Five More Concerns About Fundamental Churches

I wrote a post recently about the concerns I have about fundamentalism. This is a continuation of that post.

Five more concerns about fundamental churches:

1. Authoritative parenting

Authoritative parenting is the style practiced and endorsed at all the fundamental churches we attended and also was common at fundamentally-influenced churches.

I have compared authoritative parenting to Bible-based parenting in the past.

Authoritative parenting demands immediate obedience, gives swift and harsh punishments, and is hard-handed.

Grace-filled, Bible-based parenting reflects God’s grace to us.

Our children learn about God through how we treat them. Are we representing His love well?

Authoritative parenting breaks the command to not embitter our children by expecting perfection from them when it is impossible for them to give it.

Because fundamentalism has redefined godliness to be outward behavior, it is absolutely necessary that the children of those who hold this belief act perfectly obedient.

If they do not, it reflects poorly on their parents, and others will doubt their parent’s godliness.

Godly parents will have obedient children, according to this philosophy.

However, we know that sometimes godly parents do not have “good” children. Case in point: Adam and Eve and the Prodigal Son.

Particularly notice that the father of the prodigal son did not go drag his son home and force him into submission, but he was there when his son returned, ready to forgive.

God could have struck Adam and Eve dead –a quick and immediate repercussion– instead he clothed their nakedness, covered their shame, corrected them, and made a plan for their eventual redemption. God was the perfect parent, and yet He had rebellious children.

The grace that a holy God gives us in our sin is the example that we should live by with our children.

2. Patriarchal Ideology

This goes beyond harsh parenting. Patriarchal is the idea that the father –the patriarch– owns the people under him.

Not that he is their caretaker, shepherd, and steward, but that they are his servants and he, their king.

He is the top man and must be honored and served above all else. They are under him and dare not forget it.

Even adults in his family dare not do something that he dislikes.

I know daughters in these kinds of families who are in their thirties and the father still will not let them get married, turns away every potential suitor, and enjoys the fact that he has free adult labor at his beck and call.

I know adult women who have to “rebel” against their fathers to get married and get away from this fundamental ideology.

I have one friend who privily signed herself up for Eharmony, met a guy, and with the help of a friend moved across the country to marry him, getting as far away as she could from her manipulative and controlling father.  

However, not even getting married gets you out of the patriarchal authority if it is part of your belief system.

In a proper understanding of scripture, a husband leaves his father and mother, marries his wife and they become a new family.

In the patriarchal approach, even married children are still under the father’s authority and must obey him.

I have an older family member who thinks he can tell my husband and I what to do, make decisions for us, and make choices for our children.

If you refuse to obey the patriarch, they get angry because they believe that they are owed your obedience (not just respect) even if you are an adult. They twist verses to try to make them support this idea.

Patriarchal is actually a Middle Eastern cultural idea that –although it is displayed in the Old Testament– it is not commanded in the Bible and is in direct conflict with other parts of the Bible, particularly the parts that apply to today in the Age of Grace.

It is very similar to the shame and honor ideology in Fundamental Islam that allows a father to kill his daughter if she makes him look bad. In the same way but to a lesser extend, patriarchalism allows a fundamental parent to mistreat, or even imprison in their home, a child –regardless of age– who does not reflect well on the parent.  

And we wonder why unbelievers say there are similarities between Islam and Christianity. Here is one reason.

If we were living in obedience to the law of Christ: love and grace, there would be a great difference between us and the Islamics.

3. Suppression of women

Now, before I go further, I should mention that I do believe in Biblical submission. But, I do not believe that women are less than men or that men should treat women with disdain.

Submission is a woman’s choice. It is a gift she gives her husband.

If he demands it, it is no longer submission: it by its very definition is then coercion.  

This suppression of women goes beyond submission (submission is not suppression although opponents would say it is).

This goes beyond the Biblical commands to women.

It teaches that women are only useful if they are having babies. That babies and servitude are all the God created women for.

It discourages education of women –either biblical or academic or both.

It downplays the value of women and ignores the roles –other than motherhood– even those that are given them by scripture.

It ignores that women are given spiritual gifts just as men are, that they are responsible to use those gifts to minister to the church.

It downplays any women in the New or Old Testament that did anything other than stay at home with and have babies.

It refuses to even consider that women could have something to contribute, using the excuse that Eve was deceived by Satan to say that a man must never listen to his wife which of course is not what the Bible teaches.

It makes statements like “A woman’s proper place is in the kitchen.”

It is more a reflection of 19th and early 20th century ideals of a woman than that of scripture.

It is the view that women should be silent, shy, unopinionated, and controllable. A strong, educated, vibrant woman is an offence to this ideal.

You can be strong, bold, opinionated, and unmanipulatable and still choose to submit to your husband.

You don’t need a man to force you into obeying Christ. I dare say no man is able to do that, because obedience begin in the heart, in the decisions of the inner woman.

The command to grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ was not given only to men.

A godly man should want a strong godly woman who knows what she believes and why, who can defend her faith, who can stand up for herself, who can be his cheerleader, confidant, and advisor.

If he does not want these things, I wonder how godly he actually is or if he is pursuing recognition of the other men at church over true godliness.

It goes back, again, to the fundamental view of godliness. If his wife makes him look bad, others will doubt his godliness. But godliness isn’t just about the outside.

4. Abuse of women

When my husband and I were engaged, someone from church gave my husband a “wife’s paddle” letting us know that it was intended to be used on me.

It was said with a twinkle in the eye.

Almost like the giver was joking.

But not really.

I am a smart girl. I could read between the lines.

Basically, the older man saw that I had a very strong personality and wanted to make sure that he communicated to my future husband that it was his job to keep me in line whatever it took.

I was understandably shocked and offended.

But, it was treated like a joke, and I was told I was overreacting.

That was before I understood that this was part of the fundamental ideology.

You see, if godliness is all about what is on the outside, then a man can’t have his wife making him look bad by not being the quiet little timid mouse. She is expected to change her personality –or suppress it– to make him look good even if that is not how God made her, even if it means that she is not using her gifts.

I should be clear that my husband has never been abusive regardless of what was subtly endorsed by church members.

More than one friend has been the object of domestic abuse.

After one such situation when we helped a woman get away from her husband who had threatened to kill her, I asked my husband why he never hit me.

He said because I would walk out, and he would probably never see his kids again.

I am not sure how he came to that conclusion. I have never told him that.

But I am not one to sit idly by while someone hurts me. I will defend myself.

It is more likely that I would go to one of our parent’s houses and get them involved. I would use the biblical model of reconciliation.

The combination of the patriarchal movement and the suppression of women is an equation for abuse.

If a woman is nothing but a servant or a slave, if you as a husband don’t understand that she is a joint-heir, that you are to serve her like Christ served the church being even willing to die for her (not just the other way around), then you have no motivation to treat her well.

If you devalue her, you will not treat her like the wonderful gift that she is.

Once you have emptied her of value, there is nothing to keep you from abusing her.

In this ideology the only one who has value is the husband.

We treat others well when we value them, when we see their God-given worth.

Scripture commands men to not treat their wives harshly. Abuse and devaluing is against scripture.

5. Abuse of children

Just like the patriarchal movement devalues women, it devalues children.

Nowhere in scripture does it say that the man is the king of his castle and everyone living there must serve him. That is false doctrine.

The bible does say that if you want to be great in God’s kingdom you need to be a servant.

I have read advice from fundamental pastors that say you should have your daughters wait on you hand and foot to train them to be good wives. Notice they don’t say to do this with all children. No, because boys are not allowed to be servants. They will be kings one day according to this view which is the opposite of what the bible teaches.

When you start subjugating others, acting like they are less than you, and forcing them into servitude to you, then the sky’s the limit in what you will do.

Because in order to do that, you have already decided that they are not worthy of your care or respect.

Authoritative parenting can quickly become abuse, too. It is a slippery slope.

Once you make parenting and family about how good it makes the father look, you have lost sight of the true purpose of parenting: to show this child Christ as you prepare them for adulthood and eternity.

If you want to see how extreme the situations can become, you can listen to the documentary about abuse in the fundamental churches by Jeri Massi.

While I admit that not all of these five things are present in every fundamental church, I think they are important to mention because they are prevalent in many other groups who aren’t part of the fundamentalists and don’t even know that these ideals originated in the fundamental movement.

Even if these methods produce good results (that is the arguments I have heard) they are still unbiblical and therefore I can’t endorse them.

We won’t achieve gody results by using ungodly methods.

May we always check our methods to see that they align with scripture.


Sarah Forbes


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