I have heard about your dilemma. Trust me, I have. You’re sick and tired of hearing about how you can’t criticize your senior pastor, because “Touch not my annointed.” Every Sunday you feel like you want to leave, but you can’t. Once you make the decision to leave, this open letter will be for you. So, here’s a few pieces of (unsolicited) advice for when you make the drastic move.
- Fundamentalist churches rely on closed cultures. Not only do fundamentalists believe that their religious beliefs are absolutely true, they believe that the surrounding culture is evidence of those beliefs, for better or worse. Cultural hegemony is a part of fundamentalist religions, whether they be Christianity or atheism. The best way to resist the idolization of culture, say the dominant cultural norms in the U.S., for example is to learn to appreciate diversity. Many seekers who desire to leave evangelicalism/fundamentalism will begin to see a whole new world open to them, but unfortunately it will not be from a cross-cultural perspective. My advice would be to seek out friendships not just with persons who look like you, but also persons who you probably despised as a fundamentalist. Take risks, reject the cultural boundaries and the racist stereotypes you heard about from congregants, and not only become friends with Persons of Color. Listen to our concerns, fellowship with us in our communities. Consider perhaps the more nuanced perspective that the problem with fundamentalism was not just about much of the legalism that goes on, but also the promoting of American empire that goes with it.
As an aspiring pastor someday, I understand the need for both self-care and pastoral care in people’s lives. So I am not going to take it lightly when I say this: if you feel that you need to take a break from attending institutional church services, then do it. A number of persons who leave fundamentalism is because of the spiritual and sexual abuse found within the culture of fundamentalist churches. If the local churches in your surrounding area are not likely to be safe places for you to seek the LORD, I would suggest going the organic church route. Be sure that you stay in a spiritual community, because we can’t do it alone. No one can. Find at least one person you believe you can confide in. If this is a case of abuse, I would recommend contacting the local authorities.
The thing to remember is that if you are a person searching for an escape out of fundamentalist bondage, is that you are never alone. There are thousands of persons like you with a similar story. That being said, be discerning in who you read after you have “officially” arrived in PostEvangelical Land. When it comes to millenials especially, there is not ONE person who represents or speaks for us. Not. One. A number of postevangelical leaders see themselves as the future of Christianity. Having a blog and a couple of book deals, or speaking at a few conferences does not entitle anyone to having a monopoly on what it means to be an ex-fundamentalist. There are many ways to be in community with others without having to adopt labels like “missional” or “emergent” etc. Evaluate all of your options, but don’t pat yourself on the back for it. Learn. Grow. Move on.
There are a number of toxic communities that hate-watch Christianity. Do not be a part of them. Your healing does not need to rely on hating the very person you once were. The key is to accept a nuanced and critical view of yourself in the past, and not to live there. You don’t want to be shamed into hating your former life, and therefore shaming your probable family members/friends who are still caught up in fundamentalist culture.
Fifth, I would ask that you give peace a chance. Given the fact that fundamentalism requires a culture of violence, and sometimes even pronounced admiration for warfare, the traditional nonviolent ethics first embraced by the early Church and on through the centuries is a valid alternative to fundamentalism’s violence, epistemological, or other.
Lastly, go to a library. Google. Research. Study the early church. Learn Hebrew or Greek. Know that your story of leaving fundamentalism is more than about you. It’s about recognizing that Christianity is a centuries old tradition that was birthed out of Judaism. The story of Christ and his work is much larger than we can ever express or imagine. God is bigger than our idols.
- Fundamentalism and Post-Evangelical Culture (politicaljesus.com)