It was a normal day at my little Baptist school kindergarten. We had colored and napped, ate our snacks, reviewed numbers and letters, and even spent a lesson on telling time. We had just put away our sleeping mats when my teacher, Mrs. Edna, called us to attention.
“Children, I want to take a few moments to tell you about Jesus.”
I perked up. Jesus? I had heard about him at home and at church, but I hadn’t concerned myself much with him. He was that guy the adults prayed to and talked about so much. What did he have to do with me?
“Jesus is God’s Son, and he loves you very much. He loved you so much that he died for you to be saved. He is in heaven right now watching over you. If you will pray and ask him into your heart, he will come into your life and always be with you. As long as you trust in him, he will never leave you, no matter what happens.”
He will always be with you.
I remember, even then, feeling deeply lonely. Isolated. Hungry for genuine acceptance. It seemed that my community stood ready to shame and abandon me the moment I failed to do the right thing. Say the right thing. Or better yet, just sit still and keep quiet. To have someone in my life who would never leave me, who would love me in spite of all my flaws, was an idea too powerful to resist.
So I bowed my head that day and asked Jesus into my heart. Immediately, a great sense of his peace and presence flooded my heart. When I left school that day, I knew he went with me.
As I became a teenager, I wanted to share this experience with others. I saw so many of my classmates feeling rejected and unhappy, and I knew that if they just asked Jesus into their hearts, they, too, would feel that unconditional, sustaining love. The problem was, I had been conditioned by my church to share a very different version of that love. In this version, God sent people to eternal torment for saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, and even thinking or feeling the wrong things. The reason was that God was holy and just and knew what was best for mankind. His love was unconditional…as long as you were willing to meet the conditions. The bad stuff that happened in life was all part of His plan to shape us and draw us closer to Him.
So I would go to my friends, share this version of “love” with them, and invite them to come to Christ. But instead of joy, they only looked at me with disappointment and confusion. “You’re telling me that it was God’s will for my grandma to die?” a classmate asked. “She was the only one taking care of me and my brother. Why would God do that to us?”
I didn’t know. It didn’t make sense. I would go home, ask my teachers, study scripture. The few answers I was given were trite and unsatisfactory. I was just supposed to trust that this was the right way. I kept preaching, but no one was asking Jesus into their heart.
For a long time, I couldn’t connect the dots. I couldn’t see how my experience of Christ’s love totally contradicted my theological indoctrination.
I also couldn’t see how much fundamentalism was hurting me. All those nights I spent running to the altar begging Jesus to forgive me, over and over. Believing that, yes, Jesus loved me, but I was crucifying him all over again with my endless failures. The terror and shame that plagued me. The knowledge that I could never live up to all the standards put upon me – and worse: the lack of desire to do so.
Once in a while, however, my eyes were opened. I looked around at all those in my community talking about “having the joy” and “living in victory,” and joy being about the farthest away imaginable. My leaders preached hierarchy and headship as God’s will, yet they only seemed to result in pride and corruption at the top. The dysfunction appeared endless, and there was never enough grace to go around.
Finally, I concluded that fundamentalism was a false gospel. Because the more I stuck to the script I had been given, the more I alienated those who really wanted and needed to experience the love of Jesus. I opened my Bible and discovered scriptures that my leaders would never teach because they “could give people the wrong idea about God.” Forget the fact that God is not served by human hands (Acts 17:25), or that the rules lacked any value in restraining sensual indulgence (Colossians 2:23); God was wretchedly angry at us filthy sinners, and only following the myriad arbitrary standards invented by our leaders could appease Him.
It was worse than a prison. It was a work camp. And no one was leaving unscathed.
I left anyway.
I left fundamentalism to rediscover the love of Jesus and share it with my friends. I left fundamentalism to experience grace and freedom from sin. I left fundamentalism to pursue joy. I left fundamentalism to cultivate a life of spiritual depth and meaning. I left fundamentalism because I realized I couldn’t have all the answers – and didn’t want them, anyway.
I left fundamentalism to follow Jesus.
I left, and I’m not going back.
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I’ve left fundamentalism behind as well. It’s not been easy to redefine the words I use or change how I see the world around me, but I’d like to think I’m improving. I’ve had to moderate my perspective more left-ward to find the true center, I hadn’t realized that I was way too far to the right for my own good.
Very well said. Although I do have one question. Do you still think that people who seem unhappy or lonely just need Jesus in their lives? Perhaps you left that part behind as well when you left fundamentalism but it wasn’t clear to me so I’m curious. The reason I ask is that it seems like a trite solution to me… not necessarily for you, but if you assume it would work for all people. I also used to be Christian (fundamentalist) and that simply isn’t a solution for me anymore if I’m feeling hurt or lonely. It is much too ruined for me and I simply refuse to open myself to the option of believing in that stuff anymore because I am so much happier and safer without it. I also have friends who attempted to find god and simply never could feel anything and never could bring themselves to believe it so they finally stopped trying because god clearly wasn’t interested in them. Do you think we are making the right choice in not asking for god?
I promise I’m not trying to start a fight or anything; I’m just curious about your views on this since I’m never quite sure what to expect from progressive evangelicals or Christians and its interesting to me to see the different range of beliefs out there.
By the way, if I had been there in those dark years, I would have been your genuine friend—but I doubt that your parents would have let me be. It is not just fundamentalism as an “ism” by itself that holds people back from being loved. It is like a virus or bacterium that needs a host to do its dirty work on people. The people it infects hold us back from Jesus, genuine love, and genuine genuine. That last part is no typo. You’ll know what I mean.
🙂 Thank you. And I did have some friends that stood by me and some (although not most) were also Christian. The thing is, for those that were, it never seemed to me that Jesus or any other outside source was responsible for the good things they did. They responded kindly out of the same conviction that my non-Christian friends did: they saw injustice and pain and they cared enough to want to mend it. So I have no quarrel with Christians in general, but I’ve never seen Jesus as an important factor in their behavior… just whether or not they cared about me and wanted to help.
I understand. Best of fortune to you. Just in case no one has said it lately, “I love you.”
Wow April. Happy Easter.
I have such a wider view because of my life experiences, and I applaud you for standing up for love. Having just come from Easter and Passover celebrations in Jerusalem, including visiting the Palestine camps, I know that love, true love is the answer however you attain the experience. I look at all the ways humans reach for the love of God and to me it’s like the fingers on my hands. The phalanges all have their point of view, but if they do not work together (have not love) then nothing gets accomplished. I really believe all human beings deserve the peace that passes all understanding and the only way I know to demonstrate that is by being the love I profess to bear. Happy Easter, he is risen indeed!
Just remember that Jesus and Satan were both rebels, and don’t get them confused. Jesus rebelled against people. Satan rebelled against God. When you rebel, who are you rebelling against? Are you trying to serve God or your own ego?
The rules of religion are like training wheels, to teach you how to ride the bike. The goal is still to ride the bike, but learn to balance it yourself.
But if you ignore gravity, you will eventually fall and hurt yourself (or someone else). Jesus did not come to save people from gravity and common sense. (Take this as a metaphor, because I am not literally talking about the physics of gravity.)
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