A Godless Fundamentalist: Chapter Seven – Fired by the Bill Rice Ranch

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Jim's picture

The BRR experience: there's a lot about "cultural Christianity" there:

  • Going to any movie is rebellion 
  • The CK shirt 
  • The wallet chain
  • The Doc Martens shoes

As an aside, I've never viewed going to a decent movie, wearing CK shirts or Doc Martens as anti-Christian or worldly. Just a choice. A couple of big movies in '94 were Forrest Gump, Mask, and Clear and Present Danger (saw 'em all that year)

So the fundy-powers-that-were sought to all young adults conform to external cultural standards.

John viewed "rebellion" as dressing differently.

Other observation is that Dennis could so easily "fake" spiritually by conforming to external standards.

Many lessons!

Jim's picture

  • Doc Martens are shoes ... a bit expensive. Heard they are comfortable. Have NOTHING to do with spirituality!
  • A CK shirt is just a shirt - Ditto
  • Having a wallet on a chain is OK - Ditto

Fundy's should quit trying to press every kid into a mold. It's ok to be individualistic

 

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Maybe I'm unaware, but are wallets on a chain supposed to be an indication of rebelliousness?  I've always just thought the person who has one simply had it as an extra precaution to keep from losing their wallet.  (I see farmers with them, truck drivers, etc.)

Ron Bean's picture

As I've read this series I've been convicted of my insensitivity and inability to discern the true spiritual condition of the young people I ministered to when I was a CDS teacher/administrator. The general tendency was to be thankful for and even promote those who conformed to the rules and to weed out the rebel tares. Along with John, I thank God for those who tried to reach him.

As to cultural standards that disn't make sense: Imagine a CDS teacher being confronted by the head of the school for letting her kids sing Frosty the Snowman at Christmas time. Or the music teacher who was accused of promoting witchcraft for teaching his choir " Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" from Disney's Cinderella. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Larry Nelson's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

As to cultural standards that disn't make sense: Imagine a CDS teacher being confronted by the head of the school for letting her kids sing Frosty the Snowman at Christmas time. Or the music teacher who was accused of promoting witchcraft for teaching his choir " Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" from Disney's Cinderella. 

1. The school's band teacher had the band practice a special piece of music for a school "pep rally" (if you will; I don't remember exactly what it was called).   Well, in marched the band playing a rousing version of the Hogan's Heroes March (the theme music from the television show).  Complaints ensued, from various parents and others.  Apparently it was unacceptable to use any type or style of music associated with a television program.....

2. During my senior year, in our English Literature class, one of the selections we read was Macbeth.  It so happened that the local Guthrie Theater [ https://www.guthrietheater.org/ ], a regional theater of considerable renown, had Macbeth on its schedule that year.  Our teacher (side note: a BJU graduate) wanted to take the class on a field trip to a weekday matinee performance, an idea which excited the class.  Nope!  Nada!  Forbidden!  I recall someone in the church sharply intoning, "You can't take the children to a theater!"  So we could read & discuss the Shakespearean classic in class, but not see a professional, live production of it.  (That still makes no sense to me.)

TylerR's picture

Editor

I am very, very, very glad I go to a church in the Pacific NorthWest that has no history of fundamentalist self-identity. It's much healthier than any other church I've ever been at.

  • I once faced a church revolt because I wanted to have the kids fund-raise so they could afford to go to summer camp.
  • I was also once told (at another church) that I had to return 100 new copies of The Case for Christ, because Strobel had ties to Willow Creek and, thus, we would be partaking in his sin if we distributed the books at a teen apologetics mini-conference I organized.

So glad to be free of that bizarre sub-culture.

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Or rather--you may be surprised--not about the rules at all.  The way I'm reading John's columns, it strikes me that the worst thing about "the rules" is not the rules, but rather that the time spent in enforcing them is time not spent actually reaching those subject to them.  I could be wrong, but the thing that screams to me from those pages is "as long as the external appearances looked good, everybody thought that things were fine."  

Not that there isn't a very real harm in rules for the sake of rules, as other comments indicate.  They can, when wrongly used, separate people from sound thinking and the love of God.  But that noted, I think the bigger thing than what IS being done with the rules is the question of what can NOT be done when attention is focused on rules.

PS.  Larry, your band should have played "Liberty Bell" instead. (the Sousa march used as the Monty Python theme)  Would a rebellious tuba player have done the requisite "blatt" at the end to give the game away?

PPS.  I think there has to be a nice medium between not seeing Shakespeare at all, and my high school showing the 1968 Zeffirelli "Romeo and Juliet".  Excellent movie for the most part, but high school freshmen tend to forget all that after seeing one scene. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

SarahN's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

As I've read this series I've been convicted of my insensitivity and inability to discern the true spiritual condition of the young people I ministered to when I was a CDS teacher/administrator. The general tendency was to be thankful for and even promote those who conformed to the rules and to weed out the rebel tares. Along with John, I thank God for those who tried to reach him.

As a middle school teacher at a Christian school, I have been following this series closely. Thank you, John, for sharing your experiences, and thank you, Ron, for this comment that condenses my thoughts as I've read. I passed on the link to the series to my administrator this afternoon. I appreciate the spirit of the writing, and I have needed the nudge to examine how and why I do what I do as a teacher. Again, thank you!

JD Miller's picture

Larry wrote

Maybe I'm unaware, but are wallets on a chain supposed to be an indication of rebelliousness?  I've always just thought the person who has one simply had it as an extra precaution to keep from losing their wallet.  (I see farmers with them, truck drivers, etc.)

I am close to John's age- just a few years older- and did not become a fundamentalist until I was in my mid 20's and then I went to historic rather than extreme fundamentalism where I remain today.  Thus in 1994, I was wearing cowboy boots (still am) instead of Doc Martins, and was listening to Jeff Foxworthy say, "if both your dog and your wallet are on a chain, you might be a redneck."  I'm guessing John would have been forbidden from listening to Foxworthy as well.  Of course Foxworthy was more part of the country music scene than the grunge.  I actually heard that cowboy boots were taboo in some parts of fundamentalism, but I never had a problem in either Bible College or seminary classes when I wore them (I went to Bible College after becoming a fundamentalist).  Perhaps that was partly due to the strain of fundamentalism that I was in.

Bert Perry's picture

Larry, I think wallet chains were proscribed, along with Doc Martens boots, because of connections with skateboarding in the 1990s.  They reminded people of rebelliousness.  And, to be sure, a fair number of skateboarders were, which would be why we would condemn John, who has not to my knowledge fessed up to being a "skate punk." Or something like that. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

I forgot denim!!!! In 1976 I accepted my first teaching position at a CDS we were taught by the pastor/founder that denim was wordly. No blue jeans, denim skirts, or materials that resembled denim were allowed. As a new Christian I took that conviction with me when I went to seminary and then into the pastorate. 18 years later I returned to the same CDS as an administrator and was shocked to see the same pastor mowing his lawn in blue jeans!!

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

John E.'s picture

Sarah N, thank you for your kind words. And thank you for being willing to do the hard work of pouring your life into an age group that has many challenges. I pray that God will be pleased to bless your efforts for His glory and that you will be encouraged as you see the fruit of your labors. 

Larry, Bert, and JD Miller, during my time in a CDS, BRR, and BJU there were distinct identity groups based, in large part, by the clothes and overall appearance. My CDS had uniforms, but even with those constraints we managed to create differences among the student body. At BJU, there were several chapels, dorm meetings, lectures in class, etc. that made it known that the school was not pleased with the small (yet growing) segment of the student body that dressed "grunge." There were a variety of responses from the authority figures over things like Dr. Martens, wallet chains, mismatched ties/shirts, and other ways in which were able to identity with grunge while still managing to stay within the rules. 

Things like wallet chains were interpreted based on the overall "look." I was roommates with a farm management major and he had a wallet chain (which irritated me), and it was obvious that there was not a hint of rebellion in his choice to use one. 

Within my sphere of fundamentalism, especially at the Ranch, cowboy boots were never considered rebellious. Growing up in the Deep South meant that while country music, especially Garth Brooks et al., was frowned upon, it was often frowned upon in a way that left room for the older country and western artists like Jim Reeves, Chet Atkins, and Hank Jr. In the minds of many of  my authority figures, pop music had ruined the patriotic, God-honoring wholesomeness of true country music.

JD Miller, by the time I became aware of Foxworthy, he was not verboten. I'm sure that his albums wouldn't have checked at BJU, but confessing to listen to him wouldn't have brought the same level of condemnation that confessing listening to Nirvana brought. His whole redneck shtick fit fairly well with the growing bifurcation between God and country Americans and leftists. In other words, Foxworthy and friends may have said things that "we" disagreed with, but overall they spoke "our" language. Kind of the same perspective that allowed adult men in my life to watch John Wayne movies that contained profanity while roundly condemning movies that contained profanity.

Bert, I was never a skate punk. However, my "identity" did cross into the punk scene. I wanted longer hair than the punk scene was willing to allow, so punk, as a scene (I loved the music), never really appealed to me.  

By no means do I believe that attending professional productions of Shakespeare is wrong, but I would (and do) recommend discernment. Considering identity politics, many directors approach Shakespeare through a lens designed to push agendas. Queer and feminist theories have infected much of the contemporary world of Shakespeare. Even in the late 90s and early 00s, many of the roughly 20 Shakespeare productions that I was in contained elements designed to directly challenge the Christian worldview.

P.S. In my opinion, that Zeffirelli production of R&J should be considered child porn. Olivia Hussey was just a child when that was filmed and she was sexually taken advantage of. 

John E.'s picture

My friends and I could never understand why denim was viewed suspiciously. Even during the times and settings that we were allowed to wear jeans, it was often apparent that many of the authority figures weren't entirely happy about it.

G. N. Barkman's picture

And yet, puzzlingly, denim skirts eventually became the standard uniform for homeschoolers.

G. N. Barkman

John E.'s picture

G.N. Barkman, one of the the things that was puzzling to us was how "enthusiastically" denim skirts were embraced for females yet the same people would view jeans on guys with such suspicion.

The was a constant changing code of what certain clothes and styles communicated. The "good" kids constantly lived in the area that never really changed. The "normal" kids or the kids who wanted to fly under the radar were often confused. The "bad" kids adjusted what they wore based on the authority figures' ever changing opinions.

One of the fun things about church camp or other activities that allowed us to interact with Christian school kids from other parts of the country was comparing the differences in clothing rules.    

TylerR's picture

Editor

I'm more and more grateful I didn't grow up in the hard-right fundamentalist bubble. What a ridiculous sub-culture. Does anyone here realize how cult-like all this sounds, when you step back from it and think about all this? I realize that isn't John E's point, and he isn't implying it. This is just me, talking. Not being able to give out copies of The Case for Christ, because of the author's associations? Arguing about men wearing jeans? I was once criticized because I wore cargo shorts while mowing the church lawn on a 95 degree afternoon.

When you cut out all the pious gloss, there's one word for this attitude - stupid.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

As my family and I look back at our experiences in "The Village" we often laugh. Not at the people we were associated with. They were people who really wanted to do what they thought was right and we went along. I'll admit that on first leaving The Village I struggled with personal bitterness but thankfully God gave me a family that helped me see the good things that were there and to laugh more at myself and my response to the atmosphere.  That's probably why I enjoy the Babylon Bee, Church Curmudgeon, Lloyd Legalist, and Unappreciated Pastor. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

JD Miller's picture

I had to look up the definition of verboten.  I did not know how to match my ties until I got married (I still have trouble with that) so does that make me country grunge?  With that in mind, one of the few things I know about Poison (Band) is that "every cowboy sings a sad sad song and every rose has its thorns" (line from their song).  Even though I liked country, as a Christian, I was bothered by a lot of the lyrics.  Other songs were very wholesome and I still enjoy them.  The Poison song was way less offensive to me than Foxworthy's "Party all Night" (just ask Officer Mitchell or Peggy's dad if you have heard that song).   

BTW, I danced to that Poison song at high school dances.  The only thing I had ever heard about dancing being wrong at that time was from the preacher in the Footloose movie.  The thing that got me the most upset about that movie at the time was that I had spent many hours on a tractor just like the one the main character got his shoe laces stuck in.  I kept telling my friends that all he had to do was pull the shuttle shift lever to the left of the steering wheel and then the tractor would have went in reverse.  If you want to see that scene just look up footloose tractor chicken scene on youtube.  There is no dancing in that scene, but you may want to mute it if you are music sensitive or turn it up if you are not. 

Bert Perry's picture

The best explanation I've heard of the proscription of denim is that it was the uniform of the 1960s counterculture.  Obviously, it's a bit of a stretch to carry that forward to the 1990s.  Another explanation I've heard--this from more of a Reformed midwestern orbit than a fundamental--is that good white collar people in the 1970s were simply puzzled why one would want to wear the clothes of blue collar workers when one's parents had worked their tails off  to get white collar jobs. Obviously, that latter bit is class consciousness that you probably won't "get" at a heart level unless you're well over 50, and even then maybe not.

Agreed that Hussey was taken advantage of--really, with only a few exceptions, I'd argue that's pretty likely for most actresses whose private parts are seen on screen.  Or actors, really.  The question is whether the abuse that got them to do so occurred on the casting couch or elsewhere.   And as Elizabethan plays were originally done by all male casts, I dare say that you can perform them well without being that explicit.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

John E.'s picture

In my experience, many of the authority figures seemed embarrassed by the sillier rules. But that doesn't mean that there weren't those who really loved and lived by those rules.

Probably the worst example regarding clothes that I can remember happened about ten years ago. One Sunday evening, at the behest of some friends, my wife and I visited a large, fundamentalist church in the Greenville area.

A supporting missionary (a church planter in Arizona) was there, and he was asked to share about the ministry. During his presentation, he told an anecdote about a teenage boy that he had "won to the Lord." The boy's parents were not Christians, and so this church planter gave him rides to and from church. He was unsure of the validity of the boy's salvation until one Sunday when the boy came out to the car with a tie in his hand. He asked the church planter to help him tie it because he wanted to wear a tie to church. The church planter then told us that that was the instance that he knew the boy was really saved. The church resounded with "amens!" My wife and I almost walked out.

John E.'s picture

I do want to reiterate that for me, at least, I did view my appearance as a way to signal my rebellion to those around me. 

Appearance does matter. If I wanted to transition into a career into hotel real estate, for example, I would have to seriously alter my appearance. While there was and probably still is problems with the ways in which appearance is discussed and monitored within fundamentalism, the authority figures weren't completely wrong. To me, and referencing my current chapter, the problem can be seen in the juxtaposition of me and Dennis. It was obvious that I was rebelling. In fact, I wanted it to be obvious. Because Dennis was willing to conform to the outward standards, it was assumed that he was "good." 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I understand.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Speaking as one who also spent much of his childhood in the fundamental CDS movement, I can confirm a lot of what John is saying.  At our school, there were certainly many students who were only "Christian" in that they had signed a statement that they were so they could attend, and so there were a huge amount of those who followed the rules to the letter to "fly under the radar."  Sure, there were some genuine believers, and also somewhat more open rebels, who really didn't want to be there, but were made to go by their parents.

As in John's narrative, I can say that almost without exception, the educators in my school whose job it was to teach and look after the students demonstrated that they loved the Lord and that they were genuinely interested in the welfare of the students.  However, like I would assume happens at most Christian schools, the faculty and staff were simply too busy to delve into the lives of every single student.  Most teachers not only had a completely full class load, with multiple classes of students, but were responsible for study halls, coaching duty, chaperone duty at school sports activities, other fundraising, etc.  I'm guessing that in this environment, a certain amount of judging by looks and behavior takes place.  Teachers have only so much time, so unless there was a particular case of a student who was taken under a teacher's wing (and I had a couple teachers do that for me), they probably only had time to deal with those who really stuck out.

While "judging by the outward appearance" might be a failure on the part of some teachers, I would say that it's more or less going to happen in this kind of environment.  There's simply not enough money to hire the number of people necessary and pay them well.  I would further note that while some discipleship should take place at a Christian school, I think it should be clear that the main avenues for that activity should be the home and the church.  Teachers are to a lesser extent both counselors and substitute parents, but neither of those are their primary function, and sadly, Christian educators are paid so little that many also have to have second jobs, in addition to having a home life, so their time is extremely constrained.

Looking back, I think that both my Christian university and day school did what they could, and they provided, to the extent they able, a Christian environment, under which those who really wanted such could prosper.  They can't perfectly get rid of all those who are not true Christians, and given what is in the parable of the tares, they have to stick to obvious biblical judgments, or risk tearing out the wheat as well.  As this series has demonstrated, it's quite easy for one to be a "godless fundamentalist" in this environment, but I would say that can certainly happen in our churches as well, when people play the game and fly under the radar.  We just need to continue to show God's love to those around us, and trust that He will work in their lives what must be done.

Christian schools and universities are not the be-all, end-all of educational choices for Christians, but when understood and used properly, can still be quite valuable.  However, no matter how close to perfection they are, they are never going to be able to solve the issue of those who really don't want to follow Christ but are willing to play along.

I'm really looking forward to how this story comes to a conclusion.

Dave Barnhart