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If You Didn’t See it, It Didn’t Happen

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The late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana — a man considered by some of his followers to be the greatest preacher since the Apostle Paul — made famous the statement:

If You Didn’t See it, It Didn’t Happen

Over the years, at Sword of the Lord conferences and Bible conferences, I heard Jack Hyles make this statement several times.  When Hyles was accused of having an illicit relationship with his secretary, it was this very line he and his followers used. This If-You-Didn’t-See-it-it-Didn’t-Happen thinking was taught to countless pastors at Pastor’s School and Hyles-Anderson College. These Hyles-trained men carried this thinking home to their churches and used it themselves to rebuff accusations of impropriety and immorality.

This is the argument that one commenter used when dismissing Bethany Foeller Leonard’s accusations against Pastor Bill Wininger. Since the abuse occurred almost two decades ago, there is no physical proof that Wininger sexually molested Leonard. While others have now come forward and added their names to the accusations, they too have produced no hard, physical evidence to prove their claims.

According to this commenter, since there is no actual physical evidence, it is likely the abuse never happened. According to him, Bethany Leonard and others are lying and are out to ruin this man of God. In his mind, since there is no semen-stained Monica Lewinsky blue dress, any claims of abuse should be rejected out of hand.

This is the same kind of argument that Ken Ham uses when ignoring the overwhelming evidence for evolution and the age of the universe being billions of years and not thousands of years old. Countless Evangelicals have been swayed by Ham’s Jack Hyles impersonation when he says, were you there? According to Ham, since none of us was there when the earth was birthed into existence, we cannot know how old the universe, earth, and the human race really are. We should accept what God says in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Protestant Bible — that the universe is 6,023 years old. According to Bishop James Ussher, a 17th century Ken Ham, creation began on the “nightfall preceding 23 October 4004 BC.”

While this kind of thinking sounds insane to people who are not Evangelicals, millions of Americans and other Western Christians believe as Ken Ham does. Since none of us was there, we must accept what the Bible says about the beginning of the universe. Never mind the fact that the writers of the book of Genesis weren’t there either. The oldest manuscripts, which are not the originals, are dated thousands of years after the events recorded in Genesis. Even if Moses actually wrote the book of Genesis, and we have no evidence for this other than that the BIBLE says he did, he would have written the book thousands of years after the events recorded in Genesis. In other words, Moses, or whoever the authors were, weren’t there at the moment of creation, so how can they know what happened?

The commenter I mentioned earlier refuses to believe that Bill Wininger sexually abused Bethany Foeller Leonard because there is no physical evidence to prove Leonard’s claims. No one saw it, there is no proof of it, so it didn’t happen.

I wonder if this commenter, and others who think like him, realize the huge problem they are creating for themselves. As Christians, they believe:

  • Jesus came to earth and was born of a virgin
  • Jesus worked miracles in Palestine almost 2,000 years ago
  • Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross
  • Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later
  • Jesus ascended into the clouds and left the earth 40 days after he resurrected from the dead

Every Christian believes these things to be facts, yet there is no evidence for any of these claims. None. Nada. Zip. Using the commenter’s objection to Bill Wininger being considered a child molester, should he not refrain from calling himself a Christian or from evangelizing others in hope that they will put their faith in Jesus? Where is the evidence?

When it comes to Bethany Foeller Leonard and others who are claim they were abused by their pastor, we have living people who can be questioned. Yet, according to one commenter, their claims should be rejected. Their testimony, which Leonard has put in written form, can be read by everyone, yet, because there is no physical evidence, the claims must be rejected out of hand. Why is this same rationale NOT applied to the Bible and the claims Evangelicals make for Jesus?

I can know Bethany Foeller Leonard wrote a letter about Bill Wininger abusing her, however I have no way of knowing who wrote the various books of the New Testament. I wasn’t there, to use Ken Ham’s illogical logic, and I didn’t see it, so it must not have happened, to use Jack Hyles’ illogical logic. Surely this is one of those what-is-good-for-the-goose-is-good-for-the-gander moments.

Please explain to me how it is reasonable and rational to reject Leonard’s claim out of hand, but not apply the same thinking to the claims made for Jesus that I mentioned above? Or, can reasonable people put their faith in Leonard and others and come to the conclusion that they are telling the truth, just as the Christian would do concerning the historic witness of the Christian church concerning the claims the Bible makes for Jesus Christ?

Why are people such as the commenter mentioned above so willing to accept what they are told about Jesus, a Jesus they have never met, never seen, and for which there is no physical evidence, yet when a few women say, this man abused me, their claims are rejected out of hand?

Simply put, you can’t have it both ways

For further information about Bill Wininger, please see UPDATED: IFB Pastor Bill Wininger Outed as Sexual Predator

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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  1. Avatar

    –“Why is this same rationale NOT applied to the Bible and the claims Evangelicals make for Jesus?”—

    Bruce, you – of course – know the answer all too well. It’s because these people are bibliolaters who simply assume the Bible (“properly” read) is the only thing you are allowed to axiomatically accept as perfect without needing to justify it. Everything outside the Bible is held to the real-world standard.

    There is no good reason for anyone to adopt this view, but it certainly doesn’t stop people.

  2. Avatar
    Logan G

    Great post Bruce. I’ve been trying to recall if Jack Hyles ever preached at Thomas Road or Liberty University while I was there. I think he probably did but my memory is foggy. I’d like to say “I was there!” but I just don’t remember for sure, lol.

  3. Avatar
    Solomone Tahamano Pule

    We never saw all things written in the Bible, hence, they never happened.

    How’s that for reasoning?

    I hope all Christians will follow the path that Bruce Gerencser has taken.

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    I find this is perhaps the worst phrase that fundamentalists can use, and it appears there are plenty to choose from. Everything in life is actually based on things you can’t see, and our behaviours are conditioned round this fact. If a murder or theft or assault are committed it’s highly unlikely we were there to personally witness them, yet when they are reported by media who are themselves reporting, for example, the court case, we don’t query them. Even buying groceries, when we pick something off the shelf at the supermarket we weren’t there when it was manufactured, or packaged, or delivered, we put a certain faith (the proper use of the word) in the fact that we can rely on its being what it claims to be.

    I can only assume that this Hyles guy was an abuser (which I’m sure Bruce has written about several times) who reckoned he’d come up with the perfect defence. It’s actually intellectually demeaning.

  5. Avatar

    The literalist inerrantist evangelicals I have encountered believe God dictates the writing of the Bible, that he wouldn’t have allowed anything to be written that wasnt factual, end of story. The “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” argument.

    How convenient for Hyles that he came up with that teaching though. It’s almost like he knew how much he would need people to believe that. Huh.

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    I got into an argument over the Big Bang theory with a Christian college friend. He claimed there was no proof, that God created everything blah blah*. I silenced him when I mentioned that the Cosmic Background Radiation showed more proof of the Big Bang than there was for creation. (Using more imprecise terms, I know about cosmic inflation and other variants etc. My friend would not have known.) He never brought that up again.

    *Strangely enough, at the time I still thought God might have created the earth, while I didn’t understand the mechanisms. But my friend had to deny any science evidence of the beginning of time and space. Oh well.

  7. Avatar
    Chaplain Mike Smith

    The problem I have with this argument is that no investigation is even permitted. Those who are in the public eye are expected to be under more scrutiny. Even scripture dictates “He who answers a matter before he hear it it is a folly and a shame” Funny thing, there are a lot of Bible College students would have benefited from that line of thinking. If Bible College leaders would have followed that, there would have been less expulsions. But hey, that only applies to full blown preachers, not Bible College students.

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    Imagine a crime is committed against you. The police come and instead of making a report, they say “We didn’t see the crime, so it didn’t happen.” The same people who use that statement would scream bloody murder if the law treated them the same way they treat victims of corrupt pastors.

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