Independent Fundamental Baptist. If people would ask me, an adult woman, “what is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear those three words?” my answer would be these three words: Fear. Fear. Fear.
Fear? Yes. Plain out of your mind, “I’m gonna’ die” kind of fear. The form of fear that grips your heart and your eternal soul. Fear that doesn’t allow you to think rationally—after all, it is an out of this world sort of fear, the kind that means eternal damnation. A fear of forever being lost—although you have already been found. A fear that terrifies you that maybe you were never found, so you will forever be lost. It does not have boundaries and limits, because it does not know boundaries and limits. It is the fear of missing Heaven Celestial forever with Jesus, the fear of eternal torment in Hell with Satan and his demons.
A fear that controls. A fear that confines. A fear that steals you from yourself. But most of all, I am talking about a man-made fear.
The fear within fundamentalism.
I was born and raised in IFB. It was my identity. It was my life. I also had another identity within it—I was marked—I belonged to the crowd that was not always labeled, but they were whispered about. I was one of the Doubters.
One of those who just couldn’t “know that you know, that you know.” Whom some have referred to as a “Doubting Thomas” (taken from John 20). My salvation just wasn’t as secure as some of the others. I wasn’t as sure as others.
As a child, they would tell the story of how Christians were enclosed in the hand of God, safe from all harm, how God‘s Children knew this. Well, I wasn’t one of those children. I was the child that had the fear that I would fall out, slip through God’s fingers (provided I was in his hand in the first place).
Fears run rampant in IFB. There are more of them than I can name, and surely many more than the promises of God.
For those raised in this form of fundamentalism, you were introduced to it from a young age. You learn fear, because you were taught it and you obey out of that ingrained terror. You live fear. And you try not to question for fear of what may be the answer or the implications that may follow.
Being a child in IFB, your first fears are not like other children’s. We didn’t get to be afraid of the boogie man in the bedroom closet. Those shadows dancing on the walls were Satan everywhere. Even if you wanted to chase him away, you couldn’t. All you could do was plead the blood of Jesus. That thick darkness in your bedroom at night wasn’t the darkness of a mysterious land—we knew exactly what it was—it was the charred walls of Hell. Our monsters were the demons of Hell, the reprobates, the Sodomites (the hurtful word for homosexuals), the lost burning in Hell. You can smell Hell, taste Hell, feel Hell, see Hell.
That was all true for me.
I remember nights not being able to fall asleep because of the fear of dying in my sleep and waking up burning in Hell. A sudden loud, sharp sound resembling that of a trumpet meant the Rapture was taking place and I was being left behind. Alone and separated from my family, from God. Hopeless. Forever damned.
I didn’t see this in horror movies, we didn’t watch them because they were a sin. These horrors came from the sermons being preached. From the pastor and evangelist, spitting and screaming that if you didn’t repent, then “you were gonna’ split hell wide open.” And yes, I saw Hell being split wide open and I was falling, falling because it was a bottomless pit.
“You need to be saved!” one would say. I had already done that when I was eight.
“It’s just the devil bothering you.” Thanks, I already knew that.
“Don’t let your imagination get away from you.” I’m not sure how that works, to think rationally when you’ve been taught irrational things.
“Casting down imaginations.” (2 Corinthians 10:5). I was casting down imaginations. I was tearing them down brick by brick.
“Memorize Scripture.” I was raised in Scripture, it was the violent stories from Scripture that were torturing me.
I heard all this, and then some.
Children in fundamentalism are supposed to outgrow this. Some may even say it is normal. But that wasn’t me. I was the teen who was embarrassed that I used a nightlight to help me fall asleep, so that if I awoke in the middle of the night from nightmares, I would be able to see. I was the one that literally clung to her Bible. The teen who heard a song talking about a metaphoric “wall of prayer”—simply meaning the more a Christian prays, the extra protection they may receive—and spent hours writing out Bible verses on blue-striped notepad paper, taping them on my bedroom wall to build a “wall of verses” to read everyday and help calm me.
I was also the young person who remembers a famous preacher that came into my small, rural church, terrifying everyone about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I was the person who went down to the altar looking for help and instead was lead down the “Roman’s Road,” making another profession of faith. I was that someone who held on to that profession for months, getting re-baptized and was in the middle of a Bible study when I realized that the phrase I had used in a written testimonial of faith, “of somehow I hadn’t been saved at eight,” didn’t make IFB doctrinal sense. I was the one that had to grieve the fact that I had “re-crucified Christ” by getting “saved” again (Hebrews 6).
In IFB they put emphasis on the great doctrine of Eternal Security, that “once saved, forever saved,” and that Salvation never comes through good works. But here is the thing, although they preach this and yes, even ridicule those who do not accept this doctrine, they ask of their members to PROVE that they are indeed saved. One slip up (or what appears to be in their eyes) is not a failing or shortcoming, it is clearly evidence of not being in the Fold. You can never measure up to what they believe a Christian is. They constantly question you. You question yourself. You are always conscious for them to see you as part of them, to belong.
I had failed. I kept failing. And those failures, their evidence, followed me into my adult years and along with them followed the fear.
Some say that Christ is your constant companion. Well, I had two constant companions and they were always at odds with each other.
In some ways you grow accustomed to feeling like this, in so much that being calm feels threatening. You lived hoping for at least one day when the “peace that passeth all understanding” would keep the doubts at bay. And just when it seems it is working, you would get that preacher yelling in your head that “you are deceived,” that the calm you are experiencing is really the Holy Spirit no longer drawing you to Salvation. That He is leaving you alone and you will be “turned over to a reprobate mind.”
No more chances. “Lost. Lost. Forever lost!”
Your whole body is on fire. You can’t breathe. You can’t think. If you can pray, you beg, “God don’t leave me! You promised not to leave me! God why are you leaving me? God why are you gone?”
But of course, God wasn’t gone because the fear always seemed to return. Nothing took the doubt away.
“You need to accept Christ!” again they would tell me. But remember, I already had done that when I was eight and a second time as a young teen, not to mention all those countless “just in case” prayers.
“You just need to get right with God,” some would say.
“You need to surrender your life to the Lord,” another would add.
“It’s unforgiveness, bitterness, a guilty a conscience!” Unforgiveness? Maybe. I couldn’t forgive myself for not conquering the doubt. Bitterness? Possibly. Since everything they said would work, didn’t. A guilty conscience? Perhaps. Because while others shouted their way to heaven, I was always shaking.
Eventually, everything is a fear, a trigger. The songs that are sung, the reading of the Bible, the prayers. All the things that are supposed to comfort the Believer, they turn against you.
This is fear in Fundamentalism.
I have lived it, I fought it, but most importantly, I have left it.
As I write about this form of fear in Christian Fundamentalism, I write in memories. Memories, because I no longer live there. The fear is gone.
Within months of leaving my former IFB church, I found the fear slowly falling away. It was losing its grip and I was learning to finally breathe. I am healing. Those fears are slowly turning into scars. Are there times I get scared? I would be lying if I said no. But those times are triggers from a memory. I may always remember, but it is no longer my reality.
I am sure some may say that I am weak, a coward even. That if I had just battled it out, got a grip, “repented,“ I would have conquered the “sin” of doubting my Salvation. This is my reply, and I say this with full assurance: IFB uses the word “doubting” to replace the word “question.“ Why? Because to question you are questioning their words. Their authority. Who they say God is.
A God of love is not threatened with questions.
Threatened, because questioning can lead to leaving. Leaving the church. Leaving the control. Leaving their concept of who God is. Leaving who they say Christians are.
After leaving, I was finally able to see what I hadn’t allowed myself to for most of my life: the fear of eternal damnation is the greatest control tactic. It leaves you in a constant state of limbo. Unable to view yourself as worthy, incapable of looking to God as a source of companionship and calm. In this state of not knowing, everything else is secondary. And how could it not be when your eternal soul is at risk?
This, among many things in fundamentalism, hurts Christians. It wounds them, but I’m proof that it no longer has to control them. Fear does not have to rule your life, your existence. Their God of wrath is not the God of love I am starting to come to know.
I have seen the fear that once controlled me mirrored in the faces of those I used to know. I have seen the fear that was once in my eyes reflected in theirs. My hope now is for those who are still imprisoned in IFB to know that there is a way out. That those walls are not as tall and scary as they may seem. That on the other side, there is freedom, there is peace of mind, but most of all, there is healing.
Photo via Unsplash.
Laura Grace was born and raised in the Independent Fundamental Baptists (IFB), leaving after twenty-one years of her life to find healing. Now she is a strong believer in kindness. The greatest quality one could own. A quality that opens eyes and changes lives. It heals.