Family, Fundamentalism, and the Faith


Typically, my posts lean towards the theological or philosophical, but this one has been in the making for quite some time – all my life in fact– and is of a more personal nature. Our core identities are formed through our childhood and adolescence and in Christ, they are made new. Nonetheless, those aspects of our formation have a way of sticking with us. Two aspects of my life haunt my house of faith: family and fundamentalism.


After asking a few colleagues if they’d watched the new Roseanne reboot, I received puzzled looks and faint shock that I was watching or that I enjoyed the original. Most asked me what I liked about it, and I explained that it was somewhat familiar except my family was much more dysfunctional and less loving. It is a part of my life that few are aware of, but shaped me in a significant way. My parents were alcoholics, and yelling and violence lingered much like the constant haze of cigarette smoke. To be clear, the violence was never directed at me, but it left scars nonetheless. My mom and dad met my physical needs, but emotionally I was left to fend for myself and still struggle with an inferiority complex today. Perhaps you can relate to my home life, or maybe yours was much worse. Either way, those formative years leave an impression, and I’m thankful that my relationship with my parents is much stronger today than it was then.


Through the witness of neighbors and my grandmother, my childhood and teenage years were given a certain stability in the strict religious confines of a fundamentalist church. The people were sincere, even if misguided, and the rigidity offered structure amidst my otherwise chaotic life. The nature of the fundamentalism I embraced was such that sermons against women wearing pants and contemporary Christian music were typical. Through the efforts of those earnest people I came to know and love Christ and adopted their legalistic paradigm for a time. That paradigm still hovers over me like a ghost of inadequacy and shame. I continue to find myself plagued with doubt and struggling to embrace the good news in all of its unmerited glory and I have to keep my tendency to lash out at fundamentalists too harshly in check now that my faith has matured. Despite all the flaws of fundamentalism, the love of God displayed through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ did shine through. The new wine of the gospel tastes sweet even when it bursts the old wineskins of our self-righteousness.


By God’s grace, I believe in, trust, and love Jesus Christ. I’ve had the privilege to attend seminary and participate in ministry, but none of these things is the basis for my faith. I’m a loner with a penchant for melancholy and a need to continually prove myself. The good news of Christ’s work sufficiently meeting the demands of God’s justice and his righteousness being attributed to me goes deeper than my family, fundamentalist past, or personal proclivities. It is in Christ alone that I discovered I’m not alone.

We can settle for a pristine life, or we can embrace a redeemed life. One is misleading, tidy, and attractive while the other is genuine, messy, and beautiful. God has a way of building our spiritual houses in ways we would never imagine and while my own house may be haunted, it is built upon the solid rock.

Chris Dunn
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