Why is abuse so common in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches?
When I use the word abuse I mean more than just physical or sexual abuse. While physical and sexual abuse are what make the news, mental abuse is, by far, the most common type of abuse and it most likely lays the groundwork for actual physical and sexual abuse to occur.
Most IFB pastors are not physical or sexual abusers. The number of pastors who physically or sexually take advantage of a parishioner is small. (though any percentage is to much) However, I am quite convinced that the majority of IFB pastors routinely engage in mental abuse. As a pastor I never physically or sexually abused anyone but my preaching was mentally abusive. I have no doubt that I hurt those I was supposed to help. I also have no doubt that I planted the seeds for abuse with my preaching on the family, children, and corporeal punishment.
The IFB movement is built upon the authority of the Bible. The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Everything that happens flows from this one literal truth, the Bible is the words of God and God meant exactly what the Bible says.
In IFB churches the pastor is a God-called man. While the church may hire the pastor the pastor is not answerable to the church. God is his boss. When he preaches the church membership expect to hear what God has told the pastor. (as long as it agrees with the Bible)
The pastor is the supreme earthly authority in the church. He wields a tremendous amount of power. This is what makes IFB pastors so dangerous. Absolute authority corrupts. Rare is the person who can have absolute power and not be negatively affected by it. I can not emphasize this enough, the pastor is the final authority in the church because he is the man of God called by God to be that final authority. Pastors read the scriptures, especially the writings of Paul, and they see the pattern for ruling the Church. They are authoritarians because the Bible tells them they are supposed to be. They are to watch and care for the souls of their congregation. Many pastors watch over their flock like a hawk on a fence post watches a mouse scurry through the grass.
Many pastors of IFB churches were raised in IFB churches. The IFB way of thinking is the only religion they have ever known.They are taught from their youth up that the IFB church is the true church, the faithful church, the uncompromising church. They see authoritarianism modeled by their pastor. They go off to Christian colleges like Pensacola Christian College, Bob Jones University. Baptist Bible College, and countless other schools, and they see authoritarianism modeled, not only by the professors and pastors they come in contact with, but through the stringent code of conduct these schools have.
So what do we have?
- Authoritarian upbringing
- Authoritarian education
- Authoritarian Bible
- Authoritarian God
- Authoritarian Pastor
The heart of authoritarianism is unquestioned, strict obedience. In the IFB church this means unquestioned, strict obedience to the Word of God as interpreted by the pastor. While they will vehemently deny it, the IFB pastor believes he speaks for God. While ridiculing the Catholic church for having a Pope the IFB movement has thousands of popes each ruling over their own little kingdom.
Authoritarianism is the ground in which the seeds of abuse grow. Church members are expected to obey the pastor and agree with what he preaches. Thinking out of the box is not permitted and attempts to do so might result in a public rebuke or church discipline. (I have seen people publicly called out by name for disobedience to
God the pastor)
A few years ago I had a frank talk with several people who were members in the churches I pastored. I asked them why they were so passive when it came time to make decisions during a church business meeting. (IFB church business meetings are where the pastor tells the congregation what “God” is leading him to do and he wants the church to agree with “God’.) Every person I asked this question gave a similar answer. They believed God was leading me to do this or that and who were they to object (even when they had objections) But what they told me next cut me to the quick. We didn’t say anything because we were afraid of you.
They feared me! Oh how that grieved me. But, looking back on what I preached and how I preached I can now see why they came to the conclusion they did.
Authoritarianism breeds fear. People fear opposing the pastor. They fear taking a stand against the man of God. It is in this climate of fear that abuse occurs. Church members stop thinking for themselves and they wholeheartedly submit to the authority of the pastor. Call them lemmings, brain dead or whatever nasty thing you’d like but I see them in a different light. I see them as sincere, honest people who desire to be good Christians. They believe obeying the pastor and submitting to his authority is the right thing to do. After all, the Bible says they are supposed to obey the pastor and every pastor they have ever had has told them that’s what the Bible teaches. Surely their pastor wouldn’t lie to them.
So for years and years they sit under the preaching of an authoritarian pastor. Bit by bit they surrender their ability to think for themselves. Their beliefs get lost in the the pastor’s beliefs. When the pastor says such and such is a sin they say amen. When the pastor says they should or shouldn’t do something they say amen. Whatever the pastor says AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!
Mental abuse occurs when pastors lord over their congregation. As one old preacher said, preachers hit church members with the sin stick so often that they naturally duck when they enter the church. The pulpit becomes a battering ram to preach an anti-cultural message. TV is bad. The internet is bad. Slacks on women are bad. Movies are bad. Kissing before you are married is bad. The church members life becomes one long illustration of not measuring up to
God’s the pastor’s standard of conduct.
And let me be clear, for all their talk about the grace of God, IFB churches major on works. Do this and thou shalt live! Virtually every IFB church has a code of conduct. (written or unwritten) I heard one preacher at a pastor’s fellowship preach on the text Neither give place to the devil. He read one verse and then spent 45 minutes telling us what it meant to give place to the devil. His sermon was a classic Baptist ass kicking, shit stirring harangue that had no true bible justification. It was 45 minutes of personal opinion.
IFB churches are known for what they are against. And believe me they are against most everything. I feel sorry for people who sit under this kind of abuse week in and week out. I want to scream FLEE but I know they can’t hear me. They fear if they leave the church they are leaving God. They fear the social implications of leaving. In many ways they are like women who are afraid to divorce their wife-beating husband. They know they should but they can’t. (and if they attend an IFB church they have been told there are no grounds for divorce)
Mental abuse at the hands of a pastor is not a crime. The only recourse a person has is to leave the church. I am hoping that blogs like mine can encourage people to take the bold step to leave their abusive, toxic church. I understand their fear. I understand their doubts. Leaving is a big step. A person has to be willing to lose everything in order to find that which was lost. What was lost, you ask? Self. Self-identity. The ability to think for oneself. The ability to be truly free.
I am an atheist. I admit I have great problems with religion of any flavor. But, I know that most of people in the world are religious and that atheism will never be the dominate force in the world. Many people need the comfort and purpose religion gives them. The good news is that there are churches that are not mentally abusive. There are churches that are not dominated by controlling, authoritarian pastors. You will have to look hard to fine one, and most often they will be a liberal or progressive church, but such churches are out there. (many Evangelical churches are just as abusive as IFB churches)
I am here to help. If you would like to speak privately with me please use the contact form.. Your emails are held in the the strictest of confidence. (I do not hold in confidence nasty, judgmental, preachy emails, so send them at your own risk. I always need good material for blog posts) I don’t have all the answers but I can point you in the right direction. I can’t pray for you but I can extend to you a helping hand, a listening ear.