It's amazing how drastically a three-letter label can impact your view of a person or organization. For instance, reading the words "Andrew D. Doan" may bring certain thoughts to your mind (hopefully they are positive thoughts). If, however, we attach the three-letter label "CIA" to the name "Andrew D. Doan" this creates a completely different perception in your mind about the person behind the label--which just so happens to be me. The point is--labels matter. They create an understanding in the minds of those who hear or see them. The understanding they create may or may not be accurate, but labels do their work nonetheless.
That's why I am writing this post that, essentially, can be boiled down to three letters--a three letter label:
What understanding is created in your mind when you read these three letters in conjunction with one another? Of course, there are many different words these letters could represent in the acronym, but in this instance I am using them as follows:
I grew up in IFB churches and considered myself to be an "IFBer" for most of my life. The vast majority of my experiences in this religious movement were positive in nature. I am thankful for my religious heritage as it was through IFB churches and related ministries that I was given the truth of the Gospel. (No less important is the fact that I met my wife at an IFB college.) I consider myself to be fairly well-versed in the culture and inner-workings of a typical IFB church. Many of my friends and former college-mates are either pastors of or working in an IFB ministry. Let it suffice to say that the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement has played an integral role in the first 30 years of my life.
Over the last several years, a number of events and personalities have wormed their way into the media (and, consequently, the attention of the masses) that have cast a pall over the IFB label. These events range from Koran-burnings in Florida to funeral protests in Kansas. Most recently, the IFB label has come under scrutiny through an ABC News investigation and report about an IFB church in Concord, NH. While not all of these examples come from IFB churches, they seem to have affected the popular perception of churches in general and independent churches in specific. The increasing hostility and suspicion that many Americans hold toward IFB churches and similar organizations have left moderate "IFBers" all wondering the same thing:
"How do I disassociate myself with all of the negativity about IFB while maintaining my religious identity before the world?"
In other words, many moderate (often young) Fundamentalists are trying to figure out how they can salvage the IFB label and restore it to a position of respect. This post is my opinion on and answer to that question. Are you ready? Here it is...
That's it. Just don't. Don't even try. I am not a certified medical examiner, but I am gonna step out on a limb and officially declare the IFB label to be deceased. Well, at least it should be deceased. We can hold a memorial service and have a few nice eulogies about it, but the reality is that we should retire its number and a hang a commemorative jersey from the rafters. Yes, I know I am mixing my metaphors, but the point I am trying to make is that I believe the time is approaching (it may have already come and gone) when we should cut the IFB label loose...for good.
The reason for this is simple. It's just not worth it. There is too much other important work to be done for Christ's kingdom. There is no sense in stubbornly holding on to a label that has become too much of a loose cannon to be redeemed. Ask any major corporation that has had to do PR resuscitation for a particular brand. Ask the Catholic Church. Changing the popular perception of a label once it has been soiled in the public eye is a very costly and time-consuming process. Independent Fundamentalism does not have the resources to accomplish such a feat. The fact is--it doesn't need to. "IFBers" can still believe what they believe, preach what they preach, and do what they do without having to be know as an "IFBer". Personally, I think there is much about what they believe, preach, and do that needs to be refined, but that is not the focus of this article.
I am arguing here for more than just keeping the IFB label quiet. As in, keep it but don't make a big deal about it. I don't think that is good enough. The fact is, carrying that label before the public can actually harm the cause of Christ. I am of the opinion that IFB ministry leaders should take active measures to disassociate themselves with IFB. As in, change the name of your church. Withdraw your membership from IFB organizations. Do all that you can before the public to NOT be know by this increasingly-toxic label.
In reality, this should come quite easily to a movement that has, from its inception, been characterized by separation. Fundamentalists have always been more than willing to separate from any person, organization, or label that has been deemed unworthy of the cause. (The near-paranoia about Billy Graham and "New Evangelicalism" is a case in point as is the attitude about Rick Warren or Willow Creek.) What is stopping the current generation of Fundamentalists from separating from the IFB label? I really don't know. Maybe they are ignorant (either willingly or unwillingly) of all the baggage the label brings with it. Maybe they feel that to drop the label is a form of compromise (which is a cardinal sin in IFB). Maybe they just want to pay homage to the great Fundamentalists of the past. Whatever the reason, I think IFB ministry leaders need to give serious thought to where this label will take them in the next 10 to 15 years.
Here's an illustration of what I am trying to say. Think about the word "gay" for a minute. With what do most (if not all) Americans associate this word? You are probably familiar with the fact that this word used to refer to a feeling of happiness and bliss or a carefree attitude. Over time, however, the popular perception of this word has changed. How foolish would it be for someone to claim the word "gay" as a label to describe themselves and insist that it means "happy or carefree" instead of "homosexual"? The individual might mean it in the older sense, but that is NOT how people will perceive them when they hear the term. Words and phrases evolve in their meanings and connotations over time. To refuse to recognize such changes is just silly. There comes a time when a certain label's connotation has evolved to such a point that you just have to separate from it.
Personally, I have already reached this point of separation. I have come to terms in my relationship with IFB. I have said my goodbyes. I am not a Fundamentalist nor do I care to be known as one. Do I believe the fundamentals? Yes. Am I independent? I suppose so. Am I a Baptist? For the time being. Do I want to put those three names together and smack the IFB label on my forehead? Not on your life.
The question, of course, will be raised by some, "What label would you have us use instead?" This is not easily answered. Truthfully, I don't know. Every label is going to carry some baggage with it. No label will perfectly portray to a hostile world exactly who and what you are. That is why I used to jokingly tell my fellow seminary students that I was going to start a church and just call it "Church." Unfortunately, even that label has its problems.
No, there is no ideal alternative to IFB. Maybe you can think of one. In the meantime, however, I stand by my assertion that the Independent Fundamental Baptist name (particularly the Fundamental part) should be laid to rest and given a decent burial. Stubborn refusal to do so may just be another example of the Fundamentalist penchant for defending mountains that aren't worth dying on. We've all got bigger fish to fry.
In the meantime,
Rest In Peace, IFB.