Quaker Universalist Conversations

A Quaker Response to Christian Fundamentalism

Sallie B. King, Professor of Philosophy and Religion at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, is the author of many books and articles on Buddhism, Quakerism, interfaith dialogue, and the cross-cultural philosophy of religion. This is the introduction to a pamphlet she wrote for QUF that can be downloaded for free at universalistfriends.org.

Many Friends are unprepared to meet the challenges of Christian fundamentalism. When acquaintances, co-workers or neighbors accost us, insisting upon certain conservative or fundamentalist theological views, many Friends find themselves tongue-tied and do not know what to think or say. Instruction in Friends’ beliefs, history and practices, instruction even in the Bible, while necessary, may not be enough. Some of us need to directly talk and think about the challenges we frequently receive from our Christian fundamentalist peers. It is to meet this challenge that I have written this pamphlet.

The objective of this pamphlet is to help Friends understand Christian fundamentalism and our differences from it, so that they will not be intimidated, overpowered or confused in their interactions with their Christian fundamentalist peers. The goal is not to enable Friends to argue better with fundamentalists, but to understand their own religious tradition better and to understand better what they think in response to the challenge of Christian fundamentalism. While they are likely to find many points of difference from their fundamentalist peers, they may also find some points at which they may be able to build bridges of understanding. Examining these issues is, in fact, a very good way to understand more deeply what our Quaker beliefs and practices are all about.

This pamphlet is a response specifically to Christian fundamentalism. By fundamentalism I do not mean the many other kinds of Christian conservatism or evangelism, and I certainly do not mean mainstream Christianity. I mean the kind of fundamentalism popularized by such televangelists as Jerry Falwell. I have in mind the set of views that includes biblical inerrancy and literalism, salvation through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus, strong emphasis on human sinfulness, and strict Christian exclusivism.

There are, of course, many Quaker responses to Christian fundamentalism. This pamphlet could not possibly represent all Friends’ thinking and does not pretend to. It is written from the perspective of one Friend within the varied landscape of contemporary, liberal Quakerism. It is informed by my own, unique experience as a Friend, my reading of Friends’ materials both historical and contemporary, input from other Friends, and my academic training as a scholar of religion. On the fundamentalist side, it is informed by my interactions with fundamentalist students at the university where I teach and by my exposure to fundamentalist radio and publications.

I believe that one source of some contemporary Friends’ feelings of being at a disadvantage in discussions with fundamentalist peers is our Quaker avoidance of doctrine. We generally feel that religious truths cannot be put into words very successfully. While I highly esteem this attitude and the reasons for it in Quaker spirituality, it can make some of us rather tongue-tied when faced with fundamentalist peers who know exactly what they think and can put it into a few, clear words, delivered with a great deal of passion. However, I have come to the conclusion that we Friends actually are in a particularly strong position to understand what we think about fundamentalism and how we differ from it because of our emphasis on the Light Within. Once we bring this idea to bear on the matter, what seems at first to be a complicated subject becomes simple and straightforward.

To read more, go to http://universalistfriends.org/quf2009.html

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