As a child I would hear the religious beliefs of Jerry Falwell, who described himself as a "fundamentalist." That was the first description that I heard about a religious person that was not critiquing him/her by their preaching and character. With the development of my religious beliefs and doctrines admittedly I have tried to stay away from those who are fundamentalists because I think they are narrow, borderline racist and live in the stone ages. Some images of fundamentalists could be a Bible Baptist TV preacher, a Hasidic rabbi, a Mormon housewife, or one belonging to the tea party.
After hearing the words of nomination provided for the newly elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Reverend Ronnie Floyd by Reverend Albert Mohler saying that he will deal with the" horrifying moral rebellion" in the nation. I was not at all appalled at his statement him being described as a fundamentalist but realized that everyone is a fundamentalist about something.
Most of us are fundamentalists about fundamentalism. We think we are either fundamentally against it or fundamentally for it. But contrary to what some of us may think, "fundamentalism" isn't the private domain of one group of people. "Fundamentalists" can be found in all walks of life.
-- The jogger going out at 5:30 a.m. on a dark, blustery morning is a fundamentalist about her exercise regime.
-- The carpenter whose workshop looks like a display ad is a fundamentalist about the location of each and every one of his tools.
-- The 6-year-old who make his parents pick off every single one of those tiny dehydrated onion squares from his Happy Meal burger is a fundamentalist about his food.
-- The office manager whose weekly staff meetings always take exactly the same form, no matter what crisis is surging through the office, or who insists that everything that takes place be "according to plan" or "according to Robert's Rules of Order"
-- The parents who insist that their children be instructed in "the three R's" and nothing else may be called educational fundamentalists.
And there are countless other kinds of "fundamentalists" as well. Monday Night Football fundamentalists, the toilet-paper-rolls-under vs. the toilet-paper-rolls-over-fundamentalists, No-nuts-in-fudge fundamentalists, Christmas presents opened on Christmas Eve fundamentalists, no white shoes after Labor Day fundamentalists.
Even within the defined domain of "religious fundamentalism" there are many varieties. If you think your church is flexible and receptive to new ideas, just try suddenly changing the prescribed Sunday morning order of worship. It will suddenly become apparent that even within the most "liberal" congregations we tend to develop liturgical fundamentalism.
Or try reading from The Woman's Bible or one of the newest, most colloquialized paraphrases of Luke's gospel at the Christmas Eve service in order to gauge the textual fundamentalism of your spirit.
The point is that all of us are fundamentalists about something. We all choose to erect certain foundational pillars that we use to support the weight of other attitudes and actions called for in our lives. Being a "fundamentalist" about some things can strengthen our centeredness and build up our sense of security for the marginality that is required of disciples of Jesus. Fundamentalism only becomes a problem when those rocks of certainty we have placed in our lives spread their stoniness to the depth of our souls, or harden to immovability the compassion of our hearts.
Mark's gospel pinpoints this problem of the nature of fundamentalism. Even as he is moved to compassion by the sight of the man with the withered hand, Jesus is moved to anger as he detects the "hardness of heart" shared by those watching him. Jesus and the bystanders in the synagogue that day were butting head-on into each other's fundamentalisms. For the Pharisees, abiding by the strict letter of the law concerning correct Sabbath observation was the fundamentalism shaping their attitude. Like the Pharisees from the first pericope of Mark's Gospel (2:23-28), these synagogue observers believed that safeguarding Sabbath observation was more important than the individual situations that they found themselves confronting.
In both these cases, however, Jesus also acts as a fundamentalist. But here, as everywhere else in the gospel stories, Jesus' actions and attitudes are defined by his fundamentalism of love. Jesus is a love fundamentalist. In everything he did, in everything he said, Jesus acted out this love fundamentalism.
-- It was love fundamentalism that urged Jesus to heal the man's withered hand on a Sabbath.
-- It was love fundamentalism that kept Jesus from Satan's temptations in the wilderness.
-- It was love fundamentalism that spurred Jesus to sweep the children up into his arms.
-- It was love fundamentalism that drove Jesus to choose humiliation over political power.
-- It was love fundamentalism that revealed Jesus' glorification through self-sacrifice.
The great thing about being a love fundamentalist is that the more strictly you abide by your fundamentalism, the greater your freedom. Instead of narrowing your vision, limiting your options or scaling down your scope, love fundamentalism opens whole new worlds of possibilities and promise. My image is no more of Reverend Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and the Moral Majority as being fundamentalist nuts because we are fundamentalists admit and live with it. However, my challenge to those who use fundamentalism which is a broad definition to condemn instead of enrich, judge instead of showing compassion to those who are the withered outcasts of our society must look at a love fundamentalism.
The fundamentalism of love always offers one more chance, always goes one more mile, always trusts one more time, always believes one more possibility, always commits one more hour, always cries one more tear, always rejoices over one more soul.
Jesus chose to weave the thread of love throughout every aspect of his existence. The very fiber of his soul was knit together with this love. Will we choose to do the same?
Follow Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pastorbilljr