Being both a regular reader of Znet articles and a Christian fundamentalist has occasionally caused me to be confused. There are times when I feel obligated to choose one side or the other. There are liberals and fundamentalists who affirm the necessity of this choice by how they talk about the other side. But must I choose? The math part of me tells me that that depends on my set of working definitions.
What is a Christian fundamentalist? It is easy to think of Christian fundamentalists in terms of stereotypes. They are often portrayed as being anti-scientific, extremely patriotic, extremely Republican, blind supporters of Israel, and opinionated. But are the stereotypes accurate?
A fundamentalist is one who believes in the basics of the faith. These basics of the Christian faith include: the literal 1st and 2nd coming of Christ, his virgin birth, his literal crucifixion and physical resurrection from the dead, the belief that salvation comes only through faith in Christ, and the Bible as being the inerrant Word of God. This last proposition is often misunderstood because it is often confused with believing that one must always interpret the Bible literally. This is not the case.
As ridiculous or repugnant these beliefs are to the liberal, none of the beliefs imply any set of political convictions that promote injustice. What we do see are subsets of fundamentalists whose thinking do support oppression and work against equality. One such subset of thinking involves some who see the United States and Israel as God’s nations and thus anyone who criticizes either nation, criticizes God.
But one can be a fundamentalist without having such views.
It is not difficult to see that the stereotypes do not always hold true. Though many Christian fundamentalists voted for President Bush in the last election, my conversations with fellow fundamentalists tell me that a significant number of fundamentalists looked to the Democratic Party to provide a legitimate alternative–I myself voted for Nader. During the summer, I visited a fellow fundamentalist friend of mine who was teaching at the Au Sable Institute in Michigan where Christian fundamentalist college students can study environmentalism. A fellow fundamentalist friend from England tells me that conservative Christians there tend to be politically liberal. I have fellow fundamentalist friends who are uncomfortable with or oppose the war in Iraq. There are a number of my fellow fundamentalists who oppose the current marginalization of the Palestinians practiced by Israel. My own church allowed their high school students to study a book containing the writings of Martin Luther King Jr.
So why am I bringing this up here? I do so because I want people to know that the basic tenets of Christian fundamentalism do not imply any set of political convictions that promote oppression. Thus, Christian fundamentalism itself should not be seen as an enemy to social justice. Rather than asking fundamentalists to leave their faith, we only need to challenge them to examine their faith more closely. This will not solve all disputes between fundamentalists and liberals, but it may mean we can work together on far more issues than we do now.
My own criticism of my fellow fundamentalist friends is that they are both overreaching for their own significance and too materialistic. This overreaching results in attempts to take a dominant role in society rather than a servant one–Jesus came as a suffering servant. One of the motivations for obtaining this control is to either secure God’s physical blessings on this country or avoid God’s judgment. It is the desire to control that is a part of the problem rather than a set of religious beliefs.
Another point of contention between liberals and Christian fundamentalists is found in what is absent. What is absent in American Christian fundamentalism is a message of repentance to the rich. Despite the warnings found in Jesus’s parables of the rich man who hoarded his wealth but died prematurely(Luke 12:13-21) or the rich man and Lazarus(Luke 16:19-31), and despite Jesus’s warning that we should store our riches in heaven rather than on earth(Matthew 6:19-34) or woe to those who receive their comfort now(Luke 6:24), American Christian fundamentalists have no message of repentance to preach to the rich telling them to care and share.
Certainly there are shameful reasons why American Christian fundamentalists have no such message for the rich–some fundamentalists preach a gospel promising the listener that they can join the ranks of the rich. Many liberals confuse these faults with the religion itself and conclude that fundamentalists can never work for justice. Thus double the work must be done on any Christian fundamentalist to get them to work for a just society. Double the work has to be done because we must first undo the religious convictions of the fundamentalists and then educate them about social justice–it is more convenient just to count fundamentalists as a loss cause. But what if it was easier for liberals to get Christian fundamentalists to work for justice? What if all liberals had to do is to remind fundamentalists of what the Bible says, like fighting fire with fire, would liberals be interested in reaching out?
I find myself in two minorities. The one minority consists of my liberal friends who think they can learn about religion from fundamentalists. The other minority consists of my fundamentalist friends who think they can learn about social issues from liberals. The latter group stands as proof that Christian fundamentalism and supporting social justice are not mutually exclusive. The latter group believes that fundamentalists could benefit greatly from listening to and learning from liberals. This can only occur if liberals are willing to reach out.