Some people are probably wondering what happened to me. I used to be a super rightwing guy with a fundamentalist view of Scripture and life. Now, I lean center in my politics and only agree with fundamentalism in that there are narrow doctrinal positions that define Christianity. Why this change?
This process has been going on for quite a while, but I will start roughly a year ago. Last year, I was assigned to write a paper on racism and the Old Testament. Being a PhD student at the time, this meant something like reading 3000-5000 pages on the subject and then assessing the opinions in the light of Scripture. What I discovered shocked me. I found that not only did the church not only stood by silent in the racist brutality of reconstruction and Jim Crow, but in many cases racism had full support from the churches. While lynching in some cases was decried by the church, segregation was a hill that many people were going to die on.
As part of my research, I dug into the history of Bob Jones University. The sad truth shocked me again. BJU was not just part of the crowd that defended segregation. They led the crowd all the way to the Supreme Court. Further, they gave honorary degrees to Strom Thermon, George Wallace, and Lester Maddox because of their strong defense of segregation. Why is this point relevant? I realized in this study that politics and social conservatism have played a key role in fundamentalist theology. Separation was not restricted to spiritual matters, but it encompassed Southern politics in its embrace.
I realized that some of my views may be shaped more by politics than by Scripture. It got me thinking and researching deeper. I found myself reading about the origins of the anti-rock theology which I grew up with. There are many factors involved, only one of which I will enter into here. The origins of this argument were less about spiritual matters and more about politics. The strongest advocates opposed rock music and folk music because of its identification with Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. MLK was lumped in with those evil commies and thus the music was placed in that same camp. The godless communists were creating this music in order to undermine America and Christianity. The main argument against R&R was that it was disrupting the order of society, which was to say that society was becoming desegregated. Only years later, after Civil Rights was enforced, did the anti-rock group turn heavily to Scripture to strengthen their arguments. This fact which was a key part of my upbringing was politically, not Scripturally, driven. This shattered every last shred of loyalty or hope that I had in fundamentalism.
I researched more. A burning question I had was why does the evangelical/fundamental church vote exclusively Republican (or nearly so). The answer lies in Nixon’s Southern Strategy. It was a campaign to win white voters to the Republican party through the manipulation of the racial-grievances brought on by recent Civil Rights legislation. This played right into the evangelical/fundamentalist narrative of social conservatism (i.e., segregation).
The sudden massive shift to the Republican party also cemented into evangelical minds the secular enlightenment tenant of small government. Reagan picked up this theme and fought for destruction of social safety nets and welfare. He popularized the idea of the “welfare queen.” He painted a picture of black women in Chicago who manipulated and lived off the system. This stereotype fed on the evangelical/fundamentalist support of segregation. The rhetoric of the Republican campaigns was so effective that you can hardly find someone today who both claims to be an evangelical/fundamentalist and who claims that the government should help the poor.
The response of the church? Well, I can tell you that I have heard many sermons on how the government should not have welfare–that is the church’s job. But then, almost in the same breath, many evangelicals will argue that the main mission of the church is not to help the poor, but spread the Gospel. Churches should not attempt social justice as a group. Rather, social justice should be done by individuals in the church. So, helping the poor is not the the government’s responsibility nor the church’s responsibility. It is up to the individual. Yet, in my life time, I have heard almost no sermons on how the individual was supposed to help people. In fact, I’ve heard more reasons why Christian individuals should not give money to the poor (because they are lazy, will waste it, etc), than I have heard on why we should help the poor. But the more I read Scripture, the more I find it necessary for the corporate body of Christ and the secular government to help the poor. It seems to me that the evangelical/fundamentalist right is more concerned with right-wing politics than following Scriptures on this point.
Thus, the disillusionment set in. What once used to be stable, now shook. What once used to be Scriptural, now revealed itself to be political. And I am left confused and unfounded. It caused me to reconsider my beliefs and to re-found my thinking. I’ve already fought through the matter of the inspiration of Scripture. I know I can trust it. So, I’ve attempted to begin their and trust that the Spirit will lead me.
I still am an evangelical, in that I hold to the key doctrines of the church, believe in a personal conversion, etc. I do not think I am a fundamentalist. Yes, there are key doctrines that one must hold to in order to be a Christian. Yes, separation is Biblical doctrine and must be practiced. These are not my problems. My problem is that fundamentalism became much more than these things. It stood its ground, not on Scripture many times, but on political ideologies. It fought for what it wanted to believe, but not what the Scripture argues. I’m not so sure I can support this by claiming this label.
Where does this leave me politically? I’m not sure. After reading this so far you’ve probably thought I would say I’m politically left. That is not the case. I am still, as many consider, politically right. Abortion is a huge issue to me that I will not overlook. Life is sacred and this has been the position of the church since its beginnings. Fiscal responsibility is huge too because God demands that we be honest and careful with out money. However, I also believe the the government should take care of the poor via welfare. I am alive and well today because of these social nets. I think that federalism can be used properly. I trust government guidelines on things like COVID19. There are many corrupt people in government, and I don’t trust them very much. But then again, there are also many corrupt people that walk next to me in the streets and I don’t trust them either. I support whichever group seems to be following the Scriptures better.
I am still on a journey. I honestly don’t feel proud of where I’m at. I just feel sad. I haven’t settled on where I feel comfortable. Somethings I hold now I probably will recant. Other things, I still will maintain. But this one thing I am trying to do: I want to base my life on what the Scripture says and not my politics.