(Note: I use words like sin in this article for the benefit of readers who are Christians. Sin is a religious construct that I reject. There are good and bad behaviors and good or bad is determined by how the behavior affects others. I want to ensure this article is widely read so I use some words that in normal circumstances I would not use. I hope my non-Christian readers will understand my intent)
Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB) pride themselves in being bold proclaimers of the truth. IFB preachers are known for their fire and brimstone sermons, sermons that name names and call sin sin.
As a long time IFB pastor, I know the movement well. I know its outward persona and I know its secrets. In mob-style fashion, I know where there bodies are buried.
The IFB church movement is built upon the personalities of preachers and fundamentalist colleges. IFB preachers and their churches gravitate towards certain colleges and certain preachers of notoriety. Preachers who have arrived, arrived meaning have a big church or college, are revered as gods. Go to any IFB conference and listen to the speaker introductions. If you didn’t know any better you would think one of the most famous, most renowned speakers in the world, was going to speak. Remember this is a movement where its preachers think becoming President of the United States would be a step down for them.
Outwardly, IFB preachers and their churches, give the appearance of letting it all hang out. Let the chips fall where they may. IFB preachers are known for their fearless, stepping on toes preaching. Yet, when it comes to the sins of its leaders or sins that could hurt the ministry of the church or educational institution, all of a sudden these same fearless preachers become mute. All of a sudden calling out sin and naming names is considered causing division and strife and condemned as a sin against God. It is one thing to call out the sexual sin of Joe-Blow Church member but altogether something different to call out sin of the IFB superstars.
IFB churches are generally ruled by one man, the pastor. Some churches have a plurality of elders, but even then one elder is THE head elder, teaching pastor, etc. Some IFB churches have a deacon board, but in most cases the pastor is the head of the board and has the final say on matters.
When power is consolidated in one man or a few men (note women have NO power in the IFB church outside of the nursery or kitchen) it is inevitable that abuse will occur. I am not suggesting that that these men are deliberately abusive but the ecclesiastical structure of IFB churches lends itself to abuse.
A hallmark of success in the IFB church is longevity. IFB colleges encourage young preachers to go to a church and never leave. It is not uncommon for pastors to have long tenures, stretching 30-50 years. I know numerous pastors who have been at their church for over 25 years. My wife’s uncle, James Dennis, has been pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple for over 40 years. Pastor Dennis had a good role model to follow. The chancellor of the college he attended, Midwestern Baptist College, pastored Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan for over 50 years. There are numerous Midwestern graduates that have spent their entire adult life pastoring one church.
With longevity comes increased power. Over time the pastor gains the respect of the congregation. If he happened to start the church he even has more power. He is the alpha of the church, the beginning of all things. With good intentions, long tenured pastors exercise the power they have, but over time arrogance and corruption seeps in, and the church, instead of being a New Testament body of believers worshipping Jesus, becomes Pastor So and So’s church.
This corruption of the church becomes entrenched further when the long-tenured pastor retires or dies and his son or son-in-law is made pastor. Like the English throne, the power is passed on and the control continues. Some IFB churches have been around long enough that we are now seeing grandsons following in Father and Grandfather Preacher’s steps. (Bob Jones University is case in point)
Now to the point of all that I have shared so far.
The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement has a lot of secrets. While IFB preachers love to rail on the Catholic Church and its abuse scandal, the IFB church has its own scandals. As I have said many times, Catholic priests seem to like boys,young men. IFB preachers seem to like young girls and married women. Different strokes for different perverts.
The level of sexual scandal and infidelity within the IFB church and its preachers is astounding. Child abuse, spousal abuse, perversion, theft, and misappropriation of funds is widespread. Take at look at the Freedom From Religion Foundation Black Collar Crime feature in their monthly newsletter, the Stop Baptist Predators website, Christa Brown’s blog, or the Conservative Babylon blog, and you will quickly see that abhorrent behavior is quite widespread.
Add to this the plethora of organizations, blogs, and groups devoted to the survivors of IFB group homes, camps, and ranches and there is no other conclusion that one can come to other than that there is a huge stench coming from the putrefying bowels of the IFB church movement. (please see my collection of posts under Churches that Abuse)
Some days I think their days are numbered. Thanks to the internet, activist bloggers, and investigative reporters, their evil works of darkness are being brought to the light of day, and in some cases brought to the light of the State and Federal Judicial system.
And then I will get an email from a person who has been abused. Or I will get an email from someone asking for advice about what do about this or that scandal that is going on in their church. I often weep as I read their emails. Such pain….
I try to help people as much as I can. As I told one dear person the other day when asked if I knew of a church they could attend, I would look for the most liberal church I could stand and attend there. I would NOT attend any church where power and control is held my one man or a small group of men.
Of course I could evangelize for atheism but that is not my goal. I genuinely want to help people and I know that anything I can do to help people see that fundamentalism is THE problem, is a huge step in the right direction. I know that most people will have some form or the other of belief in God. The best way to help them to encourage them to seek of religious groups or beliefs that are not abusive and controlling.
I want to be clear here…….I don’t think that most IFB pastors or the churches they pastor are evil. I know some people want, even demand, the narrow, defined, certainty that IFB churches offer. However, due to their ecclesiastical structure and Bible literalism the probability of abuse, misuse and control is quite high. Unless these churches are willing to make systemic changes I can not recommend that ANYONE become a member of an IFB church. (and I certainly wouldn’t recommend sending someone to an IFB college like Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, Hyles Anderson College, and the like)
IFB pastors and churches have secrets because they believe that the most important thing is to protect the testimony (reputation) of the church. They will often say they are protecting the name of Jesus but make no mistake about it, the name being protected in the pastor’s name and the church’s name.
Instead of naming names and calling sin sin, they become quite pragmatic. Instead of doing what is best for everyone involved they do what will best preserve the institution and its name in the community.
Result? Terrible sins are hidden, swept under the rug. Sometimes, theology gets in the way of proper action. Since Jesus forgives us of our sin, we should forgive others. Since the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, every sin, no matter the act, should be forgiven and the sinner given a clean slate.
I know of more than a few pastors who oppose criminal background checks for people who work with children in the church. They oppose this on the grounds of what is in the past is in the past and the blood of Jesus covers past sins. Never mind the fact that some sins and behaviors are so entrenched that all the Jesus blood in the world won’t deliver the person from their proclivities. Sexual predators, child molesters, pedophiles, and the like aren’t cured or delivered. They will have these dispositions throughout their life and it is naïve to ignore this.
It is one thing to allow a sinner saved by grace to sit in the pew and worship God. It is another thing to grant them access to the children and teenagers of the church. Why are IFB pastors and churches so blind to this? Imagine the church treasurer being caught stealing money. It is all well and good to forgive the person, but would it be prudent to allow the person to be the church treasurer again? Of course not. Why is it then, when it comes to sins that carry a greater social, physical, and mental price, sins like child abuse, sexual abuse, and pedophilia, do IFB pastors and churches think that, with time, all is forgiven and the offender should be given unrestricted access to the children and teens of the church?
I know of one case where a man was caught in a sexually compromising position with a male youth on one of the church’s bus routes. The whole matter was quietly dealt with and no one was the wiser. Over time the offender was allowed back into “ministry” and 20 years after the first incident was caught sodomizing a teenage boy. This time the pastor couldn’t sweep the incident under the rug and the man was arrested and prosecuted. He and and his family were banned from the church and were put under the care of another area IFB church.
The pastor bears the burden of these acts because he acted irresponsibly when the first act was committed. Such actions should never be hidden or kept from the church body. Full disclosure is absolutely required, even if it means ruining the ministry of the church and its name in the community.
Over the years I have watched church after church where sinful acts by pastors, evangelists, missionaries, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and Christian school leaders and teachers, are hidden from the light of day. Sometimes, the offender quietly moves on to another “ministry” or church, taking their proclivities with them. (in the case of David Hyles we know how disastrous such an approach is)
I know of a number of pastors, evangelists and missionaries who have benefitted from the “protecting the ministry” notion. Instead of facing the consequences of their behavior they resign and go to another church. Since the IFB is an amalgamation of loosely affiliated churches, as is the Southern Baptist Convention, child abusers, pedophiles, perverts, adulterers, fornicators, and abusers and misusers people, are free to slink out of town in the dark of night only to set up shop again 5 states away. (fortunately the internet is making this practice much harder to pull off)
I am often asked how much do I think church members should be told about this or that. One word! EVERYTHING! Full disclosure. There is no place for secrecy in the church. Pastors and church boards need to stop deciding what information church members should be given. Adult church members have a right to know what is going on in their church.
Of course, the problem here is that in the IFB church movement the church is the PASTORS rather than the membership. The pastor is the one person who decides what will be revealed and what will be buried. I know of several churches where when pastors are asked about this or that rumor or scandal they tell the church member, You need to trust me. It is better if I don’t tell you anything. This, of course, is the problem. Like Ronald Reagan’s approach to Russia, I think the right approach is, trust but verify. Yes, in most cases pastors should be trusted, but that trust is only merited when matters of importance are not secreted away or buried.
The IFB church movement has over the years shoved so many things under the rug that the rug is exploding above the roof of the church. It’s time for a complete and full disclosure of the secret sins that have long been buried under the guise of protecting the ministry. People have a right to know. Parents have a right to know whether or not their child is safe in the nursery, Sunday school, or youth group. Criminal background checks must be an annual requirement. Churches have a right to know about the pastor’s past, what he did at his last church, or five churches ago. No pastor should be able to slink out of town with the assurance that his sin will never be revealed. Once a predator, always a predator, and it is unconscionable to allow a pastor to go down the road to a new church and prey on unknowing church members.
Let me finish with this. I know a some fine IFB pastors and churches. As an atheist, I have no love for their beliefs. That said, many of these men are good, honorable men. They have a genuine love for people. They sincerely believe what they believe and they want to help others spiritually. Some IFB churches are free from the things I mention in this post. Good for them. I hope they will consider what I write here and make changes in their ecclesiastical structure. The only way to correct the abuse is to take the power and control out of the hands of the pastor or a small group of men. I know this means disobeying what you think is a clear teaching of the Bible. Ask yourself, what’s more important? Your interpretation of the Bible or the welfare of the church body?
To the serial abusers I know, those men who have screwed their away across America, I hope your days are few. I hope you get caught and I hope some church will not let you continue your pernicious behavior. To those men who are strangling the life out of their church by asserting their kingly right of pastoral authority, I hope your power is ripped from you and, like Nebuchadnezzar I hope you will learn you are but, a frail, feeble human.