by William Trollinger
I was not prepared for the level of pain, hurt, anguish. I should not have been surprised, but I was.
It was the winter of 2004. I had been asked to lead the “Winter Weekend Intensive” at Cross Creek Community Church (now Harmony Creek Church) here in Dayton. This involved giving an address on Saturday evening, and then giving a second address on Sunday morning. And my topic was: “Understanding Fundamentalism: Community & Certainty In a (Post)Modern World.”
Cross Creek Church was (and is) “An Open and Affirming Church of the United Church of Christ.” From their “Distinctive Values” statement:
- “We affirm that the church is a community where all people are welcomed and recognized as God’s good creation. It is a place where acceptance moves beyond mere toleration of difference and diversity to complete acceptance of all people, affirming that to be the way of Jesus.”
- “We do not exclude or hinder people’s participation in the full life of the church based on, but not limited to, gender, race, age, sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, socio-economic status, marital circumstance, ethnic origin, theological perspective, or physical/mental challenges.”
- “We affirm that we find grace more in the search for Christian meaning than in absolute certainty and more in the questions than in the answers.”
In my two presentations I talked about fundamentalist theology (including biblical inerrancy and dispensational premillennialism), the origins of the fundamentalist movement in the early twentieth century, and its contemporary manifestations (particularly, the Christian Right). More particularly, I noted that fundamentalists are Christian believers who:
- profess certainty that their truth is the Truth,
- ground their religious authority in a literal reading of the Bible (eliding the fact that all texts must be interpreted),
- establish clear boundaries between themselves and others, and
- are aggressively opposed to any blurring of the male/female binary.
Throughout my presentations I repeatedly noted that this fundamentalist understanding of Christianity was dramatically different from Cross Creek’s vision of a humble and radically inclusive church. I knew the congregants did not need to be told this, but I had no idea how well many of them understood fundamentalism.
This became obvious in the concluding question and answer session. Actually, there were few questions and even fewer answers, as individual congregants stood up to tell their stories of how their fundamentalist family and/or church had treated them after they had come out as LGBTQ+. There were stories of condemnation and shunning. There was a lot of emotion, on their part, yes, but also on my part; as a father, I struggled not to cry while listening to folks recount how their family had completely rejected them because of their sexual orientation.
As the session wrapped up, I got myself together enough to say that it was absolutely remarkable that they had not given up on church, that they had not given up on Christianity.
In the end, fundamentalism is about the “Truth,” not about human beings.
In the end, fundamentalism is inhumane.