Thursday, February 28, 2013

Being about the Fundamentals, Not going into Fundamentalism

Today I watched an...eh, interesting...documentary made in 2009 called "Selling God", which more or less dealt with the mentality that God is a product marketed by Fundamentalists for mass consumption the way any other product is mass produced and sold to a world full of consumers.

The subject matter is something that I had thought for a long time. Having been born and raised in the Holiness tradition I have seen first hand the drive to uphold all the things of God in our lives, in our churches, and in our society. I have talked with people who believe it is evil to go to movies and dances and smoke and drink and, if you do any of those things, then you have committed great sins and you need to beg for God's forgiveness.

I have seen other traditions, who self identify as fundamentalist, who take things even farther (although they might agree on the above mentioned): only the King James Bible can be read because THAT is the right translation! And EVERY word in the King James Bible must be read literally! You can only listen to hymns! Women can, at most, be Sunday School teachers, nursery workers, or if you happen to be the pastor's wife you can play the piano or organ and sing, but under no circumstances will you EVER be allowed to preach! And while you're worshiping in church, if you're a lady you need to make sure you're in a dress or a skirt, no pants or slacks allowed! And the guys need to be in a button down shirt with a tie tied with a Windsor knot, as that is God's holy knot! Don't worry though, everyone who doesn't conform to this will be kicked out, we have greeters who double as bouncers.

Is this a bit ridiculous? Yes, but in some cases it even gets worse. Fundamentalists will have their own tv shows, movies, websites where you can email your family that wasn't raptured an explanation why you're not returning their phone calls, and even in some cases they'll have their own breath mints. And Jesus' face gets put on t-shirts and His name gets attached to several hundred self help books that all good Christians must read, because that just might be on the entrance exam into heaven.

Having once been in this mindset, I can look back and see how ridiculous it was, and is. And, if it is those attitudes that are being satirized with the intent of pointing out that the gospel message is not about what breath mint you use, then I can support it. This documentary however did none of that.

I don't know who the filmmaker is, but it was clear almost immediately that he had no understanding of Christianity or its history. So, while he did an alright job of pointing out many of the cringe worthy elements of fundamentalism, it wasn't done out of a desire to bring it back in line with the gospel message. It was very evident that this documentary was to point out how Christians are just another segment in our society who are looking to sell a product.

Here is where I really disagreed immensely with the subject matter and tone of the documentary. Again, I believe fundamentalists are fair game for satire, but the purpose should be about bringing their message in line with the gospel, and getting to the FUNDAMENTALS of our faith. There was no distinction made between those who seek to follow God sincerely in their hearts and lives, and those who take faith to extremes and miss the point of the gospel message. The tone was "This is what all Christians, especially those in America, believe and this is the way they act." Honestly, I don't care what the subject of any documentary is, if you portray a portion of any population as being the entirety, you have failed. This filmmaker didn't even attempt to make a distinction. My concern would be anyone who doesn't know about historical Christianity would see that and not think that they have a need for God in their lives because of how well know fundamentalist leaders portray the gospel message.

I was also saddened by this documentary (and in all honesty I am using that word loosely) that it doesn't show those people who want to follow the gospel in complete sincerity who, rightly or wrongly, follow these people because they carry this perception that they are proclaiming the gospel message. And, in reality, they may be proclaiming bits and pieces of it. But the gospel message shouldn't be about which version of the Bible you read, it should rejoice that you're reading the Bible, and especially one that you can understand. It shouldn't be about what clothes you wear, but that you're taking clothes and covering those who have no clothes. Our motivation for sharing the gospel should be God's love compelling us to do so, not because of anything else.

Had this film been made by someone of faith, who's motivation was to call the Church back to its gospel roots, then I could have highly recommended this. As is the case it wasn't.

It did leave me with a sense though that, for as much as was wrong with this film, it gave me insight into how the Church might be perceived by those who are currently outside it. So, I guess there is some good that came out of it. It has also increased my desire to have the Holy Spirit lead and be my motivation, not because my tradition demands it. That's what I mean by being about the fundamentals, not being fundamentalist.

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