One can be fundamental in faith, without taking on the heavy scowl of fundamentalism. It is vital to a life of faith that one is fundamental. But you don't have to put dogma above people - and therein lies the difference.
The number of people killed in the horrific London bombings has now risen to fifty-six. Since 9/11, one word has come to summarize, in the minds of many, everything that we should fear from the world of terrorism. That word is 'fundamentalism'.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, the word simply referred to a belief in the fundamentals of a religious faith. Back then, a fundamentalist was someone who accepted the literal interpretation of a religious text and was willing to align their lives with its moral and spiritual principles.
Today, though, the word resonates with an overtone of menace. It has come to convey the idea of meanness, small-mindedness and worse still, cruelty and injustice.
A fundamentalist is now someone who blows up innocent people in trains and buses, or flies planes into tall buildings in a misguided quest to force change upon the world.
Is it possible, we might ask, for a person of faith to be fundamental without being fundamentalist, in the current use of that word? Yes, it is.
In fact, as a Christian myself, I believe it is vital to a life of faith that one is fundamental. But you don't have to put dogma above people - and therein lies the difference.
In a recent editorial in the Sunday Times, Andrew Sullivan wrote of what he called 'the fading voice of a kinder, gentler evangelist.'
In it, he said: 'I doubt whether there has ever been a voice as immediately recognisable as that of the evangelist Billy Graham... In the heyday of Graham's mass Crusades for Christ. he drew hundreds of thousands eager to hear his call for something more meaningful.'
These next words from Sullivan became somewhat more poignant in the light of the London terror attacks which occurred shortly thereafter: 'Above all, Graham's faith has not been ideological. Where Graham talks always of the need for personal salvation, his successors have ranted about the evils of a decadent society.'
Billy Graham has been a fine example of inclusiveness, of bringing people together under the umbrella of faith, rather than using faith to drive people apart.
That's not to say that he hasn't spoken clearly of light and darkness, of eternal life with God and eternal seperation from the Father.
But Dr. Graham has never done the latter without a deep respect for his hearers, or a profound understanding that to follow Christ is first to preach and offer God's gift of love to all.
Fundamentalists of any stripe are dangerous; whether we're talking about fanatics who act in the name of Islam or so-called Christian activists who blow up abortion clinics.
As I think Dr.Graham's life has always illustrated, true faith is more than belief; it is belief applied to meeting needs.
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