Those of us who grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement are painfully aware of the seemingly countless rules and regulations — also known as standards — that we were expected to obey. (Please see An Independent Baptist Hate List.) In particular, we remember clothing standards. Much like the Amish and Mennonites, IFB congregants wore clothing that distinguished them from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the “world.” Women were required to wear loose-fitting, long skirts and dresses. Tops were expected to cover breasts, with no cleavage or form exposed. Many churches regulated underwear, shoes, make-up, and jewelry. Women were not permitted to look like harlots; a harlot being any teen/woman who dared to expose her “flesh” or wear clothes that called attention to their shape. Men had fewer rules abide by: no shorts, no muscle shirts, no skinny jeans. For men, the bigger focus was on hair. Good Baptist boys/men were expected to keep their hair trimmed short, and facial hair was forbidden. (Please see Is it a Sin for a Man to Have Long Hair? and The Independent Baptist War Against Long Hair on Men.) Needless, to say, IFB congregants stood out in a crowd.
While many IFB churches have relaxed their standards over the years and are derided by purists for their worldliness, some churches still toe the line, demanding congregants obey the letter of the law. Several weeks ago. Polly and I were at the local Meijer store doing some shopping. Off in the distance I saw a woman wearing a long maxi-dress, six kids in tow. Spaced two years apart, the children each wore the appropriate Baptist uniform. The girls had long skirts and the boys had bowl-cut hair styles, complete with comb overs. Needless to say, they stood out. And that’s the point. IFB churches and pastors are to a large extent anti-culture. Their goal is to carve out a safe haven for Christians who want to keep themselves pure and untainted by the world. 1 John 2:15-17 says:
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
IFB adherents must venture out into the world for employment, shopping, and medical care, but outside of that church members are expected to live out their lives in the safe haven of the local church. Within its walls, congregants find safety and protection. IFB parents are strongly encouraged to either home school their children or send them to an approved Christian school. If students want to attend college, they are steered toward an approved — often unaccredited — Christian college. When it comes time to marry, they are expected to wed someone from an IFB church. All of these things are meant to protect them from the “world.”
As the mother and her children. came near, I whispered to Polly, just think that could have been us. She shook her head and said nothing. Both of us know how life would have been had we remained faithful, devoted followers of the IFB God (or the Evangelical God, for that matter). We truly feel sorry for people who are still deeply enmeshed in the IFB way of life. When you are in the IFB bubble, it all makes sense. Every rule/regulation/standard has a proof text. Living this way seems the right thing to do; that which is pleasing and honoring to God. However, once we were free from the bondage of the IFB church movement, we learned that we had been in a cult. And this is what saddens us the most. We have numerous family members, former friends, and one-time colleagues in the ministry, who are still busy going about separating themselves from the “world.” Little do they realize that the “world” is not the problem, their religion is.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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.
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Watching Big Love always reminds me a bit too much of my former IFB days when they show the female characters from the compound.
At the fundamentalist Christian school I attended, this was the “uniform as you described. I hated the dress code as it wasn’t what my family ever followed. In high school, the top math students would go to the TN Math Teachers Association math test once a year. We were the freaky religious kids obvious by our mode of dress (and I found it highly embarrassing).
I fell into this dress code during a short time in the ifb/homeschool movement. did not last long as I realized how ridiculous I looked plus other moms found me unapproachable w/how severe I looked. we dodged a bullet when we got out of the ifb. also, this dress code contributed to my gaining weight quickly because my movement felt restricted so I became less active while spending lots of time cooking due to the idea that all food should be from scratch. still like to cook, but I don’t feel the pressure like then.
Hello Mr. Gerencser,
My name is Nathan and I have grown up in an IFB church all of my life. Although I have not personally experienced many of the tragedies and experiences you have faced throughout your life and time in the IFB movement (and although I disagree with some of the assertions you have made about Fundamentalism/IFB churches in general), I can understand why you have made the decision to leave Christian Fundamentalism behind you. From the articles you have written, it seems like you harbor intense emotional pain and trauma from the experiences you have had in the past directly, or indirectly, linked with this group. As a Fundamentalist myself I disagree with some of the caricatures and descriptions of Christian Fundamentalism and IFB churches you have made, though I have personally heard of accounts that match up with some of the things you have said and strongly condemn conflating modern conceptions of “dress code” with clear Bible teachings. At most, I see it more as an application of the Scripture one can choose to adhere to or not. Ultimately, as I am sure you are well aware, I believe the Lord will handle that in His own time and fashion. I, of course, believe both men and women should dress appropriately and modestly; however, that should never give way to pharisaical standards of conduct or one feeling superior to another. Jesus condemned this behavior many times (Luke 18:9-14, Matthew 23, John 8:7, etc.) and it should also be condemned by any person who wishes to call themself a Christian.
I say this with all sincerity sir: I am sorry for any unbiblical, crude, insulting, or downright hateful experiences you and your family have experienced from IFB, or any other group for that matter, that decide to call themselves Christian. Jesus said it himself, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). As Christians, we should expect people to slander and/or criticize (whether valid or not) our beliefs without being quick to offense or agitation (James 1:19-20). The response of the Christian should not be to wish ill-fated ends, hell, or death upon those who disagree or share disdain for the beliefs we adhere to. The proper response SHOULD be to present the gospel accurately and lovingly, showing care for the message and those who hear it, and leaving the choice to follow or not follow up to the listener. As Christians, there should be an understanding that outside of God’s grace, we are also sinners. That makes us no better than anyone. Any Christian that would put their pride before the welfare of another person, especially an unbeliever, should be ashamed. Humility should be the hallmark of any Christian. I am sure you are aware of this too.
Sir, I know you did not ask for this, but I sincerely have sympathy and care for your experiences and feelings regarding this topic. I am sure you could care less about what some random IFB believer has to say about your past (especially one trying to express sympathy for your perspective), but I sincerely do care for you and your family. Though I do have personal and Biblical objections to many of your claims, I will not fill up this message box with criticism or disdain. I just want you to know that there are IFB members who care and express remorse for what you and your family have been through. I hope you have a change of heart regarding your stance, but I am sure you have decided to stand firm to where you are presently. I hope you enjoy the upcoming holidays and have a wonderful 2023!
If you have not read my autobiographical material, I encourage you to do so.
If you do so, you will find that I did not leave Christianity because I was “hurt.”
I left the IFB church years before I left Christianity. If you have an objection to something I’ve written about the IFB church movement please let me know and I’ll address it.
As far as changing my mind, I’m always open to new evidence. In the fifteen years since I left Christianity, there has been no new evidence forthcoming. Just the same tired arguments for the same tired beliefs.
Nathan Penna: “As Christians, there should be an understanding that outside of God’s grace, we are also sinners.”
Zoe: Nathan, your Christian sinners still get heaven, so you can just keep sinning until the cows come home or your Lord returns. That’s what some Christians understand.