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Does the IFB Church Movement Promote Ritual Child Abuse?

dennis the menance being spankedThe Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a collection of loosely affiliated independent churches.(See Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps.) There are thousands of such churches in the United States and many foreign countries. What exactly is an IFB church? you ask. While IFB churches and pastors have varied peripheral beliefs, foundationally IFB churches, colleges, evangelists, missionaries, and pastors believe:

I stands for Independent

The local, visible church is an independent body of believers who are not associated or affiliated with any denomination. The pastor answers only to God, and to a lesser degree the church. The church answers to no one but God. Most IFB churches oppose any form of government involvement or intrusion into its affairs (though, in recent years, thanks to their support of the culture war, some IFB preachers no longer believe in a strict separation of church and state). While some IFB churches have deacon boards or elders, almost all of them have a congregational form of government.

F stands for Fundamentalist (or Fundamental)

The independent church is fundamentalist in its doctrine and practice. IFB churches are social and theological fundamentalists. (See Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Fundamentalists adhere to an external code of social conduct. (See An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rule Book.) Often this code of conduct is called “church standards.” The Bible — or should I say the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible — is the rule by which church members are expected to live. IFB churches spend a significant amount of time preaching and teaching about how God and his spokesman, the pastor, expect people to live.

IFB churches are also theological fundamentalists. They adhere to a certain and specific theological standard, a standard by which all other Christians and denominations are judged. Every IFB pastor and church believes things such as:

  • The inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible
  • The sinfulness, depravity of man
  • The deity of Christ
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • The blood atonement of Christ for man’s sin
  • The resurrection of Christ from the dead
  • The second coming of Christ
  • Separation from the world
  • Salvation from sin is by and through Christ alone
  • Personal responsibility to share the gospel with sinners
  • Heaven and hell are literal places
  • Hierarchical authority (God, Jesus, church, pastor, husband, wife)
  • Autonomy and independence of the local church

I am sure other doctrines that could be added to this list, but the list above is a concise statement of ALL things an IFB church and pastor must believe to be considered an IFB church.

B stands for Baptist

IFB churches are Baptist churches adhering to the ecclesiology and theology mentioned above. Some IFB churches are Landmark Baptists or Baptist Briders. They believe the Baptist church is the true Christian church and all other churches are false churches. John the Baptist baptized Jesus, which made him a Baptist, and the first churches established by the Baptist apostles were Baptist churches. Churches like this go to great lengths to prove their Baptist lineage dates all the way back to John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles. (See The Trail of Blood by J.M. Carroll)

Other IFB churches and pastors believe that Baptist ecclesiology and theology are what the Bible clearly teaches. They grudgingly admit that other denominations “might” be Christian too, but they are quick to say why be a part of a bastardized form of Christianity when you can have the real deal?

What binds IFB churches together is their literalistic interpretation of the Protestant Bible, a book they believe is inspired, infallible, and inerrant. Thus, when it comes to training and raising children, IFB Christians look not to the “world,” but to the Bible. They are fond of saying, God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me! IFB pastors have a  commitment to literalism and inerrancy that forces them to defend anything and everything the Bible says. In their minds, the Bible is God speaking to man. While humans wrote the Bible, they did so under the direction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It was human hands that wrote the words, but it was God who determined what those words would be. Thus, whatever the Bible says about marriage, children, and discipline is viewed as a direct order from God. There is one way and one way only to raise and train children, and that is God’s way. Want to see what happens when people ignore God’s instructions? Just look at the “world.” Look at how the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world raise their children, IFB preachers say. Want to keep your children on the straight and narrow? Want them to grow up fearing God and keeping his commandments? Practice and obey whatever the Bible says about training children!

So when I ask the question, Does the IFB Church Movement Promote Ritual Child Abuse? the short answer is yes. Their theological beliefs and interpretive practices demand parents ritually abuse their children. The Bible says:

  • He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. (Proverbs 13:24)
  • Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. (Proverbs 23:13,14)
  • Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)
  • The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. (Proverbs 29:15)
  • Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul. (Proverbs 29:17)
  • Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. (Proverbs 19:18)
  • And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
  • My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. (Proverbs 3:11,12)
  • A fool despiseth his father’s instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent. (Proverbs 15:5)
  • A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. (Proverbs 26:3)
  • The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly. (Proverbs 20:30)
  • If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
  • Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. (Ephesians 6:1-3)
  • Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. (Colossians 3:20)

It is clear from these verses, and others, that God commands parents to beat their children if they are rebellious or disobedient. To say otherwise is to disagree with God.

spanking with belt

In the IFB church movement — which is complementarian and patriarchal — children are expected to obey their parents at all times. Why? So they “may live long on the earth” and be “well pleasing unto the Lord.” IFB parents genuinely love their children. This is why many parents either send their children to private Christian schools or homeschool them. They take their parental responsibilities seriously. Not only do they want their children to be saved, they also want them to grow up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” — serving the Christian God all the days of their lives. IFB parents believe God made the following promise to them: Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6) The question, then, is what methods should be used by parents to ensure that their children will be Christians all the days of their lives? The aforementioned Bible verses tell them all they need to know about how to reach this goal.

IFB parents believe that their children are born sinners, little hellions who are at variance with God. According to the Bible, children, by nature, are rebellious. 1 Samuel 15:23a says, For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. The goal, then, is to drive rebellion and stubbornness from the hearts of their children. God says that the way to do this is with the rod of correction. Not time outs; not grounding; not taking their toys away; not any of the other unbiblical disciplinary methods used by the “world.” God commands parents to beat their children with a rod. No, I won’t use the word spank. When a parent picks up a dowel rod, belt, toilet fill tube, brush, paddle, switch, electric cord, or, as the Gerencser children “fondly” remember, John R. Rice’s book, Home: Courtship, Marriage and Children: A Bible Manual of 22 Chapters on the Christian Home, and hits his child with it, it’s a beating not a spanking. The goal of such physical violence is to drive rebellion and disobedience from the heart of the child.

Many IFB parents begin beating their children while they are still infants. Psalm 58:3 says, The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Infants are at odds with God from birth. They are liars. Just because they cry doesn’t mean they need tending to. If they are fed and dry, then their cries are viewed as the infant’s way of demanding his or her own way. This kind of thinking carries right on through the teenage years. Children want their own way, and parents have a God-given duty to beat their children into submission — just as God does with rebellious Christian adults. The goal is to break the child’s will. A willful child will not obey his parents or God, so it is crucial that parents thrash their children every time they rebel against the commands of God or disobey their parents.

These practices are, without a doubt, child abuse. Of course, IFB parents don’t see themselves as child abusers. How can it be abusive to follow the teachings of the Bible? they ask. Pastors will point not only to the Bible as justification for ritual child abuse, they will also point to history, saying that back in the days when America was great parents weren’t afraid to beat their children. These preachers point to the decline of Western Civilization and say that one of the reasons for the decline is a lack of rigorous, through discipline of children.

I am almost sixty-one years old. I came of age in the IFB church. My parents, thankfully, did not beat me, but I knew countless children who were methodically beaten by their parents virtually every time they disobeyed their parents or failed to measure up to a certain standard. One dear friend of mine — a pastor’s son — was mercilessly whipped by his father if his grades weren’t up to expectations. I witnessed one of these beatings (my friend was in eighth grade at the time). It was violently brutal, yet the punisher believed he was doing what was best for his son. My friend’s grades, by the way, never improved.

I am sure someone is going to ask if I beat my own children and if I considered this discipline to be child abuse. Yep, the violent beatings my three oldest sons received were, in every way, without exception, ritual child abuse. I have apologized to them numerous times for how I disciplined them. They know, of course, that I did so because I thought that’s what God and the Bible required of me. They also know that I beat them out of some warped sense of “love.” The good news is that my three younger children were spared the rod. I came to see, while they were still young, that beating them, regardless of the reason, was child abuse. Unfortunately, I must bear the burden of my actions, not only as a parent, but as a pastor. I taught countless church members that it was their solemn duty to use the rod of correction on the back sides of their rebellious children. All I can do, at this point, is honestly write about my past life, including how I ritually abused my three older boys.

Were you raised in an IFB family? How were you disciplined? What did your pastor and church teach about training children?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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  1. Avatar

    Yep! My mother whipped me with “switches”; my dad with his belt; (he also practised his own version of water boarding on me, lol)

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    Yes, it was common in our home. I feel that my dad looked to the church to justify the abuse. However, for me at least, after every beating my dad would shortly after come and tell me that he loved me. I could tell he felt remorseful.

    When I became I parent, I too fell line with the Bible form of raising my kids. You are spot on with every thing you wrote about the IFB and child abuse. Though I didn’t spank them when they were babies. As toddlers, I would smack their hands if reaching for something that would hurt them otherwise their beatings began when they were a little older.

    I would tell myself, “I am doing this because I loved them” but it did not feel like love. At some point I decided that this is not love and changed the way I disciplined them. I felt a lot less conflicted and wasn’t too worried that I was disappointing God, frankly, I didn’t care, I cared more about disappointing my children.

    Like you, I too have apologized to my kids for the beatings they endured. It still haunts me as there is no way for a do over and give them a better childhood without the abuse. I detest religion because of it.

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    My mom and grandma used to spank me. When I was 8 I started hitting back, so my mom realized spanking days,were over. She was conflicted about it anyway. My school sent home a form every year for parents to sign whether they woukd allow their kids to be spanked at School, and my mom wouldn’t allow it.

    My mom flew into a rage when my stepdad spanked my toddler brother and left a big handprint on his diapered bottom. She wouldn’t allow my stepdad to spank my brother after that.

    My grandfather never spanked his kids or grandkids. He said his dad was a mean drunk. I guess he probably be at his 6 boys. Anyway, my uncle tells a story that when he got in trouble, grandpa would take him into the bedroom and talk with him about his infraction. They came up with a punishment. Then grandpa would hit the bed and told my uncle to cry out so grandma would think he was getting a whipping.

    My husband and I didn’t hit our sure takes work to come up with appropriate punishments!

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    Yes, I was hit for Jesus. I was not beaten as some others were among my church peers. I did not hit my own children and tried to resist the punishment paradigm as much as I knew how to… it was difficult not to hurt them at times but I knew by then that God/Church was wrong and harming people, that it hurt me deeply. Bruce, I admire your spirit and willingness to change for the better. People, individuals can sometimes accomplish true change in themselves, unlike the church, which changes for the worse as it was designed to do. Many people still believe a good swat is the perfect tool of ‘love’ for a child. They believe this because God, they say, but the real reason is found in this Alice Miller quote from a book called, From Rage to Courage:
    “To spank a child is a disrespectful and dirty act because it involves a pwerless person who is not allowed to defend her- or himself nor to escape from the aggression and ignorance of the spanker. It is also the most destructive act because it damages the brain of the victims, who will repeat for their whole lives the lies and feeblemindedness of King Solomon: spare the rod, spoil the child. Exactly the opposite is true: the rod spoils the child and leaves lingering effect for a lifetime. Solomon learned his lie from his own parents as you did from yours, as your children will learn it from you.”
    Bruce, I believe this to be one of the most important public statements I have ever heard you make. The church will not listen to you and people all over the world will continue to abuse the helpless using their Bibles as their excuse to stay full of harm. And those who do not use the tool of religion will join them if they too suffered the same way as children. There are Christians out there who advocate against violence toward children but they are mostly pissing in the wind because they are suggesting the church change.

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    60 countries ban the physical punishment of children by parents. Scotland and Wales, where I live, are working towards a ban through their autonomous regional assemblies. All power to their elbows say I.

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    Read Beth Fermors open letter to Roy Leasing and weep at the damage done to this women as a child, at the hands of her parents. This type of ritualistic abuse does untold damage to all children, but especially sensitive ones. The likes of Roy Leasing and the pearls have a lot to answer for.

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    Christof Bucherer

    To hit children is wrong. I did it, because I read a book about it from an American Author.
    But I came to the conclusion, that it is wrong. I appologized to my son, and told him, that I would never do it again, if I was to raise children again. My girls said to me, I was to liberal with them. Maybe I did not do much to them.
    What I find a wrong accustion on the page is, that many say: “it is ritual abuse”. The word “ritual” is wrong. As persons of this world, we all have authority and are children at first. My mother weped, when she beat me once. I had deserved it! I only knew maybe two Bible verses about beating children. I could imagine there were more verses, but I never looked them up. In the New Testament you have not much about beating children. These commandements are mostly from Proverbes, which do not interest me. Also the stoning of children is something, which goes against church rules. So, no pastor says, stone you children to death, if they disobey! So, Churches don’t teach the “ritual” abouse of beating children. They just say, what the Bible says, that God loves the child which gets beaten, because the beating will do some good to him. The point is, that through Jesus death, this beating has been put on Jesus himself! So, when we are Christians, we don’t beat our children, since we are free from sin and we have to lead a life which is an example for others. I know, we are not the examples, Jesus really wanted us to be. But 1. Peter 5:1ff. continues to tell us to be examples! To be a Christian has nothing to do with “beating children”. What is wrong with cults like the Roman Catholic Church is, that they hold “black masses” which means, the kill women and children on the altar of the their churches! There are so many child sacrifices, that there even mass graves, where those children are burried, since adults drank their blood, hacked them in pieces, kept them as slaves for sex etc. So, Hebrbert W. Armstrong was an incetious chult leader of the Church of God. This cult split. The pope is a Jesuit, which lead those Black Masses, where they murder children. There are so many cultic murders of children and people, that what is described as “beating children” above is not a cult. It is just miscalculation of reading the Bible. As Christians we don’t follow, the old thestament, but only the new. In the New Testament we have only Paul who says in Col. 3:20 “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. 21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.”

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Spanking is a religious ritual because it is done regularly and with devotion, with end goal being correction to a religious norm and satisfying the demands of a deity.

      Based on your theology, I assume you are okay with having sex with animals?

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    Samantha Meath

    My mom married into the religion, I was three years old when he beat me up the first time. My step fathers methods where a bit different from your typical “spankings.” He would repetitively slap me across my face before beating me with a leather belt and if I fell to the floor he would drag me back up again by my hair. I would scream bloody murder, and I don’t even know if my family knows this but every time I was bad and I knew I would get beat for it, I genuinely would think that I was going to die. My mom didn’t like it hear me scream so she would take my older sister (who never got beat like me) and they would go for a nice car ride or walk outside. I would fight to protect myself and refused to be “ submissive” as He called it. I never gave up that man could have whipped me a hundred times and I still would never listen to him. My mom was never there to witness the beatings and my stepdad would insist I was a compulsive liar so she never believed me when I said that he would get a little wierd with the beatings and stare at my privates and things like that. I don’t blame my mother for what happened, and she has apologized time and time again for what happened and that she never helped me. My family would cancel and reschedule my physicals and doctor appointments so they wouldn’t get arrested for all the bruises and lumps on my body especially for only being a 6 year old child. My back used to be in so much pain and I would tell my parents but they refused to listen because I was a “lier” Finally they took me to get X-rays of my back, when the results came back it became apparent that my spine was very much misshapen. I remember the doctor looking at me and asking in a concerned voice “ You got this from falling down the stairs?” My stepdad made sure I never went to that doctor again. I could sit here and recall all of the beatings I endured from my childhood into my preteens but I see no point in depressing anyone with all the disturbing details. I’m 16 now, I survived I still live with the same stepdad in the same house where it all happened not too long ago. Although he still upon occasion becomes violent they are in no way what they once were. I am just now coming to grips with what actually happened to me because when I was younger I never registered it as wrong because he did all those things to me in the name of God, so I never thought of it as abuse. But reading this article has helped me and knowing that there are others out there facing the same thing and that I’m not alone is reassuring. Thank you to whoever wrote this, you have no idea how much it helps. Since I can’t talk about it to anyone around me at this point in my life being able to vent a bit with you others on here is a huge blessing. Stay strong to anyone who is going through abuse now you can make it through and survive I did and I’m just a “bratty” “rude” “disrespectful” “sinful” “abomination for a daughter” 16 year old girl. But I’m a survivor and so are you.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      Yvette, are you trying to be kind by saying Samantha Meath is a precious child of God? Is that YOUR God, the one who abandoned her to torture? You are correct in suggesting that her life has great value but I fail to see how God has any part in her insight regarding the harm her shit stepfather did to her. He was a raging beast with God on his side. Ritual child abuse was so common and there are still so many practicing the venting of their own issues on their children by whacking/spanking/beating.
      The Old Testament God used to rage as well and wipe hoardes of humans off the face of the earth for a lark (if you believe those stories.) He gave his only son to be tortured and die. If He was real, then he was a prick shit mean-hearted twit like Samantha’s stepdad. More likely though, God is a story written by men.
      Thank-you, Samantha, for sharing your story with us and for writing to say that this blog entry really helped you. I would encourage you to read Alice Miller’s work. It too will support and strengthen you in your truth and strong character. Men who hit childre are sick cowards unable and unwilling to face their own pain. They are tyrants because they are emotionally harmed, hearts as dumb as cold stone. I think you are an amazing survivor, Samantha, a real example for hurting people who are alone and under the authority of criminal caregivers like your stepfather and abandoned by the fake God they use as an excuse to harm others.

  9. Avatar
    David Knight

    Both of my parents seemed like they just loved to beat on us, and they would yell at us while they did it. I still believe that there is a difference between a legitimate spanking that is administered in a spirit of love and abuse.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      While I understand where you are coming from, spanking is an act of violence against a child. I find it impossible to see “love” in violence. There are better ways to discipline children besides beating them. The problem here in the United States is that generations of Americans have been taught that beating children is good for them; that following an ancient religious text, the Bible, when raising children is the right way to go.

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Bruce Gerencser