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Troubling Aspects of the Ex-IFB Movement

deer
Photo by Charles Lamb on Unsplash

In the mid-2000s, my wife and I drove to Pontiac, Michigan to have lunch with a couple we attended college with at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. We hadn’t talked to each other in almost twenty years. We had a delightful time, but it became clear to me that we were living in very different religious spheres. (Our renewed friendship ended after I became an atheist in 2008.)

By the mid-2000s, my theology had moved from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) to generic Evangelical to Emerging/Emergent church. A few years later, I would deconvert and become an atheist. Our friends had moved leftward from the IFB theology and practice of their college years to garden variety Evangelicalism. In their eyes, they were free of the legalism and extremism of the IFB church movement.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon several websites and podcasts dedicated to helping people free themselves from IFB legalism. I call this the ex-IFB movement. I listened to several podcasts, coming away with troubling thoughts about their objective and goal: freeing people from IFB legalism and extremism while remaining Fundamentalists.

There’s no question about whether the IFB church movement is legalistic and extremist. It is. Any move away from IFB beliefs and practices is a good one. IFB churches and pastors have caused incalculable harm, both psychologically and physically. That said, many of the people fleeing the IFB church movement for kinder, gentler sects and churches are, in fact, still Fundamentalists. One ex-IFB preacher said that many people have been bloodied by IFB churches and pastors. He compared them to a wounded deer running in the woods. According to this Baptist preacher, wounded believers run away from the churches and pastors who have bloodied them, but often keep on running, away from Jesus. The solution, according to him, was for these bloodied Christians to run to Jesus, the man who shed his blood for their sins. I found his sermon (and the church service) to be quite Fundamentalist.

I have long argued that Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist; that Evangelicalism consists of two Fundamentalist components: social and theological Fundamentalism. I talk about this fact more thoroughly in a post titled Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? If you are not familiar with my thinking on this subject, please read the aforementioned post.

Evangelicals (of which the IFB church movement is a subset) have core theological beliefs. To be an Evangelical, you MUST believe these things. While there is theological diversity within Evangelicalism, when it comes to foundational beliefs, Evangelicals pretty much believe the same things. Take inerrancy. All Evangelicals believe the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. What, exactly, these words mean varies among Evangelical sects, churches, colleges, and pastors. Ask a hundred Evangelicals if they believe the Bible they carry to church on Sunday is without error, the overwhelming majority of them will say, Bless God, Yes!

It is social Fundamentalism that often causes people to leave IFB churches for friendlier confines. These disaffected Fundamentalists don’t like all the rules (church standards) so they seek out churches and colleges where social standards are relaxed. What’s troubling is the fact that such people often just trade one form of Fundamentalism for another. Their former churches had lots of rules. Their new churches? Fewer rules, but every bit as legalistic. One can’t be a Bible literalist and an inerrantist without having Fundamentalist beliefs — both theologically and socially.

Those leaving the IFB church movement are seeking out churches where they would have more personal freedoms. I understand their motivations, however, when quizzed about their “freedoms,” they reveal that they still have Fundamentalist tendencies. They may want to drink alcohol, smoke cigars, go to movies, wear pants (women), cuss, and watch R-rated TV programs. However, when asked about abortion, LGBTQ rights, Transgender people, same-sex marriage, premarital and extramarital sex, and a host of other personal freedoms, you quickly find out that they still have narrow Fundamentalist beliefs. (And let’s not forget that more than 80% of white voting Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. I suspect this percentage is even higher among IFB adherents.)

Religion is inherently legalistic. If you want to be part of a Christian church, there will be rules of some sort. Any time humans congregate together or form tribes (even atheists), written and unwritten rules govern the behavior of participants. Even families have social rules family members are expected to adhere to when the family gathers together. To return to the preacher’s wounded deer analogy, wounded, bloodied IFB church members should exit their churches as fast as they possibly can. Run! And keep running until your former IFB church and its pastors are distant in the rearview mirror. However, instead of running to another Evangelical church, take a deep breath and survey the religious landscape. You have been conditioned to view liberal and progressive Christian churches as evil or apostate. They are not. You might find such churches are a breath of fresh air, places free of most (not all) of the legalism found in IFB and Evangelical churches. Better yet, you might ponder whether religion itself is the problem. Maybe atheism or agnosticism is the solution. Maybe attending a Unitarian-Universalist church might give you the sense of community you are seeking. Don’t settle for a less intrusive brand of Fundamentalism.

The wounded deer runs through the woods, hoping to avoid hunters, be they IFB preachers or ex-IFB men of God. The deer recognizes that guns are guns regardless of who is shooting them. To reach a place where he or she can heal, the deer must find a place deep in the woods inaccessible to hunters; a place where healing can take place without sermons, Bible verses, and religious dogma. Ex-IFB preachers still want to mount your head on the wall or put you in a reserve where their brand of Fundamentalism controls your life. Sure, living in a deer reserve is better than being meat in an IFB preacher’s freezer, but living out your days in a fenced-in reserve is a poor substitute for running free in the fields and woods.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Why It’s Personal For Me

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Take history personally.

I gave that advice to one of my classes. I think that if you want to understand how not only “the world,” but also your immediate environment came to be, and what you can do about it, there really is no other choice.

For reasons I could articulate only recently, African American history has hit very close to home for me. While a sibling’s DNA test revealed that we have about 5 percent African blood—which, I imagine, everyone has, at bare minimum—almost nobody would ever take me for anything but a white person. It’s not just the shade of my skin or the color of my hair and eyes; my point of view and even tastes (including those in hip-hop artists) have been shaped, directly or indirectly, by being inculcated with Anglo-European-American values and culture.

Somehow, though, reading about the ways Africans were brought to these shores, and the brutal realities they have lived—and hearing stories of being subjected to or fleeing from hate-fueled violence, on recordings and in person—felt like hearing a voice from within myself. As an example, when I wrote about the Tulsa Race Massacre, I cried as if I were describing some experience of my own that I’d forgotten or suppressed in my waking life but rose up in dreams and nightmares like an air bubble in a stagnant pond. And mentioning Olivia Hooker felt like remembering some long-lost or -forgotten relative.

One reason why I so identify with the historic and present trials of African Americans is not simply empathy (though I’ve been told by more than one person that I have it). It has become clearer to me in two developments of the past few years: the ways in which churches have had to come to terms with their relationship to slavery and the revelation of long-suppressed accounts of sexual exploitation of children—including me, when I was an altar boy—and others who are vulnerable by clergy and others well-placed in religious institutions.

As best as I can tell, the only white Christian denominations or communities in the US that didn’t benefit from, or have some role in, declaring other human beings as property and using them as agricultural machinery or worse, are the Amish, Mennonites, and Quakers. In fact, the Southern Baptist Church—to this date, the largest Protestant denomination in the US—began from a rift with the larger Baptist church over slaveholding. And, at least one historian has argued that the Roman Catholic Church was the first corporate slaveholder in the Americas.

While the 1838 sale of 272 slaves by Georgetown University president Thomas Mulledy to pay off the debts of what would become America’s most prestigious Catholic institution of higher education has been known for some time, other purchases, receipt of gifts, sale and transfer of slaves by various orders of priests and nuns, as well as by parishes and dioceses, has only recently been coming to light. And, decades before Columbus landed at Hispaniola, Pope Nicholas V issued a bull instructing King Alfonso V of Portugal . . . to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever . . . [and] to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit . . .

Both the Catholic and Southern Baptist churches, as well as others, are being prodded by individual members and, in a few cases, clergy members, to confront and make amends for their history of slaveholding. In both cases, as with other Christian churches, leadership has ignored or denied the problem, or tried to dismiss it by saying, in essence, “that was then.” But even if efforts by individual congregants and clergy members result in paying reparations to descendants of those who were bought, sold or used, it won’t erase centuries of trauma that have helped to perpetuate racial inequity.

If the plotline of this story, if you will, seems familiar, it’s because you’ve heard it recently, in another context, and with (mostly) different victims. You see, every one of those congregations (as well as the Amish and Orthodox Jewish communities) has been rocked by revelations of sex abuse by priests, pastors, deacons and other religious leaders. Moreover, they are reacting to allegations of everything from molestation of children to sexual assault of adults in the same ways they’re reacting to the “news” about slavery: denial or vilification of those who would “bring up the past” to “stir up trouble.”

What I’ve come to realize is that enslavement and sexual exploitation, whether by priests or plantation owners, often happen to the same people. (Example: Sally Hemmings) Most important, though, they happen for the same reason: A power dynamic that mainly privileges certain groups of people (usually, white men from the upper or middle classes) encourages them to see those with less power as less human. A child in this vortex, especially if he or she has not yet received Communion or Confirmation, is not a fully-formed human; according to Nicholas V’s bull, an African is and cannot be, by definition, one.

In other words, you can’t exploit or enslave someone who has as much power as you—whether that power is the result of wealth, rank in an organization, education, or that person’s actual or perceived status. That status, or lack thereof, can derive from race or gender as well as achievement. (Contrary to popular perception, rape is more commonly done by white men to non-white women than by non-white men to white women. ) Whatever its source, those on the bottom didn’t ask to be there and got there, usually, through no choice or fault of their own.

While I would not compare even the worst experiences I’ve had to anything enslaved people (or, in too many cases, their descendants) have endured, they and I were exploited, and had parts of our selves taken away, for essentially the same reason: Someone who had more power saw us less than human, or simply less human than themselves. And the way churches are dealing (or not) with the aftermath of our exploitation is, unfortunately, all too personal.

Talking about my sexual abuse by a priest was a step in claiming my identity as a transgender woman and reclaiming myself as a subject rather than an object in my history, and within whatever histories I’ve been a part. Likewise, confronting a church’s, or any other institution’s, role in or relationship to slavery is nothing less than a way for descendants of the enslaved to reclaim their personal and collective histories as well as to claim their current identities. If that isn’t personal for me, I don’t know what is.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: IFB Pastor Robert Crouse Accused of Raping Mentally Disabled Children

pastor robert crouse

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Robert Crouse, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Columbia City, Indiana, stands accused of raping three mentally disabled children. Faith Baptist is a King James-only Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation.

The Ink Free News reports:

Robert M. Crouse, 57, 835 W. Dogwood Drive, Columbia City, is charged with three counts of rape when the victim is mentally disabled or deficient, all level 3 felonies.

On Dec. 17, 2020, an officer met with a woman at Faith Baptist Church in Columbia City. The woman told the officer that Crouse admitted to having sex with three children and that she believed the incidents occurred in the church. In court documents, the children are also described as young adults with special needs.

A Columbia City detective spoke with Crouse about what occurred. Crouse said the children willingly participated in the acts with him and that they would all watch pornography at the church.

According to court documents, Crouse said they watched pornography as a group about two to three times a month for the past two years. He allegedly said the children performed sexual acts in front of him and also onto him. Crouse also said he engaged in the sexual activity with them as well.

Crouse told the detective he didn’t record any of the sexual acts; he said he had sexual intercourse with one of the children about 10 to 15 times. Crouse said no alcohol, drugs or weapons were used during the activities.

He also said he didn’t engage in any sexual activity with anyone else aside from the three children. When asked why, Crouse said it was because they were willing participants.

Crouse said the majority of the acts happened at his home but that some occurred at the church. He told the detective he spoke with the three individuals and asked for forgiveness.

….

In their interview, the first child said Crouse, who they referred to as “Pastor Bob,” hadn’t done anything sexual to them. The child reported having no idea if anything sexual had occurred between Crouse and the other two children. When told that Crouse had already confessed to committing the sexual acts on them, the child didn’t disclose any further information.

The second child said Crouse showed them pornography at the church and asked them to perform a sexual act on him. When the child told him no, Crouse allegedly smacked the child’s face. The child said Crouse would make them call him ‘master’ and if they didn’t, Crouse would smack them.

The child also recalled an instance where the woman walked in on Crouse and them naked while at Crouse’s home. Crouse told the woman to leave. The child discussed in detail their sexual encounters with Crouse and also told the interviewer about the third child’s sexual interactions with Crouse. They also said Crouse would make the three of them call him ‘master.’

The third child discussed being inappropriately touched by Crouse and elaborated on how Crouse engaged in sexual activity with them. They said they had to call Crouse ‘master’ and that Crouse would occasionally hit them.

On Dec. 28, 2020, the detective interviewed the woman who reported the incidents to officers. The woman said she never walked in on Crouse and the children having sexual intercourse. She said she had suspicions that something was going on with Crouse and the children but didn’t investigate to see if it was true.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: United Church of Christ Pastor Misi Tagaloa Accused of Fraud

misi tagaloa

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Misi Tagaloa, pastor of Second Samoan United Church of Christ in Long Beach, California, stands accused of stealing over $100,000 from Phillip Campbell (who has since died), a disabled, schizophrenic homeless man. Charged last August, Tagaloa remains the pastor of Second Samoan.

Jeremiah Dobruck, a reporter for the Long Beach Press, writes:

The man in the photo looked like her father, but Sounmi Campbell needed to be sure.

Phillip Campbell had disappeared almost 20 years earlier in a fog of mental illness that abruptly drove him from his sister’s home in Georgia. A trail of letters, the final ones postmarked from Long Beach more than a decade ago, was his family’s last clue to his whereabouts.

The letters eventually stopped, but the search didn’t. From the East Coast, Sounmi’s sister-in-law was scouring online records. In 2017, as she Googled the name Phillip Campbell, she saw it associated for the first time with Misi Tagaloa, a prominent pastor in Long Beach who has run for City Council three times.

What were the chances this could be their Phillip Campbell?

For months, Sounmi said, her sister-in-law tried to reach the pastor, but he would take weeks to respond. When he eventually provided a photo of a man he knew as Phillip Campbell, Sounmi was stunned.

“When the picture came up, I was like, oh my god,” she said. In the man’s face—with an unmistakable hawk nose the entire family seems to share—she saw herself.

….

For years, Sounmi had feared her father was dead or living on the street, so she at first was grateful Campbell was under the care of Tagaloa, who leads the Second Samoan Congregational Church on the outskirts of Downtown Long Beach.

Campbell was living in a home next to the church’s sanctuary. Inside, the conditions weren’t ideal, according to his family, who said he was sleeping on a couch in the house with several other homeless men. But at least he was safe.

That gratitude has since soured as investigators from the Long Beach Police Department and state Department of Justice unwound Tagaloa’s financial relationship with Campbell.

“This is clearly abuse of my father,” Sounmi said after seeing the breadth of the accusations laid out in a 14-page affidavit filed by state prosecutors earlier this year and obtained by the Long Beach Post last week.

Tagaloa’s crime, the document alleges, spanned years, with the pastor gaining power of attorney over Campbell, a schizophrenic man in his 60s who had lost the ability to properly care for himself.

While managing Campbell’s finances, prosecutors say, Tagaloa embezzled more than $100,000.

The California Attorney General’s Office charged Tagaloa in August with felony counts of grand theft and theft from an elder dependent, but the case has remained largely out of public view with Tagaloa free on $70,000 bail as he progresses slowly toward trial.

….

Madena estimates her brother had been living out of Tagaloa’s church since some time before 2013. By 2016, Tagaloa was applying to manage Campbell’s VA benefits, according to investigators’ account in their 14-page affidavit. As part of the application, the pastor signed an agreement pledging to use the money only for Campbell’s benefit.

As soon as 2017, the VA flagged a questionable expense. In August that year, officials asked Tagaloa to justify a $4,390 payment to ClickSound & Stage, the name of a Norwalk-based stage and sound equipment rental company.

When investigators circled back for a closer look, they found a host of suspicious payments starting as early as 2016, according to the affidavit. They allege Campbell’s account was charged $356 at Men’s Suit Outlet, $913.11 to TNT Electric Signs, $318 to A & A Towing, $1,000 for rent at “Second Samoan,” followed three days later by another $1,200 to the church.

There was a flurry of spending from Campbell’s account on one day in February 2017, the affidavit says: a total of $2,477.75 at what appear to be clothing and apparel stores like Judy Blue Jeans USA, LAJEWELRYPLAZADOTCOM and Capella Apparel Co.

More charges would follow, according to the affidavit: hundreds of dollars to restaurants and donations to local community groups along with thousands directly to Tagaloa’s church.

….

All the details still aren’t publicly known. In the affidavit, investigators describe over 50 transactions they thought were suspicious, but they also seized six years of bank records that could contain more details.

The charges against Tagaloa accused him of stealing more than $100,000, but the California Attorney General’s Office declined to give a more exact figure or describe further what Tagaloa allegedly spent the money on other than to say they were “unauthorized expenses.”

Prosecutors haven’t found evidence of Tagaloa gaining guardianship over anyone other than Campbell, a spokesperson for the State Attorney General’s Office said in an email.

Sounmi said her father was clearly unable to adequately care for himself, but if his children had been in control, perhaps they could have gotten him better treatment before he ended up on a couch or in a convalescent hospital.

“There’s no reason that my father had to live like that,” she said. “We needed that pastor’s help and he neglected to contact us.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser