I grew up in the United Church of Christ, but my extended family were all a part of the Church of Christ, a fundamentalist Christian church. They believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, no instrumental music, no women in leadership (except in Sunday school classes), baptism by immersion, and unleavened bread for communion. “Fundamentalism” became a pejorative word for me as a kid. It was a way of describing those “other” Christians who were “not like us.”When I got to seminary, one of my professors said in passing “We all have our fundamentalisms.” He said it with a little smirk on his face, a knowing look in his eye, and a relaxed attitude that totally diffused the word “fundamentalism” for me. Because while I would not find myself in agreement with so-called “fundamentalist Christians,” as I think about it this way, I do have some fundamentalisms.
One of my fundamentalisms is that everybody is welcome at the communion table. Every body. Because grace is grace, and if I’m facilitating a sacrament meant to symbolize grace, who am I to tell anyone they’re not worthy or welcome of receiving grace?
Another fundamentalism is from Matthew 25—when Jesus says “‘just as you’ve done it to the least of these who are members of my family, you’ve done it to me.’” The way we treat the least amongst us is directly reflective of our attitude toward God in Christ. This is how I understand righteousness.
And one more fundamentalism, perhaps ironic, is that the Bible must be considered thoughtfully, not blindly followed as a prescription. Blame my English major roots, but I think that what the Bible does not say is as important as what it does say. I think that understanding the communities out of which the Bible came are as important to understanding scripture as the words themselves. I love the Bible, but not because it’s perfect. I love it because it’s as messed up, confusing, and inconsistent as we are.
So I think my professor was right. We do all have our fundamentalisms—things which we consider foundational to our faith and spiritual understandings. But to hold a fundamentalism doesn’t mean you have to be obnoxious about it. In fact, I think being less anxious, and more open about our own fundamentalisms might yield some interesting conversations with each other about our faith. Where did these claims come from? Why do we think what we think? What are the implications of our fundamentalisms on other people?
Grace and peace,