A Fall Into and Rise Out of Fundamentalism

Hi, my name is Joshua. Most people I know call me Josh. I’m from rural east-central Alabama…right on the Alabama-Georgia state line. Just a ways off from the banks of the Chattahoochee River. I used to be fundamentalist, of the independent Baptist variety, but not always. Another detail about me that’s pertinent to my story is that I have cystic fibrosis(hereafter referred to as CF.) You can find me on Twitter to learn more, or just Google it, whichever you’re more comfortable with. Go ahead and open up another tab on your browser and read up a little, I’ll wait.

Good! You’re back! Now, we can continue. I was born into a Baptist preacher’s home…a pastor’s kid. Independent Baptist, but not IFB…we’ll say fundy-lite. I was diagnosed with CF at 3 months(I know this is supposed to be about how I became a fundamentalist and left, but I have to set the stage, it becomes a much larger part of the story.) Not much important to my story happened until the years between the age of 2 and 10, when my dad pastored a Southern Baptist church, which is where most of everything I learned early about Christianity came from.

Why age 10? That’s when my dad stepped down as pastor there. Over the next couple of years, we bounced around, my dad filling in at various places. He finally accepted a pastorate at a “backwoods Baptist” church where we actually knew most of the people.

When it was time for me to start high school, my parents decided to enroll me in a private Christian school near home…it was associated(run) by a church that my dad knew some people in. You guessed it, it was fundy. Anyway, after being a student there for about a year, my dad stepped down from that pastorate for reasons that are private. So, after 14 years of being a pastor’s kid, I was no longer.

I want to hit, “pause,” here and mention that for the first 14/15 years of my life, I was in about as good of shape as a CF patient can be. In 14 years, I was hospitalized once for tonsillitis…no directly CF-related hospitalizations, which is somewhat of a rarity. When I started the fundy school, I started being admitted to the hospital 2 to 3 times a year for chest infections, one of which was so bad that it caused me to have pneumonia. This was over a 5-year period(I had to repeat a “grade” because I missed so much school. They tried everything they could to keep me falling back, but it didn’t work. I’ll give them that much.) in which I lost roughly 40% of my lung function. I later found out the cause. The basement of the church is where the school was, and there was mold EVERYWHERE from frequent flooding. I found this out when it was gutted for remodeling after a new school building was built.

I’ll rewind a bit here. After my dad stepped down, we just quit going to church for the most part. When I started driving, I went to the church we had been at because the music there was bluegrassy, I played mandolin, and I loved all that stuff at the time. After hearing a fundy preacher at New Year “watch night” service, I “surrendered to preach”. I stayed there for a while under a fundy pastor that took over, but left after a while because there was a lot of fighting between people. I talked to the pastor about leaving and he said he didn’t blame me and said there were no hard feelings between the two of us, so off I went. It was 34 miles doorstep to doorstep with gas at $4 a gallon and me in a little pickup that got maybe 20 to the gallon. It just wasn’t working out.

I landed briefly at a church that fellowshipped with the church of the fundy school I attended. Mostly because I was a teenage boy and the pastor had a teenage daughter… I kept going for a while, but something felt…off, so to the church that ran my school I went. Things went “great” for a while, I was fully immersed in everything about it. I was totally sold-out and all too glad to make a fool of myself “preaching”…shouting, screaming, hollering, pounding pulpits, jumping on pews, running laps, all that stuff. Didn’t care about my health…I was all too glad to wreck my health for the sake of the “Gospel”.

I made friends with an evangelist in the church(there were like 20 preachers at this place…) that went with his family to sing and preach at wherever they were invited, IFB or not. I’d go with him to some places, partly because he had a daughter (I know…shameless on my part) partly because I was friends with his son (our friendship not related to his sister) and partly because it opened doors for me to “preach” in places. I figured I’d take some initiative and get out there and “get my name out there”.

None of this sat well with the mannogawd(sorry, I just can’t take the guy seriously, so here we are). He called that man into his office and said they were members at that church and didn’t need to be going to non-IFB places and needed to stop taking me with him. He later called me aside and said that I was a member of that church and that I needed to be at that church. I’m not the overly-confrontational type, so I backed down and went a long with it…

A tent meeting came up and a guy “preached” about something called “pastoral authority”. He and my pastor basically ran off my evangelist friend and his family. I lost those friends for a while. I found out shortly thereafter that his daughter took a job as a pianist/organist at the local First Christian Church, and her then-boyfriend, brother, and another friend has a little singing group that would sing wherever they were invited…IFB or not. The mannogawd hated that, said she might as well have been playing in a bar.

Fast forward to me being a sold-out IFB “preacher boy”. I’ll be honest, I hated that term…I hated it even more as I hit my 20s. I’d admittedly “lost ground” with some because I had a girlfriend for a time and we broke up and things were said about what went on, truth or not, I couldn’t be bothered.

I went on, people from our church heard about a church nearby that had been “in revival” for a month and 100+ had “been saved”. I got caught up in the emotionalism, went down to the altar and “got right”. After that, things were different, I focused more on ministering to helping, trying to have empathy, being understanding and helpful. I focused less on screaming things out of context. My leash was lengthened a bit, and I began going to other IFB churches “preaching”. Things were going ok, but I soon became disillusioned. I started realizing that what I’d been told, taught, and was saying and doing flew in the face of what I’d learned as a kid. I kept going, because it kept me busy and I was getting a little money here and there… But I started to not care if what I said or did to help and encourage people led them away from the IFBs. I didn’t care if there were things I said that flew in the face of their doctrine.

In 2012, I had my first big scare with coughing up blood. I spent a week in ICU, I had two surgeries, I spent a week in a regular room. I had a crisis of faith in which I experienced so much more grace in spite of anger than I thought was possible. I came out of that hospital renewed, ready to double-down on what I was doing.

The next year, I went to Arkansas for a camp-meeting, and there, as a 23 year old, single, “preacher-boy”, I was given the floor for a half hour in an evening service. I very surprised. I’d normally been relegated to 5 minute(if that) “popcorn preaching” at these kind of things. I’d maybe get to sing, but usually not. I’d go and get invitations for “youth Sundays” and other events centered around the youth. But this night, I had “my chance”. I got up and spoke about the grace I experienced in the ICU when I told God I was done and ready to die, but I was shown so much grace and was renewed to keep going… I laid it all out to them. I finished and took my seat. Afterwards, a lady came up to me and with tears in her eyes told me how much what I said meant to her because she had recently lost her son in an auto accident and that she had the same feelings of wanting to give up that I did. That she was angry with God and me talking about my experience in some way helped her. I found out later that night that the leadership of the church had “marked” her. She wasn’t part of “them”. She wasn’t spiritual enough or something… I don’t know. That night, I knew I wasn’t long for the IFBs. The fact that this lady who had been through so much only to be marginalized made me angry, but I was too scared to speak up…

I ended up going back out there for a wedding, I was even the best man. I found out in my stay that the people I was with weren’t who I thought them to be. They were the kind I refused to believed existed…even if I villainized other “camps”, I refused to call IFBs a cult, but I began to wake up. I began to slowly withdraw myself. They moved to Alabama eventually and joined the church I was at. It was my indication that it was time to go.

Before that, however, in early 2014, I was called into my pastor’s office. I had become very disillusioned by this point, I had started to run the audio on Sundays and Wednesdays when the normal guy couldn’t, and just played on my phone the whole time. I didn’t care anymore, I was sick of it all. During “handshake time” one night, I was dismissed because I talked to someone as they came in while the choir was singing. Strike one. When I was called into his office, I was greeted with, “Brother Josh, you’re a good preacher, but I can’t stand to hear you preach.” I was FLOORED. He went on to tell me how he hadn’t seen my name on tithing envelopes for months. They had boxes in the back where offerings were dropped. I had quit putting my name on envelopes, just dropping cash in bare. I felt better about giving anonymously. However, they were trying to build a new auditorium and were running short on funds, so giving money became more important than Jesus. So, I was called into the office and reprimanded for not giving while calling myself a preacher. Strike two.

He then went on about how I didn’t go on visitation anymore(early Saturday morning…who in God’s name wants to hear knocking on their door at 9AM Saturday morning? Not I.) how I quit coming to preachers’ meetings(monthly meetings in which we were basically told how to do…everything basically. We had to be just like our dear leaders). This “man” even had the gall to insinuate that I was using my CF to get out doing things around the church(Told you it’d become relevant.). WHAT?! Did you forget the night I spewed blood all over the mens room and stayed late to clean it up? Did you forget when I helped you spread moldy hay and ended up spending weeks in he hospital as a result without so much as a phone call from you?! An excuse?!

To this day, I believe God diverted my attention away from what he said so that I didn’t “dog cuss” him right then and there. It glanced by me and didn’t sink in until several days later. Strike three and I’m out. I was now only at an IFB church to take their money by preaching in their churches and going behind their backs telling people they’d be better served somewhere else because they were being lied to. It didn’t take long before I gave up on that and just quit going entirely.

That evangelist friend of mine from earlier called a few weeks later to see how I was because he’d heard I had “played out”. My former pastor told him that when they performed a funeral service together. I told him I left because I didn’t believe their doctrine anymore. He told me he was pastor of an SBC church nearby now and invited me to visit if I wanted to. I decided a few weeks later to go. I’m still their lead guitarist. I very rarely do any speaking anymore. I just sing and play my guitar. I’m happy and content doing that. I love the freedom I’m provided in doing that. I can go and do that wherever without needing any permission. A lot of places wouldn’t have me as a regular musician because my playing is so unrefined and soaked in blues. It doesn’t have the, “shine” that Christian music in churches have now.

I did three years of fundy “college”, all it did was make me realize I was wasting my time.

In short, I left the IFBs because I realized they’re full of crap, and leadership thought I was using my disease as an excuse, so I got pissed off and left.

My parents lament sending me to that school…mostly because of what it ended up doing to my physical health. They don’t agree with a lot of the doctrines of that church, and honestly…I don’t know what they believe anymore. They haven’t regularly attended in years, and its rarely brought up. I leave it be. My mom knows what was said, and wants to wring the guy’s neck. My dad doesn’t…just decided not to tell him.

There’s a lot of things in my story that I missed, and it’s very scattered, but that’s the gist of what happened. There’s a lot more I could say, but that about covers the “church-side” of things.

As for what I believe now? Christ loves me. Still trying to unlearn bad, abusive theology and learn the true stuff…

So many things have happened as a result of all of this, but this is the basic background of where I come from.

Thanks for reading, maybe I’ll have something else to share soon.

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3 thoughts on “A Fall Into and Rise Out of Fundamentalism

  1. This is a really amazing intersection of fundamentalism and life threatening illness, in the sense it shows how the IFB machine just chews up and spits folks out. You can either fit in, suck it up, and have your struggle appropriated for the group as “evidence of the great power of God on this church”, or you’ll get left behind, and maybe called a quitter for it (using your CF as an excuse to not serve God??). Really shows how sometimes the danger of spiritual abuse is very much physical. Wow. We’re glad you’re still with us after all that. One day, Lord willing, you’re getting a hug.

    Liked by 2 people

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