How Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Churches Deal with Unwed Mothers

fornication is a sin

If you are unfamiliar with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, please read the following posts:

The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook

What is an IFB Church?

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Lingo, A Guide to IFB Speak

The IFB River Called Denial

An Independent Baptist Hate List

Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps

How to Start an Independent Baptist Church

Tony Soprano Would Make a Good Independent Baptist Preacher

If I were to ask you what it is that Independent Fundamentalist Baptists value most, many of you would say things such as: Jesus, the B-I-B-L-E, hard preaching, and potlucks. However, these four articles of the IFB faith pale in comparison to the one thing valued above all others: the virginity of teen girls and never-married women. Valued above Jesus? Yes, even above Jesus. Intact hymens are the holy grail of the IFB church movement. This fact is best illustrated by a dating couple who came to an IFB pastor and asked if they only had butt sex would that mean the woman was still a virgin? The pastor, of course, told them that anal sex was the same as vaginal sex. But why would this question even be asked? Why would anyone think that anal sex (or oral) was not “real” sex. Because in IFB churches the only hole God made for sex is judiciously protected against insertion of anything besides tampons. No penises, fingers, vegetables, or battery operated devices allowed. (And on the extreme end of the IFB church movement, there are pastors who believe that married couples should only engage in vaginal sex, missionary position, while thinking how wonderful it would be if Bro. Billy Bob’s sperm hooked up with Sister Mary Lou’s eggs.)

From their teen years forward, IFB girls hear repeated warnings about having premarital sex and losing their virginity. These girls are told that only whores have premarital sex and that those who let boys score with them are like dirty rags fit for the trash. I have heard countless sermons — and preached a few myself — that focused solely on causing fear, guilt, and shame. While the young horn dogs of IFB churches, along with their wandering-eyed fathers, hear purity sermons from time to time, most of such sermons are directed at what IFB churches believe is the weaker sex. Women are reminded that they are the gatekeepers. It is up to them to protect not only their own holy virginity, but that of the boys and men. This is why there are so many rules about how women dress. The goal is to destroy their visage and beauty, those things that cause teenage boys to have wandering thoughts about youth group girls instead of their pastor’s weekly Biblical tirade.

Despite the Baptist burkas, hot-and-heavy sermons, and puritanical rules governing dating and male/female interaction and physical contact (there are no gays in IFB churches), unmarrieds do have sex. And thanks to Just Say No sex education, some girls do become pregnant.

In IFB churches, there’s nothing worse than one of the church girls getting pregnant. Whether the girl is fourteen or twenty-three, it matters not. Becoming pregnant without the benefit of marriage is a deep black stain, not only on the mother-to-be, but also the church, the girl’s parents, and her pastor. By spreading her legs before marriage and “allowing” Deacon Noah’s son to plant his seed, she has repudiated everything her church, parents, and pastor believe about the sanctity of sex.

abstinence

With such extreme thinking, wouldn’t it be best for all sexually aware IFB girls be put on the pill? This way, the threat of embarrassment and scandal for IFB churches, pastors, and parents is eliminated. Makes sense, right? Why not take preventive measures, especially since any honest IFB preacher knows that more unmarrieds than not will eventually do the dirty deed. When I was asked this very question years ago, I told the questioner that allowing girls to use birth control was akin to saying to them that it was okay to have sex. This same logic was used for drinking alcohol, using drugs, and other behavior deemed a sin. JUST SAY NO was the only proper response to temptation and sin. It didn’t matter that most married adult IFB church members failed to just say no. All that mattered was maintaining the virginal illusion that when young IFB couples walked down the aisle, their lives were living testimonies to the rightness of the IFB doctrine and practice.

I want to conclude this post with several anecdotal stories from my days as a student at Midwestern Baptist College and as a young IFB pastor.

As many of you know, the college I attended in the 1970s had (and still has) a strict no-contact-with-the-opposite-sex policy. If you are not familiar with this policy, please read Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule. While an infinitesimally small number of unmarried students kept the six-inch rule, the rest of us broke the rule with gusto. While some students were able to keep their virginity intact, other students scampered around the bases and slid into to home. Those caught breaking the six-inch rule were usually campused (not permitted to leave campus) on first offense. Further offenses, pregnancy, or whispers of sexual romps in cars, motel rooms, or the dormitory laundry room were harshly met with immediate expulsion. Not only were offenders shamed in front of their fellow students, many of whom were guilty of the very same sexual “crimes,” they were shipped home to their IFB churches, parents, and pastors to be face further humiliation.

My first ministerial position post-college was as the assistant pastor of a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) congregation in Montpelier, Ohio. During my seven-month stay at Montpelier Baptist Church, one of the girls in the church became pregnant. The pastor decreed that she and the father of the baby were to immediately wed. (My sister went through a similar circumstance, marrying at the age of fifteen.) Not only were they to wed promptly, but only immediate family could attend the wedding and the girl would not be permitted to wear a white dress. The pastor told the pregnant girl that the color white was reserved for girls who were virgins on their wedding days. Her mistake was confessing her sin. Had she quickly and quietly run to the altar as other church women had done, she could have worn white and maintained the virginity illusion.

Years later, I attended a church service where a “loose” pregnant teen was brought before the church congregation and made to publicly profess her wickedness. Once she was sufficiently shamed, church members came to the weeping, shaking girl and embraced her, praising God for cleansing the girl from her sin. I have no doubt that many of these hugging super saints were guilty of the very same sin years ago. Sufficiently distanced from their own mortal sins, these holy saints of God likely felt no irony or guilt as they continued the shaming ritual.

Some IFB churches choose to make to pregnant teens disappear. IFB parents who find out their daughters are pregnant will usually immediately (and frantically) contact their pastors to find out what they should do. Knowing that their daughters “sins” will sully church testimonies (and abortion is not an option), parents often choose to ship their pregnant teens to IFB group homes. These homes, which are frequently little more than prisons or reeducation camps, purportedly turned whores, sluts, and fornicators into blood-washed, white-as-the-driven-snow lovers of Jesus, the King James Bible, and the IFB way. Often, their babies are given up for adoption.

I hope readers who were raised in the IFB church will share their own experiences in the comment section. To outsiders, what I have written here sounds out of this world, but these stories and practices are repeated in countless IFB schools, colleges, churches, and homes. Since the IFB church movement prides itself on being the same today, yesterday, and forever (if it was good enough for Jesus and Paul, it’s good enough for me), the shaming rituals and abuse of years ago are often practiced today.  As long as church teenagers keep having sex, there will be bastard children and women to ritually humiliate. Indeed, the IFB God is an awesome God.

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15 Comments

  1. Susannah Anderson

    I was not in the IFB, but might as well have been. My family and their co-workers adhered faithfully to every teaching you have ever described.

    I visited one of those “homes*” for “wayward” girls, back in the 50s. So cold, so quiet, so subdued the girls were: I came away horrified.

    And then, a couple of years later, I learned more. When a girl is raped (as I was**) and becomes pregnant (as I did), there is a rush on to get her married before she “shows”. And then the newlywed couple is hurried off to a distant city until the child is beyond early infancy. All hush-hush. I didn’t realize until decades later, that a good percentage of my friends and classmates had also lost their virginity, one way or another, before marriage, and lived under the same cloud of shame that I and those girls in the “home” did.

    *Scare quotes because those were no homes; they were prisons.
    ** And of course it had to have been my fault.

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      I am so sorry that you had that experience. These people are evil to have treated you like that. It was really brave of you to share that.

      Reply
      1. Susannah Anderson

        Thank you. The people were my parents and my pastor. Good people, in their own way, but Christianity seems to blind people to the damage they’re causing.
        It was long ago; they’re no longer living.

        Reply
        1. Brian

          Susannah, it does my heart good to hear the truth. When you say, ‘good people’, you are referring to some part of them that did not harm you? Because my parents are good people too and complete fucking assholes at the same time.
          I wish you peace, joy and human love in your everyday…

          Reply
  2. Sarah

    Have any of these people ever read the Song of Solomon? I had someone inform me that kissing before marriage was a sin. I was not raised IFB but joined it because of my husband’s relatives on his mother’s side. They don’t even read their own holy book. I think that we should tweet some of the descriptions of intimacy in the Song of Solomon to these ridiculous pastors because these standards are not designed to help but to hurt.

    Reply
    1. Charles

      Yeah. The Song of Solomon. My middle is as tall as the cedars of Lebanon, and you dear are my Mammoth Cave.

      The forgotten book in the Bible—in the fundie mind—it is almost as obscure, uncomfortable, and useless as the Book of Galatians.

      I have often thought that if one were to hold a fundie rally to vote on the book that most needs to be deleted from the Holy Bible, the Song of Solomon and Galatians would be the two big winners. They are kind of like Iowa. Everyone knows it is one of the 50 states, but no one can find it on a map and no one wants to go there.

      Reply
      1. Sarah

        Galatians is a great idea too. My husband has taken to protesting the religious right by posting bible verses they wouldn’t like. He posted James which I think they would also like to see tossed because it is too friendly to the poor and they love money too much:)

        Reply
  3. howitis

    My mother-in-law was raised Catholic, and when her mother was on her deathbed, she made a startling confession. Apparently, when her Mom was 15 years old, she was “seduced”by her high school English teacher. She became pregnant, and when she told the teacher, he promptly skipped town. Her Mom’s parents shipped her off to one of the many homes for unwed mothers run by the Catholic church. The nuns there treated her horribly; they let her labor for three days with no medication and no help, refusing to call the doctor until the other girls couldn’t stand to listen to her screams anymore. She gave birth to a boy, but the nuns wouldn’t even let her look at him, much less hold him, before they took him away. A few days after she gave birth, the nuns drove her to the bus station and sent her back to her hometown. They told her that her son had been put up for adoption because her status as an unmarried girl made her “morally unfit” to be a mother, and she was to tell no one she had ever given birth. Her parents acted as if she had merely been away visiting relatives, and refused to acknowledge anything had happened. But my MIL’s mother spent her entire life wondering what happened to her baby.

    My mother-in-law has tried to find her brother, but has not been successful. Given that he was born in 1944, there’s a good chance he’s already dead. She says that growing up, she used to wish she had a big brother (she’s the oldest of three girls her Mom had once she grew up and married.) It breaks her heart to know that she had one, and never got to know him. And she probably never will. It breaks my heart, too. :,-(

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      That is truly tragic. It is like these people use religion as an excuse to be mean to the truly vulnerable instead of using it as an excuse to be kind. The vulnerable then become blamed for their own abuse, and the guilty never see justice.

      Reply
      1. Brian

        This is what Christianity is, Sarah. Why do we suppose it should be otherwise? Oh, because they claim it is! Baptist Doublespeak!
        Now, dear brother and sister in Christ, bend over so I can beat the shit out of you, for your own good. This is going to hurt me so much more than you.

        Reply
  4. Steve

    My ex-sister-in-law went through this exact thing when she was a young woman; she is bitter about it to this day

    Reply
  5. Ian for a long time

    Virginity. The holy grail, that’s a good comparison.

    I have seen many girls/women come weeping to the altar to confess the sin of pre-marital sex (or post-marital sex, in the case of one divorcée). It is amazing that the confession and weeping only come after being caught or getting pregnant. Fortunately, I didn’t see much public shaming. I think it was because it was the pastor’s daughter and the deacons’ daughters and granddaughters that were the ones who were having sex and getting caught.

    What made it better was the fact the the two fornicators were “in love” and were already planning to get married, even before having sex. They realized they had a lapse of judgement, so getting married right away will fix everything.

    We would have a time of prayer, then everyone would come forward and shake the penitent sinner’s hand. They’re would be crying and snotting, everyone would hug, then someone would announce how wonderful it was that the sinners had found repentance. After that, it was as if nothing happened.

    p.s. I’ve added to my name, since I see a new Ian posting here.

    Reply
  6. Ashlie

    I was raised in a Southern Baptist church and Christian school. When i was in High school I went to Bob Jones Academy in Greenville, South Carolina. While I received a good education academically, and I was not a trouble maker, I saw so much legalism.

    The Bible does say that Christians are to be different than non believers, but what bothered me at Bob Jones was how they looked down at other Christian schools and Universities.

    Many students at Bob Jones, especially ” staff kids”, were engaging in premarital sex. They weee so bounded by legalism that they rebelled. They had the “no hand holding, no kissing, no couples can go on a date off campus “.

    I was an Academy boarding studeent and my roommates were University Seniors and Juniors. They were adults. Many University students were engaged….and they couldn’t go on a date with their fiance.

    Bob Jones smothered their students with man made laws of legalism. The “dating ” guidelines were ridiculous and over the top.

    It was a bubble of fundamentalism. Many people I knew rejected Christianity because of the legalism there.

    I am still a Christian, and I believe the Bible teaches purity and sex for marriage, but that has to be decided in by the Christian. You can’t smother people with legalism and expect many not to rebel.

    While I was at Bob Jones, I was grateful my upbringing wasn’t in an Ifb household. My parents were raised in legalism in the Ifb, and that is why we were raised in the Southern Baptist denomination. We were taught the Bible, but in a way that wasn’t oppressive and rigid in legalism.

    For people raised in the IFB, i am sorry if you experienced abuse. I have known of many IFB Pastors who deeply abused their families, and who were too harsh with their churches.

    It makes me cringe that many IFB churches are more cult following than JesuJesus following. What a bad representation of Biblical Christianity.

    Reply
  7. Headless Unicorn Guy

    I would like to point out (re the graphic at the top) that these days the word “Fornication” is found ONLY in Christianese. It’s almost a recognition characteristic.

    Reply
  8. M. J.

    Thanks for writing about your experience in the IFB and as a Pastor. As someone who grew up in an IFB home and church, I want to get out the word about these self-righteous sinners. I’m writing a novel (genre: women’s fiction) about what you’ve written here about the number one thing this cult is concerned with, woman and sex.

    In the novel, the main character is raped and sent away. I’d appreciate any information about the group homes unwed mothers are sent to. I’ve been searching for more information as to what these poor girls are put through so far from home and away from any family and friends.

    Thanks for any information you can share, M. J. Patrick

    Reply

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