Emotionally Manipulating IFB Church Members through Music and Preaching Styles

ct townsend

As part of my responsibilities as a critic of Evangelical Christianity, I read Christian blogs and news sites and listen to sermon and music videos. Hey, someone has to do it! Better me than you, right? Yesterday, I spent some time swimming in the waters of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement — my spiritual home for many years.  While doing the backstroke, I stumbled upon a website for IFB evangelist C.T. Townsend.

Here’s a video of Townsend and his wife Becky singing a duet at Trinity Baptist Church in Asheville, North Carolina. IFB luminary Ralph Sexton is the pastor of Trinity. Both C.T. and Becky are the progeny of IFB preachers.

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Here’s another video of C.T. Townsend singing at Victory Baptist Church in North Augusta, South Carolina.

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And here’s Townsend singing at the North Florida Tent Meeting — circa 2009. Baptists love the Blood™ almost as much as the Catholics do!

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If you carefully watch these videos, you will see that listeners find the music emotionally stirring. This results in a lot of emotional outbursts and movement by congregants down to the front of the church to pray. Are these things “God moving” or are they the result of emotional manipulation and cultural expectations? I contend it’s the latter.

Here’s a video clip of Townsend preaching a sermon titled, The King Has One More Move at Rubyville Community Church in Portsmouth, Ohio. The video clip starts around the 26 minute mark.

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As you will see from this video, Townsend uses certain preaching techniques to manipulate listeners into making a decision for Jesus. In the last five minutes of the video, Townsend whips the crowd into an emotional frenzy, and then scales their fervor down so he can give an invitation. I watched a handful of his sermon videos, and he uses the same technique in each one.

There’s nothing in these videos that surprises me. Townsend is a product of IFB (and Southern Baptist) culture and practice — particularly in the South. I don’t know him personally, but I have heard and seen his methods and mannerism many times in the sermons of other IFB preachers. There was a time early in my ministry when I preached in a similar manner. My results were akin to those of Townsend.

The spirited, emotional songs are meant to prime the pump, so to speak; to prepare listeners for the sermon that follows. Already emotionally manipulated by the music, congregants are more open to what preachers such as Townsend have to say. The goal is always the same: to bring people to the place where they are willing to walk the aisle and make a decision; whether to get saved, confess one’s sin, rededicate one’s life, or surrender to some sort of calling.

I am in no way suggesting that C.T. Townsend is an Elmer Gantry-like con man. He is a product of his environment. Spend some time in the Deep South attending camp meetings, youth rallies, and revival services, and you will see countless C.T. Townsends using similar emotionally manipulative techniques to elicit desired emotional responses.

Townsend and other preachers like him will object to my characterizations of their methodologies, attributing everything to the power and work of the Holy Spirit. It’s all God, they will say. However, one-time insiders such as myself know better. These preachers, whether consciously aware of it or not, are psychologically manipulating people. (Please read Walking the Aisle — A Few Thoughts on Altar Calls)

Let me conclude this post with a video of a young man singing a solo at the Carolina Youth Rally. C.T. Townsend is a featured speaker at the event. As you will see, children are also used to emotionally manipulate listeners. I have no doubt that this young man will someday walk the aisle and say, God is calling me to be a preacher. And so the cycle continues.

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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.

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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14 Comments

  1. Matilda

    My DH still recounts the story of his brief flirtation with pentecostalism when he was a student at Cambridge University 50 yrs ago. He and some friends from the christian union went to hear a famous penty preacher at a nearby town. The guy tried and failed to whip up a frenzy of hallelujahs, amens, and tongues. In exasperation he said, ‘Oh come on, what’s wrong with you folk? It’s not like you’re all brainy students from Cambridge here.’

    Reply
  2. Brian

    Emotional manipulation is a tell-tale sign of dependent behaviour. Everybody knows that a bully has a real chip on his shoulder but don’t often know the depths of the bully’s pain because it is so well sublimated into actively harming others. It is so very sad to me to see what children have to bear in the midst of evangelical gulags like the IFB. It is a testament to human evolution that a youngster can bear this kind of punishment, this kind of abandonment and still manage to survive, to flee the bonds of belief and walk in the sunlight of life without bully God(s).

    Reply
  3. Dave

    Back in my Christian days I went to see the singing group, The 2nd Chapter of Acts and this emotional manipulation was in full force. The lead singer, Annie was expert at this and the crowd waved and cried at her command. The holy spirit must have been on vacation the next time they came to town as Annie was ill and only the other 2 singers showed up. This time the outpouring of the spirit was nowhere to be seen. It was striking how the absence of this one person changed the behavior of the audience. If the holy spirit was real it certainly wouldn’t depend on the presence of any particular individual

    Reply
  4. Steve

    Yep, madness reigns here in NC! I see it every single day

    Reply
  5. mark

    Emotions run high at football games: thats ok. They run high at races: thats ok. They run high at concerts: thats ok. These are passing pleasures. Emotions run high at a church service; that is an eternal decision; thats not ok?

    “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;”
    ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭2:10‬

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Apples and oranges. No one is trying to manipulate me at a race or concert.

      The only thing eternal about sermons/preaching/altar calls is their length.

      Reply
  6. Steve Panther

    You are proof that wolves can enter into a church like The Word of God clearly states. Why don’t you do something productive with your life before you die and stand before the Great White throne Judgement seat and explain to the Sinless, Loving Son of God , Who died for you on an old rugged Cross, why you rejected Him and the angels then usher you into a devil’s hell. You are a pawn of the Devil. Wake up! Cry out for mercy now. Jesus will save you.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      *sigh*

      Feel better? Do you really think anything you said in your comment would lead me back to Jesus? And why would I ever want to be around people like you? Nasty, judgmental — typical Fundamentalist. No thanks. Give me Satan, Hell, and Christopher Hitchens every time.

      Thank you for commenting.

      Saved by Reason,

      Bruce

      Reply
    2. Zoe

      What did wolves ever do to get such a bad name?

      Reply
    3. Voice of Reason

      Why don’t you pray that he changes? God answers prayer, right?

      Reply
  7. Troy Tucker

    You said, “The goal is always the same: to bring people to the place where they are willing to walk the aisle and make a decision; whether to get saved, confess one’s sin, rededicate one’s life, or surrender to some sort of calling”

    Yes. That is what separates preaching from teaching.
    True Bible preaching demands a decision. Preaching aims for the heart. Teaching aims for the head.

    Jesus in His preaching called for repentance. No greater Example is needed.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Tony,

      The “head” and the “heart” are one and the same.

      For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he… Proverbs 23:7

      And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? Matthew 9:4

      For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: Matthew 15:19

      That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:9-10

      There’s no evidence for the claim that humans have some sort of “heart” that is separate from their brain/mind. Every choice we make is an intellectual/emotional one. Differentiating between preaching and teaching has no foundation in rational thought. I know preachers say there’s a difference, but just because they say so doesn’t make it true. Go back through your Bible and every time you read the word heart replace it with the word mind. I think you will find doing so quite illuminating. 🙂

      Thank you for commenting.

      Bruce

      Reply
  8. Steve Davis

    God IS LOVE

    Reply
  9. Sarah

    As a student who went to one of his camps, Arise, I can confirm this is all true. The comments made by Townsend at this camp were deplorable. While worshipping he said if you don’t worship like this I hope you don’t plan on going to heaven. As someone who is more reserved and not raised Baptist I found it rude to assume there is only one way to worship. He also shamed all the girls who didn’t follow the dress codes of having knee length shorts. What happened to loving people where they’re at? And we don’t know anyone’s circumstances. I’ve gone to numerous church camps but I’ll never to return to one of his.

    Reply

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