Some of my Christian friends are quite disparaging about Christian fundamentalists. This usually comes from an unforunate emphasis by the media in characterizing fundamentalists solely as angry, rigid believers who who believe not only that their faith is the only correct one, but who consider it their mission to force others to change their belliefs to fit the desired mold. While such people certainly exist, they do not represent the whole of fundamentalist Christianity. After all, Christian fundamentalists run the spectrum from the relatively intolerant Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones University, to the peaceful and unobstrusive Amish and Mennonite communities. It occurs to me that a brief discussion about the different kinds of Christian fundamentalist would be fruitful. Christian Fundamentalism is the belief that certain aspects of Christianity are critical in importance. This leads to three sub-groups of Fundamentalists:
1. Militant Fundamentalists – who believe that Christianity is the only true faith and Fundamentalist Christianity is the only true Christianity. This group tends to demand rote obedience to strict doctrines, and is intolerant of individualism or unconventional behavior. This group tends to connect “acceptable” Christian identity with certain cultural norms, dress, behavior, speech, and is aggressive in recruiting. Coercion is common as a tactic.
2. Insecure Fundamentalists – who believe that the version of Christianity they hold is the “best” version, down to which version of the Bible they approve and how they conduct services and prayer. This group tends to be vocal in evangelism and is senstitive to cultural norms, preferring a ‘comfort zone’ where everyone acts according to a community interest rather than self-interest. This group is not hostile to other beliefs, but considers them incorrect and tends to conduct debate on the assumption that the other person does not yet know the truth, as represented by the Fundamentalist’s comprehension.
3. Individualist Fundamentalists – who believe that all humans tend to sin, and therefore no human is fit to judge another person. For this group, the Gospel is intensely personal, and the Fundamentalist aspect of the faith is the process of anchoring faith and its profession on key trustworthy aspects of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. This group is looser in form and emphasizes compassion for others, devotion to personal integrity, and respect for the person as key teachings of Jesus Christ. This group does not consider all beliefs equally true, but accepts that all beliefs are valid to some degree depending on the individual case, and agrees that God speaks to all His children in whatever way they can accept. This group recruits through encouraging people to seek truth for themselves, and to test assumptions and reject stereotypes.