How Fundamentalism Affects Society

By Franklin, Michael; Hetherly, Marian et al. | The Humanist, September-October 1997 | Go to article overview

How Fundamentalism Affects Society


Franklin, Michael, Hetherly, Marian, Mendenhall, Paula, The Humanist


Social movements by their very nature demand change, and Promise Keepers is certainly no exception. But exactly how the group's agenda would affect our nation can't be learned from PK rhetoric and maudlin ceremonies. Furthermore, the research community is only beginning to study the social consequences of this relatively new group. There is, however, considerable research describing the effects of Christian fundamentalism on personality and lifestyle. Given PK's underlying fundamentalist agenda, such studies are thus able to forecast risks posed by PK's way of life.

The most important value espoused by Promise Keepers is the building of strong marriages and families by the reestablishment of the patriarchal family structure. But such a structure -- prompted by PK's inerrant belief in the Bible -- has been linked to a variety of harmful behaviors.

The July 19, 1993, issue of Christianity Today cites the book Battered into Submission: The Tragedy of Wife Abuse in the Christian Home (1989) by James and Phyllis Alsdurf, whose research suggests that "the probability of wife abuse increases with the rigidity of a church's teachings, especially teachings pertaining to gender roles and hierarchy." Fundamentalism has also been found to hamper the process of helping battered women. According to Vicky Whipple in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy (1987):

Five major factors ... complicate working with

fundamentalist, battered women: (1) a strong "we versus them"

mentality, which encourages members to seek help only

from the church; (2) a reliance on faith, which leads to a

passive approach toward life; (3) an insistence on

forgiveness, which tends to countenance aggressive

behavior among family members; (4) the dominance of males

over females; (5) strong prohibitions against divorce or

remarriage.

Although Marshall H. Medoff and I. Lee Skov of California State University found fundamentalists more likely to marry and have children, Thomas Snow and William Comptom of Middle Tennessee State University found that membership in a fundamentalist Protestant church is not a predictor of marital satisfaction. Even PK itself, despite its opposition to divorce, reports that 20 percent of the men who attended the group's first eight stadium conferences this year described themselves in surveys as either "divorced" or "remarried."

Within this rigid fundamentalist family structure, children also become victims. Researchers express alarm about the use of corporal punishment by fundamentalist parents, given its link to spouse abuse, sibling violence, delinquency, aggression, hatred, and a general pro-violence attitude. in Violence and Victims (1991), Harold Grasmick, Robert Bursik Jr., and M'lou Kimpel of the University of Oklahoma say, "In fact, the child abuse rate for parents who approve of corporal punishment is four times the rate of child abuse for parents who do not approve of corporal punishment." They also warn of court cases in which day care centers run by fundamentalist churches have insisted that hitting preschoolers is their religious obligation.

The corporal punishment of preschoolers is detailed by Christopher Ellison, John Bartkowski, and Michelle Segal in Social Forces (1996). These University of Texas researchers found that parents who hold that the Bible is inerrant spanked or slapped their toddler or preschooler (aged one to four years) .884 times more per week (or nearly fifty times more each year) and are 50 percent more likely to have spanked or slapped their grade-school-aged child than nonfundamentalist parents. They also found that boys of all ages receive corporal punishment more often than girls, and adopted children are 50 percent more likely than other children to be spanked or slapped.

In surveys of adults who were asked how frequently they had been spanked by parents as a child, H. …

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