A World Without Flowers and Color: Thoughts on the Old-School Fundamentalist Movement

Most of us American’s know Thomas Paine as the revolutionary war pamphleteer responsible for writing pro-American screeds like “Common Sense.” But in his lifetime, Paine was better known as an anti-religion writer. He was his generation’s Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins. Paine was raised by extremely strict Quakers, and his distaste for them was the major factor that drove him to hate God and religion. I say all of that to set up this quote:

If the God of the Quakers had created the world, there would be no color or flowers in it.

Think about that quote for a second. Roll it around in your mind. Now replace “Quakers” with “fundamentalists” and imagine what we could replace “color” and “flowers” with.

I am a fundamentalist pastor. I believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God and that believers should live it and defend it against errors. I believe in ecclesiastical and to an extent, personal separation. My church still does quaint things like sings hymns, has a choir and both Sunday evening and midweek services. I wear a suit when I preach. Like I said, I’m a fundamentalist pastor. 

The landscape of fundamentalist churches is changing rapidly. Many pastors in my generation are running as far away from old-gaurd independent Baptist fundamentalism as they can. Many of our churches look a lot more like “Idea Day” than “The Church Growth Conference.” 

I can relate to those who are very concerned about this trend. I don’t think these changes are 100% healthy, and I often am taken back by how far my peers are willing to stray from what they grew up on. I’m one of many young (and older) pastors who feel stuck in the middle on this.

However, instead of throwing bombs at these young pastors, maybe a better idea would be to consider what they are running away from. Most of them are not running away from a doctrinal position. They are not running away from a belief in an innerant Bible or from a belief in the importance of preaching. They are instead running away from a particular brand of fundamentalism: a fundamentalism without color or flowers.

When I think about the culture I see in old-school fundamentalist circles, here is what I think:

If the God of old-school fundamentalists had created the world, there would be no diversity in it.

When you look at a typical old-school fundamentalists (OSF from here on out) meeting you see a bunch of people who are roughly the same age (50s and 60s), all the same color (white), wearing the exact same haircuts (comb overs and crew cuts) and the exact same clothes (two and three button suits). They shout the same things, preach the same sermons, and read the same very limited material.

The OSF movement is a movement of soul-sucking colorless uniformity. 

Yet, when we look at the world that our God created, it is not a world of uniformity but a world of diversity. People are different. They come from different cultures, have different backgrounds and interests, enjoy different foods, music and clothing. Even in the animal kingdom, our God didn’t create every bird a Robin, but blessed us with thousands of types of birds with almost infinite variety.

Why must every OSF pastor look the same? Sing the same songs? Serve the same food? Wear the same clothes? Preach the same style of sermon? 

If the God of old-school fundamentalists had created the world, there would be no intelligent conversation in it.

The OSF movement is a movement that has forgotten how to think. It is a movement that gathers to itself uneducated and simple minded people, preaches simplistic messages, and practices group think that would make Orwell blush. It is made up of people who do not read widely. It doesn’t study it’s own history but instead enshrines as saints the characters of heros of the past. There is no scholarship in it, and it does not produce literature.

As a friend and fellow pastor has said, the fundamentalist movement is being taken over by unreasonable men. They are people who do not want to discuss, they see no nuance, their only acceptable form of communication is dogma.

It cannot engage its critics, because on a diet of only The Sword and Sean Hannity, its members are threatened by even the simplest of questions. 

But when you look at the world God created you see intelligence everywhere. We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. Even the blessed Book that God gave us is not a simplistic checklist, but a book that can be studied for a lifetime.

The OSF movement, in its modern incarnation, has no room for intelligence and it’s no wonder that its best and brightest young people are running for the hills.

By the way, it wasn’t always this way. I challenge you to read the letters of John R. Rice or Lee Roberson and not see a difference between their approach and the approach of their IFB offspring. 

If the God of old-school fundamentalists had created the world, there would be little beauty in it.

In the OSF movement, there is no such thing as art. There is little appreciation for fine-art, music, architecture or design. In fact, there is almost a gut-level semi-gnostic rejection of anything that is beautiful for fear that it would appeal to the flesh. 

Concepts such as modesty and wordliness are applied in such extreme ways that it makes everything in God’s creation something to run from rather than something that God created for us to enjoy with thanksgiving. 

Lastly, If the God of old-school fundamentalists had created the world, there would be no grace in it.

One thing you almost never hear an OSF say is “we disagree on that, but he is a good brother who loves the Lord.” The idea of showing grace and of letting each other make their own applications of scriptural commands seems to be completely lost on them. Christian liberty means merely the liberty to obey the dictates of your OSF leaders in lockstep submission and the liberty to be bombastically dismissive and condescending to anyone who disagrees with you.

Yet, obviously, this is not how God intended us to live. This is not what we see taught in the New Testament. 

Who wouldn’t run from this?

In one of his most famous speeches, Ronald Reagan described the Berlin wall said that on the West German side, our soldiers had their guns pointed towards Russia in an effort to stop the spread of Soviet aggression, but on the East German side the soviets also had their guns pointed toward Russia trying to keep their own people from experiencing the freedom to be found outside of the Soviet Union. 

To me, this is an apt description of militant Old School Fundamentalism; a large percentage of their energy is directed in trying to keep their own people in. Their people are starving for color, diversity, beauty, intelligence, grace and FREEDOM and rather than examining themselves they resort to scare tactics (like slippery slope arguments) and threats to keep their people in.

What are you making God look like?

Are you presenting a God who is anti-diversity, anti-intelligence, anti-beauty, anti-grace and anti-freedom? Is your God a petty dictator who cares more about hemlines and haircuts than He does about doctrine and holiness? Does God want us all to be mean, uncultured, inarticulate, unread, carbon copies of each other?

I for one don’t think He is and don’t think He does, which is why I want nothing to do with this movement.