In the mid-eighties to early nineties, a miracle happened with the help of Richard Yao and Fundamentalists Anonymous (F.A.)
- An exodus of millions from the fold of Christian fundamentalism.
- TV evangelists PTL’s Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart collapsed.
- The media, public, American Psychiatric Association recognized bad religion as a serious mental health hazard.
Fundamentalist Anonymous, founded by Richard Yao — a former fundamentalist, a Wall Street lawyer, and a Yale Divinity School graduate — was the catalyst, behind-the-scenes player, or driving force behind all the above.
In sheer effectiveness, media coverage, widespread support, and mass embrace by the victims of what Yao called “the shattered faith syndrome,” the fact is we have not seen anything like Fundamentalists Anonymous again.
It all started when Yao took out a two-line classified in The Village Voice. The ad got scores of responses, including one from the producer of “Donahue,” then the reigning daytime TV talk show and as potent as “Oprah” today.
A few days before taping “Donahue,” Richard Yao wrote a little book in one feverish sitting. He titled it “There Is A Way Out!” It was his answer to A.A.’s Blue Book.
It has since helped countless thousands make sense of their fundamentalist experience and their exit. And helped free them from the bondage of Fundamentalism in the U.S. and around the world.
Drawing on his fundamentalist upbringing, Yao explained in his booklet “There Is A Way Out!” why”The Fundamentalist Mindset” often turns the fundamentalist experience into a mental health hazard.
Reading Yao’s book was an eye-opening experience for people leaving fundamentalism or dysfunctional religious experiences. And thousands responded by pouring their hearts out to Yao in a flood of letters.
What was unique about Fundamentalists Anonymous?
For the first time, here were people who had left the fundamentalist fold, people who walked the walk and talked the talk, people who can describe and empathize with the untold nightmare of guilt, fear, and shame that countless millions were suffering through in fundamentalism.
People leaving the fold helping others leaving the fold. Ordinary people, not experts. But ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
- Unlike the ACLU, psychiatrists or other experts or critics, Fundamentalists Anonymous was able to speak directly and most knowingly to the one-third of the U.S. in the fundamentalist fold.
- And unlike many critics of the Religious Right, Yao and F.A. did not look down on them, or talk down at them.
This was what made the Fundamentalists Anonymous movement uniquely potent in a way that no group like the ACLU or NOW or an atheist group could ever hope to be.
This was the power of F.A.
And Jerry Falwell and The Religious Right got it right from the getgo.
Even before “Donahue” aired, the New York Daily News ran the first print media story on Fundamentalists Anonymous. Amazingly, Jerry Falwell, at the height of his so-called “Moral Majority” power, was already denouncing Yao and F.A. in this article.
The response to the “Donahue” show was phenomenal. Despite the heckling and initmidation of fundamentalists in the front rows of the “Donahue” studio audience, the message of Fundamentalists Anonymous got through. It struck a raw nerve.
Donahue had aired F.A.’s phone number and P.O. Box address. That summer, the phones Yao had set up in his apartment as an act of faith rang from 6 in the morning to midnight, seven days a week. Yao’s ragtag band of ex-fundamentalist volunteers who were skeptical they’d get any response was both ecstatic and exhausted.
- More than 50,000 people responded to the “Donahue” show alone! From all fifty states. A torrent of overwhelming response from the “Bible Belt” (southern states).
When Yao sent out his booklet (which became a book) “There Is a Way Out!” to the people asking for help, the response was more than anything he had hoped for.
Thousands wrote to thank Yao for it and said it opened their eyes and made sense of their experience and helped free them from a life of guilt, fear and bondage.
This was how Fundamentalists Anonymous (F.A. pronounced “F-A”) started. It was an audacious, almost miraculous beginning. Richard Yao and F.A. demanded of the Religious Right to “Let My People Go!”
And the most publicized, organized, and powerful exodus from Fundamentalism began! As seen on Oprah, and TV!