Family and Fundamentalism

From James Ault - "Family and Fundamentalism: The Shawmut Valley Baptist Church" in Disciplines of Faith: Studies in religion, Politics and Patriarchy Jim Obelekevich, Lyndal Roper, Raphael Samuel Eds. ((Routledge & Kegan Paul : 1987)

My comments in *[...]


... true scriptural Christians all bring their Bibles to Church.' It was helpful, advice. Every adult carries a Bible to church. It is a badge of membership making visible the distinctive nature of membership in a fundamentalist religious community: the acceptance of, and submission to, the Bible as the divinely inspired and inerrant word of God. It provides, as several members put it, 'our handbook for life'. In their view it offers a set of unchanging and absolute standards by which they can order their lives. p.15 *[Though they only ever obey the parts that they want to.]

Efforts at revised interpretation, either through scholarship or revelation, are openly derided: 'How can you correcty the word of God? How silly.' pp.16-17 *[The Bible is erroneously called the 'word of God" even though the Bible never refers to itself in this manner.]

Readers may well wonder what blueprint for family life scriptuire makes so clear. Little more would need to be said, in fact, if the Bible bore the same kind of relationship to family life as, say, the rulebook for football ... bears to playing football. In fact, recognizing trhe considerable latitude possible in interpreting the moral implications of scripture for daily life (its potential contradictions and inconsistencies are legion), many readers might find it puzzling - if not, for critics, either blind or hypocritical - to assert its absoluter character. pp. 19-20

The is one of the advantages of fundamentalists' distinct preference for the King James Version, it would seem. In addition to its venerability, it abouts with such maxims, syaings and phrases which, cast in the memorable language of believers' childhoods, have the hypnotic ring, and carry the aura, of eternal values. Fundamentalism, as distinct from the more general category of evangelical Christianity, has always presented, above all, a defence of traditionalism in the face of rationalization of social life. It has been identified, in terms of its pervasiveness and influence, as a distinctly American phenomenon ever since its emergence at the turn of the *[20th] century and its effervescence in teh 1920s when it was associated, it is significant to note, with the 'red scare', nativism, the attack on progressives in public schools, and then controversy over evolution culminating in the Scopes trial. p.21All those with formal positions in the church ... are required, as part of church discipline, to attend all three weekly worship services in addition to their own meetings (including Bible Study Groups). p. 23 *[This, of course, means you have no real life outside of work and church.]

This all-encompassing, integrating character of the church community is strengthened by the regine of abstinence required of core members. That they cannot drink, dance or swear and that they must always be giving 'good testimony' in the presence of others *[ aka being a Trew Kristyun Clone] makes it hard to sustain ties outside the church. Such behaviours tend to make others uncomfortable. In that way the coimmunity's inner cohesion and, therefore, its power to place demands on its members is strengthened. pp. 23-24 *[Just like a brainwashing cult!]

... the problems that give rise to prayer soon become, in a multiplicity of ways *[like the gossip grapevine], matters of common knowledge and public concern in a close knit community of this kind in which everybody knows and sees everybody else regularly. Furtrhermore, by publicizing a need this way, prayuer serves also to publicize the act of Christian charity which ultimately will meet that need. *[Pastors advertise the money they want and God answers by having parishioners cough up the dough. They then 'praise God' for what the parishioners have done themselves.] p. 25

As is the case with any community, the degree it can do something for you provides some measure of what it can do against you and, therefore, exact from you its demands. It is the ever-present sense of both potential benefit and potential injury that nmediates members' commitments to community standards of conduct. A community of this kind is rife with gossip and rumour which stand to unleash irksome, fearful and, at times, overwhelming consequences. ... members can be removed from positions and, in extreme cases, expelled from the community altogether for not keeping its discipline. That includes, at the formal level, not drinking, smoking, dancing or attending 'Hollywood movies', and, at the informal level, even such things as 'fighting too much in the family', or, as the pastor described it in the case of a school principal he fired, 'having his family life all out of line.' Members are always on the lookout for the ever-present possibility of 'backsliding'. pp. 26-27

... the fundamentalist use of scripture as a 'handbook for life' is, in some sense, misleading, for it is generally used to buttress what members already know and take for granted as traditional morality. p. 29

... in order to keep his congregation loyal, he *[the Pastor] must preach the gospel as they 'need' *[or rather 'want' or 'demand'] to hear it and this includes generally affirming the customary order of family life they embrace. To go against this is to court disaster. p.31