I can see this one coming, so I thought I would head it off before it makes its way to my front door.
I was a Christian for almost 50 years. I was an ordained Baptist pastor for 25 years, many of those years spent pastoring Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches. I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I have been open and honest about my time in the ministry.
Some will surely doubt that I have really been open and honest. I write of the sins of the IFB church movement. Was I not a sinner too? Was I not an abuser like those I now point fingers? Was I not a part of the very institutions I now criticize and condemn? Have I forgotten, he that is without sin, let him cast the first stone?
I would answer these questions yes and no.
Have I ever had an extra-marital affair? No.
Have I ever stole money from a church? No.
Have I ever hid acts of child abuse, sexual abuse, pedophilia, or other serious crimes? No.
Was I a controlling, I am the Lord thy God, I am anointed by God, pastor? Yes.
My wife knows I have never had any type of sexual relations with anyone in a church I pastored besides her. Could I have had sexual relations with female church members? Sure. The temptation to do so was a part of the ministry. Any pastor who denies this is either clueless or living in denial.
Early in my ministry I had several occasions where women came on to me while I was counseling them. I realized quickly that I was walking on dangerous ground. One women, as she later told me, came into my office with the express purpose of bedding me. I would like to tell you I was some pillar of virtue but the truth is the temptation to violate my marriage vows frightened me. I feared that, despite having Jesus close by my side, I was going to fall, or, dare I say, run into sin.
As my wife can testify, this is the reason I quit counseling women privately. I made sure the door was always open and someone, most often my wife, was nearby. A wise old preacher told a group of preacher-boys to be that a stiff prick has no conscience. He was right and sadly many preachers forget this sage’s advice.
When it came to the church’s money I was the bookkeeper and the person who determined when and where the money was spent. (a practice I roundly condemn today) In two of the churches I pastored this was not the case, but even in these churches I exerted a huge influence over how the money was spent.
I can say that I acted honorably and above board when it came to church funds. This does not mean that there were not complaints over how the money was spent. As any Baptist knows conflicts over how the money is spent are as common as altar calls.
One man accused me of stealing from the church. He told everyone who would listen that when the offering was counted it was one dollar for me and one dollar for the church. At the time, I was living with a wife and six kids in a 12 foot by 60 foot trailer I paid 2,800.00 for and I was driving a 500.00 car. Either I had a whole other life……perhaps I was blowing the money on hookers and crack OR this guy was full of shit. For those wondering……..this guy was full of shit.
When it came to criminal behavior or improper sexual conduct among church members I was not one to bury such things. As any former parishioner will tell you I was an advocate of full disclosure. I am sure they have fond memories of the open church meetings I held to discuss the various matters affecting the church. There were no secrets. I believed then and I still do that church members have a right to be fully informed about what is going on in the church.
There are times I wished that I had been more secretive. I have not so fond memories of a few church business meetings that turned into street fights. Ugly, awful stuff.
I took seriously my responsibility to the children of the church. I turned in a few parents to children’s services over what I suspected was abusive behavior. On one occasion I literally ran off a pedophile that came to the church trolling for young boys. (he went down the road to another IFB church) The children of the church knew they could talk to me, though I suspect most of them were afraid to do so because of my thundering preaching on Sundays. I like to think I was a protector of the church children but I have no doubt I failed them in this regard.
All this aside, I am not without blame. I was, after all, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor. I was the head honcho, the chief potentate. I was the man of God, called by God to rule the church. I was the final answer, the interpreter of all things. I lorded over the people I pastored and in many cases robbed them of their ability to think for themselves.
I was arrogant and I thought that my beliefs ought to be everyone’s beliefs. I had little to no tolerance for dissent or difference of opinion. It was my way or the highway. As I have said before, I ran off a lot of good, decent people whose only sin was disagreeing with me.
Towards the end of my time in the ministry I became less controlling and I tried to change my ways. I like to think I was a kinder, gentler, more open pastor at the end but I suspect I was still far too controlling. (and this says more about my personality than anything else) Since I have left the ministry and Christianity I have worked very hard at becoming a different person than I was as a pastor. I remain a work in progress.
As a pastor I was a compassionate, helpful man but my compassion and help was measured by the narrow beliefs I had. As an atheist the length of my compassion and help has broadened because I am no longer constrained by religious dogma. I am free to love people as they are, where they are, with no expectation of their conformity to my way of thinking.
If I had to focus on one area that I am most ashamed of it would be my use of corporeal punishment, also known beating your children. Like all good IFB pastors, I believed children should be spanked often and hard. After all, the Bible commanded parents to take a rod to their rebellious children. A good parent beat his children.
In one church, we had a Christian school and we used corporeal punishment as a means of discipline. We did not overuse it, but more than a few students were whipped for being disobedient.
As I look back on this now I see that I used abusive disciplinary practices with my children and the students in the Christian school. I have apologized to all of my children and to the Christian school children I have had contact with. I now think hitting children is morally wrong. I regret having spent decades teaching parents how to effectively abuse their children. I can’t undo what has been done. All I can do is admit that I was wrong and try to do differently. I am glad that my children have chosen a different path with my grandchildren. Hitting children is wrong regardless of the reason.
There are days that I have a hard time with the past and what kind of pastor, father, and husband I was. My wife, children, and former parishioners have told me that I am too hard on myself but I still have regrets over how controlling I was.
My counselor has told me more than once that I am not as bad a man as I think I am. I appreciate his encouragement but the guilt remains. There are no do-overs in life and all I can do is own what I have done and try to do differently.
Do I have any “secret” sins? Sure, and so do you. I have been a less than perfect human being. I have done things and been places (like a strip club) that some would consider sinful. (and I considered sinful at time I was doing it). I have been through bankruptcy. I have had difficulty managing money. I know my faults and failures well.
Saint Bruce, I shall never be. All I can hope to be is a frail, feeble human being who gives an honest accounting of his life. I have said more in this post than I need to say or perhaps should have said but I hope this post addresses those who are inclined to think of me as a finger pointing hypocrite who is now throwing rocks at the very institutions he was once a part of.
As always, I hope this post is instructive and helpful. If I can help others find a better away and perhaps find a bit of forgiveness for myself then much good has been done.