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Short Stories: Midwestern Baptist College –1978 Yearbook Incident

midwestern baptist college freshman class 1976
1976-1977 Midwestern Baptist College freshman class. Polly is in the first row, the first person on the left. Bruce is in the third row, the eighth person from the left.

From 1976-79, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College (IFB) in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern, an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution, was established in 1954 by the famous IFB pulpiteer Dr. Tom Malone. More than sixty years later, the college campus has been sold, Tom Malone is dead, and the church he once pastored, Emmanuel Baptist Church, is shuttered, with weeds growing around the buildings and through the cracks in the parking lots.

In the spring of our sophomore year, Malone gathered the student body in the chapel so he could “talk” to them. Students were told to bring the recently released 1978 yearbook with them. As the students settled into their seats, Malone stood up and came to the pulpit. It was clear that he was quite upset about something. We quickly learned that Malone was livid about three of the yearbook pictures. Mike Veach, currently the pastor of First Bible Church, a Fundamentalist church in Staten Island, New York, shot the photographs. Mike was (is) an excellent photographer. A few months after what students would later call “The Yearbook Incident,” Polly and I went to nearby Cranbrook Gardens so Mike could take pictures of us. We still have these pictures, reminders of the youngsters we once were some forty years ago.

What was so offensive about these photographs that a noted IFB pastor and college chancellor would deem it necessary to talk to the entire student body about them? See for yourself.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number one was taken during Founder’s Day. Always held on the Friday after Thanksgiving (students were not allowed to go home for Thanksgiving), Founder’s Day was a day set aside for showing off the college to prospective Fundamentalist high school students. Part of the day’s events included a singing talent show. This picture is of a group from a nearby IFB church.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number two is a picture of Julian Lyons, Emmanuel Baptist Church’s bus pastor. Lyons and I did not get along. He considered me a slacker because I didn’t want to work in the bus ministry after my freshman year. (All students were required to work in the bus ministry their freshman year.) I considered Lyons a racist because he stopped running the buses in Detroit. (The overwhelming majority of the kids from Detroit were poor and black.) One day, as I was exiting the school building, he and I ran into each other and had words, each telling the other what we thought about them. We never spoke again. I was surprised that I did not get expelled from school for what was surely viewed as insubordination.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number three was shot during one of the chapel services. Pay close attention to the student in the middle of the picture.

I am sure you are scratching your head right now, trying to figure out what is wrong with these pictures. Can’t you see it? Look closely. Put on your IFB alternate reality glasses®. Still nothing?

In the first picture, the boys (not Midwestern students) have long hair, and in the second picture, it looks like Lyons’ hair is over his collar. Midwestern had/has a strict policy against men having long hair. Male students were required to keep their hair short, with the college even going so far as to legislate that the back of men’s hair had to be tapered and not block cut. Hair on the collar, ears, or long bangs were forbidden. Men caught breaking the hair rule received demerits and were ordered to get a haircut immediately.

And the third photograph? The student “looks” like he has bushy, long hair on the back of his head. What he really had was the student’s hair in front of him, that student being my future wife, Polly. As photographers know, perspective and angles can do strange things to photographs. Sadly, Malone was only concerned with the “appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22).

Malone was furious over these photos, so much so that he took one of the yearbooks and tore it in two right in front of the student body. What a man, right? He then ordered the yearbooks collected. They were later returned, but not before the offending photographs had been marked-out with black, permanent ink felt markers.

So why do I have an unaltered copy of the yearbook? I refused to turn my yearbook in to prison authorities. Even then, as Fundamentalist as I was, I knew that Malone was acting like a crazed wild man over these photographs. It made no sense to me to mar the yearbook just because three of the pictures showed men allegedly with long hair. If Malone was serious about giving “sins” the black permanent marker of death, why not mark out:

  • The photographs of the man who was having an affair with the wife of the dean of men
  • The photographs of the gay teacher who lived in the dorm

These “sins” were well known by students, yet they were pushed to the deep recesses of the Midwestern closet. Instead, very ‘70s-looking hair became the target of Malone’s “righteous” indignation and wrath.

I know this story sounds bat-shit crazy to some readers, but this is an excellent example of the Fundamentalism I was raised in and a part of for many years. To this day, there are IFB pastors and churches who preach against the “sin of men having long hair.” A man with long hair is considered rebellious and effeminate. If you have not read my post, Is it a Sin to Have Long Hair? please do so. I think it will help you understand the kind of thinking that goes into someone concluding that men having long hair is a mortal sin.

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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17 Comments

  1. Avatar
    mary

    good thing you told us the answer-i never would have seen it. these pics just looked like kids in chapel. so strange. thanks for your writings. you are helping so many people that you will never know. here’s to hoping for good things for you and yours.
    mary

  2. Avatar
    Scott

    I’m still worried about the lack of a trigger warning regarding the blatant exposure of ’70’s fashions and hair styles. Having lived through that decade, there is NO need to re-visit it. (snark off)

    I had fun putting together a family slide show for my parents 50th wedding anniversary. I was able to assemble a nice mix of family photos but was aghast when I found out I had missed the family photo in which me and my two younger brothers were wearing (gasp) leisure suits. Luckily it was one of the younger brothers who got the sky blue one, whew.

    Scott

  3. Avatar
    Justine Valinotti

    Actually, I thought the second photo looked like a caricature or parody of a preacher, though Dr. Malone may not have seen it that way. I don’t know what he could have found offensive about the other two photos. Then again, I have never been a fundamentalist preacher.

  4. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I figured the problem with the second pic was someone standing on a chair with their shoes on. (Shoes on the furniture–my mother would have had his hide.) Then I figured the problem with the third pic was that the student in the center had his arm over the pew back, in a pose that suggests he was too relaxed for church.

    It didn’t occur to me that any of those men, young or older, had long hair. Long hair is ponytails, like the wonderful, fluffy, fox-tail-like one sported by a black man who teaches aquatics at my therapeutic pool. (Swoon.) Long hair is down to shoulders, or below. Long hair is significant. It stands out. Hair that argues with your shirt collar is not long hair.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      In the 1970s, most IFB pastors believed long hair on men was a sign of rebellion — identifying with the drugs, sex, rock and roll youth culture. Thus, young men were expected to have short hair. A minority of pastors were more liberal, allowing men to wear hair over their ears and on their collars.

      The irony today is that many of these IFB preachers and their descendants are still preaching against long hair on men, while today’s “worldly” men are wearing their hair short. And some men with short hair are gay. Damn, what a conundrum, right? Seems all so silly, now.

  5. Avatar
    Fred Parris

    It was not just men with longer hair! It was also women with short hair. I attended Midwestern in the mid 1980s and my wife (who had relatively short hair) has to pass Mrs. Malone’s evaluation before she was permitted to join the Emmanual choir that Mrs. Malone directed. This past week my wife and I detoured back from Chicago through Pontiac. The memories of my two years there are bitter-sweet. It’s sad to the see the church deserted and overgrown with weeds, but perhaps it’s fitting.

    The focus of evangelism, as I have painfully learned over the past 30 years, is not the appearance of righteous but the true righteous that comes only from Jesus. He’s the Ideal, not the self-righteous image that comes from having your hair a certain length, or wearing a certain type of clothing, or even from reading a particular translation of the Bible (at Midwestern, non-KJVers where often ostracized and forced out).

    Having a personal relationship with Jesus is what counts. All the rest of the pious add-ons only leads to producing modern-day Pharisees. Perhaps it is best that the entire institution is passing.

  6. Avatar
    Clinton Veach

    I am Mike Veach’s brother. I also attended Midwestern from 1981-86. Dr. Malone Sr. was a godly man who wanted his preacher boys to be above reproach. Long hair on a man is simply parading around in what the Bible calls “the glory of a woman”…her hair. It is not necessary for salvation for a man to have short hair. Long hair on a man doesn’t “un-save” him. I feel sorry for the “atheist” Gerencser, who, if he is indeed not saved, will discover his error in an eternal lake of fire…not because he mocks a preacher like Dr. Malone, who is human…but because he rejects Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who loves him still! (ROM 5:8).

    I am a “fundamentalist”, and not ashamed of that tag. The true children of God are what the Bible describes as a “peculiar” people, and in today’s climate of hatred, we and our position are not popular.

    I am a street preacher, and I see firsthand how the world reacts to the gospel. I believe the King James Bible IS the Word of God, not because someone told me to, but accepted it by faith, and by the Holy Spirit of God revealing that truth to my heart. Since that time, I have done my own research, and discovered what even the “ANTI-KJVers” cannot deny-that the KJV is the ONLY bible to come through the translation lineage out of Antioch, Syria…while every single other translation came out of Alexandria, Egypt, from trash cans in the Vatican, and from corrupted texts which don’t even agree with each other! Additionally, ALL of these other translations came through two men in the 1800’s, Westcott and Hort, who were found to be necromancers (speaking to the dead) and extremely ungodly men with an evil agenda against the Word of God. The King James Bible is maligned and hated for good reason! Satan KNOWS it is God’s Word and it has the power to transform hearts and lives! These facts alone are enough to convince me of its authenticity, but the Spirit of God can lead a seeker of truth to these same conclusions if he simply asks!

    Read 2 Corinthians 4:1-8, and you will find one of the reasons for the intense animosity against the God of the Bible. Satan, the god of this world, has blinded the minds of people who refuse to believe the simple truth…that Jesus loves us individually and on a personal level, and loves us enough to lay down His life so that we would not have to pay the awful price on sin (eternity in that lake of fire).

    There are NO atheists in hell today. Each of them understands the error of their life, but there is no remedy for it once you pass beyond the bands of mortal life! Mr. Gerencser, I pray you see past the pet peeves of one preacher, and the faults of an institution before it is eternally too late for you. Don’t let your experience doom your soul. While you live and breathe, it is not too late to repent and allow God to once again demonstrate that He loves even those who are outspoken against Him! You likely already know this verse: 2 Peter 3:9-“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      *sigh*

      Do you really think regurgitating some Bible verses in a blog comment will make one bit of difference? And please don’t give me the line: God’s Word will not return void. Everything you have said in your comment has been parroted by countless Fundamentalist commenters before you — all to no effect.

      I agree with you on one thing , there are no atheists in Hell. There is no Hell, and no Heaven either. The only life any of us have is this one. There are times, however, that I do wish there was a Hell. I know of a few IFB preachers I’d love to reserve a room for in Hell.

    • Avatar
      Michael Mock

      Wow. That’s completely amazing, Mr. Veach. I had no idea that you could so completely fail to understand why someone might not believe. I am genuinely in awe of what you’ve written here.

      “I am a street preacher, and I see firsthand how the world reacts to the gospel.” Yeah, about that… that’s not so much a measure of how the world reacts to the Gospel, it’s more just a measure of how the world reacts to someone being an asshole.

      “…the Spirit of God can lead a seeker of truth to these same conclusions if he simply asks!” Yeah, except I have asked, and it hasn’t led me to any such thing. What am I to make of that? ‘Cause it certainly looks like there isn’t anything out there to lead me anywhere.

      ” Satan, the god of this world, has blinded the minds of people who refuse to believe the simple truth…” Wait, which is it? Are we voluntarily refusing to believe, or has Satan blinded our minds? I’ll tell you right now that I haven’t voluntarily refused to believe much of anything, though I have concluded that some things don’t make sense to me and are most likely incorrect. On the other hand, if Satan has blinded my mind, then I’m going to end up Hell through no fault of my own, and an unjust God is going to let it happen.

  7. Avatar
    Clinton Veach

    Bruce, I guess I have to agree with you at least one thing. There sure are a lot of “preachers” out there who are either in it for themselves (loving to elevate themselves above others), and a lot of legalistic nonsense as well. And your “reservation in hell” is actually a real thing for those fake “men of God” who deceive people with their pious pomp. So hey, at least that one wish will come to pass!

    As a street preacher and evangelist I meet so many insincere preachers and church folk that it would be EASY to believe as you do! So, in all honesty, I understand your viewpoint on all this. It truly would be sad if this life were all there was! I thank my (nonexistent?) God that that is not the case. I guess if I got my eyes off Him and put them on preachers and most Christians, I would be excited to join you in that viewpoint! You seem like a very astute guy, and unfortunately most of the world can clearly see the hypocrisy in most of the world’s religions AND its religious leaders!

    But if YOU are right, I’ve lost nothing in leading the life I lead…However, if the Bible is actually the eternal truth it claims to be, then it doesn’t matter if one denies God’s existence; there will still be judgement!

    Anyway, good sir, I respect your restraint and civility in your reply. May the “nonexistent “ God work in your heart!

    Have a great day!

  8. Avatar
    Matilda

    Oh dear,oh dear,oh dear. if only Mr Veach knew…..the tired old arguments and tropes he trots out, with pride probably, that he has told an evil atheist An Everlasting Truth. Like, only his little sect are True Believers. So if the message is so important, why does god allow so many false denominations, so many ‘insincere’ preachers to preach? Like the KJV is the only right one, so why does this omnipotent god allow thousands of false ones to exist? And the long hair thing. So after god made Adam, he straightaway created scissors did he, if long hair is such an abomination to him? And my final head-desk…you’ll regret it…when that lake of eternal fire becomes your destination. His comments here are arrogant sad and pathetic.

  9. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I figured that the guys’ hair was an issue, though I wasn’t sure if there was something about the guys and girls in the 1st picture being too close together.

    Ugh, that brought up bad memories of the handbook of the fundamentalist Christian school I attended. There were diagrams of acceptable hair length for boys, all Bob Jones University graduate approved. Yuck.

  10. Avatar
    Julie S.

    LOL, I saw it right off the bat. Didn’t even have to check – I knew it straightaway. Because I was raised strict IFB, steeped in it from infancy til age 33. My eyes immediately went to the hair. Some things are so burned into your psyche that it’s unnerving because it will always be there no matter how much you try to forget.

  11. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I never attended Midwestern or met Tom Malone. So take this analysis for what it’s worth: I think he went after the guys with long hair because they were the easiest targets. They didn’t have the power of the man who was having affairs or the teacher. He could shame the “sinning” students into submission with no one outside the college any the wiser about what was going on in the college. On the other hand, word about the affairs or the gay teacher could have leaked out and embarrassed him.

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Bruce Gerencser