Hello, my name is Kevin and I am a recovering fundamentalist.
I grew up in a fundamentalist church, and denomination. I was taught that, “those evangelicals,” especially those belonging to the National Association of Evangelicals, were liberals. I was even taught that Billy Graham was a liberal! Among other things, here are a few of the statements I heard from the pulpit, or Sunday School class, and even at our denominations bible college:
- “Smokin’ will not send you to hell, but it will make you smell like you’ve been there.”
- “You can’t be a good Christian and consume alcohol.”
- “You should not work, eat, or patronize at any place that sells alcohol.”
- “If you are at the movies (‘picture show’) when Jesus returns you may get left behind.”
- “Face cards are of the devil, and all the symbols in a deck of cards have to do with satanic worship.”
- “You can’t have Christian rock music anymore then you can have Christian prostitution.” (That was always one of my favorites.)
- “Men should not wear shorts.”
- “Women should not wear pants.”
- “Men should not have long hair.”
- “Women should not have short hair.”
- “Any man wearing jewelry is a sissy, and could be a homosexual.”
- “Kissing is a form of sexual intercourse.”
- “A true minister of the gospel will not get involved in any sort of ecumenical movement. We must be separate.”
Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I don’t think there was any ill-will in what I was taught. I am thankful for my heritage. There are a lot worse ways to grow up then how I was raised. I believe I was loved growing up. I believe those around me truly wanted what as best for me. The goal of all the rules was holiness. The problem is, holiness is not a list of rules. Holiness comes from the Holy Spirit through a radical relationship with Jesus Christ.
Yet, even though no one intended harm, such an upbringing has harmed others. I know a lot of people who grew up like I did that have now turned their backs on anything religious. Many people carry deep wounds from such a childhood. I carry a couple of scars myself.
I do not function well in a black and white world. I think most of what any person believes, including myself, is more cultural then theological. As a result, I see a lot of gray. As a result of seeing a lot of gray, I have learned to extend a lot of grace. (Except to the fundamentalists. I am still a work in progress.)
I guess what got me thinking about all this is because I received a letter in the mail recently stating that my church’s main outreach ministry (Franklin Community Development) will be receiving a grant from the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee. I applied for this grant with the help and encouragement from a friend of mine who is a deacon at a local Episcopal Church. (My friend is now studying to become an Episcopal priest.)
Now, get this, growing up I was taught that the Episcopal Church was so liberal they may not even be saved. (To my Episcopal friends who are reading this, I am sorry. Please accept my apology.) I was taught that it would be wrong for a pastor to even work with them. But let me tell you this, the people I know, and work with, that are Episcopal, love Jesus more than I do, and they practice what they preach more then most fundamentalists that I know. Their understanding of, and their emphasis on, the Kingdom of God, exceeds what I was taught and believed growing up.
And that’s not all!
Recently, I hosted a volunteer appreciation dinner for my church (Franklin Community Church) and for all the people who have helped Franklin Community Development. The list grew so large that I soon realized my church has more volunteers then she has members. The churches represented by the volunteers included every mainline denomination, plus the local Catholic church. What was noticeably absent from my list was the type of fundamentalist churches in which I grew up. I guess I have become too ecumenical for them. It’s probably more my fault then their fault. But that’s ok. I believe my ministry is more gospel oriented, and more kingdom focused, then it has ever been. To God be the glory.
After the volunteer dinner, a married couple gave me an envelope with money she had collected from her neighborhood group. Along with the money she enclosed the following letter. I post it, not because of what it says about me, but because of what I think it says about the gospel. (Also, this family are members of a local Episcopal church)
This past Sunday evening two neighborhood liberal/progressive Facebook groups gathered in my home for a holiday party. Two groups come from…(a particular neighborhood)…and…(another particular neighborhood)…Some individuals brought a donation for the Franklin Community House…I was able to share with many individuals about what you are doing. I hope you do not mind that I referred to you as the Mother Teresa of Franklin.
The scripture says in Jeremiah, “Because everywhere I send you, you shall go.” This is all I have done with these groups that have so graciously welcomed me in. I let these beloveds know about your needs and I hope that they will feel compelled in the future to give more. Some of these individuals are atheists and some are like me, progressive Christians. Regardless, the leader…(of one of the groups)…is (a compassionate individual who identifies as an atheist)…She was the most excited to give to Franklin Community House. I hope this encourages you as you see how God is working in the lives of everyone all of the time.
We are grateful for all you do to bring mercy to these men. Keep going, and thank you so much for walking with the poor. Williamson County is better off because of you and the Franklin Community Church!