Bruce, Ordination, 1983, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio
In the early 1960’s, my parents put their faith and trust in Jesus and our family joined the Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego, California. Tim LaHaye was the pastor at the time. From this point forward, until I left the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement in the late 1980’s, I was immersed in IFB thinking, ideology, and practice.
When my parents moved us back to Ohio, we immediately found a “good” Bible preaching church to attend. Wherever we moved, and we moved a lot, my parents made sure we were going to an IFB or IFB-Like church.
I spent my teenage years attending Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. I lived in Findlay for almost four years. This was the longest time I lived in one place, even though I lived in three houses over four years. I spent 1973-74 living apart from my parents, splitting time living between two families in the church. (Bob and Bonnie Bolander and Gladys Canterbury)
As we all know, our teenage years are very important. It is during our teenage years we begin to develop critical thinking skills and we begin to develop a worldview. Of course, my worldview had God, the Bible, and IFB thinking smack dab at the center of it.
Not long after my parents divorced, I made a profession of faith in Christ and was baptized. Shortly after that, I told the church I was called to be be a preacher. From this point forward, I immersed myself in the IFB way of life.
I was a true-blue believer. When my less-spiritual church friends were drinking, smoking pot, and having sex…it was the 1970’s…I was going to church every time the doors were open, attending all-night prayer meetings, running a bus route, going out on visitation, carrying my Bible to school, and witnessing to classmates.
In every way, I was the real deal. Keep in mind my parents stopped going to church after they divorced. I went to church on my own, often riding my bike or walking to church. I sincerely believed the IFB church was the way, truth, and life.
When I had to move away from Findlay in 1974, I continued to involve myself in IFB churches no matter where I lived. While I had moments where I strayed from my IFB beliefs, for the most part, I remained a loyal-son of the IFB church.
In the fall of 1976, I enrolled, for the purpose of studying for the ministry, at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an unaccredited IFB Bible college started in the 1950’s by IFB megastar Tom Malone. It specialized in training men for the ministry.
Bruce preaching to full house at Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio 1986
I met my wife while at Midwestern, and in 1979 we left Midwestern and I began working at an IFB church in Montpelier, Ohio. (affiliated with the GARBC) For the next ten years, I pastored IFB churches.
In the late 1980’s, I moved away from the IFB church, embracing Calvinism and expository preaching. For a time, I was a Fundamentalist Calvinist, quite conservative, but, bit by bit, my theology, and, most importantly, my treatment of the people I pastored, changed. When I left the ministry in 2003, I was a long-long way from my days in the IFB church movement.
Those of you who have read this blog for years know everything I have written so far. Perhaps you are wondering, Bruce…do you have Alzheimer’s? This is old news to us. First, I want new readers to understand how and why I got to where I am today. Second, it is important for me to write what I have written above so what I write next makes sense. If readers don’t understand my past, the context of my life, they will certainly misjudge what I am about to write.
The title of this post is, A Victim and a Victimizer. It could just as easily be titled, Abused and an Abuser. I am sure you are familiar with the fact that a person who was abused as a child is more likely to abuse their own children. Why is this?
Humans, like all animals, do what they know. They tend to do what they have been taught, what has been modeled to them by parents, extended family, and people they have intimate contact with. (i.e. teachers, preachers)
We also know that a child almost always chooses the religion of his parents, family, and culture. I could no more have become a Catholic than the Pope could have become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. I became exactly what I was raised and trained to be.
I am sure many of you can relate to this. We look back on our lives in the IFB church and we are embarrassed and ashamed. I know I have a lot of guilt over my past. Yes, I now realize that I was a victim, but I also realize that I was, for many years, a victimizer. Sometimes, I find a bit of mental relief when I remind myself that I was only doing what every church, pastor, and college professor taught me to do…but the relief quickly passes as I remind myself that I mistreated people.
Bruce preaching at Somerset Baptist Church 1986
Like every IFB preacher who has travelled a similar path, I reached a place where I had to embrace my “sins.” No, I wasn’t a child abuser. No, I never slept with women in the church. No, I never stole money from the church. No, I don’t have any criminal acts in my closet. Should I find comfort in the fact that I wasn’t as bad as some IFB pastors and church leaders?
In many ways, I was a good pastor. I loved the people I pastored and I sincerely wanted to help them. I was there for them, no matter the circumstance. I married them and buried them. I wept with them and rejoiced with them. I loaned them money, clothed their children, and gave them food to eat. I took them to the doctor, grocery store, and the welfare office. In these kind of things…I was a good pastor.
But, there’s the rest of the story.
I also was an arrogant, filled with certainty, hellfire and brimstone IFB pastor. I ruled the church as if it was my kingdom. I also ruled the lives of the people I pastored. I did this through my preaching. I preached on sin, their sins. I used the Bible as a club. What I thought was God calling out their sin was really me gutting them and showing their humanity to everyone.
Through “hard” preaching and high-pressure altar calls, I manipulated people into getting right with God. You see, I am a pretty good public speaker. I learned my craft well. At the time, I thought the response to my preaching was God working and moving, but I now see that I emotionally manipulated people to get the response I wanted. (after I became a Calvinist and an expositional preacher, these tactics stopped)
As an IFB pastor, I was the CEO of the church. I controlled everything. Anyone raised In the IFB church has heard the phrase “pastoral authority” countless times. My word was the law and those who dared to challenge me usually ended up leaving the church. Where did I get the idea to be so controlling? It was what was modeled to me by every church and pastor I was ever a part of. Even when I was in college, Tom Malone ruled the church, Emmanuel Baptist Church and the college with a rod of iron. (after all this is what the Bible taught, I was told)
I wanted to be like Tom Malone. A great orator who pastored a large church. He was my idea of the ideal preacher. There was no doubt who controlled Emmanuel Baptist Church and Midwestern Baptist College. Cross Tom Malone and you were out on your ear.
Tom Malone is revered in IFB circles. (he died a few years ago) What a great man of God. Yes, and he was an autocratic control freak, who, in the name of God, always got what he wanted.
As a preacher boy trained in HIS college, I emulated him when I started pastoring churches. The victim became the victimizer. I became what I was raised to be.
Yes, I find a small bit of comfort in the fact that my family and I escaped the abusive, mind numbing clutches of the IFB church movement. I am grateful we were able to find and develop a more healthy form of Christianity. (though I never lost the tendency to need to be the CEO of the church) But..finding a more healthy form of Christianity, and now embracing atheism, does not erase the emotional and mental damage I did to people when I was an IFB pastor.
When I come across former church members I always tell them, I am sorry. It seems so hollow, doesn’t it? I robbed people of their ability to think critically and I used the Bible to control and dominate their lives. I manipulated them, albeit sincerely, in the name of God. I’m sorry, doesn’t cut it.
Most of the people who made me the IFB preacher I was, are either dead or still plying their trade in the IFB church movement. Most of my former IFB colleagues are still in the IFB church movement. With great certainty, they continue to pass on the bankrupt, abusive heritage of the IFB church movement.
Why was I able to get away from it? Good question, a question that I have asked myself many times. My counselor told me it is very rare for people who were immersed in Fundamentalist religion like I was, to break free from it. The same goes for leaving the ministry altogether. Rarely does a man in his fifties, a man who spent his entire adult life in the ministry, walk away. They have too much invested to walk away.
But, I did. Am I special? Of course not. I have met hundreds of people like me, This blog is read by people who grew up like I did. They may not have been a preacher, but they know what it is to have their lives ruined by the IFB church.
We are however, a fraternity of survivors and if we have one goal, it is to make sure that other people do not get caught up in the mind-killing and soul-killing IFB church. (and this could be said about Evangelicalism too) We are broken people and we bear the scars of our past. We can’t undo the past. All we can do is embrace the past and do everything we can to make sure other people do not follow in our steps.
As a father, I am so glad that the generational curse of the IFB church has been broken with my children. I am so grateful that none of my grandchildren will be raised in mind-numbing, soul-killing Fundamentalism. They are free, thank the gods, they are free.
As for me, I continue to see a counselor and work through the past. By understanding my past I hope to be able to help others in the present. I can’t undo the past. At best, this blog is my penance, and as I get the Leaving the Faith Project up and running, I hope that I can in the latter years of my life help those caught in the web of Fundamentalism. It is the least I can do…
If you have not read the ongoing series, The Fundy World Tales, I encourage you to do so. It will help give you some insight as to my past.