Several months ago, I was interviewed by Eric Skwarczynski for his Preacher Boys Podcast. Eric is a Christian, formerly a part of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I had a delightful time talking with Eric, sharing my story, and giving my opinion about the health and future of the IFB church movement.
You can listen to the podcast here. You can also find the podcast on Acast, Spotify, and Apple.
Preacher Boys has a private Facebook group made up of people who profess to have left the IFB church movement. I say “profess” because some members are still very much IFB in their thinking and beliefs. I liken them to people who convince themselves that they are living in a brand-new home when in fact all they have done is painted the house a different color. A recent discussion about homosexuality revealed that some in the group are still hanging on to the IFB way of thinking, even if they think they are free from Fundamentalism’s harm.
Christian Fundamentalism is psychologically harmful, as countless posts on this site have shown. While it is certainly true that some people can escape without being harmed, most people who spend any length of time in an IFB church find themselves wrestling with all sorts of psychological and emotional baggage. Simply put, swimming in the sewer called the IFB church movement will fuck you up.
Why is it so hard for people to leave IFB churches?
For many IFB congregants, the churches they are members of are the only churches they have ever known. Their entire lives have revolved around their churches. From shared beliefs and practices to close social connection, IFB churches become the equivalent of family. In fact, many IFB preachers promote the idea that the church family is superior to flesh and blood family. Congregants buy into this thinking, often shunning their “unsaved” or non-IFB families. Several years ago, my wife and I tried to get her parents to move to our area so we could care for them. Moving made perfect sense in every way, yet Polly’s parents said no. Why? Their IFB church, the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. They couldn’t bring themselves to leave their church family. Being told this crushed Polly — their own living child. In her mind, her parents loved their church family more than they did her.
IFB church members are taught that their pastor is the purveyor of truth — a God-called preacher of the gospel. Certainty of belief is the lifeblood of IFB churches. Congregants are warned that other churches are liberal or heretical. Want the truth? Only OUR church has it! Imagine spending a lifetime having that kind of thinking pumped into your mind. Disaffected church members want to leave, but they can’t, out of fear that they will become liberals or heretics; or out of fear that if they leave, God will judge and chastise them.
Despite the family and truth barriers to leaving, many IFB congregants do, in fact, leave their churches, seeking out a new church that will better meet their needs. IFB churches have a significant amount of membership churn. Many congregations turn over their membership every five to ten years. For example, I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio and First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio for years. Today, I know very few people in these churches. Granted, many of the people I knew years ago are now dead, but I find it astounding how little continuity there’s been between generations. In 1994, I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas — a Sovereign Grace IFB church. Fast forward to today. The church posted a photo of its congregation on its website. I was surprised by how few people I knew, and by how much smaller the congregation was today. I calculated that I knew less than 10 percent of the people in the photo.
People can and do move on from IFB churches. However, as some of the discussions on the Preacher Boys Facebook group made clear, moving on doesn’t necessarily mean leaving IFB thinking, belief, and practice behind. I see this very thing played out in the lives of Christians (and pastors) who were my classmates at Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. As far as I know, I am the only outspoken atheist who attended Midwestern. The rest of my classmates are either still preaching the IFB way, truth, and life or have moved on to what I call IFB-adjacent churches.
I have one former friend who thinks that he is an enlightened Christian. He proudly claims, “I am no longer a Fundamentalist.” The justification for his claim? His wife wears pants, they drink alcohol, and use Bibles other than the KJV. In every other way, his beliefs and social positions are IFB. Over the years, I have had countless Evangelical commenters chide me for throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. In their minds, I should be like them: enlightened Evangelicals who have jettisoned many of the IFB church movement’s social Fundamentalist practices. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) However, when I poke and prod their beliefs a bit, I almost always find IFB thinking lurking below.
IFB thinking is hard to escape. It’s a disease that infects every aspect of your life. Truly abandoning and forsaking the IFB church movement takes work — lots of it. For many of us ex-IFB church members (and pastors), it took years of therapy to truly break the bondage Fundamentalism had on our lives. And even then, deep scars remain.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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thanks for writing this. it’s good to know i’m not alone. we had to move cross country to get away from my dh family ifb church. they had him so mentally tied down that this was the only way. to literally run as far as we could. we have progressed nicely in our recovery, but sometimes these old ideas cause conflict. here’s to hoping the internet will put the final nail in the coffin of the ifb.
The school I attended was IFB in practice – administration and staff – though it claimed to be nondenominational in order to draw students. What the students had in common was belonging to various hard-core evangelical denominations like Cumberland Presbyterian, Assembly of God, Southern Baptist, and yes, IFB. New teachers were required to have graduated from one of several approved universities like Bob Jones or Pensacola Christian. We had Bible classes 3 days a week and chapel 2 days a week. We were told over and over and over how we were evil sinners worthy of eternal, painful torture by God merely for existing unless we traveled before the thrice holy Trinity declaring our utter worthlessness and surrendering our entire lives into the slave hood of this deity. Girls had a strict dress code with skirt length measurements, sleeve length, and chest coverage. Boys could wear Jean’s but must always have shirt tucked in with a belt, and their hair length was measured. Because clothing and hair length matter to this deity. There was NO SEX ED, young earth creationism was taught, and our literature was censored. I hated that f#$%ing school with a passion and glad when it shut its doors about a decade ago. Yet another school popped up in its place, a “Christian classical academy” which is basically the same thing as our old school but with plaid uniforms and renovated buildings. Indeed, former students of the school I attended are teaching at and sending their kids to the newer school, teaching the new generation of culture warriors for Jesus so they can attend repressive fundamentalist colleges. I feel for these students and hope that one day they can get out.
It’s really hard to get out. I am a very independent and strong-willed person, and I still had trouble getting out. I moved 1,000 miles away from family so I could better explore freedom. My mom and stepdad ended up leaving Southern Baptist church for an IFB church after I moved away, and I said, what the hell are you doing????? The pastor would throw shade at her from the pulpit about wearing pants – she was offended but continued wearing pants until the day she died – she was obese and hated skirts/dresses, and I guess that and the occasional glass of wine were her rebellions.
I never told her I was an atheist, though I think she suspected. My brother knows, but we can’t speak of it because we both acknowledge that we are all each other has left of the family other than our liberal Christian aunt, uncle, and cousin (whom my atheist daughter really adore because they are Christian but embrace all the social issues she embraces).
That was a lot, but IFB and evangelicalism are abusiveideologies and institutions. I despise them for what they do to people.
Lydia Joy shares her insight as to “Why people have a hard time leaving OFF Church. May be helpful for understanding for some.
As time goes on, Bruce, your writing uncovers your life more and more clearly. I am grateful to know you and to hear you speak the truth about belief within the Fundamentalist belief system. And I truly feel that your expression here on this blog is perhaps one of the most healthy ways of being that you have… It leads you to care for yourself and yours more and more as time goes on and it frees your vision more and more to share with us here. Thank-you… Reading your work here demonstrates to me on a regular basis how much harm rigid religious faith hurts human beings and your willingness to openly speak it reveals a person of strong character. Most of us who have escaped the abuse have trouble facing up to it as bravely as you do….
Deep scars remain… Yes and still there is great peace in speaking the truth. I wish you and yours much health and peace in these Trumped times.
It is a shame that you you have rejected Christ as your Saviour. How could you even Pastor a church and not be saved? Yes there are lots of problems with the IFB’s, but their doctrines (except for KJV only-ism and legalistic standards and Pastor worship) to name a few, are very Biblical and correct. There is still only one way to heaven.
A couple of thoughts. John chapter 10 tell us that Jesus is the shepherd and his sheep know his voice… “a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him. (v. 5)” Maybe part of the problem is that some of these IFB churches are full of lost people who do not know the shepherds voice, hence why you were allowed to pastor at one of them. I agree with you that the IFB pushes many false doctrines. However, the IFB is not the final say on Christianity. Turning your back on Christ because of your IFB experience is exactly what the enemy would have you do. I would beg you to reconsider your decision and read God’s word for yourself with an open heart desiring only to know the truth embodied by Jesus Christ.
Why the fake email address?