This is the one hundred and nineteenth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section. Let’s have some fun!
Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip produced by one Baptist (Peter Lumpkins) showing that two other Baptists (J.D. Hall and Fred Phelps) are one and the same when it comes to judging the salvation of others. Phelps says Baptist Billy Graham is headed for hell and Hall says Baptist Ergun Caner will soon split hell wide open too. Or just another day among the Baptists. Everyone knows Fred Phelps, the deceased leader of the Westboro Baptist Church cult. J.D. Hall? Hall, a Calvinistic wanker, pastors Fellowship Baptist Church in Sidney, Montana and blogs at Pulpit & Pen.
Lumpkins, Hall, Phelps, Caner, and Graham all have one thing in common: they emphatically believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God.
Lauren Drain spent her teenage years as a member of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. The Drain family moved to Topeka to join the church in 2001 and they remain members to this day. In 2007, Lauren was kicked out of the church. For a time she continued to live in Topeka. She is a nurse and now lives in Connecticut with her fiancé.
I wanted to like this book, I really did. Anyone who can escape the clutches of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church is to be commended. Throughout the book, it is evident that Lauren was mistreated and abused, and it is a wonder that she escaped with any sense of self-worth. The church and her family did their best to destroy her mentally and emotionally, yet she came through it, and she deserves a lot of praise for what she has done with her life post-Westboro.
Banished reads like a teenage girl’s diary. Page after page detail Drain’s angst over boys, make-up, dating, marriage, and the fear of going to hell. Drain spends significant time repeatedly detailing how she craved the approval of the Phelpses and how she went about trying to gain their approval. Sadly, the book became quite redundant and I found myself speed reading.
Banished does offer a first-person account of how the Phelps clan lives. However, Drain has very little negative to say about the Phelpses or the church. As one reviewer on Amazon noted, it seemed that Drain, if she could, would go back to Westboro. I doubt this is actually the case, but Drain spends little time critiquing the vile behavior and beliefs of the Westboro church family. I don’t want to be harsh in my judgment because I have not walked in her shoes, and since her family is still members of Westboro, I can easily understand her hesitation to be severely critical of the Westboro church family.
Drain was not kicked out of Westboro because of her beliefs. She still believes in the Christian God, albeit a different version of the Christian God — a kinder, gentler, loving God – than that of the Westboro Church. She still reads and studies the Bible and has come to see that there are many different ways to interpret the Bible.
In telling her story, whether intentionally or not, Drain shows that the Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church is made up of vile, nasty, vindictive people, who, due to their doctrinal beliefs, have lost the capacity to love anyone other than their own (and even then, their love is conditioned on obedience to what the church beliefs and the edicts of the pastor).
Drain reveals that the Phelps family has a few secrets of its own, such as the fact that two of Fred Phelps’ daughters became pregnant outside of wedlock. I am sure this was especially galling to Drain, since the reason she was banished is because she desired to have a relationship with a boy who was not a member of the church. That’s right — her big sin was being a normal, heterosexual teenage girl.
And this is the crux of the story. It is the story of an American teenage girl who wanted to be like other teenage girls. She wanted to have a boyfriend. She wanted to feel loved. She had wistful thoughts about getting married some day. (The only available boys in the church to marry were grandsons of Fred Phelps.) Her parents, the Phelpses, and the Westboro Baptist Church robbed her of her youth. They used and abused her and then threw her away like a piece of trash. (To this day she has no contact with her parents.)
I wish Lauren Drain well. She deserves a good life, a life with those who will love her for who she is. I hope that someday her family will be delivered from Phelps’ cult and that her relationship with them can be restored. I can only imagine the pain she must suffer from being completely cut off from her parents and siblings.
Drain gives the impression that the Westboro Baptist Church in an aberration and that most Christian churches and people are not like the Phelpses and Westboro. Unfortunately, my extensive involvement in Evangelicalism tells me this is not the case.
Westboro uses the threat of church discipline to control its members. I know of many Calvinistic Baptist churches that do the same. When I was co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, I saw church discipline routinely used to keep people in line. People who refused to obey were excommunicated. When I decided to leave the church and return to Ohio, I was excommunicated because I did not ask the church’s permission to leave. To this day, the church considers me a publican and heathen.
Drain reveals that Fred Phelps is the domineering, controlling man everyone thinks he is (as is his daughter Shirley, who rules the church with her father). As the pastor of the church, he rules the church with a rod of iron. His word is the law. Is such behavior by a pastor an aberration? Maybe in some sects, but in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church and in many other Evangelical sects, extreme pastoral authority and control is the norm.
Westboro Baptist Church is a cult. Drain refuses to say this in the book, but any cursory reading of Banished will clearly show that the Westboro Baptist Church is a cult and Fred Phelps is a cult leader. The same cult markers found in the Westboro Baptist Church can be found in countless Evangelical churches. If anything, Banished should be read by every church member in the IFB church movement. If they are able to set their cognitive dissonance aside, IFB church members should have no trouble seeing themselves in the book. As I have often said, there is little difference between many Evangelical churches and pastors on the one hand and Westboro Baptist Church and Fred Phelps on the other. The difference is one of appearance rather than substance. There is nothing in the beliefs of Fred Phelps and Westboro that can’t be found in Calvinistic churches in the IFB church movement, in the Reformed Baptist movement, the Founder’s Group in the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Sovereign Grace Baptist movement. Theologically, there is little difference between Fred Phelps and Al Martin or Al Mohler.
While I cannot give Banished a 4 star rating for the reasons mentioned above, I do think people investigating the Westboro Baptist Church or Evangelical cultism in general will find the book helpful.
Many evangelical preachers have what I call the Elijah syndrome. In First Kings chapter 18, we find the story of the prophet Elijah doing battle with the 450 false prophets of Baal. According to the Bible, Elijah decided to prove to Israel that Jehovah was the true and living God. Elijah did this by building an altar, placing a slaughtered bullock on the stone edifice, and calling fire down from heaven to consume the bullock. This all-consuming fire was so hot that it melted the altar’s rocks. According to modern science, melting rock into molten lava requires a heat of 1,000 to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Certainly, if Elijah did nothing else, he put on a good show.
After God demonstrated his power, Elijah told the people of Israel to gather up the false prophets and slaughter them. Nothing says I’m a loving God like some old-fashioned bloodshed and slaughter. When Queen Jezebel heard that Elijah and the Israelites had slaughtered Baal’s prophets, she sent a message to Elijah that said, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. Elijah, fearing for his life, ran away into the wilderness.
In First Kings chapter 19 we find Elijah camped out underneath a juniper tree. An angel appeared to Elijah and told him that he needed to eat because God had a long journey ahead for him. After eating, Elijah journeyed 40 days to Mount Horeb, the very place God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The Lord came to Elijah and asked him what he was doing at Mount Horeb (which is strange, because an angel, one of God’s celestial beings, told him to go to there). Here is what Elijah had to say:
I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
Elijah saw himself as the one remaining true prophet in the land. God reminded him in First Kings 19:18 that there were actually 7,000 prophets who had not yet bowed a knee to Baal.
Every time I think of this story I am reminded of the fact that a lot of Evangelical preachers see themselves as some sort of modern-day Elijah. And like Elijah, each thinks he is the one remaining prophet in the community standing up for God, the Bible, and Evangelical morality. Such preachers delude themselves into thinking that they alone are standing true, that they alone are preaching the right message. Some of these preachers, men such as Robert Lyte and AW Pink, think that the Christian church is so morally compromised that they can no longer in good conscience be a part of it (Susan-Anne White would another example of this, even though she doesn’t claim to be a preacher).
As readers of this blog know, the longer people steep their mind in waters of Fundamentalist belief, the more extreme they become. Over time, sin lists grow, beliefs harden, and certainty and arrogance convinces preachers that they alone are standing for God. While every community has numerous Christian churches, there are always a handful of churches that think they are above the murky waters of generic Evangelicalism. Like Elijah, they believe that they have been chosen by God to speak on his behalf to the world.
I remember thinking this of myself back when I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio. Everywhere I looked I saw churches and pastors who were not winning souls and waging war against Satan, sin, and godlessness. As the church began to grow, I convinced myself that people were attending the church because they wanted to hear a true man of God. What I understood later is that these people found me likable and enjoyed my sermons. So much for being a rugged, stand-alone prophet of God.
The next time you see a street preacher just remember he likely thinks that he is like Elijah, the lone prophet of God. After all, he is the only one standing on the street corner, right? If all the other neighboring churches and pastors really cared about America they too would be on nearby street corners preaching against sin, gun control, abortion, secularism, atheism, Barack Obama, evolution, liberalism, and any other issue deemed a moral affront to the thrice-holy God of Evangelical Christianity.
This I alone remain true to God way of thinking is what turns preachers into insufferable, arrogant, hypocritical pricks. Thinking that they have some sort of inside knowledge about God and the Bible, they are determined to share what they think they know with everyone, even if people don’t want to hear it.
Preachers like Jack Hyles and Fred Phelps did not start out as pontificating bloviators. Over time, they convinced themselves that they had been chosen uniquely by God to speak on his behalf. Once convinced of this, their pronouncements became more severe. These Elijah-like prophets of God, thinking that most churches and pastors are Biblically and morally compromised, withdrew from the larger Christian body.
Inherent to the nature of Fundamentalism is the need to separate and divide. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a good example of this. The IFB church movement was born out of rebellion against perceived liberalism in the American, Northern, and Southern Baptist conventions. Originally this separation was due to German rationalism and higher textual criticism. These days, IFB churches and pastors separate due to silly things like music, Bible translations, long hair on men, and whether women should wear pants. Recently, Bob Gray, Sr., the retired pontiff of the Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Texas wrote a blog post about the importance of being a prophet like Elijah. Here is some of the issues Gray thinks are important:(link no longer active)
In our fundamental churches, schools, and colleges we have some rules, regulations, and standards. We have rules about dating, dress, haircuts on the males, makeup on the females, hairstyles, clothing, smoking, dancing, bad music, Hollywood movies, speech, respect for authority, proper conduct, etc.
Immediately the accusations begin to come when such a stand is taken. The cry is always the same, and the charge is always the same. “Why, that is nothing but legalism with all those rules, standards, and regulations for they are nothing but promoting legalism!”
The truth of the matter is, when you associate legalism with rules, regulations and standards, people with neo-evangelical hearts who masquerade make such statements in fundamental Baptist clothing. Sometimes they are made by people who were real fundamental Baptist at one time, and yet have become weary of the battle and long to return to the onions, watermelons, leaks, cucumbers, and garlic of acceptance. Also, this cry of legalism often comes from the desks of colleges and seminaries built on fundamental foundations with walls of compromise and a leaking roof of pseudo liberty.
We have grown to desire that our truth be accredited by worldly educated error. We want a license from wrong to do right! My (sic) I remind all of us of that fundamental world we believed in and practiced before we had teenagers, home-schoolers, liberal fundamental colleges, Bill Gothard, Oral Roberts University, Benny Hinn, his girlfriend Evangelist Paula White, amusement parks, and before Jerry Falwell slid down a charismatic water slide!
…. This generation must not listen to the prophets of compromise who are silently bridging fundamentalism to a liberal Southern Baptist Convention in order to garner the crowds. No one is legalistic who insists on standards. When someone adds anything to salvation, other than the shed and applied blood of Jesus Christ, is by definition a legalist.
When you conveniently compromise you are not only betraying Billy Sunday, Sam Jones, Bob Jones Sr., Mordecai Ham, John Wesley, John R. Rice, Curtis Hutson, Lester Roloff, Lee Roberson, Tom Malone, and Jack Hyles, but you are betraying your own standards of just a few years back.
If we cannot have our padded pews with hell-fire and brimstone preaching, then let us go back to the sawdust trail and the store front buildings while sitting on wooden benches.
If we cannot have organs with trained choirs without the seven-fold Amens and the crusty anthems, then let us go back to the “pie-anar” and tuning fork.
If we cannot have a marriage of proper grammar and the mourner’s bench with preaching on Hell, Heaven, the rapture, the second coming, and separation, then let us go back to split infinitives, dangling participles, and hung gerunds.
If tiled restrooms and chandeliers are not conducive to the old-time religion, then let us mark off a path and build an outhouse. Let us screw a 60-watt light bulb in it and order a Sears & Roebuck catalogue for the outhouse and get right with God.
If we have to include Kierkegaard, Brunner, and Niebuhr in our required reading in order to be intellectual theologically, then let us go back to the Blue-black Speller, the ABC’s, the alphabet, and the simple preaching of thus saith the Lord God! We have listened too much to psychologists in the pulpit and not enough to leather lunged Baptist preachers. We have listened too much to philosophers and not enough to old-fashioned prophets of God. We have listened too much to so-called Christian TV and radio and not enough to men of God.
…. Legalism is not a godly mother who insists that her daughter dress modestly. Legalism is not parents enrolling their children in a Christian school that believes as they do about separation from the world. Legalism is not a dedicated aged godly dad who takes his son to the barbershop instead of a beauty shop every two weeks.
Legalism is not a faithful youth director who insists his teenagers dress appropriately. Legalism is not a hard working pastor who insists that his Sunday school teachers not smoke, not drink alcohol, no tobacco use, no movies, they visit absentees, and go soul winning.
Legalism is not the careful godly educator who forbids his students to dance or listen to bad music. Legalism is not the man of God who cries aloud against mixed swimming, in essence mixed nudity, against vampire lipstick promoting drugs, and young males with their Billy Idol bleached porky pine spiked chili bowl hair do! Right has not changed and wrong has not changed just because you enter into a different century. Black is still black and white is still white. Good is still good and bad is still bad. Legalism is not the faithful man of God who cries aloud against sin.
…. Most of the Scriptures are about rules on how Christians ought to live! I challenge you to take Genesis and try to show unsaved people how to be saved or redeemed from going to Hell. Now you will find types of salvation, but you will have a tough time finding the plan of salvation in Genesis.
…. Liquor, dope, elicit (sic) sex, Hollywood, cigarettes, bad music, etc., enslaves and is addictive. God’s do’s and don’ts builds walls of protection for his people!
The good news is this: the IFB church movement is dying on the vine. Their churches and institutions are but a shell of what they once were. Instead of taking a hard look at why IFB churches are dying and young adults are fleeing to the friendlier confines of “worldly” Evangelical churches, preachers like Gray, Sr. double down on legalistic standards and rules. Instead of considering whether their controlling, abusive behavior is to blame, these Elijah-like preachers blame those who rejected their moralizing and checklist Christianity. Gray, Sr. will go to the grave believing that if people would just follow the rules about “dating, dress, haircuts on the males, makeup on the females, hairstyles, clothing, smoking, dancing, bad music, Hollywood movies, speech, respect for authority, and proper conduct,” the shekinah glory (glory of God) would fall from heaven and all would be well.
Do you have an Elijah-like preacher where you live? Is there a preacher in your town who thinks he uniquely speaks for God? Perhaps you once attended a church that was pastored by a man who thought he was special or unique. If so, please share your observations in the comment section.
Most Evangelicals are polite, kind, decent people. Most Evangelicals are nothing like hate mongers Bryan Fischer, Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, or the local street preacher. Most Evangelicals try to get along with others and do their best to integrate into society. When I go to the store to shop, buy groceries, get my car repaired, etc. I know that the most of the people waiting on me are Christian. And here in God’s country, most of them are Evangelical.
But, here’s the thing. Behind the polite, kind, decent, loving faces are hateful, judgmental beliefs. As I stated awhile back, there is little difference between the beliefs of the late Fred Phelps and Baptist seminary president and preacher Al Mohler. The beliefs of the Phelps clan and Westboro Baptist Church are not much different from the beliefs of the Duggars. Some may smile and be polite and others might angrily scream, but both believe that every non-Christian who dies will go to hell and be tortured by God for eternity. I recently wrote about this in a post titled What Kind of Christian Are You?
The fight over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has pulled back the curtain on the Polite Right.
Beltway-centric but not moderate, these cautious spokesmen for civility do not practice your drunk uncle’s bigotry. They endorse a more soft-spoken and socially acceptable kind of prejudice. This prejudice comes clothed in talk of tolerance and piety, appeals to fairness and freedom.
They talk about faith and religious rights but what defenders of the pre-“fix” RFRA really wanted was the privilege of condoning bigotry without actually being associated with it. It’s more than a rhetorical sleight of hand to turn denial of service into an “infringement upon religious practice.” It’s Solomon sawing Lady Justice in half. Such an argument insists that theologically-condoned discrimination is somehow less hurtful than the normal, not-God-approved form. “You can still get married!” and “You can continue to deny service to those you see as morally unfit!” do not cancel each other out.
It’s easy to mock the idea of “Big Gay” (what a size queen!), but Fischer’s logic is the perfect mirror to the argument of the law’s critics. All you have to do is scale down the hyperbole, and read “full civil rights” where Fischer fears “gay rule.” Indiana’s RFRAwasintended to hamper the progress of “Big Gay and the Homosexual Supremacy” (my favorite Motown band). If the original RFRA had been implemented, the civil rights for LGTB individuals would have been diminished…
…The Polite Right wants nothing to do with Fischer. When I drew attention to his Twitter timeline, the proudly reasonable conservatives that populate the Acela Corridor were offended. They demanded that I acknowledge that Fischer is not representative of all conservatives, or even all defenders of the law—and that’s true, in the sense that Polite Right would never sully themselves with such obvious homophobia…
…But while it’s Bryan Fischer’s rhetoric that makes him so amusingly offensive, it’s his logicand his goals that demand an answer from those who are aligned with him as far as the RFRA goes. In other words: I believe my friends on the Polite Right when they say they don’t hate gay people; but when it comes to the RFRA, I am not convinced that emotional or theological context is less important than acts of discrimination itself.
Put another way: Two different Christian bakery owners both refuse to bake a cake for two different gay weddings. One bakery owner says that’s because he believes gay people are sinful sodomites that regularly recruit and molest children. The other says she loves and respects gay people but “just can’t participate in a ceremony that goes against my faith.” The Indiana RFRA was written to protect both bakers, not just the nice one.
Of course, both sides of the debate have their drunk uncles. On the left, it was a bunch of randy Yelpers and rageful Twitterers that embarrassed the more selectively outraged RFRA critics. The Memories Pizza owners turned out to be the nice, presentable sort of discriminators, and some of their online critics went overboard in expressing their upset…
…I’m proud to live in a society where being accused of bigotry is itself offensive. I like it that decent people don’t want to be associated with obvious homophobes. But the polite solution to an association with an obvious homophobe isn’t to simply deny the relationship—it’s to ask yourself what you have in common.
The problem is that Bryan Fischer and the Polite Right want the same thing, for the same reasons, even if they use very different language to make their case. They’re activist allies, joined at the hip whether they like it or not. You might even say they’re married.
Let’s not pretend that smiling, polite Evangelicals don’t have reprehensible beliefs. Behind their façade are beliefs that promote hate, bigotry, and discrimination. But, Bruce I am an Evangelical and I support the gay community in their quest for equal protection under the law. I think global warming is real, hell is a myth, and I hate how many of my fellow Evangelicals behave. Fine, let me ask you this: why do you remain in the Evangelical church? Why do you continue to support beliefs and practices you object to? Perhaps it is time for you to exit stage left and move on to religious confines where love, equality, and respect for all are the rule. Are we not judged by those we keep company with? Silence is consent. If you truly love others and desire equality for all, how can you remain silent or support sects, churches, and pastors who preach hate, bigotry, and discrimination?