On Being A “Liberal Fundamentalist”

On Being A “Liberal Fundamentalist” October 16, 2013

Lately I’ve noticed that many liberal Christians do this thing where they accuse other liberal Christians of being “liberal fundamentalists.” Are these accusations of “liberal fundamentalism” warranted?

I’m thinking back over the times when I or a friend of mine has been called a “liberal fundamentalist:”

  • When I asked a popular Christian blogger to stop repeatedly using a slur.
  • When a queer friend criticized the organization NALT because of Dan Savage’s (who has a history of biphobia, transphobia, rape apology, racism, and misogyny) involvement.
  • When I pointed out that a book written by Rob Bell promotes rape culture..
  • When I and others refused to defend Hugo Schwyzer, a known abuser.
  • When a friend criticized a recent The Oatmeal piece for idolizing a man who advocated for the African slave trade.

Is this really the same as fundamentalism? 

I’m often told, and often see other people told, that being angry, passionate, and intolerant of racism, homophobia/transphobia, sexism, rape culture, etc. is just as bad as being a fundamentalist. I’m just being a liberal fundamentalist instead of a conservative one, right?

This thinking requires coming up with some false equivalences. Is telling someone to stop using slurs that hurt people really just as bad as telling people that it’s a sin to say “gosh darn?” Is calling out rape culture really just as bad as promoting it? Is being intolerant of racism, transphobia, and homophobia really just as bad as being racist, transphobic, and homophobic? Is refusing to defend abusers really just as bad as covering up abuse in the name of God?

According to these folks, when fundamentalists are angry and intolerant about something, and these certain liberals/progressives over here are angry and intolerant about something, what matters is not the “something” that is the source of anger and intolerance, but the anger and intolerance itself.

This is how they can come to the conclusion that these two groups are acting the same. They ignore the context.

It’s interesting, too, when I look over the scenarios in which I’ve seen people called a “liberal fundamentalist.” I and others criticized a popular Christian blogger, a famous activist, a former mega-church pastor, a popular male feminist, and a popular cartoonist.

Is this not a fundamentalist-like way of thinking? The idea that some people are above criticism because of their popularity and influence? That we should appreciate their leadership rather that criticize them, and that we should focus on the good things they’ve done?

Touch not the Lord’s anointed? 

This isn’t even applied consistently. Many of the folks calling others “liberal fundamentalists” would rip to shreds a blog post from anyone at The Gospel Coalition using oppressive language, but when a popular liberal blogger uses such language those who call her out are being “too PC.” These same people would never tolerate Mark Driscoll promoting rape culture but insist that we give Rob Bell the benefit of the doubt. They’re up in arms whenever a story of an abuse cover-up at a conservative church breaks, but want us to stop talking about the continued abusive acts Hugo Schwyzer is committing.

When it comes to oppression and abuse, compromise, patience, and kind words aren’t always a virtue. It’s no time to be tolerant. It helps no one to focus on only the good things our liberal leaders and heroes are doing if they are also hurting others or contributing to oppressive systems.

If I’m a fundamentalist for saying that, fine.

Anti-oppression and anti-abuse is fundamental for me, and I’m not going to be insulted by that.

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