What Hyper-Fundamentalists and the Far Left Have in Common

What Hyper-Fundamentalists and the Far Left Have in Common

One thing I appreciate about hyper-fundamentalists/strict Christians, be they Conservative Holiness, Holiness Pentecostal, Oneness Apostolic, or another strict vein of Christendom (e.g. Independent Fundamental Baptist, Branhamites, etc.), is the high value they place on freedom. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press… These are viewed as human rights and staunchly defended in most hyper-fundamentalist circles. As someone who also values freedom, I appreciate that.

At the same time, I can’t help but see a glaring inconsistency. When it comes to politics, these Christians are fully aware of government over-reach, authoritarianism, meddling in private affairs, stripping away autonomy, limiting choices, and manipulation via fear tactics, shame, threats, censorship, and limiting free speech, etc. are wrong and very harmful. But when it comes to governing their own churches, too many believe that the ends justify the means. Inevitably, readers who attend hyper-fundamentalist churches are already thinking, “I’ve never felt my freedom be restricted.” Stay with me, and we’ll discuss why this might be.

In this article, I want to help you recognize a few of the uncomfortable similarities between the radical left and hyper-fundamentalists. I should add the disclaimer that by “far left” I am not referring to my kind, level-headed friends who like democratic welfare programs or support high levels of business regulation. No, by “far left” I’m referring to the crowd like certain of my Portlander neighbors who burned our city for months on end when they didn’t immediately get their way, then protested that police are racist until our city became so critically short-staffed that we would need to hire 800 policemen1 just to have the national average (not surprisingly, homicide was up by 83%2 in 2020 and broke thirty-year-old records for most homicides in 2021).3

What does the radical left have in common with hyper-fundamentalists? The doctrines and dogma are different, but the way they are enforced with mob-based authoritarianism and encroach upon personal freedom are uncomfortably similar. Without further ado, let’s dive into the cancel culture, censorship, hate speech labeling, and fear tactics that pervade both camps.

 

Recognizing Authoritarian Behavior

“I feel so alone…”

“I can’t tell anyone what I believe…”

“I’m scared that I’ll lose my family…”

“I feel trapped…”

Over the past two and a half years, I’ve received so many messages like these that I’ve lost count. They come from teenage girls, grown men, college students, pastors, preacher’s wives… The more personal stories I hear, the more I’m convinced that many churches even less healthy than I originally feared. As you read this, there are people sitting on church pews who are afraid that if they voice their opinion about dress standards their church leadership will convince their spouse and kids to leave them. Maybe it’s a realistic fear, maybe it’s not. But even if it’s not, people really live under it. As a result, they suffer the consequence of being too afraid to communicate openly and honestly in their marriages, families, and friendships, and they feel pressured to pretend to be someone they’re not. They miss out on the benefits of authentic fellowship and deep relationships, and fear that people love their façade more rather than the real them. To say this causes loneliness and inner turmoil is an understatement. I’m not exaggerating when I say multiple people, especially youth, have told me they were fighting suicidal thoughts in direct response to how their strict churches pressured and mistreated them. Some had even attempted it, and I know of at least one young man who went through with it.

I don’t believe it’s beliefs such as “women’s pants are wrong” that cause this kind of trauma. More specifically, it’s the way beliefs like this are enforced. Allow me to explain with some examples.

 

Not-So-Holy Cancel Culture

For the last eight years that I attended hyper-fundamentalist churches, I did so while while believing that jewelry, makeup, women’s pants, sports, etc. were not sins. Did I partake in these things? Of course not, I didn’t dare. Doing so would put my friendships, social status, and ministry opportunities at risk. So instead, I kept my outfits exceptionally modest, even by their standards. Did I believe it was more virtuous for my jean skirts to be nearly ankle length? Not particularly, but I knew people would think more highly of me if I did. Climbing the ranks of favor was of higher priority than practicality or authenticity. For all those years, I hardly discussed my views with anyone. I can only think of two or three people I ever shared my actual beliefs with and those were very hush-hush, “Your secret is safe with me” kind of conversations.

There was an unspoken understanding that things like dress code were not up for debate, discussion, or disagreement of any sort. It wasn’t preached or written as, “Thou shalt not discuss the biblical legitimacy of church rules.” That would’ve been an obvious limitation of free speech. Instead, many strict churches operate with a cancel-culture system. ‘Share a differing perspective with the wrong person, and voila, your name is erased, your opportunities end, you vanish from the movement, and people treat you as if you never existed.

I lived with the fear of being cancelled for eight years. During that time, I rationalized caving to the pressure. After all, no one was pushing me to do something wrong, just to not discuss my views. Then something shook me and made me reconsider. A person that I thought deeply, genuinely cared about me cut off contact. Before they did, they let me know that they never really loved me, they “only loved who they thought I was.” Their words cut deep and compelled me to start being more honest with people; I wanted to know my friends and mentors loved the real me. That’s what spurred the call to one of my church leaders in which I shared my heart and was transparent about my beliefs on the lack of biblical basis for Holiness standards. Their candid response was that I was backsliding, spiritually struggling, needed to pray through, and should no longer be involved in ministry. It was hard to swallow, but God worked it for good and used it to bring me into churches where I am genuinely cared about and growing spiritually.

After overcoming my fear and sharing my views openly, I watched friend after friend distance themselves, cut off contact, unfriend me on social media, stop inviting (or even allowing) me to visit them, and I abruptly stopped receiving invitations to sing, play the piano, testify, teach, help with outreach, or go on missions trips with Holiness-affiliated churches. In other words, I was cancelled. What surprises me most is that almost no one was willing to tell me why they were cutting off contact, or if they were, they weren’t willing to talk to me about it or even hear the reasons behind my views. Healthy dialogue regarding our differences wasn’t an option for many my former friends. And I want to make something very clear, the cancel culture I experienced was highly pushed and motivated by higher-ups. From well-known missionaries who warned my friends not to talk to me, to the ministers who purposely and publicly spread false rumors about me lying to them about my finances (bank records easily debunk this), to the pastors, youth pastors, and parents telling everyone under the age of forty to avoid me as much as possible. It’s not just that my friends/acquaintances didn’t like me anymore, no, they were specifically instructed and pressured to cut off contact. As a disclaimer, I do have a handful of stricter friends who didn’t participate in this behavior—if you happen to be one of them, please know you are greatly appreciated.

Christians from nearly every Holiness movement speak out loudly against cancel culture. It frustrates them to no end when athletes, singers, politicians, and other people in prominent careers speak up for traditional values only to lose their jobs and platforms. It frustrates them when our society can’t sit down and have a reasonable, level-headed discussion about the consequences of men identifying as women or the notion that purposefully ending a child’s life is a woman’s right. Yet, how many Holiness leaders are interested in public dialogue with Christians who have a different perspective on dress code? Not any that I know of. When it comes to traditional values, cancel culture is touted as wrong and unfair and we need to bring back rational discussion. But when it comes to Holiness standards, cancelling is the way to go.

 

Not-Your-Standard Censorship

On Monday, January 11, 2021, my local bookstore, Powel’s Bookstore, was forced to shut down early by an angry mob.4 I watched the footage of them surrounding the store and harassing (physically and verbally) anyone who got in their way. They were yelling and chanting, “Stop selling Andy Ngo’s book!” As the protest escalated, customers had to be escorted out of a back exit in order to escape without being harmed. The mob threatened to force the store to remain closed until they got their way. Why the uproar? The massive bookstore was on track to carry Unmasked by Andy Ngo after it released in February. Unmasked is an in-depth work of investigative research by Andy Ngo that exposes the violent nature of Antifa. Not surprisingly, the protesters did not in any way debunk Ngo’s documented findings—they just didn’t like them. Powell’s bookstore caved and said they would not carry Ngo’s book in-store, since they did not want to support something that “could cause such deep pain to members of our community.” Thus, removing the book was not about whether or not the facts it contained were true, but how they made people feel. In a land where freedom of the press has historically been valued and protected, the radical left found a way to suppress it.

I grew up in the Bible Belt, but currently live in Portland, Oregon. I’ve learned a lot about the far left. Angry mobs loot, burn, and destroy whatever they want whenever they feel like it—CVS pharmacies, Amazon stores, Oregon trail monuments, a statue of an elk, the Democratic Party Building—nothing is spared.5 In fact, just days before this article’s publication, two of the pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) Cole served at were mercilessly attacked. One PRC had every glass pane (windows and door) bashed out and a curse word spray painted across it, the other PRC was set on fire and charred to a crisp inside with an explosive device.6

Where these neighbors of mine are concerned, sitting down for a healthy debate and discussion is a thing of the past. Why bother with facts and logic when you can stomp out your opposition with force and fear tactics? Even if you’ve never seen your local small businesses ablaze, you’ve probably seen the authoritarian tendencies of the radical left in other ways. Have you ever heard of censorship? Slander campaigns? Labeling opposing views as hate speech? Conservative Christians, including Holiness Christians, aren’t afraid to say that these are tactics employed to limit freedom of religion/freedom of speech and avoid open and honest dialogue. Unfortunately, when our church groups display a similar aversion to healthy debate, we rarely push back.

Censorship on social media essentially works like this: if you post something the platform disagrees with, they reserve the right to delete your content or place a banner over it that says, “Missing context” or “False information.” Even though I sometimes agree with these banners, I find the authoritarian slap highly frustrating (considering they’re recognized as platforms and not publishers). I don’t want a higher-up dictating truth to me, expecting me to believe something is true or false just because they say so. I want them to present compelling facts and logic and make a case that debunks opposition and proves their point, not just cover the content in black and state, “this is false.”

The strong belief that “truth stands on her own two feet” is what led my brother and I to invite and offer to publish rebuttals to our articles before this website was even launched. This is the 34th article we’ve published, and can you guess how many people have taken us up on our offer and written rebuttals? One. I can only think of one person, and many of his views were similar to ours. We’ve gotten a few comments that negate a point or two, but only a handful. Instead, we see posts like the one written by a UPC minister and shared to a group of 50,000+ Apostolic. His post read, “Warning – Do not read anything from Berean Holiness! …They try to trick you into letting down your views because you take time to read about them… DO NOT READ ANYTHING FROM THEM.”

A few days later, another Apostolic preacher issued a public warning about us. She called me out by my full name, and in the comments she wrote, “Deceivers and supplanters sent by Satan to deceive… They befriend people with the whole purpose to turn them from the faith by witchcraft and deception.” She then went on to comment similar things on multiple of my posts and DM my friends to warn them about me.

In Trinitarian circles, I heard a minister say behind the pulpit that he would never even open one of our articles because it would boost our ego. I have to laugh when I put up social media polls asking people if they’ve ever visited the website and our most vocal naysayers—the people telling everyone else not visit the site—vote “no.” Although these Christians aren’t able to slap “false information” labels on my posts or ban me from social media, they comment with ominous warnings and ad hominem attacks. They call surrounding churches and out of state churches to make sure I won’t be welcomed. They even call members of social media groups I’m in, just to try to get me kicked out. Without having the power to personally ban my writing, this is as close to censoring me as this crowd can get.

Censorship within strict churches doesn’t stop with Berean Holiness, unfortunately. I’ve addressed in previous articles how there were a plethora of conservative, Christian authors, and music artists who we simply were told to never listen to. Their ideas were never debunked, they were simply dubbed as “false information” and then banned. I remember hearing that anything written by a woman who wears pants, especially Bible studies, should never be considered. While listening to The Church Split podcast (Ep #127), I heard David Pallmann say that while he was attending IFB churches, he heard it preached that reading or listening to sources outside of the IFB was “doctrinal pornography” that violated their covenant with God.

 

Strictly “Hate Speech” Labels

Another tool of the radical left that is sometimes borrowed by Christians is labeling any and all opposing opinions as “hate speech.” An example of this on the left would be when Twitter deleted one of Focus on the Family’s tweets and blocked their account for weeks. Allegedly, the tweet was “hateful.” It simply read, “Dr. Levine is a transgender woman, that is, a man who believes he is a woman.” Whether or not someone agrees that biological males are men and not women, the idea that simply stating this opinion is “hateful” and deserves to be punished is absurd. Many Christians, strict Christians included, view this as an encroachment upon freedom of speech (since Twitter is a platform—not a publisher).

When Christians use the hate speech tool, they usually don’t outright use the “hate speech” label. It’s veiled. After Nathan published a response to the book, “The Problem with Pants,” one person berated this action on the basis that it is wrong to address public writings because it is “very obvious who wrote the book.” I was called a “distasteful… dissimulator” and the sender expressed disgust that this “is the level that you have wished to stoop [to].” Another time, I discussed the meaning of the phrase “preach a little Holiness.” I had people tear me up in the comments; how dare I be so hateful towards so-and-so? Considering this was a very popular phrase in my circles, I had no idea that other circles associated it with a particular minister. These are only two examples of dozens. I’ve come to realize that any type of disagreement—respectful, professional, or otherwise—with teachings/writings of specific ministers will always be dubbed as “hate speech.” Unfortunately, the chances that the people doing the labeling will respond to the errors addressed in the teachings referenced or respond thoughtfully to concerns with the writings are slim to none. Making an accusation and slapping on a label is much more convenient.

 

A Common Root: Authoritarianism

Cancel culture, abuse of censorship, and labeling opinions as “hate speech” share a common denominator, authoritarianism. Encyclopedia Britannica defines authoritarianism as the “principle of blind submission to authority, as opposed to individual freedom of thought and action.” Oxford languages describes it as, “favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.”

I should caveat that cancel culture and traditional authoritarianism take different forms. Traditional authoritarianism is organized leadership with a hierarchy. In contrast, cancel culture often takes on mob form (although it is often pushed by people in positions of high social status). The similarity I see is that both systems are dedicated to forcing compliance/agreement with a particular set of beliefs and have little to no regard for healthy debate, logic and arguments, research and study, and individual expression/freedom of speech. In both worlds, differing opinions are not tolerated. Little effort is made to change the person’s mind who has a differing opinion or prove them wrong, instead, effort is focused on forcing them into silence.

The similarities that abuse of censorship and labeling opinions as “hate speech” share with authoritarianism are easier to see. In both scenarios, it is typically a higher power—a political government, institution, social media platform, etc.—that decides to squelch a particular view and dole out a punishment to its author. Considering the similarities, I will refer to these actions, along with cancel culture, as “authoritarian behavior.”

As different as cancel culture, censorship, hate-speech labels, and authoritarianism may seem at first, together they create unhealthy, even toxic, church cultures. This could happen in any church, progressive or conservative, but I want to narrow in and look at how it plays out in strict churches in particular.

 

Why Do Strict Churches Tend Towards Authoritarian Behavior?

Out of all the various groups of churches, groups that tout the most strict and extra-biblical rules/traditions have a reputation for falling prey to authoritarian leaders and devolving into unhealthy environments. I have a lot of friends in conservative Christianity. I have never had a mainstream Baptist friend confide in me that they are scared to share their views lest their pastor turns their spouse against them. I have never had a mainstream Wesleyan friend tell me that they’re afraid to point out what seems to be an inconsistency in church doctrine lest they lose their all their friends, have their ministry positions be stripped from them, and experience shunning. I’m not saying this never happens in such groups, but pointing out that when it does it’s a rare exception. Unfortunately, I have heard these things—not once, but many, many times—from Christians in Mennonite, Independent Fundamental Baptist, Branhamite, United Apostolic, Holiness Pentecostal, and Conservative Holiness churches. Why? Why do strict rules and authoritarian behavior all too often go hand in hand?

One possible answer is that churches with extra-biblical rules tend to be high-control environments with concentrated authority and low accountability. By ‘concentrated authority’ I mean that many of these churches operate with one leader at the top vs. shared authority among a plurality of elders. By ‘low accountability’ I mean that few of these churches have denominational oversight, a board of elders, or another significant means of keeping churches accountable. Please understand, I’m not saying these structures are bad per se, just that they might be contributing factors to becoming vulnerable to authoritarianism.

As for why churches with strict rules tend to become high-control environments, it’s difficult enough to keep an entire congregation on the strait and narrow following basic, biblical rules—after all, congregations are made up of humans. Take that difficulty and compound it by trying to keep an entire congregation from ever wearing a class ring or purity ring, watching a TV show, wearing women’s pants while zip-lining, covering a zit with concealer for photos, getting a French-tip manicure, wearing shorts while working in summer heat, or growing a beard. Simply put, it’s nigh impossible.

One way to achieve this outcome would be to use reason, logic, and Scripture to convince people that giving up these things is part of biblical sanctification. If you’re starting with people who disagree, convincing them would require very long conversations, in-depth teaching, healthy debates, debunking counterarguments, and much more—if it’s even possible. Unfortunately, very few church leaders have time for such a process, so instead, a short-cut is taken—a high-control environment is cultivated. You’ll know it’s achieved when all a church leader has to do is say they feel convicted against using concealer for blemishes and that’s the end of that—all the women in the congregation fall in line, they won’t do it and they won’t question why. As new people come in and youth grow up, maintaining this level of unquestioned control is very difficult. It should come as no surprise that tactics similar to cancel culture, censorship, and mislabeling hate-speech are often resorted to.

 

High Power Distance and Collectivism

Another way to describe the culture of many strict churches is with the terms “high power distance” and “collectivistic.” High power distance is when we esteem leaders as far better and higher above those they lead. An extreme version of this would be a dictatorship or monarchy where one could lose his life for so much as not bowing to the leader as he passed by. America, on the other hand, tends to have low-power distance. Americans regularly go so far as to mock and belittle their leaders with no repercussions. We see leaders as people just like us. There is no hierarchy of worth and value. This goes hand in hand with our individualism. We see every individual as having equal worth and value. In general, we celebrate differences. “Be yourself” is basically a virtue.

Collectivistic cultures are polar opposite. David Livermore writes in Leading with Cultural Intelligence that, “From an early age, collectivists are taught never to be the sore thumb that stands out because the sore thumb gets chopped off. Bringing honor to one’s family and blending in with society is what is most highly valued.”7  This sentiment is relatable to those of us who have been part of group’s where everything is about make the group or church look good at the cost of suppressing individual differences. Imagine for example, that a church youth group is planning on going to a significant conference. If some girls in the group wear necklaces while others don’t, some guys gel their hair while others don’t, etc., what are the chances that the church will pressure the youth to all conform to the same strict standard while attending the conference? The reason given will be because they’re “representing the church.” In other words, individual differences are sacrificed to the greater value of conformity for the sake of bringing (perceived) honor to the group.

It’s also worth noting that collectivism and authoritarianism both support each other in a vicious cycle. When people are used to being “cut down to size” by powerful leaders for being different, they try to be less different. Additionally, people who value their individuality more tend to leave collectivist movements and societies, leaving behind those who are more content to be controlled by others. Authoritarianism makes a culture even more collectivistic over time and a more collective culture allows leaders to become even more authoritarian.

I believe that many strict churches resort to cultivating a church culture of high power distance and collectivism in order to perpetuate extra-biblical rules. Let me give you an example of the high power distance I have personally experienced among strict churches. Once upon a time, I was looking for ways to reach a larger audience with the Berean Holiness Instagram account. At the time, Instagram was greatly promoting short video clips, humorous ones did especially well. I racked my mind to think of a humorous short clip my audience could relate to. Then I thought of it. How relatable and humorous is the experience of taking a complete outsider to a church service where the minister becomes, shall we say, highly excited? (Or in other words, begins preaching in a very loud, very fast style, a.k.a. yelling.) I thought this would be a great subject to bring attention to since it introduces the discussion of how this style of preaching affects our ability to reach our communities. In case you’ve never brought an outsider to one of the services, many people become shocked, frightened, confused, and/or upset (especially if they’ve experienced domestic violence). In my short clip, I used a greenscreen effect to pretend my husband was sitting in church listening to this style of preaching for the first time. His reaction was humorous, and in response to him (as well as a funny misunderstanding of words), I laughed in the clip.

The reel went over well with the Berean Holiness account followers. Some even admitted they preached in this style, but still understood the humor and commented positively. Unfortunately, four days later, someone who dislikes our account began texting out links to ministers who do not even have Instagram, and have no concept of the lighthearted nature of reels (this has never happened before so I had no way of predicting it). One of these ministers decided to respond with a targeted attack towards me and my husband, calling us derogatory names such as “chick,” “chicken,” “mice,” “airheads,” “whippersnappers,” “fuzzy-faced disciples,” and more. It was filled with accusations about us lying, creating chaos, tearing down and smack talking, stooping to a “lower level of debauchery,” etc…. It was very long, but did not address the point of our reel at all, it just attacked us as people.

I give all this background information so that you’ll understand my disappointment at what happened next. Hundreds of ministers, missionaries, church kids I grew up with (and even taught Sunday School to), commented, reacted, and shared his targeted post with great applause. Their alleged reason? Because they can’t stand personal attacks. It was so ironic it would’ve been hilarious had it not been such a stinging reality. The reel was not meant as a personal attack in anyway, it was meant to reenact a relatable experience and start a relevant discussion. The post was a blatant personal attack that accused us of having malicious motives and showered a barrage of insults and accusations against our character. But to the people in this strict, high power distance culture, I was the one who made a personal attack and not the minister. Why? Because on the hierarchy of worth and value, his voice mattered and mine did not. One person even remarked that I was “lower down on the totem pole.” This is a perfect example of high power distance playing out in real life. I received several comments complete with threats that God may kill me in His wrath and judgment against the reel. Death by mauling bears was suggested more than once.

 

“My Freedom Has Never Been Limited”

Someone reading this is thinking, “I attend a strict church and I have never experienced authoritarian behavior or felt my freedom be limited.” To that I say, “Great!” Perhaps you attend a church where leaders welcome hard questions, encourage healthy debate, and teach so thoroughly that the entire congregation is convinced of the truth of every detail of their beliefs and has no reason to disagree.

However, there is one other possibility to consider… Is it possible you have never felt your freedom be limited and/or experienced authoritarian behavior because you have never publicly disagreed with your leaders on church standards? Back to the example of the radical left, when is the last time someone was ‘cancelled’ for saying that men, who identify as women, ought to have the right to play in women’s sports? It doesn’t happen. Authoritarian groups don’t censor and cancel members who completely agree with them. Imagine a puppy taking a walk with a child. If the puppy stays within three feet of the child, will it ever discover it’s on a leash and can’t go farther? It’s easy to look at people who tell stories of experiencing shaming, shunning, name-calling, fear tactics, etc. and say they’re just gossiping because they disagree with church standards. But what if disagreeing with church standards is precisely why they experienced the spiritual abuse?

 

The Consequences of Taking Away Freedom

It seems odd that I would need to explain to conservative Christians that there are dire consequences to limiting individual liberty via authoritarian behavior. Yet, here I am, listening to people tell me that when the government does these things it’s evil, but when the church does it, it is for everyone’s own good. I am reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis from God in the Dock: Essays on Theology: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Even if your goals are noble, authoritarianism is a terrible way to achieve them. In fact, it may defeat them. Let’s pretend for a moment that it’s true that wearing jewelry is done out of pride. If a woman only refrains from jewelry because she is scared she will otherwise lose friends, has her heart become humbler? If she only won’t wear jewelry due to social pressure, does it show spiritual growth or give spiritual benefit? No. If it wasn’t her free choice, then she is no better off from it than prison inmates who can’t wear jewelry.

Another consequence of enforcing rules via authoritarianism is that it desensitizes thinking for oneself. No one knows why they believe what they believe. Or if they understand on a surface level, they struggle to go deeper or know how to respond to counterarguments. How do you learn to spot logical fallacies and factual errors when you’ve never been exposed to opposing beliefs? It’s hard to sharpen critical thinking skills in an echo chamber.

I’ve seen hundreds of people from strict, controlling churches be exposed to arguments that conflict with their church beliefs on Berean Holiness, and I shake my head at how some (some, not all) of them respond. They start commenting in all capital letters, call my friends and family members to complain, write long, rambling posts about how terrible Berean Holiness is, and/or they block my personal account. In other words, they melt into an emotional mess. Respectfully pointing out where they think my logic/facts are erred doesn’t seem to cross their minds. Why? Maybe because they’ve never seen it done. They’re so used to the authoritarian way of using any means necessary to shut people down and silence opponents, that a healthy, polite dialogue, and/or agreeing to disagree, aren’t even options. Needless to say, this mentality goes hand in hand with anti-intellectualism: the phenomenon of being proud of one’s ignorance.

As many consequences as authoritarianism has on the people who help inflict it, the consequences on the people who bear the brunt of it are much worse. Just like the crowd who inflicts the pressure, they struggle to know why they believe what they believe, but unlike that crowd, if they ever voice what they’re thinking (whether that entails doubt or a differing perspective) they are insulted, ostracized, shamed, bullied, yelled at, shunned, threatened, called out, and more as the authoritarians work to either force them to comply or force them out of fellowship.

Understandably, some see what happened to the members who voice differing views and choose to stay silent instead. This brings us full circle to how we opened this article, with stories of church members feeling so alone and so afraid to tell anyone what they believe. In the short time since writing the introduction to this article, multiple people have messaged and emailed Berean Holiness using the words “anxiety,” “fear,” “scared,” and “afraid” to describe how they feel at their current church. They are suffering from mental, emotional, and spiritual stress. This ought not be.

If there is one place on earth where we should feel secure knowing that no one will hate us or turn on us if we’re authentic and share what we’re thinking, it should be our faith community. Should people who deny Christ be counted as brothers/sisters in Christ? No. But worst-case scenario and someone doesn’t believe essential Christian doctrines, they still need love, grace, compassion, and a listening ear. More often than not though, the authoritarian churches that people feel trapped in aren’t even allowing open and honest discussion (forget disagreement) on things like women’s pants or Bible translations. Sharing honestly about struggling to understand/believe essential doctrines is unthinkable.

 

Let Freedom Ring!

Where do we go from here? As dismal as some particular churches might have become, don’t lose hope. Things can change. It starts with a simple choice to end the regime and restore freedom. Bring back freedom of the press; encourage church members to make the most of resources from outside of the group. Bring back freedom of speech; ask people what they’re thinking and engage in open and honest conversation. Bring back freedom of religion; challenge church members to work out their own salvation in the fear of God. End cancel culture. End censorship. End arbitrary, hate-speech labels. Scrap the man-made traditions and teach the Word of God deeply. Recognize the value of personal liberty, then act on it by encouraging members to prayerfully make their own decisions regarding how to apply biblical principles. Teach people how to study the Bible for themselves. Invite questions, welcome healthy debate, refute faulty arguments. Teach apologetics and critical thinking, grapple with hard questions. Gather together in weekly small groups and pour over the Bible. Share the love of Christ with each other, extend compassion and kindness, then bring that love to the community in practical ways. Put first things first and teach the essentials of the Christian faith—monotheism, the deity of Christ, Christ’s Resurrection, salvation by grace, and the gospel. Fulfil the great commission by uniting around Christ and then going out and making disciples. Let freedom ring!

 

Conclusion

Christians from strict churches, particularly American churches, know innately that freedom is valuable and worth fighting for. They are grateful to the heroic men and women who gave their lives in order to protect their liberties, and rightly so. They know enough about communist regimes to despise them—sudden and unfair job loss, book burnings, labeling religion as a political threat—it was all just a more advanced way to go about cancel culture, censorship, and arbitrary hate-speech labeling. They know these things are wrong. They know that every person should have the freedom to speak openly and honestly, ask hard questions, access educational resources, and live as they feel convicted (so long as they’re not harming others). No one should be bullied, threatened, or pressured into silence. No one should live in fear of people finding out what they believe.

The question is, when are these values going to be applied to church? As you read this, there are church members who are genuinely frightened at the thought of their church leadership finding out they don’t believe it’s wrong for women to use cosmetics. There are missionaries scared they’ll lose their support if they so much as attend the local children’s soccer game. There are teenagers worried they’ll be labeled “rebellious” if they disagree with the notion that it’s wrong for men to grow beards. There are young ministers who are afraid they’ll lose their position if they’re discovered studying the Bible with various translations. This ought not be! Let’s bring back Bible study, healthy debate, and respectful, two-sided dialogue. It’s time to stop bowing to authoritarianism and set people free from the prison in their minds. And if that’s you in that prison? Don’t wait for your unhealthy leadership to grant you permission to think for yourself. That’s your God-given, biblical right. Take it back.

For Freedom,

Natalie Edmonson

 

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Resources:

1. Shane Dixon Kavanaugh and David Cansler, “Why Portland has fewer cops now than any point in past 30 years,” The Oregonian, November 7, 2021.

2. Amanda Arden, “FBI data: Portland homicides up 83% from 2019 to 2020,” Koin, September 27, 2021.

3. Sara Cline, “2021 was a record year for homicides in Portland,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, January 15, 2022. 

4. Robby Soave, “Antifa Demands Powell’s Stop Selling Andy Ngo’s Book, Forces Store To Close Early,” Reason: Free Minds and Free Markets, January 11, 2021. 

5. “Antifa nihilists vandalize buildings in Portland, Seattle,” i24 News, January 21, 2021.

6. Andrea Morris, “Christian Pregnancy Center in Oregon Damaged During ‘Suspicious’ Fire, Vows to ‘Love Those Who Hate Us,’” CBN News, June 12, 2022. 

7. David Livermore, Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: AMACOM, 2015), 101.