For now anyway. And you’re right — it’ll hurt less in time. I know you’re right. In time. Like any kind of loss.


  10. Through reading your’s and Grant’s blogs, I’m really not sure where you guys are now in your core beliefs.

    Just to chime in….

    I don’t know that my “core beliefs” have changed at all. I still believe in the fundamentals of the faith — the virgin birth, Christ’s divinity, the blood atonement, the bodily resurrection, salvation by grace through faith, etc., etc. — I just don’t call myself a “Fundamentalist” any longer. Why? Because I don’t believe that the all-consuming harshness and intractability that characterize fundamentalism are Christlike. Fundamentalism has ceased to be about the fundamentals of Scripture; rather, it’s become a movement that reveres men, that fetishizes institutional consistency, that elevates extrabiblical rules and regulations to the level of Scripture, and that, when faced with disagreement, all too quickly resorts to divisive separation and black-balling rather than finding common ground and charitable concensus. (Sounds an awful lot like those criticisms that Fundamentalists have for Catholicism, doesn’t it?)

    Fundamentalism, as a movement, is dying. There are fewer and fewer people I know who would be willing to label themselves as Fundamentalists. Do these same people hold to their core beliefs? Yes! Do they wish to be branded with the moniker of a movement that has become ugly and divisive? Nope.

    Count me among them.

  11. Point well made AND understood, I think. There was a time, and not that long ago Grant, that I too wanted nothing more to do with the title. Even now, I would only discuss the subject matter with someone like yourself, who went to a school where the movement was a huge indoctrinating factor.
    To my unsaved coworkers and those who don’t know my Saviour, I simply want to be known as a Christian. It’s that name I claimed the day I heard his voice, though not audible, and believed.
    There is a new shift amongst confessing Evangelicals toward Fundmentalist’s. And I’m also seeing the same thing amongst Pastors who are realizing that their part in the movement was nothing more than a crutch for fear that they would be shunned by their peers or their flock. There seems to be a shift to me, about where we are headed. There is even a shift within the Southern Baptist convention that is turning away from the very liberal school of thought about Christianity. It’s slow, but it’s definitely coming.
    I’m picturing a day, and not that far away, when the two groups will find more in common, and less to drive themselves as fellow believers to division.
    The flawed view of separation has done more to damage the name of Christ than those who are holier than thou, would like to admit.
    Think about it. The grace of God does not always have to have a time limit. Someone falls prey to temptation, they sin, and nobody in “the movement” we’ve referenced can remember how patient God is with them in their own failures.
    Fundamentalism, disguised as legalism is dying, and it ought to.

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