Fifty Shades of Fundamentalism: A Case-Study

So far I have presented a rough outline of what Christian Fundamentalism is, discussed how it cloaks unassailable ignorance and fear as faith and why that is problematic, and argued that Christian fundamentalism is far more pervasive than Christians are willing to admit.

In this final post I want to take the opportunity to explore a relatively recent controversy in detail. I do this not just to provide support for my claims but to encourage my readers to explore similar situations, controversies, or events and interactions in their life (or their own faith if they are Christians) with my explanation/critique of Fundamentalism in mind.

Et tu, TGC?

The controversy…

Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont and a Christian author. He is also a member of The Gospel Coalition (TGC), a Calvinist/Right leaning Christian organization/movement that is perceived as and models itself as a mainstream.

Riffing off the of the popularity of 50 Shades of Gray J. Wilson wrote a blog post for TGC that argued that sexual violence, rape, and women’s desire for abuse mixed in with sex is the result of a perversion of God ordained order in gender relationships and authority that extends to the bed room. J. Wilson argues men fantasize about rape because they are not allowed to exercise their God-given rights and powers in an “egalitarian” bedroom. (Source: Dr. Kirk)

To support this claim J. Wilson quoted from a book, Fidelity: What it means to be a One Woman Man, by Douglas Wilson (no relation). D. Wilson is the Pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, ID and professor of Theology at New St. Andrew College.

Perhaps the most important part of this lengthy quotation is as follows: (The full quotation can be found here.)

“In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage.” (emphasis mine)

This post led to a lot of criticism and debate within the Christian community. Dr. Kirk, a professor at my school wrote a pointed response, but perhaps the most important critique came from Rachel Held Evans. A good summation or at least source of links to this whole internet debate may be found on this blog post or in Evans final post on the issue. There were calls for the post to be taken down from a variety of sources and it eventually was.

Fundamentalism in detail…

Now what I want to focus on in detail is D. Wilson’s response to this situation as I think it showcases my arguments regarding Fundamentalism wonderfully.

So a book of his was quoted in a recent article on sex, sexual violence, and gender relationships. There was intense criticism of his book and views by other Christians.  His response?

First, both J. Wilson and D. Wilson argued for their point but ultimately dismissed numerous critics, a number of them who were female survivors of sexual assault, by suggesting the reader’s reading comprehension was too low to understand what they meant.  This was essentially a patronizing way of saying “You were too stupid to understand what I wrote, so your criticism is invalid and I don’t need to engage with it.” In other words they chose unassailable ignorance when confronted with someone not convinced by their arguments or when presented with counter-arguments they could not respond to.

Second, D. Wilson asked his daughters to defend him.  This is not exactly a convincing argument to me as they were (I assume) raised by this man and were conditioned to accept patriarchy and all of the arguments that supported this with no alternatives being presented or suggested. In fact, I am fairly certain (from what D. Wilson wrote later) that they were taught to entertain these notions was to fail to be a good Christian and to fall into the hands of “the enemy’s” plans and the devil’s plans, but I admit this is speculative on my part.

Third, he responded with this post.

Take the time to read his summarizing remarks here about the situation here in detail.  Keep in mind this is a pastor and trained theologian who teaches at St. Andrews.

D. Wilson’s short response is somehow rife with the hallmarks of Fundamentalism and a perfect case-study to discuss my argument. (Thanks D. Wilson!) In this post are some of the most common inferred and explicit tactics used by Fundamentalists to dismiss their opponents, reinforce their challenged arguments, encourage everyone in their camp to keep in step with the group rhetoric and beliefs, and ultimately re-define unassailable ignorance, fear and hatred as “faith.”  If you have read my previous posts you can probably pick out a few but I just want to highlight a few themes.

Dismissal:

Unless my reading comprehension is low, the main thrust of D. Wilson’s argument is that the uproar over his beliefs and J. Wilsons article is nothing more than the most recent use of a liberal tactic that they employ in their pursuit of a new world order that leads people away from God’s truth.  The tactic being used is where they (his critics/the liberals) fake being hurt and then act enraged.

D. Wilson dismisses all of his criticisms with a broad brush. Their feelings and words can be dismissed because they are only faking to be hurt as part of a liberal tactic.

D. Wilson writes,

“and not in the midst of a sob sister rugby scrum, with them trying to get us to back away from any particular truth the Scriptures plainly teach.”

Note he has dismissed “them” (his critics) as the enemy attempting to lead people away from the teachings of scripture. His critics are now the enemies of God who are to be fought against.

The “Us vs. Them” mentality:

From the get go, “They/them” has already been set up as a code-word for the vague “enemy” and this enables and feed the “Us vs. Them” mentality Fundamentalism relies on.  It persists throughout the article.

D. Wilson later writes,

They deny the authority of Scripture, they accept as dialogue partners advocates of every abomination that Leviticus contains, they attack those who are seeking to be faithful servants of Christ, they call the holy wars of YHWH genocide, and so on, down the street and around the corner. Other than that, they are good Christians.” (emphasis mine)

D. Wilson clearly equates everyone who agrees with him and who is on his side as people “seeking to be faithful servants of Christ.” Everyone who disagrees with Wilson is a bad person.  Even Christians who disagrees with him are bad Christians. Fundamentalism sees even other Christians are seen as “the enemy” if they are not in-line with Fundamentalist thought enough.

Unassailable Ignorance:

And what makes these bad Christians bad? Dialoguing and criticizing. In other words, engaging with alternative views and thinking rather than just believing everything they are told to believe is the plain teaching of scripture or God’s word. They are not blindly trusting autocratic authority. Having dialogue partners that are not Christian and criticizing the holy wars of YHWH (I have no idea what D. Wilson means by this) is enough to make someone a bad Christian.

More importantly, later D. Wilson suggests that,

“Tender-hearted Christians fall for [the liberal tactic of faking being hurt/offense] repeatedly, like a trout rising on cue whenever the devil goes fly fishing.”

The implication to D. Wilson’s readers is that if one listens to the other side or is pained by the hurt expressed in the criticisms of J. Wilson or D. Wilson’s words, one is falling into a liberal trap and falling into the plans of none other than the devil.

This is good example of re-scripting and re-defining in use and is a type of psychological inoculation. D. Wilson is attempting to provide an internally rational and reasonable way to explain away any pangs of conscience or sympathy his readers might have to the other side. The rationale D. Wilson provides (that their feelings are the result of an evil tactic or trap) gives them an alternative way to interpret their feelings.  With this alternative explanation in hand, D. Wilson’s readers do not need to listen to the other side, they need to avoid this trap of the liberals and the devil.  This allows D. Wilson’s readers and those who support his claims to remain in their beliefs and not feel bad about it. In fact, they are led to believe by ignoring the temptation to be feel sympathy and/or engage in dialogue they are being wise and shrewd believers who just outwitted the liberal enemy, the devil and remained true to God’s word.

Theological Arrogance:

D. Wilson equates his position and his beliefs (at least on this issue) with “the clear teaching of scripture.” While I am certain D. Wilson believes his theology is the plain and clear teaching of scripture, many Christians apparently doubt this. To be fair this post does not contain any additional arguments for his position that he has offered in other posts/blogs.

Regardless of any additional argumentation on D. Wilson’s part, to equate ones beliefs with the clear teaching of scripture is very dangerous. Such a stance is the theologically arrogant and disregards centuries of competing interpretations and applications of scripture as well as the complex nature of the Bible and scriptural interpretation. Even D. Wilson acknowledges in this post that there are words in scripture that present a challenge to his beliefs when he writes,

“Don’t quote Gal. 3:28 at me, sister. I have had a grudge against the apostle Paul ever since he wrote those misbegotten words. Two can play at pick n’ choose.”

Excessive Biblical Literalism:

D. Wilson advocates for an extremely literal approach to the authority of the Bible and obedience to it.

If they don’t believe that man must live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, then they should go straight to their home temple and appeal to their true god, which happens to be the way they are currently feeling. (Emphasis mine)

However, he himself does not obey all of the words that proceed from the Bible/”the mouth of God.” Ironically, Rachel Held Evans and others have creatively shown what living this literally would look like in a number of books and no Christian I know of actually lives according to all the commandments and prescriptions of the Bible.

The use/misuse of scripture and religious language:

D. Wilson uses religious language and references scripture in his writing.  Notably he uses Matthew 5 to support his claim regarding the liberal tactic being used against him and even equates Rachel Held Evans, and all feminists in general, with Delilah.

The employment of such language adds a shallow religious coat to his writing that is not truly substantive.  What I mean by this is that Matthew 5 has absolutely nothing to do with a liberal tactic, or the issues in question. I sincerely doubt Jesus raised this person from the dead in order to warn future Christians against the liberal agenda and the tactics the enemy would use. In regards to Delilah, I sincerely doubt a character of a story that happened in the life of Israel during the time of the Judges, has any connection with feminism or the critique of J. Wilson or D. Wilson’s work.

So why employ this kind of language and scripture in this way? While not substantive, using such religious language and referencing scripture is all that is necessary to be persuasive to some Christians. Christians hold to the authority of the scriptures and want to remain true to its teaching.  Co-opting or invoking its language is a powerful tool for pastors and politicians to wield because of this. Using such language automatically claims moral/spiritual/scriptural authority for one’s arguments regardless of the actual moral/spiritual/scriptural merits of one’s arguments.

The Culture-war/Persecution narrative and the defensive posture towards “The Enemy”:

D. Wilsons tone and stance towards his critics and many groups of other people is marked by the defensiveness central to Fundamentalism.  This defensive stance is fueled by an appeal to and reinforcement of the “culture war narrative.” The culture war narrative is again the belief that Christian values/Christianity/Good Christians are under attack by outside secularizing forces that seek to destroy Christianity and lead people away from the teachings of scripture.

This is evidenced in D. Wilson’s writing in the following quotations:

“Say that somebody orchestrates a great ‘taking offense offensive,’ and that somebody else answers them with wit and fire.”

Note that D. Wilson implies that he is under and organized assault and is the victimized party that is fighting back, with “wit and fire.”(Implies he is under organized assault by people who took offense his words)

“and we will never make any progress in halting the advance of their brave new world until we can recognize the tactic at a glance.”

Note the “us vs. them” mentality and the belief that some vague enemy out there is pursuing a brave new world that is apparently inherently evil and anti-Christian.

“They are skilled in this tactic, of course. What is astonishing to me is that we are not equally skilled in recognizing the play whenever it is called on us. Shoot, we’ve had enough practice. It’s the third quarter, and they have scored about ten touchdowns with it. Somebody needs to wake up the linebackers.”

Note that D. Wilson envisions his side as on the defense, and losing tragically and repeatedly to the skilled and deceitful tactic of the enemy. Note again the use of the “them/we” in his writing.  D. Wilson is ultimately styling himself in this piece as a stalwart defender of Christianity who is providing a rallying call for Christians to wake up and join the culture war for the cause of the Bible.

Hatred:

The employment of the culture war narrative leads to a defensive posture. As I have mentioned before this defensive posture mixed with the imagined stakes (the future of Christianity, the teachings of scripture, God’s honor, etc.) paradoxically makes Fundamentalist very ready and eager to attack.

Hatred is produced and justified within the fundamentalist mindset and D. Wilson is no exception.  His words are openly hateful towards anyone who is not within the fold of his brand of Christianity, and he is advocating for their hatred.  He is also a pastor and therefore a default representative of the Judeo-Christian God to many people, so that further complicates things.

Here is perhaps the most blatant example of what I am talking about

“Once you understand that this is their foundational tactic, you will also understand how homosexual marriage has been mainstreamed, how creationists get themselves exiled to Dogpatch Bible College, how women wound up deployed in the Sixth Fleet, why the nation is deep in trillodebt, and how it is that the new bishop is a lesbian dyke from Ecuador.”

From this paragraph we can see that D. Wilson is anti-science, anti-homosexuality, anti-women (at least anti-women-in-the-military), anti-immigrant, anti-homosexual (again), and apparently he concludes that if he and people like him ran the U.S. we would have no debt.

Fundamentalism is in the Mainstream:

I feel I have shown how Fundamentalists attitudes, beliefs, and tactics are rife within D. Wilson’s response. However, D. Wilson, as far as I know does not self-identify as a Christian Fundamentalist. He is not part of Westboro Baptist church or Pastor Terry Jones’ church.

He is pastor of a conservative Reformed evangelical church and is associated with the broader Neo-reformed movement and the Gospel Coalition where he also directly contributes content.

He is followed on Twitter by John Piper, Christianity Today, and Rick Warren among others.

The Gospel Coalition, The Acts 29 Network, Reality churches (Reality LA, Reality London, Reality SF, etc.), Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church, Matt Chandler, Kevin DeYoung, D.A. Carson, Kent Hughes, Tim Keller, Joshua Harris, John Piper, etc. are all names and churches associated with the Neo-Reformed movement, its beliefs and theology.

While I do not believe J. Wilson or D. Wilson accurately represent the attitudes and beliefs of all members of the Neo-Reformed movement exactly, it is alarming.  While J. Wilson apologized, D. Wilson did not and to my knowledge neither Pastors was disciplined, asked to change their theology or stance on this issue, or fired.

That is because the original article was rather representative of the general approach to gender relationships and sex in the Neo-Reformed movement.  I do not say this off the top of my head.  I say this having attended Neo-Reformed churches, having read numerous Neo-Reformed authors, and having friends involved in the Neo-Reformed movement, and having heard a lot of teaching about the role  women and men, “biblical manhood,” “biblical womanhood,” sex, and so forth from this group as a result.

My point in highlighting this is the fact that the Neo-Reformed movement is seen as a rather mainstream or possibly right of center movement within American Christianity and none of its members or those associated with it that I know of would knowingly identify as Christian Fundamentalists.

Yet here is at least one example of the hallmark Fundamentalist attitudes and beliefs being tolerated, accepted, and even instilled in its leadership and membership. D. Wilson might be more extreme than most (he has pretty insane ideas about slavery) but he is not too far from the Neo-Reformed center.

Closing Remarks:

I hope you have enjoyed my thoughts regarding Christian Fundamentalism, the problems with it, and my belief that it goes far beyond those who would self-identify as Fundamentalists.  I encourage you to think about this case-study, reflect on your own experiences, and as always I welcome any feedback and comments.

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About Kevin

I am figuring out life and faith and taking other people along with me on my journey. Sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as hostages.
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