Imagine for a moment, that you are sitting in the pew of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. You are 16 years old and sitting next to you is your 17-year-old girlfriend. As with any normal teenager, you are sitting as close as possible to your girlfriend and the two of you are holding hands.
The pastor is getting ready to preach and he asks everyone to turn to 1 Corinthians 7:1,2. With a thunderous voice, the pastor says, THE BIBLE SAYS:
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:1,2)
and THE BIBLE ALSO SAYS:
Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
All of a sudden, the pastor turns your way, looks at you and your girlfriend, and then slowly turns back to his sermon notes. You feel guilty, so you unclasp your hand from your girlfriends and you scoot a few inches away from her — safely avoiding fornicating in the pew.
Welcome to just-another-Sunday-morning service at First On True Faith Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church in Fundistan, Ohio.
In the real world, teenage boys and girls hold hands, put their arms around each other, and kiss each other. We also know that some of them engage in intimate sexual activity. But at First On True Faith Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church, any physical contact between unmarried teenagers or unmarried young adults of the opposite sex is strictly prohibited. And
The thinking goes something like this: fornication, the intimate sexual contact between unmarried people, is a SIN. Committing fornication requires physical touching, so the best way to avoid fornication is to keep unmarried teenagers or single young adults from touching each other.
Over the years, I am embarrassed to say, I told countless teenagers that no girl ever got pregnant without holding hands with a boy first. I repeatedly told them that holding hands leads to familiarity, and before you know it, you’ll be having sex. So the answer is this: no touching.
When I was a teenager in the 1970s at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio and First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio, my pastors and youth directors preached against boys and girls touching each other. Now, this doesn’t mean we didn’t touch each other, it just meant that we did our touching away from the sight of our pastors, youth directors, deacons, and other church adults.
We turned it into a game. The pastor said we couldn’t touch each other, so while choir practice was going on, we would find out-of-the-way places to neck. It was almost like a challenge: we dare you to catch us.
From the age of 14 until my wedding day, I kissed a few girls, put my arm around them, and held their hands. But that’s where it stopped. Both my wife and I were virgins when we married in 1978. I violated the letter of the no-touch rule, but I certainly kept it until my honeymoon (albeit, had we waited any longer to get married, we likely would have rounded third and slid into home).
Polly and I attended Midwestern Baptist College — an unaccredited IFB institution — in Pontiac Michigan. The college had a strict no-touch rule. The rule was called the six-inch rule (about the width of a hymnbook). Young men and women were expected to keep six inches away from each other at all times. Failure to do so resulted in severe discipline, including expulsion.
Living in a dorm filled with normal, hormone-raging, heterosexual men and women made the six-inch rule a real challenge. Most of us learned how to discreetly break the rule, and when we went out on double dates, we learned to date with couples who were six-inch rule-breakers as we were.
Sandra, a regular reader of this blog, shared in a comment about her time at Hyles Anderson College:
About the gateway issues with card playing . . .I’m not psychologist but I do believe if you restrict normal human behavior in one way, normal human behavior will come out in another. When at Hyles Anderson we were all told to not touch the opposite sex. I mean, no hand holding (which was fine with me and the IFB church I was in before I left for HAC). But no touching through a pen either, like tapping on a shoulder.
We are social beings and I do believe we need touch to stay alive. When at HAC, since all of the women were not allowed to touch a man on his hand or to tap his back with a pen, guess what happened? The dean of woman (Miss Belinda) said she noticed a LOT of petting going on between the women. In chapel, women would sit next to women and they’d pet each other’s hair, they’d stroke each other’s leg. And she was right – all of that behavior was happening. But my question is why? Probably due to the human need for basic touch. Since the women were not allowed to hug their own blood brother on campus, nor to hold hands for 5 seconds, nor to tap a man on the back with a pencil. . .is it any wonder that the women found a way to get physical touch in their lives? It is normal to want a hug and to rub someone’s bad when they are hurting. By repressing opposite sex touching, they encouraged same-sex touching and it was very evident.
Ponder for a moment being exposed to this kind of environment. Is it any wonder that people coming out of the IFB church movement often have to deal with emotional, mental, and sexual dysfunction?
When you are constantly told that normal human desire is sinful, you are bound to suffer psychological damage. Being normal heterosexuals, we could only suppress our desires for so long, so we found creative ways to get around the rules and the ever-watchful eyes of those charged with keeping us from fornicating.
As single students at Midwestern, Polly and I artfully evaded the no-touch police all but one time. Here’s what happened the time we got caught.
I was on the college basketball team. (Don’t read too much into that. The team was the equivalent of an intramural club.) One day during practice I slapped at a basketball and severely dislocated a finger. I was rushed to the emergency room and the doctor was able to fix the dislocation. I’m left-handed and the dislocation had occurred on my left hand.
Every male student was required to wear a tie to class. I found it very difficult to tie a tie with one hand, so one day I asked my fiancée to tie my tie for me. In doing so, we broke the six-inch rule. Someone anonymously turned us in for breaking the six-inch rule. We had to appear before the disciplinary committee to answer the charges against us.
We each received 50 demerits for breaking the six-inch rule. We were warned that if we broke the six-inch rule again, we would be expelled from school. Little did they know that we had been breaking it for quite some time.
Most dormitory students lived for the weekend. Students could only date on the weekends. Double dating was required and no student could go farther away than 10 miles from the dormitory.
Most students tried to adhere to the rules for a while. Some, like my Polly and I, kept the six-inch rule religiously until we went home for our first Christmas break. While home on Christmas break, we were allowed to act like normal young adults who were in love. We held hands, kissed, necked, and pretty much acted like any other couple mutually infatuated with one another.
Once the genie was out of the bottle, it was impossible to put her back in. When we returned to Midwestern in January 1977, we realized we could not continue to keep the six-inch rule. So, for the next 18 months, we sought out couples to double date with that had the same view of the six-inch rule as we did. We had to be very careful. Choose the wrong couple to double date with and we could end up getting expelled from school.
Rules such as the six-inch rule put the dormitory students in a position of having to lie and cheat just to be able to act like normal young adults. Many students ended up getting campused (not allowed to leave the campus or date) or were expelled because they broke the six-inch rule.
Fornication was quite common among dormitory students. There was always a lot of gossip about who was doing what, when, and where. During the spring of my sophomore year, many of us rented apartments in the Pontiac area. We were all planning to get married over the summer, and since apartments were hard to come by, we rented them as soon as we found them.
The apartments turned into a big temptation for some couples. They began using the apartments as safe places for sexual activity. I could give you the names of several well-known preachers and their wives who lost their virginity at one of these apartments. Some of these preachers are now known to rail against sexual immorality. It seems they have forgotten about their own immorality many years ago.
Is it any wonder that many of us who were raised in this kind of sexually repressed environment require counseling? Being told over and over that certain basic human needs and desires are sinful leads to overwhelming guilt and despair (and remember masturbation was also a sin).
This is one of the reasons why I think the IFB church movement (and Evangelicalism, in general) is psychologically harmful.
How about you? Did you spend your teenage years in an IFB church? Did you attend an IFB college? How did you deal with the no-physical-contact rule? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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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