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How Fundamentalist Preachers Take the Fun Out of Everything

women causing men to stumble

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Those of us raised in Evangelical churches know quite a bit about sin. Sin is the problem and Jesus is the solution. Ruined by the fall, redeemed by the blood. Sin will take you farther than you want to go and cost you more than you want to pay. Sin is the disease, Christ is the cure. Timeless, monotonous messages preached from every Evangelical pulpit. If Evangelical preachers were given degrees based on what they preach about, most of them would have sin PhDs.

Those of us who grew up in churches on the extreme right of the Evangelical spectrum heard weekly preaching against sin, with each and every sin categorized and illustrated. Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers are known for having detailed lists of every possible sin humans dare to even think about let alone commit. And as these preachers get older, they add new sins to their lists, so by the time they retire, there is no human behavior that is not, in the right circumstance, a sin. I once heard an IFB preacher at a Columbus, Ohio pastor’s fellowship preach from the Bible verse that says, neither give place to the devil. After reading the text, he spent the next 45 minutes detailing every behavior he thought was giving place to the devil. His sin penis was way bigger than mine.

The late Cecil Hodges, pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia for 41 years, said one time that preachers beat church members over the head with the sin stick so often that they automatically duck when the preacher starts preaching. Called hard preaching or stepping on toes — Baptist preachers are noted for verbally assaulting parishioners in hope of getting them to stop sinning. Yet, no matter how hard they preach against sin, people keep on sinning. Let’s face it, sin is good for the preaching business.The late Bob Harrington, the Chaplain of Bourbon Street, preached a sermon years ago titled, It’s Fun Being Saved. Harrington later committed adultery, so salvation was a lot of fun for him. But for most Evangelicals, their pastors do their best every Sunday to suck the fun out of everything. (See An Independent Baptist Hate List.)

stumbling block

Not only are there specific behaviors that are sinful, but there are also behaviors that are sinful only in certain circumstances. These are called causing-your-brother-to-stumble sins. Years ago, Nathan Rouse, lead pastor of Radiant Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, wrote a blog post titled A Caution For Every Christian That Drinks Alcohol (the page is no longer active). Here’s what the teetotaling Rouse had to say:

Something disturbing has crept into the american church and it’s not pretty.

Many Christians have allowed themselves to take drinking alcohol lightly.

Now before you start throwing the legalistic stones at me, let me first make the following clear:

I don’t believe drinking alcohol is a sin…

…But, there’s another problem:

The often overlooked sin that is rearing its ugly head are Christians displaying their love and consumption of alcohol to those around them in public and on social media, when there are many around them that struggle with this temptation and addiction.

The Apostle Paul addressed a similar situation when dealing with those in the church arguing over whether they could eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul declared that even though they had the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, they should love those that struggled with this practice enough to not do it front of them.

1 Cor. 8:9-13

But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

We sin against other Christians and “wound their conscience” (as well as sin against Christ) when we openly act in a way that would cause them to stumble.

Now, before you say you only do this with others that are like-minded or with your spouse, let me ask the following questions:

Do you highlight or joke about your drinking in person or on social media (posting pictures of your margarita, wine or bottles of beer)?

Do you drink in public when there’s a good chance you might meet someone struggling with alcohol?

Like it or not, people hold Christians to a higher standard (as they should). Do you love alcohol so much that you’re willing to let your witness be tarnished? Do you love your “freedom” so much that you could care less how it affects another brother or sister?…

I’ve heard and preached sermons many times that echoed the words of Rouse’s post. Not only must Evangelicals not do any of the sins on their preacher’s sin list, they must also avoid any behavior that would or could cause an infantile, helpless church member to stumble — a euphemism for falling into sin.

Church women are asked to cover their cleavage and legs and wear clothing that mutes their sexuality and beauty lest they cause weak men to stumble. Want to go see a certain movie or have a glass of wine at a restaurant? Better make sure weak church members can’t see what you are doing. Don’t say anything about what you did in front of a weak church member lest your words cause them to stumble.

This kind of thinking sucks the life out of people. Every behavior has the potential of being a sin. Wouldn’t the better approach be to expect church members to be responsible for their own behavior? If Deacon Bob gets a boner during Sister Mary’s special because she is wearing a top that accentuates her bosom, is this Sister Mary’s problem? Perhaps Deacon Bob needs to grow up and own his sexuality. The same goes for any behavior that would fall under the causing-a-brother-to-stumble category.

Sin is not the problem, irresponsibility is. While my sin list now fits on a post-it note, I do accept responsibility for any behavior of mine that might harm or negatively affect others. If Polly and I get in a fight and I say something that is hurtful, whose fault is it? Should she be blamed for provoking me to anger? Dammit, she knows I have a temper! I’m a redhead, and everyone knows redheads are temperamental. If she wouldn’t do or say _________, then I wouldn’t get angry. It’s her f…. No, it’s not. I am responsible for what I say and do.

Do you have a story to tell about the preaching on sin in the church you grew up in? Did your pastor preach sermons on not causing a brother/sister to stumble? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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20 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Ian

    Not an experience, but a thought that I had while in church.

    Why should I always be the one to give things up? The “weaker brother” needs to grow up at some point and allow ME freedom to do what I think is good. It is time for the babes to get off of the milk and eat meat. I said this at a meeting one time and made everyone speechless.

    People need to get over themselves. Tattoos, alcohol, jewelry on men, fancy clothing, I can make a case for all of these things being allowable. I think pastors enjoy making the longest sin list they can, just to hold power over people. Some people enjoy being motivated by fear, I didn’t.

  2. Avatar
    Jada

    I always wondered why ‘I’ couldn’t be the weaker brother (well, sister). Just because I made everything look good and under control didn’t mean that it actually was. Believe me, I stopped asking for help a looooong time ago, because it didn’t matter whom I asked, I got totally blown off (this most definitely included family).

    That turned out to be a huge situation in rehab that I discovered I really needed to deal with. My husband will ALWAYS help me, and always would have, if I’d just asked for it as often as I needed to. He always wanted to help, but I wouldn’t let him. I’ve moved on from all the people who wouldn’t help and found out that there are many people in my life now who will, oftentimes when they recognize something before I do and jump in. It’s a huge relief knowing I don’t have to carry every damn thing in the world on my shoulders anymore, and that needing help isn’t a sign of ‘weakness.’

  3. Avatar
    Kathleen

    I was a little girl growing up Evangelical in the 70s, and I was a tomboy. I mean, I loved my dolls and tea sets and stuff, but I also loved tramping through the desert country outside Amarillo catching horny toads with my brother. Unfortunately there was a rule that we girls had to wear dresses three times a week, not counting church on Sunday and Wednesday and witnessing on Tuesday (“Have you heard the Good News about Jesus?”). I was never clear where the three times a week rule came from. AND we had to wear shorts under our dresses because apparently all any little boy ever wanted to do ever was look at a little girl’s panties, and if any boy ever saw them something catastrophic would happen (it was one of those nameless terrors like in HP Lovecraft). I hated it because of all the emphasis on boys wanting to look up your dress and how exhausting it was to always be ladylike while you were playing in a dress even with shorts. And the skirts on little girls’ dresses at that time for the most part were SO SHORT (long dresses were only for very special occasions) you couldn’t bend over, you had to do the little knee bend to the side with your legs glued together and try to look graceful. I always felt super vulnerable in those stupid dresses (don’t get me started on patent leather Mary Janes either–that’s another story entirely). But of course you couldn’t ask for the boys to just behave and not try to look. Jesus first, others second, yourself last, you know!

    I swear, I’ve grown past a lot of my Evangelical resentments (my whole family left the church a long time ago and I don’t think my dad even believes in god at all) but that one still makes me grind my teeth more than 35 years later. Now I only wear dresses when I want to (which is not very often) and if some man is pervy enough to be trying to look up my skirt I will be primed and ready to tell him off (and then I’ll probably go change because THE HORROR). Ugh!

    LOL, this started out to be a wryly amused comment about how silly it all was but now that I’ve written it out I’m SEETHING about the little girl I was being done like that. Thank goodness we’ve all broken that cycle. And thanks for your blog, Bruce. I really like it.

    • Avatar
      Appalachian Agnostic

      I hated having to wear a dress to church every Sunday for many of the same reasons you listed. I was an active kid, and dresses made it difficult to do anything except sit still. I also felt uncomfortably vulnerable in them. One Sunday as I stepped out the church door, a gust of wind blew my dress up over my face, exposing my undergarments to everyone. I was mortified. To this day, I think of a dress as a physical means of control imposed on little girls by the same domineering men who want to control our minds with their crazy Jesus talk.

  4. Avatar
    Sarah

    A big one in my family/church was bikinis. My mom would tell me & my sister that good Christian girls/women shouldn’t wear bikinis. It would attract perverts and/or cause Christian men to stumble. Long story short, i was taught the female body is evil & shouldn’t be shown. I am still self-conscious to this day, in shorts & swimsuits

  5. Avatar
    Brian

    Both of you, into a closet! I have begun to stumble. You have spoken of something that has caused me to see something in my head and now something is going on and there it is! I’m down for the count with skimpy bits of clothes and ohhh lawdy, a G-string now! Look at what you started….
    No wonder California is on fire.

  6. Avatar
    J.D. Matthews

    My wife can drive me crazy with lust when she’s clothed head to toe in a sweater, jeans, scarf and boots, and sometimes even moreso than if she were standing in front of me stark raving naked. Time to whip out the burqa!

  7. Avatar
    Monty

    “Hard preaching, stepping on toes”. I once heard a church member say after some hard preaching, “I needed my face ripped off”. WTF?!

  8. Avatar
    TLC

    Let’s see. . . . Remembering a bit of the sermon on Pride. Honking your horn in the car was the sin of pride, even if you were honking to avoid an accident. Defending yourself/worrying about your reputation was pride. Sermons about women not causing men to stumble by wearing the right clothes. Tithing . . . . Don’t rob from God! Must forgive immediately and completely or you won’t be forgiven. Celebrating Halloween would let in evil spirits. Obey the Holy Spirit IMMEDIATELY, even if He tells you to kick someone in the face. (Yes, really.)

    I think that’s enough for now.

    • Avatar
      Brian

      TLC, tis very true, as you say… There is no other dependency/addiction more powerful in hooking you from the inside out. Hate yourself and beg Jesus to make you disappear…

  9. Avatar
    Matilda

    DD, a student at Oxford was on the welcome committee for the annual group of exchange students from a southern USA college. On the first Sunday, she arranged to take one of them to church. On seeing DD that morning, the American girl gasped ,’Does your church allow you to go dressed like that?’ (she wore jeans and sweatshirt, most churches here would laugh at the idea of a dress code). Those fundie students soon discovered S-E-X and alcohol and probably drugs and rock and roll too before returning home to chastity abstinence and repression. One hopes their taste of freedom might help them escape and have some FUN!

  10. Avatar
    kittybrat

    I remember being chided for watching movies at the theatre. Just because Jaws was playing in the theatre I was in, doesn’t mean that someone who sees me may think I just finished watching one with a racy, sexual theme. Therefore, I could have (and probably did) cause a weaker person or a worldly one to think it’s OK to see a raunchy movie that can hurt their spirit.

    Oh, and situational ethics is another.
    Here is the example that was given by our teacher at school as to why we must carry the same ethos over to all situations:
    Mary drops her pen before class and cannot find it. She is bummed out, because it is a unique pen that she got on vacation so she can’t just get another like it. She has a test and must borrow another pen from her teacher, who lets her use the pen for the rest of the day.
    Classes change, and you are about to enter the classroom that Mary has just left. You realize you forgot your pen, which you’ve got to have for your test. You spot a pen on the floor just behind the open class door, so you pick it up and carry it into class. You use it for your test, and take it with you the rest of the day. At the conclusion of the school day, you take the pen to the lost and found at the office. Seems fine, right? Especially if you PRAYED for a pen right before you spotted Mary’s. However, someone in another class saw you with Mary’s pen, and knew it was hers. Now that person has to be distressed to know you are a thief, and has to decide whether to confront you, tell on you, or tell Mary. All of those choices are vexing to that other person’s spirit, OR, they think it’s OK to steal because you are a good Christian and you are also a thief.
    YES! This was our school’s policy, and the teacher really believed that picking up and using that pen was both stealing AND being a poor witness for Christ. And they TAUGHT CHILDREN!

    Don’t even get me started on Rock and Roll! Any rock and roll was considered sinful. Folk music was also evil. Even if this music somehow did not let Satan in, listening to it in public would definitely cause someone weaker to stumble. SHAME! When I objected to the vinyl record bonfires because of the air pollution, I got into more trouble for not having faith that God would not allow the air to be polluted because it was a righteous fire!

    AAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!!

    With these examples in the comments, it is no wonder many of us walk around feeling guilty and responsible for other people’s troubles!
    Yipes!

  11. Avatar
    BJW

    I can no longer be in that mindset. Being kind to my fellow man is the entirety of my life’s philosophy. When I had tons of rules to follow, those rules were all I could think of. Now I don’t.

  12. Avatar
    Kevin

    Be very glad that the evil weed has been made legal along with the alcohol and should calm down many a rabid evangelical as we all know they partake in secret many of these things!

    Everything is sinful to these folks as they never ask the question of why is a blood sacrifice required in the first place?

    Wait, fundamentalist preaching forbids critical thinking from its parishioners.

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