So I found myself looking at something from an unfamiliar perspective the other night. A friend and I went and took in Ryan Paulson‘s show, Pentecostal Wisconsin, which I mentioned last week. Ryan’s blogrolled me too now btw, under the category of “religion.” The other blogs he links are humour and politics so I guess the bulk of my posts don’t fit either of those categories.

The show was part of a series at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church, and was followed by a panel discussing the question, “Given the reality of fundamentalism, is good religion possible?â€? Well, it turns out the answer was largely assumed — as one person said, “We’re doing it here, aren’t we? Having a dialogue?” General agreement, but the panel also covered several areas which made for good discussion, and I was glad we were able to hang around for the whole event.

One of the final few questions from the floor, and I wish I could recall the exact verbage… but in essence the question was how to talk to a fundamentalist. Now, it’s worth saying that the term fundamentalist wasn’t clearly defined in the context of the discussion, and I would generally say that the assumption of who was a “fundamentalist” would have been farther to the left than your average evangelical would have placed it. Generally, I think there’s a large number of evangelicals who are right-wing, but not like those people who are farther right, the “fundamentalists.” At least, that’s what they’d say. The folks in this crowd were largely moderates, and were wondering how they could hold a dialogue with people well off to the right, the fundamentalists. Just how could they go about reaching out to them?

I would have seen myself as coming from a fundamentalist background when I was younger, but I’d have said I came out of that and then became a nondenominational charismatic or neo-Pentecostal before leaving that for post-charismaticism or wherever I am now. As it happens, in this context Pentecostals were fairly clearly identified as fundamentalists…. and in the context of the discussion, they fit the bill.

And here’s where the surreal part comes in. This group was entertaining the idea of outreach or in some fashion, evangelism of fundamentalists. See? I’d never stood on that side of the evangelistic question. But it made sense…. these people had something to say that the fundamentalists need to hear. They need to be told to chill out and don’t be afraid to talk to people. Even people who don’t think the same way as them.

The answer is sad though. Personally, I was stumped. I’ve seen the world through fundamentalist eyes, and I still couldn’t come up with a good way of starting a dialogue. I do know that from that side of the fence there’s a desire to talk… but only to present a viewpoint and seek agreement with their version of the subject at hand. Yes, they want to talk, if they can convert. There isn’t really an openness to dialogue.

Of course I’m talking about Christian fundamentalists here, but they aren’t the only religious fundamentalists to which this applies. So I had the good fortune to see the world from a whole different angle, and it was just a little surreal… and I confess, I liked it. But I was a little surprised at what I found from that vantage point… finally, the realization of something that to many other people should have been patently obvious all along.

Update: Ryan Paulson has posted his thoughts about the event.

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