For me, the shortest step away from fundamentalism came with the realization that life within my family bore little resemblance to the idyllic paternalistic household that fundamentalist preachers portrayed as the biblical model for the home.
Father didn’t know best at my home. Dad was more relational than analytic. He was great with kids and fun to be around when he was healthy and rested, but he was not the wisest decision-maker in the house.
For the most part, my mother, who always worked outside the home, managed the household and handled the finances. My father usually had the good sense to trust her judgment more than his own.
Fundamentalism’s sexist and patriarchal chain-of-command family structure never found a foothold at my parents’ house. They had an egalitarian mutually submissive relationship that survived for more than 50 years while the complementarian, male-supremacist marital relationships of their fundamentalist friends crumbled all around them.
My own step away from fundamentalism’s chain-of-command theology came while I was in high school. Teenage years are traditionally an age of rebellion, but I wasn’t much of a rebel. Being a fundamental Baptist “preacher boy,” I was a model of Christian conservatism. Nearly all my time away from school was devoted to my church, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Young Life.
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Those last two years of high school, however, were also my father’s final two years of college. He was working full-time, taking extra jobs to make ends meet, attending classes, studying to complete his bachelor of arts degree and raising a family – all at the same time.
His health was not the best and he was getting precious little sleep. When he was awake, he didn’t have a lot of time or patience and it was hard to reason with him. Our relationship was often rocky during this period. It wasn’t until after dad graduated, began his career as a public school teacher and assumed an ordinary schedule that our relationship returned to normalcy. By then I had moved out of the house.
I learned a very valuable spiritual lesson over those last two years of high school. I discovered that my relationship with God could still be strong, healthy and growing while, at the same time, my relationship with my father was strained.
Later, these experiences made it easy for me to see through the simplistic thought, shallow theology and unrealistic philosophy that undergirded the seminars that Bill Gothard led on Basic Youth Conflicts in the 1970s. Like other chain-of-command theologians, he focused exclusively on the command for children to honor their parents. He never seemed to notice the conjoining command that parents “not exasperate” their children. (Ephesians 6:1-4)
While I never had cause for exasperation with my parents, when I served as a police officer, I often filed reports and provided testimony on behalf of children who had some very real causes for exasperation.
Those experiences make my stomach turn every time I hear some naÃ¯ve but well-meaning preacher describing parents as “chisels” who chip away the rough edges of children who are like “diamonds in the rough.” They don’t realize how many parents take that “chip away” metaphor literally.