Today, the ugly face of Christian fundamentalism showed itself in my church, and it was not good.
Fundamentally, I know that the Bible says that those who do not accept Jesus cannot be saved. But in an alarming and particularly poorly timed sermon, our guest preacher (a student from the local theological college) propounded his view that those who are not with us are against us – enemies of Christ, in his words.
On this day of all days, when we should have been standing arm in arm with our brothers and sisters of every creed, whatever they believe in. At a time when I want to rush up to the Muslim woman walking down my street and tell her that I know Isis does not represent her, nor the majority of her fellow believers; at a time when I want, irrationally, to beg my son in London to come home… instead I sat seething, arguing in my head with the narrow-mindedness I was witnessing before me.
Fundamentally, of course, he is right… and that is why we call that view “fundamentalism”. No amount of “I’m sorry if this offends you” or “I’m happy to debate this with you” will change the fact that it is this very view, technically “correct” but in no way “right”, that has been at the heart of every religious war in the history of mankind. This is why the crusades were fought, why we endured the “troubles” in Northern Ireland – the list goes on and on.
Indeed, man’s inhumanity to man is so often justified by religious belief, the belief that we are the chosen people, and you are not, that this on its own turns many away from religion of any sort.
Now of course our young(ish) soon-to-be-minister was not suggesting we go out and slaughter the infidel! No, we need to hold them close, love them and use our best efforts to save them – but never forgetting that they are the enemy.
I wanted to stand up right there and rail against his narrow view of what I consider to be my religion, my beliefs. I wanted to remind him, and the gathered congregation, that Chistian fundamentalists are no better than fundamentalists of other cloths and creeds. And that having the ear of believers is a privilege, a privilege that gives your words power to do good and evil, more so perhaps than guns.
I realise that my beliefs are not his beliefs, and that 2 minutes into any debate I would have revealed myself as what he might consider a faux-Christian at best, at worst even an imposter.
Instead I was saved by the bell… actually by the arrival of the children from Sunday school, with a particularly rowdy grandson giving me the excuse I needed to leave the service to play outside in the tree, to reflect on why I was there at all. I come most Sundays, bringing my mother and grand-daughter, each of whom cares more about the church than I do – I come because I care for them, and because just occasionally a precious gem emerges from a sermon that resonates, supports or simply comforts me.
Am I the only one in those pews each week who does not believe that Noah actually took the animals two by two into the ark? Literally? Who knows? Who cares?
But this I do know. I could not stand by and say nothing in the face of such fundamentalism.
And no, I am not sorry if my views offend you.