Feelings Are Fundamental

Feelings Are Fundamental January 19, 2016

CindyFosterby Cindy Foster at Finding Fundamental

There is an insidious, mostly unrecognized ethic prevalent among hard-core fundamentalist Baptists (as I am sure exists among other rigid belief systems),


that emotions are largely the tool of the devil.


Furthermore, female emotions are particularly suspect and men who don’t suppress them are… well…probably just weak.

There have been militant, dyed-in-the-wool Independent Fundamental Baptist preachers, college professors and various leaders I have known, who continually communicate disapproval of ‘invalid’ emotions… first on their wives, their children, their students and ultimately on the local church.

Contrariwise there are emotional expressions they consider biblically legit.  These would include:  weeping over ‘lost souls, backslidden friends and loved ones; grief over the loss of friends and loved ones through death; empathy for the sick; anger over sin and the sinful culture etc.  


The emotions they consider weak, carnal or even self-inflicted are, you know, those aggravating ones few of their kind would know what to do about– depression, anger (except the righteous indignation kind), disappointment, doubt, fear (except of God and the Preacher), confusion, discontentment and any emotion that reveals ‘a lack of faith’ or neglect of personal devotion and relationship to God.

But not only are these Fundamentalist preachers condemning of too much grown-up expressions of feelings they also expect the genuine, unbridled passions (both good and bad) of a child to be controlled and even punished at times. One pastor’s wife told me that her dad would spank her into smiling when her expressions were not to his liking.  Hmmm….spanking a child into a happy face…..bewildering to say the least!

These ‘privileged’ children would be allowed some crying after a ‘much deserved’ spanking… but not too much.  A child who cries too long after that ‘much deserved’ whipping will be warned that another is inevitable if the faucet is not… on command…promptly shut off and punishment accepted cheerfully.

I have spent some time pondering this ‘Christian’ phenomenon and I have some ideas as to why something as innately natural and even healthy as feelings is so problematic to these families of fundamentalists. Nothing scientific of course, just my opinion.


Here’s what I think:




It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Since most reared under fundamentalist principles and doctrines are trained to suppress emotions from earliest childhood, their own feelings are so deeply buried, they have become impossible to summon–even when needed at the ‘appropriate’ times!


There is just something about a child, noisily expressing feelings publicly or privately  that can bring out the worst in any parent but much more in the image-obsessed preacher/parent.  Rather than actually taking the time and effort required to seek out the cause for the ‘noise’ and RESPONDING lovingly they are inclined to REACT.  He must do whatever it takes to ‘shut the kid up,’ spiritualizing selfish actions to witnesses and continuing in denial of his own incompetence and self-centeredness. 

This, ultimately to the detriment to the child’s emotional health and the health of the parent/child relationship. No doubt, few ever even consider future implications and those who do may fear such permissiveness a form of heresy.  What?  Allow a child to freely express him/herself?  Looking for reasons?  Letting the reasons matter?  Every good Bible-believing and God- honoring fundamentalist pastor or leader or even lay member knows that the ‘why’ doesn’t matter, only behavior matters!  Must fix emotional misbehaviors!


So, these children grow up.  Many (if not most) who go on to accept and embrace the fundamentalist beliefs of their parents become emotionally numb, ignorant, neglectful and/or abusive themselves. Some become pastors and church leaders even desiring to respond compassionately to their hurting families, church members and others but not having a clue as to how. No one wants to appear ignorant in such situations and especially not a fundamentalist, well-versed in fundamentalist-interpreted biblical answers, which are often woefully misrepresented.  


Better not even try to navigate those deep waters.  A bit of scripture, a little practical advice and a side hug while promising, “I’ll pray for you”, is about the best he/she can offer.


Then, even if they by some anomaly of fundamentalist’ child-rearing absolutes (perhaps their parents rebelled a bit in this area) they emerge emotions intact:




When such is the case, it is near impossible to reverse.  An enlightened counselor might draw from this person’s childhood memories of anguish resulting from the emotional abuse and neglect and convince him his parents were wrong in this respect, but when his interpretation of biblical mandates are suspect, his belief systems must be dismantled.  It might be easier to move the proverbial mountain than to convince a radicalized fundamentalist his beliefs might be at fault.  No one really understands the Bible as well as a fundamentalist.


Anyone fully understanding of the hold fundamentalism has on a person’s identity knows that the bottom-line reason he can’t/won’t change is because:




To do so would threaten their follower’s respect for their judgement and leadership.  This is just sad because in actuality, followers would have more respect for leaders who could or would admit to weaknesses and wrongs… naming them specifically!  Why is it that even though we can all know intellectually that no one has the power to judge perfectly, we continue to act as though that is ultimately what is expected of us?  


Preachers talk of the need for Revival.  Whatever that really means, one thing is certain.  Churches would become closer to what they were originally meant to be and this ‘Revival’ more likely to happen if pastors were more transparent and less power and image-driven.  Why this compulsive need for image and power?




And one significant cause for this pathological state? The childhood emotional neglect they suffered, which perpetuates this vicious cycle.  It is passed on to their children and the fundamentalist world turns, while few in its orbit and influence ever question it. 


What more disheartening testament to the ultimate end such derelict of emotional understanding can bring than the recent findings a professional, independent Christian organization (legitimately dedicated to educating about, preventing and uncovering sexual abuse in churches and affiliated institutions) appropriately named– G.R.A.C.E. documented concerning Bob Jones University.


After reviewing the G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) findings through their thorough investigation of sexual abuse allegations revealed to some of Bob Jones University’s prominent professors and leaders and after 5 years reading conversations of survivors of sexual abuse by ministry leaders (much alleged to be perpetrated by their own family member/leaders) there is one accusation that is proclaimed to be the worst of all abuses.  Survivors are most offended and violated by the mishandling of their serious injuries by those ministry people they most trusted to possess the spiritual compassion and knowledge…. to help them.  Instead, they were: blamed for inviting the abuse, not believed at all, told they were sinning by not forgiving, prohibited or discouraged from reporting to law enforcement, perversely  questioned as to whether their bodies responded favorably to the abuse and/or categorically dismissed as irrelevant.

The complete report can be found here:  http://netgrace.org/wp-content/uploads/Final-Report.pdf

Various press reports:

While many victims/survivors felt and acknowledged some BJU staff expressed care and concern for their pain, few felt they were adequately dealt with and as stated above, many were actually mistreated.  

And what was BJU’s official response?  Mostly defensiveness.  The first response by university president, Steve Pettit, seemed to be genuinely apologetic and dedicated to change, but then as reality set in, it appears the old religious pride monster raised its ugly head and response turned from repentance to unjustified righteous indignation. 

Why?  Probably because (as I have witnessed many times before in these circles) humble admission to failure, weakness and wrongness is just too bitter a pill to swallow.  But is it really?  Would these institutions and leaders really lose so much respect and confidence by admitting to themselves and acknowledging publicly that with pure intentions, they were wrong and miscalculated the injurious consequences to survivors, institution, leaders and Cause, all?

Such courageous integrity is rarely found in Fundamentalist Christendom these days.


Perhaps some serious soul-searching by those who pride themselves on being RIGHT is long overdue?  Perhaps the time to question our ‘Christian’ beliefs in parenting our children is also long overdue? 


Let’s admit it.  Our parenting beliefs and practices originate more from what is passed down from generation to generation than what we’ve actually discovered through science (the uglyword for fundamentalists) and practical, anecdotal evidence.  Much Christian parenting resources are more attempts at altering what actually works and redefining ‘truth’  to fit conventional Christian wisdom drawn from misinterpretation of scripture.  


For example: the prevailing fundamentalist belief that ‘beating’ a child will save his soul from hell, instead of questioning whether that statement might have another meaning from what is accepted and considering that maybe…just maybe….that wrong interpretation could be a significant CAUSE of many of the ills of our youth culture.  


How many children are either completely broken, people-pleasers or pathologically hardened by literal ‘beatings’?  Such harsh, punitive acts can permanently damage the way a person feels about virtually everything so how can we NOT recognize and acknowledge the true repercussions of such beliefs.  A child’s feelings should be nurtured not squashed! Could this be a viable explanation for why Christian professors from BJU, Hyles Anderson and others not yet exposed, be so completely incompetent and in adept in their handling of such sensitive issues?

Our feelings are fundamental to our design and creation.  They are the force that makes all violations against one other the far-reaching issues they are.  They are also the fuel  that makes this temporal life worth living. They can compel us toward self-sacrificing acts of love and kindness or they can drive us to commit horrific acts of evil.  

If we can agree they are just that powerfully fundamental, then shouldn’t we pay more attention to them? Shouldn’t we give them the reverence they deserve…right from the very beginning…from birth, childhood and on through all the stages of life?  


Consider the counsel of Dr. Jonice Webb PHD, on the topic of Childhood Emotional Neglect:


Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Cindy Foster blogs at Finding Fundamental

Cindy Foster is “Mom” to eight gorgeous, talented, temperamental, noisy, opinionated, alike-but very different kids. She has been married to their daddy, Paul, for 36 years.


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