Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A blast from the past

Via the Amused Muse, I learn that Matthew Murray, the Colorado church shooter, was raised according to the strict teachings of evangelist Bill Gothard. Back when I was a fundamentalist teenager, some of the local youth pastors were big fans of Gothard and his ideas. The main theme I recall was authoritarianism -- "God's Chain of Command" they called it. Everyone was supposed to be under someone else's authority -- children obedient to parents, wives to husbands, church members to the elders and pastors, employees to employers, everyone to the government, and ultimately to God. Of course, this raises the obvious question: what if your authority-figure tells you to do something wrong? Suppose, for example, you are the wife of an abusive drunk -- do you have to obey him? What if your country is run by a homicidal dictator? (This was the era of Idi Amin in Uganda). The answer: not your problem -- authorities are accountable to God for the directions they give; you are only accountable for how well you obey those God set over you.

Holy Nuremburg, Batman!

Fortunately, I wasn't buying it. For whatever reason, I always believed that your conscience was your own business, or God's -- but definitely not some other fallible human's. In the Church of Christ I was taught what a great thing it was that the Reformation had broken the power of the "infallible" Catholic priesthood, and set us free to approach God as individuals. And here was this Gothard fellow trying to sneak something that looked an awful lot like the old system back in, under disguise? No thanks.

A few years later, a sex scandal broke in the Gothard ministry -- Bill's brother Steve had been boinking female ministry employees. I can't say I was much surprised. I had to wonder: just how much easier were Steve Gothard's seductions in an atmosphere that encouraged people to give up their personal moral responsibility in favour of obedience to their boss?

It would be simplistic to just blame Matthew Murray's actions on Gothard's teachings, as such (and it should be noted that Gothard's teachings are controversial within the fundamentalist movement). Shooters are always an extreme case, who act more out of their own twisted psychology than any logical consequence of -- or logical reaction against -- an ideology. But Murray's online ramblings mark him as a bitter, troubled young man, whose anger and confusion arose directly from the conflicts inherent in his upbringing within a rigidly legalistic framework.

No comments: