By G. Elijah Dann
(Wilfrid Laurier University Press) $24.95
The subtitle says it all: Personal Stories. These essays give voice to years spent in the thrall of North American Christian fundamentalism and the pain of breaking away. G. Elijah Dann includes the experiences of those who have left denominations ranging from Catholic charismatics to the Church of the Nazarene and from Southern U.S. Baptist to the Canadian Alliance church, among others. This is a Canadian book: as our citizens have come from many lands, so have our Christians come from many churches.
As one whose exposure to the more egregious expressions of fundamentalism was limited to one summer at a Pentecostal vacation Bible school where I was (briefly) “born again,” I confess I found this a harrowing read. Even conservative United Church congregations will likely be deeply shocked at the unquestioning acceptance of dubious theology demanded of followers. And demanded is the word: followers are shunned for questioning, cut off from friends and family for expressing even a single doubt.
Each story follows a different path; many have similar rhythms. Some note the hypocrisy of pastors who dissemble and deceive to maintain congregations. Youth is allergic to hypocrisy, and a fundamentalist upbringing often lapses in university. A number of essays feature those who were on their way to ministry when liberal theology knocked them off course. It was the first time that questions about faith were permitted.
Other stories depict crises of faith provoked by issues of gender orientation, marriage outside the faith and illness. Dann’s own story is a must-read, and answers the question, why this book?
Do not skip Dann’s introductory essay, an excellent definition of contemporary Christian fundamentalism. It also summarizes the movement’s political clout — this is particularly useful as we approach a U.S. election.
Why should you read this book? It will affirm adherence to the United Church and help us reach out to those whose religious experience has not included open discussions of faith issues. It may also remind you that taking the pulse of one’s faith family is a healthy and vital process.
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