Stories of Hateful Fundamentalists Coming to a Theater Near You

A new film premiered at Worldfest-Houston, one of the oldest and largest film festivals in the world, caught my interest. It’s called Hell and Mr. Fudge, a feature length film narrating the true story of a young Bible-belt preacher, Edward Fudge.

This curious film takes place in the early 1980s in Alabama and tells the true story of a preacher who changed his mind about hell. Yes, that’s h-e-double toothpicks, as in the place of torment and suffering, the opposite of heaven, the site of perpetual weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The story uses dramatization to play out key moments in Pastor Fudge’s life. A key plot point involves the unexpected death of an “unbelieving” teenager. The shock of his death provoked Pastor Fudge to question whether the destiny of this young man was indeed a place of eternal damnation. Is that what happens to him? Believing the Bible to be absolutely true, he began an intensive Bible study on the doctrine of hell.

What he found changed his view away from traditional ones. While Fudge eventually wrote a 500-plus page tome to argue it out (The Fire that Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, now in it’s third edition), at the time his conclusions provoked the malice of formerly-congenial brethren. His “heresy” cost him his job and his pulpit.

The specifics of Fudge’s views on hell are not what interest me most.  What does interest me is that such a fairly minor story of doctrinal dispute based on changes in religious conviction can sustain the considerable effort and expense of a mainstream movie. Movies aren’t cheap. Writing, producing, and acting in any film requires a lot of time and a measure of faith in the future of the product. Yet this film is not only professionally produced but also won the 2012 Platinum Award at the Houston International Film Festival in the “Theatrical Feature Film – Christian” category, beating out nearly 5,000 entries. It is an excellent film.

Even more, who is interested in such a quirky theme? I found myself intrigued–and then I quickly thought that the theme of re-working conservative Christian belief and practice may indeed be the order of the day. With so many ex- and former- and too-embarrassed-to-admit- conservative Christians out there today, a story about reacting to conservative doctrine has potential. The angst of working out one’s own convictions in the face of enormous pressures toward standard responses may have a wide base of appeal.

I suggest that this film is important because it highlights that there is an audience for sharing stories of hateful Christian fundamentalism. It immediately provides a counterpoint to the passionate reactions faced by Rob Bell with his recent book Love Wins. It also connects with the imperatives behind Donald Miller’s recent film Blue Like Jazz which also ruminates on the definition of what it means to be a faithful Christian in the face of strict orthodoxy. It also brings to mind news stories of groups like Westboro Baptist Church whose definition of correctness clashes with those of other Christians.

Very few people desire to be a hateful fundamentalist. But I suspect just about everyone has stories to share about them. And the Hollywood industry has more and more Christians who understand the doctrinal and experiential nuances and have the time and talent to craft their stories for a broader audience.

 

  • http://www.hellandmrfudge.us Larry Rouse

    I am building a website to give the real historical record this movie claims to be based on. You are correct that many are hateful in their conflicts over religious differences. You also can slander and demonize others by using your wealth to make a movie about your opponents!

    Remember to investigate and listen before you conclude one side of the story is true! (prov18:17)

    • Donald Davenport

      One helpful thing to keep in mind: “Hell and Mr. Fudge” is not a documentary. It is a telling of one man’s story from one man’s point of view. The broader discussion on the merits of what Edward Fudge discovered and the theology voracity of same is a good thing and, perhaps, the most important function a film like this serves. It forces each of us to re-examine our interpretation of scripture and the nature of God. In fact, we wouldn’t be having this dialogue if there hadn’t been this film. So, to demonize the film because its point of view doesn’t agree with yours is to suggest that there shouldn’t have been a Wittenberg door. Especially telling since I doubt any of those associated with the above-mentioned website have actually even seen the film.

      • Donald Davenport

        Correction: Obviously, “veracity”, not “voracity.” Perhaps voracious veracity.

  • Matt

    I raise issue with the term “hateful fundamentalist” to describe someone who believes in hell. You can believe in hell and still be a loving person. If I erroneously believe that licking a AA battery will kill someone, that’s hardly a hateful stance. Just as, if I correctly believe that tonguing a light socket will kill someone, it’s not particularly a loving stance. In fact, if I believe both of these to be true, telling people about it is about the most loving thing I can do.

  • http://www.edwardfudge.com Edward William Fudge

    I fear this reviewer missed the point of the movie — not some outsider bashing fundamentalists, but the honest retelling of what what some humans (who happened to be fundamentalist) did and were “done unto”
    when someone dared to say they al had mad a bad doctrinal mistake.

  • gerardomarti

    Thanks for these thoughtful remarks — especially from Edward Fudge himself! Just to clarify, I don’t claim to know much about what “actually” occurred in this instance other than what the movie portrays, but I do see this as an attempt to bring a story of what people do in the face of threatened orthodoxy. Even more — in terms of media portrayal, this movie fits into a broader dynamic of many Christian insiders who are attempting to live out their Christian faith in light of criticisms of views that stray from orthodoxy. And I speculate that there will be more Christians who will be putting their stories of conflict and controversy out there for mainstream audiences to consider.

    • http://edwardfudge.xom Edward Fudge

      On second reading, I am the one who misread, and hereby plead mental impairment from heavy duty pain medicine as I await back surgery in a few days. I must correct Mr. Rouse’s suggestion that I “made” this movie (I am only its subject), and also the implication that I or the producers are flush with money (they are a onprofit corporation and accept tax-deductible contributions).. Finally, I urge everyone to read Mr. Rouse’s website. His selection of documentary evidence definitively illustrates the mindset and the methods of those whom the movie portrays as antagonists.

  • http://restorationfellowship.org Anthony Buzzard

    What a joy that an honest Bible-searcher gives the public a chance to renounce one of the cruellest errors of traditional theology– that the God of all compassion is intending to torture and torment the wicked ceaselessly for eternity. I doubt if most churchgoers allow themselves even to think through what that hideous notion implies. As it turns out it is a pernicious mistake to adopt the non-biblical idea of an immortal soul, from which it would follow that being immortal the wicked could never die! The truth is that evil man is mortal and destructible and will cease to exist when consumed by the fire of Gehenna. Now that the immortal soul idea is exposed as false, perhaps a complete investigation of future things, eschatology, what happens when we die, will follow. Mr Fudge may have given us the thin edge of the wedge. If tradition has been so misleading on this question of the destiny of the wicked, what else is flawed in “orthodoxy”?


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