On Not Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater (A Message for Abused Ex-Fundamentalists)

On Not Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater

1 Thessalonians 5:19-20

A few years ago I must have said “We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” once too often because when I said it the whole class burst out laughing.

That’s okay; one thing I know about myself is I’m funniest when I’m not trying to be.

I confess it.  I do like that rustic saying—”Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”  It very well describes a struggle I’ve been involved in for many years.  In some ways, it defines my personal struggle with my religious heritage.

After teaching Christian theology to college and seminary students for 27 years I’m confident I’m not alone.  Many students share my struggle in their own ways.  The same is true for many of my colleagues and friends.

Some succeed in not throwing the baby out with the bathwater and some don’t.  I’m not here to blame anyone but to share my struggle with you and hopefully encourage you if you find yourself involved in such a struggle.

That saying—”Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”—has an interesting history.  I have heard one explanation of its origin that seems a little far-fetched.  Allegedly, back in the Dark Ages, peasants bathed only once weekly.  They would fill a half barrel with soapy water and the family members would take turns bathing in it.  Of course, the father would go first.  Then the oldest son.  Then the mother and children.  The baby would be bathed last and by then the water was so filthy it was easy to lose the baby in the bathwater—especially if you looked away for a minute and the baby sank down into the water.  So, the tale goes, occasionally the baby would be thrown out with the bathwater.

Personally I always found that explanation unlikely.  The urban myth debunking web site snopes.com agrees with me.

While nobody knows who first coined the saying, it seems to come from Germany and the first published appearance is in a 15th century book of German poems.  Interestingly, Martin Luther used it in a 1526 letter.  He wrote “Man soll das Kind nicht mit dem bad ausgiessen.”  It’s first use in English was by British essayist Thomas Carlyle in 1849.

I suppose I probably first heard it from one of my grandmothers.  They were always going around uttering quaint advice like “Watch your ‘p’s’ and q’s’”—whatever that means.

But this saying—”Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”—however quaint and odd seems to paraphrase Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians well.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 he instructs them (my translation): “Do not quench the Spirit or despise prophecies.  Carefully examine all things and hold on to what is good.”  In the next verse—21—he tells his readers to “reject whatever is harmful.”

Some English translations translate the Greek word δοκίμάζέτέ “prove” thus rendering the verse in English “prove all things.”  That doesn’t make any sense in modern English, of course.  In the past “prove” could mean “test,” but today it generally means something else.  So a good, workable translation for today is “critically examine everything.”

Thayer says δοκίμάζέτέ means “to test, examine, prove, scrutinize (to see whether a thing be genuine or not)”, as in metal testing.  It is used often in the New Testament and in the Septuagint almost always meaning critical examination of something to prove its validity.

The context of this verse is “prophecies.”  Paul instructs the Thessalonian Christians not to despise them.  Immediately he then instructs them to critically examine them which raises a lot of questions the foremost being “how?”  Paul doesn’t answer here.  And that’s beside the point for my purposes.

My only intention in choosing this passage as a “text that has shaped me” is to support and defend something much neglected in Christian communities—especially conservative ones.  That something is critical thinking and testing of things within the church and Christian organizations.

But Paul then goes on to say that after they have tested prophecies (or whatever) they are to hold firmly to what is good.  The implication, of course, is that they were to discard what is bad.

Don’t you wish Paul had finished his thoughts sometimes?  I can just imagine the Thessalonian Christians listening to this letter being read to them and asking in consternation “How?”  “By what criteria are we supposed to critically examine prophecies?”  We can only wish with them that Paul had given specific instructions about that.

I’ll never forget when this text first hit home to me.  You know that “Aha!” moment when experience and text come together and suddenly it means something very existentially compelling to you?  That happened to me.  I don’t remember the date, but I remember the place and the time frame.  Then this text became a great comfort and challenge to me.

I grew up in a form of Christianity most of you can’t even imagine.  Sometimes I’m even embarrassed to talk about it.  Whenever I meet someone who also grew up in it I want to grab them and sit down and talk at length.  I want to say “Hey, let’s form a support group!”  Often I find they went one of two directions with it—either deeper in or farther away.

You see, the religious form of life I was raised in was almost cultic in its extreme legalism.  I’ve come to refer to us as “urban Amish.”  We lived in a city, but we regarded everything and everyone around us as bound for hell unless they repented and joined our group or something very much like it.

Television was held in great suspicion; it tended to come and go in our home.  Our first television was a rented set so that I would have something to do when I was bed ridden for months with rheumatic fever when I was 10.  A 10 year old can only read the Bible so much.  And reading the Bible was strongly emphasized in our home and church.  Anyone who had not read the Bible all the way though—including all the “begats”—by the time he or she was 12 was considered destined for hell. (I exaggerate only slightly!)

When I got well the television stayed for a while, but then it went back to the rental store and we didn’t have another one for years.

Movies were absolutely Verboten.  “What if Jesus came back while you were sitting in a den of Hollywood iniquity where people have sex in the back seats?”  Seriously.  That’s what we were asked by Sunday School teachers.  I didn’t darken the door of a movie theater until I was 20.

I think you get the picture.  But more pertinent to my story than all the rules and regulations that governed almost every minute aspect of life was the one great unspoken but always enforced rule and I learned the consequences of breaking it much to my detriment.

That one great rule was “Don’t ask why.”  Of course, it was okay to ask why IF you asked in the right spirit and with the right attitude—one of humble acceptance of whatever answer was offered.  But if you asked why really challenging a rule or a belief or a custom you’d better watch out.  Your eternal soul was in jeopardy.  Here I do not exaggerate.

You see, our form of Christianity was not garden variety fundamentalism.  It made fundamentalists look like liberals.  We considered fundamentalist Baptists liberals because they didn’t believe in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues and healing.

My stepmother was the epitome of our spiritual way of life.

When we went on family vacation we had to find a church as close to ours in beliefs and practices as possible and attend it in Sunday morning—Sunday school and all.

I got punished for putting my school books on top of a Bible at home.

My brother and I weren’t allowed to wear cut off jeans, to say nothing of shorts, or to swim with girls—which meant no swimming in any public pool.  Occasionally our church would rent a YMCA swimming pool for an afternoon or evening.  But the boys sat out while the girls swam and vice versa.

My problem was that I pretty much kept all the rules and, in spite of them, had a marvelous, life-transforming experience of Jesus Christ in that context, but as I matured I couldn’t stop asking “Why?”  Why this rule and that belief?  And when the answers weren’t satisfying I kept asking.

When I was in sixth grade I must have asked too many questions in Sunday School because one Sunday the teacher stood up, threw down his Sunday School quarterly and said “Roger, you teach the class” and stomped out.  I did teach the class.  Needless to say, I got a spanking that afternoon.

If you grew up in our church there was really only one option for college—our denomination’s Bible college.  Everyone went there.  To not go there was to put a big question mark over your spirituality.  It was a deal breaker—not to go there was to be shunned by family and friends.  So I went there.  And I suffered four years of hell.

We were not allowed to ask questions in class unless they were simply for clarification of a point.  The whole curriculum and pedagogy was about indoctrination.  And there was a deep strain of anti-intellectualism in the school.

I simply couldn’t stop myself from asking the “Why?” question.  “Why do we believe that?”  “Where does that tradition come from?”  “Why do we do that?”  Most often the answers were less than satisfactory and I was labeled a trouble maker for persisting in my questioning.

At a particularly low point in my college career I came across this verse—”Examine all things”—and felt released from guilt and condemnation.  I came to realize that I was being spiritually abused.  That my elders had created idols out of highly questionable beliefs and practices and were using shame to manipulate and control students—especially those few of us who dared to question the idols.

One day the president of the college called me into his office and told me not to come back to school the next day unless I got my hair cut.  My hair then came down a bit over my collar and about half way over my ears.  Men were not allowed to have “long hair” or facial hair including side burns.  (Not that I could ever grow side burns anyway!)  I got my hair cut, but that was a turning point for me.  I knew I was being singled out for special abuse because of my constant subjecting of things to critical examination.

During the second semester of my senior year the college’s board of regents discussed not allowing me to graduate in spite of my grade point average which was 3.5.  They finally decided they probably couldn’t legally prevent me from graduating, but agreed among themselves to blackball me from finding a position in the denomination.

I was tempted to run as far as I possibly could from that form of Christianity.  We called ourselves “conservative evangelicals.”  Did I even want to be an evangelical Christian anymore?  I wasn’t at all sure.

But I kept coming back to a few really amazing experiences of the reality of Jesus Christ in my life.  They kept me anchored in my evangelical faith even as I slowly but surely shook off the extreme fundamentalism and legalism and anti-intellectualism of my home, church and denomination.

The last straw for my family and church and denomination was when I enrolled in seminary.  I was the first person raised in that denomination ever to go to seminary.  My people always called it “cemetery.”  Enrolling in a Baptist seminary assured that I would never again be welcome among my own people.

At that seminary I found a very different flavor of evangelical Christianity—a warm-hearted but at the same time tough minded evangelicalism that was not at all threatened by my questions.  And I drank deeply at the wells of open, progressive evangelical theology and it tasted so good.

As I progressed on into my doctoral studies I met many young men and women who had grown up in religious environments like my own and I noticed a pattern.  It seemed they either were incapable of thinking for themselves or they rejected evangelical Christianity entirely.  I determined to do what I didn’t see very many of those friends doing—keep the baby while throwing out the bathwater.

It hasn’t always been easy.  Where’s the line between legalism and righteousness?  Between traditionalism and tradition?  Between fanaticism and passion?  Between authoritarianism and authority?  Between gullibility and openness to the miraculous?

Over the years I’ve witnessed so many young Christians in university and seminary struggling out of abusive fundamentalism with its near idolatry of human ideas and traditions and its abuse of inquiring minds.  And I’ve been dismayed by how often they do throw the baby of evangelical faith out with the bathwater of fundamentalism.  But I can’t blame them because I came very close to doing it myself.

Now I’ve become a little more comfortable in my own skin and knowing the difference between the baby and the bathwater comes easier for me.  I need to be patient with those who are still finding their way in that.  I want to give them guidance if I can.

So let me tell you some of the things I think we should keep as we discard their counterfeits.

We should not throw the baby of tradition out with the bathwater of traditionalism.  Historical theologian Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale said that “Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living while tradition is the living faith of the dead.”

We should not throw the baby of certitude out with the bathwater of certainty.  Kierkegaard coined the term “certitude” as the replacement for Enlightenment certainty which is a myth.  We finite and fallen human beings can’t have certainty—especially about answers to life’s ultimate questions.  But we can have certitude which means, in Lesslie Newbigin’s words, “proper confidence.”

We should not throw the baby of confession out with the bathwater of creedalism.  I no longer will sign someone else’s creed or confessional statement, but if asked I will gladly tell my confession of faith in classical Christian doctrine.

We should not throw the baby of faith out with the bathwater of anti-intellectualism or the baby of reason out with the bathwater of rationalism.

We should not throw the baby of truth out with the bathwater of totalizing absolutism.

We should not throw the baby of feeling out with the bathwater of emotionalism.

We should not throw the baby of patriotism out with the bathwater of nationalism.

We should not throw the baby of the God’s supernatural activity out with the bathwater of gullibility about miracles.

We should not throw the baby of biblical authority out with the bathwater of wooden literalism and strict inerrancy.

We should not throw the baby of accountability out with the bathwater of hierarchy.

And so I could go on.  There are so many examples of ways in which disillusioned Christians throw the good out with the bad.

So how can we know which is the baby and which is the bathwater?  Perhaps there’s no litmus test.  I haven’t found one.  It would be too simple just to say “Jesus.”  But a Christ-centered consciousness is part of it.

But one thing I’m sure of.  In our Christian communities, we should find ways to reward and not punish those courageous souls who dare to ask “Why?” because they do us a great service by making us ask about the difference between babies and bathwater.

  • Christian

    I’m speaking as a young 23-year-old, but I can somewhat (very somewhat) relate to a sort of fundamentalist upbringing. I want to emphasize this at this point: my upbringing was not as extreme as yours. My parents basically believed (and still do I suppose) that TV was evil, Democrats are not Christians, and correct doctrine was more important than a relationship with Christ. This is why I am so thankful for theologians like yourself that have helped leave this paradigm. I accepted this fundamentalism at first, even up to and through most of my college years, but thankfully I have left that planet. My parents still love me and talk to me, but they definitely do not approve at all of some of my beliefs (Open Theism, belief that democrats can be Christians, acceptance of the marriage amendment-not that I think gay marriage is ok, etc.). I have theologians like you to thank for this transformation. So thank you! The first theologian to help me transform out of this was my Christian Values and Biblical Faith teacher (required class at Palm Beach Atlantic University), Dr. Victor Copan (brother of Paul Copan, the philosopher and apologist). He is the reason that I started studying theology to begin with. He sort of led me to Greg Boyd (who I owe a great deal of thanks to. Probably more than any other theologian), which then led me to other theologians such as yourself. So thank you, Dr. Olson, for all that you do to fight fundamentalism.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Excellent, excellent, excellent. Thank you, Roger, for sharing. Well said. Well lived.

    Dr. Chester Woods gave out an article in a Hermaneutics class at Bethel many years ago dealing with stages of Christian maturity. It has really helped me to grow up in my faith. It listed the four stages in order: Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Maturity – and while people must go through these in that order, they can stop at any one of them. Seeing children in Simplicity is very nice, but seeing adults in Simplicity can really irritate me. Those who cling to “The Truth” (their truth) – that is their sweet walk with their Savior and I need to be really careful not to push them into Complexity or Perplexity when their faith won’t accept it. Yet, I know in my heart that Simplicity is a stale and stifling place – and they would feel freer if they moved on. I believe that we would better be able to discern baby from bathwater if we moved on towards maturity.
    I found that it was the “Simple Adults” who did not like questions and shut them down, so I asked my questions quietly or just observed/read and came to my own conclusions as I was growing up.

    Roger, your list at the end is great.

    (From my google searches, I see that Brian McLaren has a lot to say about this, but I don’t think the original article I read was from him.)

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for reminding me about my former colleague Chet Woods. I wonder what happened to him? When he left Bethel he went to Daystar University in Kenya, I think. I will google him. Chet was (I trust still is) a man who combined compassion and scholarship in a profound way. We were so sad to see him go (from our department and college).

  • Kenny Johnson

    Watch your ‘p’s’ and q’s’”—whatever that means.

    Please and thank yous.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you. I’m not sure my grandmothers knew that’s what it meant, though. They said it whenever they wanted to warn me (and my brother and our cousins) to be careful (e.g., not to break something).

    • Tim Reisdorf

      “pints” and “quarts” – as in drinking alcohol.

  • Ann

    Sounds like we grew up the same – except I grew up (very) fundamentalist Baptist, and became Pentecostal (A/G) in college – and in our tradition, Pentecostals were seen as demon-possessed! But the memories…don’t ask questions, anti-intellectualism, no television, no movies at the theatre (I was 21 the first time I entered a theatre!), dresses and long hair (for women), long pants and short hair for the guys, no mixed bathing, reading through the Bible as a kid or else, seminaries are “cemeteries”…yep, experienced it all!

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  • John Metz

    Roger,
    I always enjoy your posts about your upbringing. You seem to be able to keep the baby but not the dirty bathwater, an admirable trait indeed.

  • http://biblemanblog.blogspot.com Stan Harstine

    Roger, Thank you for such a clear post with valid specifics at the conclusion. As one who tries to help students think and be involved in a local church as well, it is quite remarkable how the ‘folk theologies’ (thanks for introducing me to the term in Mosaic) are reinforced in the younger generations and an education that causes them to think about these ideas is somehow the Dark Side of the Force. The younger generation has enough cause to throw off the traditions of their elders, they don’t need a religious reason as well.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Roger, you are on a roll. Thank you.

    However, I think our support group would have to rent a large hotel for its conventions. :)

    “Our first television was a rented set…” Our first set precipitated a stern visit from the pastor.

    “I didn’t darken the door of a movie theater until I was 20.” That’s about right. Do you recall the movie? Mine was “2001 A Space Odyssey”.

    As for reading material, I think my church was more liberal than yours. I was allowed comic books – but only Dell. They used to publish composite versions that were more like pictorial novellas and these were generally approved, but only to promote a growing interest in reading.

    “Don’t ask why” translated into, “don’t disturb the spirit of the place”, don’t contend. Not so much “we know” but more like “peace should always prevail”

    “our denomination’s Bible college” I escaped because my mother talked me out of it. It was several hours away – that helped. But I like to think she also saw the writing on the wall. It was off to the big bad U for me – this school was also closer to home. A not so hidden blessing.

    “I no longer will sign someone else’s creed or confessional statement, but if asked I will gladly tell my confession of faith in classical Christian doctrine.” Never been asked to do this, but this is the best advice I’ve ever heard on the matter!

    But we learned a lot. The baby was healthy, even robust, despite it’s environment. 

    • rogereolson

      Agreed. I really don’t think the way I was raised harmed me. I know it harmed some, though. It was college that almost destroyed me spiritually and emotionally. My first movie in a godless theater? “Summer of ’42.” I thought God was going to strike me dead when Jennifer O’Niell seduced 15 year old Gary Grimes. Then my concern was about the sex; now it’s more about our society’s double standards when it comes to older women (“cougars”) seducing boys (note the recent movie “The Reader”–no reviewer I read even mentioned the issue of child sex abuse by women).

  • http://authenticmission.blogspot.co.uk/ Andrew Kenny

    ‘When I was in sixth grade I must have asked too many questions in Sunday School because one Sunday the teacher stood up, threw down his Sunday School quarterly and said “Roger, you teach the class” and stomped out. I did teach the class. Needless to say, I got a spanking that afternoon.’ I found this passage funny and sad. How crazy many Christians are with their petty rules and regulations like those who were in fact enemies of Jesus and put him on the cross.

    Having observed the post modern , emerging side of the church many have in their rejection of a legalistic interpretation of the Christian life have thrown the Bible out as well with a ‘come all ye’ interpretation where anything goes. How sad this is. Wesley once said that the way to win Ireland for Christ was for the Anglican ministers there to live their lives like the apostles then the people of the land would leave the false and join the authentic (I’m not making a judgement on the Catholic Church here). Likewise we need to live Christlike lives that radiate a freedom, grace, love and peace in order to draw Christians who are bound up in legalism as well as non Christians to the Saviour.

    By the way how did you manage to study at a higher level without Church support?

    • rogereolson

      I became a Baptist :)

  • B.B.G

    Thanks for the fine blog.I can relate to what you were writing about.I spent a number of years in a church that believed thinking and doing theology was a sin.If you disagreed with the pastor you were out the door.Abuse is often subtle and for years I sensed that something was wrong in the church.People would leave the church and they were always the evil and compromised ones.It’s been five years and I’m still in the walking out the problems of a faith gone toxic .Life in my present church is good ,I discovered how wonderfull is the grace of God really is.

  • Beau Quilter

    I do appreciate your honest thoughts, and my experience was very similar to yours (really – I can relate), until it came to actually throwing out the bathwater.

    Despite a careful search, I could find no baby – just a lot of dirty water – so I threw it all out. I’ve been much happier ever since.

    • rogereolson

      Really? How sad.

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  • Joel Costa

    Brilliant and lucid, as per usual. I’d like to translate this to Portuguese and share with some people, if you don’t mind. Thanks again, Roger.

    • rogereolson

      Of course (you have my permission)

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  • Steve Rogers

    Roger, you have once again stirred me to the core of my being. I can attest that you have not exaggerated in describing your upbringing in the denomination of our youth. I dealt with it differently but with a no less scarring result. At this point I’ve grown weary of lugging around the giant “strainer” (endless effort to learn tradition, certitude, confession, and etc.) one needs to keep the baby from going out with the bath water. And, I do not think excelling in strainer skills is the same as stepping into the light and easy yoke Jesus invited us to take on.

  • http://analogreigns.blogspot.com Ralph W. Davis

    “Mind your p’s and q’s!” apparently comes from English barmaids…to make sure the Pints and Quarts were kept filled…(or was it, that YOU better NOT have too many pints & quarts?)

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for that explanation. I have always wondered. I’m sure my grandmothers had no idea of its etymology or they would have stopped using it!

      • Kenny Johnson

        Apparently no one knows!!! I thought it was please and thank yous, but then Ralph’s explanation drove me to Wikipedia. Looks like it’s origins and original meaning are not really known:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_your_Ps_and_Qs

  • Emelie

    You are writing my story…

    I have some problems finding a new church or denomination, since I left my fundamentalist back ground. There always seams to be puddles of bathwater wherever I turn. Holding on to the baby is not my biggest problem but rather dealing with all the things in my new church that remind me of my fundamentalist back ground. Any helpful thoughts?

    • rogereolson

      Maybe you’re looking in the wrong places. Where do you live? Is there an Evangelical Covenant Church there? An American Baptist Church? There are lots of non-fundamentalist evangelical churches.

      • Kenny Johnson

        I love the Evangelical Covenant denomination. I’m sure not every church is the same, but our church is great and very open and accepting. If we ever move and I have to leave my church, I will look for another ECC.

      • Emelie

        Thanks for your reply. I live in Sweden.

  • http://www.anthonybsusan.wordpress.com Sarah Jones

    First, thank you for writing about this in a far less derogatory manner than most Evangelicals. But I do take serious issue with the idea that those of us who left Christianity after experiencing religious abuse made a simplistic, purely emotional decision. That’s just not the case.

    • rogereolson

      Did I say that?

      • http://www.anthonybsusan.wordpress.com Sarah Jones

        I feel that’s the implication when you implore people not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” The phrase implies that someone’s made a hasty decision. And your reply to a previous comment on this thread, that’s it very sad that someone’s decided that “there is no baby, only dirty water,” reinforces that. It is offensive and arrogant to portray that as a sad decision, especially when someone has told you that they’re happier for making it. There is absolutely no need to denigrate someone else’s decision regarding faith simply because it differs from your own.

        • rogereolson

          It’s my blog and I disagree with you. So there.

  • http://OurRabbiJesus.com Lois Tverberg

    Excellent, excellent article – thanks so much for sharing from your personal journey.

    I think Abraham Heschel also expressed the tension between faith and reason quite well:

    “Reverence, love, prayer, and faith go beyond the acts of shallow reasoning. We must therefore not judge religion exclusively from the viewpoint of reason. Religion is not within but beyond the limits of mere reason…. [However,] the employment of reason is indispensable to the understanding and worship of God, and religion withers without it. …The worship of reason is arrogance and betrays a lack of intelligence. The rejection of reason is cowardice and betrays a lack of faith.”

  • http://theatompanopticon.wordpress.com/ Brandon Blake

    @Sarah:  People leave God because they find loop holes in their faith (and of course things aren’t so nicely laid out such that we wouldn’t find some difficulties.  Yet, people also come to faith through the use of reason.  Either way, I would not say that both sides make totally irrational decisions but they both seem to have an emotive/psychological aspect to their decisions as well.  It cuts both ways.  Regardless,  it doesn’t seem reasonable that all belief can or should be formed in a strictly logical manner simply via examining the evidence.

  • http://theoldadam.com/ Steve Martin

    I am quite fortunate to not (almost did though) get caught up in any fundamental churches. Although my friends tried to get me in them.

    I finally found a church where I have real freedom, and the whole thing isn’t some self-ascendancy project.

    I do think that they are few and far between, but such Christ-centered (not us centered) places do exist.

    Thanks.

  • http://TheBereanObserver Bob Wheeler

    I was raised in a Fundamentalist Baptist home, and while our church had plenty of rules, I really didn’t mind it that much. They were mostly about things that I wasn’t interested in doing anyway.
    Part of what affected my outlook is that our church was a relatively new congregation, and so most of the members were relatively new to the faith and really wanted to live it. Another factor is that I went to public schools, was exposed to evolution in grade school (it never did make sense to me), and most of the other churches in our area were either Roman Catholic or liberal Protestant. So as far as I knew, our church was simply going by what the Bible said (Scofield notes and all), and no one else did. Thus my image of Fundamentalism was a bit more positive that most other peoples, I guess.
    It wasn’t until Bible college that I ran into problems, and that was over doctrinal issues. They fired one or two professors because they were five-point Calvinists, and later required graduating seniors to sign the school’s doctrinal statement, which specified belief in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, which I couldn’t find in the Bible. On the other hand I found the writings of Francis Schaeffer very helpful. Thus while I appreciate the commitment that Fundamentalists have to living out their faith, sometimes it is difficult to have fellowship with them.
    Recently I had to leave a church which didn’t really consider itself to be Fundamentalist, but nevertheless required all members to subscribe to the Articles of Faith, which had the usual Pre-Trib Rapture position. The pastor wanted to amend the constitution, but the deacons were spooked and refused to do it. Thus I had to tell them that I didn’t meet the church’s qualifications for membership and resigned. (There is a bit of a question as to why I was allowed to join in the first place.)
    Since then I have been fellowshipping with an informal house church group, and very much enjoy it, if I can put it that way. It strips Christianity down to its bare essentials and gets us back much closer to First Century Christianity — a genuine believers’ church that is serious about living out the faith.
    To me the tragedy of Fundamentalism is what it disintegrated into. It began as a heroic attempt to defend historic, biblical Christianity against the inroads of Modernism. Unfortunately the conservatives were never able to act in concert, perhaps reflecting a lack of prayer, and eventually split into warring factions, the “Fundamentalists” v. the “Neo-Evangelicals.” Fundamentalism was originally about defending the fundamentals — the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. Today one well-known Fundamentalist publication defines a sound church as one that has a bus ministry and only uses the old KJV. Somewhere there is a lack of perspective.
    I think that sometime in the future we are liable to see an increasingly hostile environment, and with it a realignment of churches. An underground church of true believers will emerge, and somehow they will have to find a modus operandi. I only hope that they pray, read the Scriptures devoutly, and ask what are the essential elements upon which we must all be agreed. Hopefully it won’t include a Pre-Tribulation Rapture!

    • Credo

      ‘I think that sometime in the future we are liable to see an increasingly hostile environment, and with it a realignment of churches. An underground church of true believers will emerge, and somehow they will have to find a modus operandi. I only hope that they pray, read the Scriptures devoutly, and ask what are the essential elements upon which we must all be agreed.’
      I fully agree. When than times comes, any excess baggage will be a hindrance.

  • http://www.writing-excellence.com Teresa Crumpton

    Roger-

    Thank you for the insightful, thorough writing. I have been a long time asking God how to write to His glory. You are a fine example of a man who writes truth.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you.

  • drdanfee

    Nice read, thanks. As a Bible Belt state farm kid who grew up in a mix of rural holiness church and pentecostal church networks, I resonate so much with your story. However as a gay man – I knew I liked other boys by age four at least – I came away with much wider, deeper damage than you surmise is customary. By age twelve I was sexually assaulted by older teen holiness church boys – who somehow got the mix of legalism with the traditional man-code to mean that they were okay enough to give me my just desserts. A year or two later I was embarked with family plus church sanctions on an excruciating ten year journey to become spiritually porous enough and obedient enough so that God could make me into the proper kind of heterosexual young man that is supposed to be revealed in Genesis through Revelation. It all failed, egregiously, yet kept ramping up in three progressively intense, exaggerated phases. Phase one, I call the Good Christian Teen Boy stage. Nothing too wild there, just lots of Bible, church, staying away from the ‘world, sin, and the devil’ and so forth. Phase two? Worse, including constant 3-day prayer fasts (all I could manage as a teen boy, so I felt guilty having to eat on that recurring 4th day?), followed by endless occasions of pentecostal Deliverance Prayer meetings (held in the pastor’s living room behind closed doors to protect the wider church/family from embarrassment). I was told how Jesus would expel my demons from hell which were causing all of my pesky gay youth inner life … so many times I actually lost count. I thought I walked away from all that by the final phase 3 failure, when a sequence of weekly exgay counseling along rather cognitive-behavioral lines flopped. (The counselor and I would talk to find things about me or about my week that seemed ‘gay’ and then call that living every bad name in the book, then pray vigorously to lay that living on the altars of heaven so that God could obliterate that living and the me connected with it, by supremely Holy Spirit fires.) By age 64 I had been diagnosed with stage four cancer metastisized to multiple bone sites; then the intense, sudden flashbacks common to long-delayed stress injury hit like waves coming in. All I can say for the moment is, (A) when you get it beat into you like I did by prayer, fasting, obedience, and submission to what God’s will and revelation are supposed to be, you never know for sure how much deep injury has been done – especially if you are LGBT? and (B) given the occasions of PTSD or stress injury that may be happening – particularly for LGBT children/youth – I think asking us to distinguish the baby from the bathwater is too much, too fast. Until certain church and other faith groups stop rendering us less than fully human because of our not being heterosexual and/or traditionally gender-identified, we cannot even take the first steps of our spiritual / faith journeys towards maturity until we get away from the highly toxic, ignorant, and profoundly judgmental (being straight is categorically, holier than thou?) daily walk among family and local church community. Even getting away into a welcoming church and graduate school and the big city, however, does not guarantee strength/freedom to grow, let alone guarantee that no stress injury will ever emerge, even decades later. It indeed would have been a much more simplistic drama if I just had hung myself in the back yard by the barn, or jumped off the high school gym roof onto the lined running track below. Looking back, I’ve spent my entire adult life as a gay man, building life joyously with one hand based on alternative-positive research and discernment, while tearing good things apart with the other hand in rather good obedience to every single horrible, destructive thing that family/church consistently preached being LGBT to innate be. I cannot quite bring myself to say thanks to that kind of revelation. Alas. Lord have mercy.

  • Fr. Barnabas Powell

    A wonderful article. It reminded me of my own upbringing in a Holiness Pentecostal sect. Such a wonderful group of people and my transition away from that world was difficult and traumatic. It was especially difficult since I was a clergyman in that world. But I had a dear priest friend of mine remind me early in my move away from that world that I can’t shoot my mother! He went on to tell me that until I could be grateful for the good they shared with me I could never progress spiritually to any maturity. My answer was to enter the Eastern Orthodox Church and eventually enter the clergy of the faith.

  • Sabrina

    As I see it, it’s not so much the churches themselves but that a lot of folks tend to have a basic personality that can be quite dogmatic and either/or in their thinking, and they tend to be attracted to extremes of all sorts. To them average is boring. Those who are extreme in their brand of Christianity often to be equally as extreme if they decide to embrace atheism or some other faith or if they get into partying or whatever. No real balance.

  • wonderdog

    “p’s and q’s” type setting.

    • rogereolson

      Another reasonable explanation.


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