Christian fundamentalism will be “unmasked and exposed as a fraudulent form of faith” in churches during the next 50 years, predicts Mercer University President Kirby Godsey.
Writing in an online e-magazine published by Mercer’s Center for Baptist Studies, Godsey also forecasted that churches of the future will be less tied to denominations, led more by women and laity than by men and clergy and more open to dialogue with other faiths.
He also said the church’s “recentering” will witness “the eclipse of entertainment religion,” which he views as the “trivialization of belief.”
“Fundamentalism in all of its expressions worldwide is barbaric and uncivilized, replacing creativity with control and manipulation. It churns out passions that breed religious hatred and bigotry and the twisted wreckage of misplaced devotion,” Godsey contended in his article, published in “The Baptist Studies Bulletin.”
The article was condensed from a paper on “Recentering the Church and its Ministry,” which Godsey delivered in September at a preaching consultation in St. Simon’s Island, Ga., containing even stronger words.
“There is not a dime’s worth of difference in Christian, Baptist, Jewish or Islamic fundamentalism,” he said in the lecture manuscript. “They are all dangerous, evil forms of religious commitment. People who maim and kill and destroy and put other people down in the name of God are children of evil, and the appeal to God’s name does not bring sanctity to their work. Holy meanness is still meanness!”
While terrorism spawned by religious fundamentalism is today’s greatest threat, Godsey said “we should not deceive ourselves into believing that terrorism is the sole possession of Islam.”
Christian fundamentalism has “corroded the Baptist message” and “undermined the Baptist witness,” he continued. “It has set Baptists as a denomination adrift in the sea of insignificance, and fundamentalism will ultimately be exposed as a fraudulent force of faith. In the end it will fail because it is evil.”
Godsey has sparred with fundamentalists before. Some sought to have him punished for his 1996 book “When We Talk About God, Let’s Be Honest,” which they labeled as heresy. Mercer’s trustees and faculty backed the president, however.
Other trends Godsey expects in the coming decades include “increasingly less interest in denominations and more compelling interest in church engagement.” People don’t flock to churches because of the power and promise of a denomination’s financial program, but to find meaning and refuge, he said.
“Mark it down. Don’t ever forget it,” he continued. “The church of the 21st century will be led more by women, less by men. The 21st century will be the century of the woman.”
“Women are clearly the stronger breed,” he said. “It has been said that whatever women do, they have to do it twice as well as men to be thought half as good.” But it also turns out, he added, that women are smarter and better educated.
“Let me be a little more precise. The bell curve for intelligence is tighter for women than for men, which means that there are more geniuses in the world that are men. But, there are a lot more stupid people who are men.”
Godsey said he expects churches to “become less exclusive and more relational,” as Christians become more open to conversation with other world religions.
“In the next 50 years, we must learn to meet at the boundaries of our respective faiths. That’s our current challenge. We must be prepared to confess the light by which we live and listen–really listen–to one another and search for our common ground. We must acknowledge that a Jew may have a word from God for us to hear. We must acknowledge that a Muslim may have a word from God for us to hear. Being a faithful Christian is not about the defeat of another person’s faith. It is about affirming our faith clearly and openly and leaving every person free to say yes or no.”
Godsey contends the future of the church “lies with laity, not with the priests. Preachers are not, and never have been, the hope of the world.”
He also sees churches moving beyond “entertainment religion.”
“I realize that many … feel like [they] have to respond to what the culture requires,” he said. “I simply urge caution. Saturday Night Life Christianity mostly represents, I believe, the trivialization of belief.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.