Leaving Fundamentalism Behind: Day One

Time to Go!

Leaving Fundamentalism?

This is the first in a series on leaving Fundamentalism. In addition to my thoughts, no doubt others will have their own insights to add. In time, I hope to become more adept at this. SFL should have a more permanently accessible page for those planning their escape from fundamentalism.

Time to Go!

You’ve seen enough. You’ve calculated the cost and burned your bridges [if only in the sanctuary of your own mind]. Insipid antics, sanctimonious sermons with neither form nor content, theological unbalance, irrational arguments, scurrilous slanders on [always-at-fault] women, double standards and false standards, bellicose rhetoric, ignorance and anger – all this and much more established one thing: It is time to go!

Go Where?

Less than an official guide, more than a few principles, here are some admittedly fallible observations on finding a church. No perfect church exists. You may need to scratch something on your ‘looking for’ list. But solid matches do exist. Make a GOOD effort! You need to be able to live with your church. But also enjoy this. Give yourself permission to be ‘playful’ about this! Church? Fun? Heeeeey! Who would have imagined it!

Why Hurry to Re-affiliate?

1. You needn’t rush to re-affiliate. Know that churches do target seekers.

Many churches have people who gush about how wonderful it is here. Not infrequently, gushy people left another bad situation. They’re happy now because the old dynamics associated with their former congregation are GONE! That alone doesn’t mean the new situation has no issues. You want a good sense of where a church is before you affiliate.

Take your time. Look around. Especially if you’re looking at a number of possibilities, six months likely won’t be enough. Depending on where you are and what options are available, take a year. Perhaps two are in order.

Finding a church is rather like a marriage. Both are a big step, and in each case, you’re after a good match. Many new things are before you. You’re going to grow in perspective as you look. You’ll learn plenty! As you do, you may want to revise your ‘looking for’ list. Remember that you need to be able to live with your church. Take your time! Two years isn’t too long.

12 thoughts on “Leaving Fundamentalism Behind: Day One”

  1. One of the biggest obstacles to leaving Fundystan was the pastor’s teaching that NO other church in the entire area was honoring God. We were taught these other churches used wicked modern version Bibles, played music that displeased God, and that if we were to leave the umbrella of protection of this church our kids would go to the devil. The pastor actually preached that former members’ kids fared very poorly, and that former members would lie about that fact (so don’t go thinking things are better on the outside). It took a while to overcome these issues.

    I have become convinced that KJVO is mainly about trapping members – Cause there is no where else to go if you are unwilling to reconsider this false doctrine. If they have you convinced every modern version using church is evil and out of the will of God, you are stuck.

    I was so happy to finally leave my now former Fundy church, that I settled pretty quickly on the first available SBC. They were similar enough not to make me too uncomfortable, without some of the familiar and obvious cultic traits. However, as time went on I noticed their cultic tendencies were operating quietly under the surface, and mainly involved the inner circle of members who followed leadership closely. Bad stuff was not being preached from the pulpit, so it took me quite a while to notice. Toward the end, I found myself sitting in a business meeting watching a block of members freak out over the dating choice of a staff member’s adult daughter (who was away at a Christian college). Seriously, the courtship folks were complaining about her choice of boyfriend! The pastor stood up for the staff member (the family’s business, not the church’s), although he was sure to mention he also disagreed with dating. Ugh.

    So, I second the suggestion of taking your dear, sweet time in settling on a new church. Visit around for a bit. Just because they throw down the welcome mat for you, doesn’t mean you want to stay. (Remember how your Fundy church love bombed visitors?) Remember that some things are not very important (Bible version, relaxed dress code, music style, etc.) while other things are exceedingly important.

  2. This is incredibly timely.

    The past year or so, I’ve had an incredible restlessness as I try and understand God. For a time, I had given up on the idea of “God” altogether. He prevented me from walking away entirely. But, during those times of searching, and during several times of real crisis, I was startled to realize that there was no one in my church who I could discuss my questions and my problems with. My church is the center of my world, and has been for a long time. And yet, when I was in a very dark place, I knew that to ask them for help would mean being forced down a path that I knew would destroy me. I was close enough to destroying myself, I didn’t need anyone else to push me over the edge. Being entirely alone during that time was an awakening of sorts. Something changed inside of me, and I began to take off the “filter” and actually listen to much of the doctrine I was hearing, and for quite some time, I’ve wrestled with not agreeing with much of what’s said. Yet, I don’t know exactly know what it is that I DO agree with.

    I am a paid staff member of my church. For quite some time, I was afraid of someone knowing that I was questioning and struggling, and I was concerned about being fired. But, at some point, I almost began to hope that would happen. It would end much of the distress I had been feeling. That didn’t happen. It seemed like God was telling me that he wasn’t going to force me to leave, it was my choice. So, I made one. I recently resigned from my job, allowing a few weeks to tie up loose ends. A huge step of faith, and one that affects not only me, but my spouse and children, who are not necessarily where I’m at, or seeking what I’m seeking. It’s a little disorienting.

    I was up late last night reading the links posted on the Christus Victor page. The idea seemed to satisfy much of the angst I’ve felt as I try to see God as a loving Father when He so often seems to be a wrathful one. I read many other pages on those websites too. The idea of spiritual warfare – something I’ve been searching for answers about, and haven’t known where to look. And had no safe place to ask those questions.

    As for knowing where else to go, I have no clue. I’ve visited a couple of places, but though the environment was different, the doctrine was the same. The encouragement to take a long time is a wise one. And, maybe I need some time to settle on what I actually believe before choosing a new place of worship. There is so much to consider, and I’m reading ideas I’ve never heard before. It’s fantastic, even if I’m not really sure what I think of it all! Believing the “right thing” has always been a pillar of faith in my mind, and it’s a little disorienting to not know what the right thing is. It feels a bit like rebellion. But, I remembered last night that Solomon described finding wisdom and truth as something that is hard work – digging, searching to find something precious. And, though I am questioning so much, I’m not analyzing writings about a fictional character. Jesus is not a stranger – He is very, very real to me, and I don’t want to forget that He is with me in this search. He seems to be mysterious at times, slow to reveal Himself fully to me. But, I think anything else would be overwhelming.

    Thank you, to whomever is running this site. Just one more reassurance from God that it’s ok to question and to search. And that He can provide answers to my questions in unique and unexpected ways.

    1. Dear First time caller:

      It is precisely because people in Fundamentalism have no place to take their questions that I felt there should be a continuing SFL. It is the participation of yourself and everyone else that makes this effort worthwhile.


  3. I left due to a natural life event-going away to the “pagan” university. I fell in with the Inter Varsity crowd and a great church. However the pull to go back was always there because of attending church during breaks, as well as summer camp. The final break came at a summer camp wher I was a counselor and could no longer enforce all the stupid rules. Since then, when I have moved to a new location, beside avoiding the obvious non-choices (IFCA and IB), I shy away from churches who are too gushy about the pastor or who always harp on what is wrong with everyone else. I have found that I need to go at least a month to be sure. I also read web sites, new member info, what groups are supported financially, and anything else that is helpful.

  4. For some of us it means no longer seeking a church at all, or at least taking a long break. We may end up seeking again someday, or we may decide church in general is like fundamentalism in that it’s a chapter of our life that should remain in the past. And our relationship with God is in many ways a separate struggle. I wish more people were told that it’s okay to not attend church, as it can be just another point of guilt for the individual trying to breathe in the new air of freedom.

    1. “And our relationship with God is in many ways a separate struggle.”

      My former Fundy church mixed up God, the pastor, and the church. Loyalty to the pastor or the church is not loyalty to God. On the contrary, loyalty to God might require taking a stand against both. Loving God does not mean you have to sacrifice your family’s financial security to benefit the church and pastor. I do not have to allow a church to run our family ragged to show my dedication to God.

      Likewise, I have to be careful not to project my dysfunctional relationship with the Fundy pastor/church onto every new church I visit. Or onto God, for that matter.

  5. For me it meant a detour through a few “safe” churches that were doctrinally nearly indistinguishable from fundie churches but socially somewhat different. Music was different, people were more relaxed, struggles a bit more out in the open.

    But over time I felt like I simply no longer belonged there. I was struggling with a place that felt coercive (when I mentioned moving out of state, the church leadership, who knew I was struggling to find both work and housing but had lifted not a finger to help me in a meaningful way for about six months) took it upon themselves to be “concerned” about me finding a church. I believe it was well-intentioned, but it didn’t help a bit; in fact, it felt like a complete disregard of my personal judgement.

    I moved anyway.

    I decided to try the local Episcopal Church because a friend was very happy in hers with a similar church background and I loved the building. It reminded me of the very old Baptist church I’d attended as a child, with the stained glass and old wooden pews. I felt happy there, even though I struggled to follow the service at first. I’ve found that liturgical worship and shorter sermons engages my mind in a way that fundie services with long periods of just sitting do not. I’ve found the form of worship comforting and the stained glass and organ take me back to my childhood worship experiences before we found fundyland and everything went sideways.

    There is no pressure to attend, to be involved (though involvement has been offered), to commit.

    My friend is now struggling in a new town to find a church. She grew up in a tiny fundamentalist (very lite) church where her father was pastor. She was struggling with things not being the same in churches she was trying. My suggestion to her was to, instead of ticking off boxes (worship style: check! Sermon length: check!) for what she was used to or felt was necessary, to use it as an opportunity to see how different parts of the family of God do things. This was a radical idea to me (because in fundyland, the family of God are people who do things OUR WAY), but it helped so much to be able to enjoy the process.

  6. “I have become convinced that KJVO is mainly about trapping members – Cause there is no where else to go if you are unwilling to reconsider this false doctrine. If they have you convinced every modern version using church is evil and out of the will of God, you are stuck.”

    So in other words, if they brainwash you into believing that “walketh” is God and “walks” is Satan, you’re pretty much out of luck. Is that what you’re saying?

    1. They teach you that non-KJVO is a deal killer when it comes to finding a new church. If Fundies convince you attending a church that uses “fake” modern version Bibles is the same as bowing the knee to Satan, and there are no other KJVO churches nearby, you are essentially stuck in Fundystan.

      It has become a trap. Most people will have to be willing to compromise on KJVO to escape Fundystan.

    2. That’s a good assessment. When you become so narrow that there is no escape without compromise, you trap people forever. When you are the “only Bible believing church for fifty miles”, people will stay, just like people will stay at a crappy oasis in the desert if they’re convinced that the oasis is the only water for fifty miles. Desert Springs Resort could be over the next sand dune, but who is going to go look? They’re convinced that nothing is out there but poisoned wells and mirages.

      It’s an amazingly effective way to keep people huddled in the fold, terrified to leave.

    3. And KJV-onlyism is so much more than just “walketh” vs “walks”. They point out all the wording differences, the so-called missing words, the sneaky way that things have supposedly been removed or altered to cater to “liberal theology”.

      It’s bunk, but it’s convincing if you’re the average dude who doesn’t know a lot about scholarship or translation or ancient languages or texts. You figure you’re pastor knows best.

    4. Dear Ben Masters:

      I think you’ve hit on a good insight. As I see it, this is a marketing strategy to hedge the product by claiming to have the only original product. If you can convince people that all other Bibles are false, then you make their worship heretical by definition. Of course this has about as much depth as most things that IFBs manufacture. Blessings!

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