Why would I worry about losing fundamentalist friends? Why would anyone wish to maintain friendships with people who will in all likelihood throw theological boulders at one, were one to stammer any sort of objection to the theology of these people?
Perhaps it seems obvious that such people aren’t friends after all, and I’d be far better off without them.
But nothing is as it appears through the ‘obvious’ lens.
I have two important reasons to desire a continuing friendship with my not-so-understanding friends.
1. We are fellow travelers.
I have spent almost two decades with these people. We have laughed together, cried together, grown and fallen together. I have watched their children grow up, have taught some of them, have shared in their triumphs. Regardless mistaken doctrinal positions, these people are not one-dimensional caricatures, not something one finds in the panels of political cartoons.
These people believe what they do because they have been taught their whole lives (most of them) that this is the truth of God. And certainly such is the popular belief about Christianity, forcefully propagated in American society today. If one’s a Christian, then one must be a fundamentalist—consider what one sees on “Christian” TV, on “Christian” radio, in “Christian” bookstores, in “Christian” music and videos. Notice how fundamentalism has not only taken, but been allowed to take the name of ‘traditional family values’ and has conquered the US mindset so thoroughly that the Republican party bows to its demands. These people aren’t evil, but just as taken in as much of the rest of the US about what it means to be a Christian. They’re mistaken, but it’s hard to blame them for accepting the only message they’ve heard as the truth.
I’m not talking about worrying about what the leaders in the fundamentalist movement think of me. No doubt there. I’m talking about my fellow travelers, those who, like me, deeply love Jesus, and have found themselves in a tradition that says to love Jesus translates in a very specific pathway, marked by very specific milestones and credos. I don’t blame them for their mistaken beliefs, for if I do, then how am I any better than the fundamentalism I reject?
These precious souls are confused, well-meaning, loving people, who have been taught that love cashes out in a certain way. I cannot blame them without hypocrisy for doing their very best to live congruently with their beliefs. I can only pray that they will find, like I have, that their beliefs are themselves inconsistent.
2. We are family.
On two levels. As fellow Christians, we are all family. As human beings, we are all family. Consider my immediate family as analogue. My mother and sister will never accept me as gay. My sister will in all likelihood revel in her new status as the ‘good’ daughter, as the best little Christian in our generation. But even so, even though I will be the stuff of rumors, I want my sister and mom to accept me. I want the relationship to be healthy and compassionate. I don’t expect it, but I still desire it.
It’s because I love my family that I want to maintain close ties. In the same way, I love my Christian family—no matter how judgmental or misled or confused they might be at any given time—and I wish to maintain friendships. I wish this because of love. And I wish this because I hope for them a growth in God that I am currently experiencing. Like they often say in churchy circles—God loves you just as you are, only he loves you so much he doesn’t want to leave you that way. So too, I love my churchy friends. And I want them to learn to love more fully. I want to maintain friendships with them because I believe they are capable of more. And because of my long relationships with them as co-traveler and family, I know them to be complex, beautiful souls, even in their doctrinal slumber.