We became fundamentalists in 1958 when I was 7, and I ate it up! We joined a Freewill Baptist Church and I was with those churches until 1970. However, I did not absorb fundamentalism only from FWB churches; my strongest influences were from the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) movement which was even more fundamentalist than the FWB churches.
We subscribed to John R. Rice’s influential paper The Sword of the Lord, which I read devotedly. I also read many of John Rice’s booklets, including Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers. In addition, I read articles and books by other IFB leaders such as Bob Jones, Jack Hyles, and Oliver Greene. I listened to Lester Roloff on the radio. Other fundamentalist influences were Carl McIntire and the Moody radio station. I was pretty much saturated with fundamentalism.
Characteristics of Fundamentalism in the 1960s
Like evangelicals, fundamentalists subscribed to the five fundamentals. The lists varied but generally included: inerrancy of the Bible, virgin birth of Jesus, deity of Jesus, substitutionary atonement, and Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Sometimes ‘the miracles of Jesus’ or the ‘future return of Jesus’ substituted for an item.
Other characteristics of fundamentalism were intense legalism, rejection of evolution, and separation from the world. After losing the battle in the 1920s against evolution and critical biblical scholarship in most denominations and in public, fundamentalists withdrew to their own groups and refused to dialog with other believers. One strong aspect of fundamentalism was their strong negative tone; they constantly lambasted just about everybody—Bible scholars, believers who refused to embrace fundamentalism, those who taught evolution, and the world in general.
Some other emphases among fundamentalist were that women could not teach men, a high regard for the King James Version (we considered it the only legitimate translation), and a strong focus on the rapture and dispensational end-time theology. Does this sound like a bad situation? It was! But in more recent years fundamentalism has become much, much worse.
Fundamentalists Develop Further Isolation and More Extreme Beliefs and Practices
When I left fundamentalism in 1970, new forces were beginning to arise but had not yet become very influential. In fact, as a fundamentalist I was not aware of them at all. Here are some trends.
My father was a Free Will Baptist preacher and believed women could not be preachers. He also had a strong sense of his responsibility as head of the house; when I left the Free Will Baptist Church for another church, he seriously considered leaving the ministry because he was no longer qualified according to 1 Timothy 3:
A bishop then must be…One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity. [KJV]
In today’s fundamentalism, patriarchy has grown much stronger with each man (not just ministers) being responsible for his family’s spiritual well-being. Wives are totally submissive to their male covering (husband, father, brother, or other male representative) and have access to God only through a male covering.
Not only can women not preach—they cannot instruct a man AT ALL. But they are responsible for their children’s’ spirituality, under the cover of their husband or other male covering.
When I was growing up, my parents believed in spanking with leather belts or switches as punishment. Among fundamentalists today, biblical child-rearing books go well beyond that level of punishment. In fact, the goal is no longer simply punishment but breaking the will of young children. The idea is that infants are born depraved and sinful and must be broken. Many normal age-appropriate behaviors, such as crying in infants, are seen as rebellion against God; and the parents’ responsibility is to break them.
Recommended tools include wooden paddles and rods. And the required response from the child must be instant and total capitulation to the parent—without question. If necessary, the parent should sit on the child to hold them down while being punished.
Purity, Shame, and Rape Culture
Our fundamentalist parents expected young people to not have sex or to touch each other inappropriately before marriage. But we did socialize, date, and go through normal development of relationships. Many of today’s fundamentalist do not ‘date’ at all. They don’t even kiss until their wedding. There is a lot of emphasis on not giving away parts of one’s heart, which is considered defrauding one’s eventual spouse.
Another aspect of this culture is that males are considered not in control of their sexual urges, so if a girl is molested or raped much of the fault falls to her for not being careful enough to avoid arousing the attacker’s urges. In fact this, combined with patriarchy and church procedure, creates a lot of opportunity for the rape of women and children in which the perpetrators are defended and victims are ostracized from the church; this is a wide-spread problem.
Homeschooling and Isolation
Separation was a big issue for fundamentalists in the 1960s—separation from the world and from compromised believers. Sometimes it became quite extreme; Bob Jones instituted 3 degrees of separation from other Christians.
But because of homeschooling, today’s fundamentalism is even more isolated than ever. Fundamentalist homeschooling avoids ‘evil’ public education altogether. The curriculum is often inferior, definitely opposes evolution, and is filled with fundamentalist indoctrination. The teaching is only as good as the abilities of the parent-teachers, and many home-schooled children have significant difficulty if they continue to college or university.
These are just some of the harmful developments in today’s fundamentalism. We will discuss them, and others, in more detail in upcoming posts; but, if you wish, you can read more about them now at our Resources on Today’s Extreme Fundamentalism page.
Articles in this series: Today’s Extreme Fundamentalism
My Fundamentalism of the 1960s Has Changed for the Worse—Considerably Worse Patriarchy, Bill Gothard, and the Umbrella of Protection
An Overview of Bill Gothard’s Role in Today’s Cultish Fundamentalism
Resources on Today’s Extreme Fundamentalism
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