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My Wife’s Mother Has COVID-19 and Her IFB Church is to Blame

newark baptist temple heath ohio

In March 2020, I wrote a scathing post about the Newark Baptist Temple and its pastor Mark Falls’ handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. (Please read IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic.) In April, I wrote a post about why Polly’s mom refused to wear a mask or get vaccinated. (Please see No Need to Wear a Face Mask: When it’s My Time to Die, I’m Ready to Go.) And finally, last November, I wrote a post about Polly’s father’s funeral at the Newark Baptist Temple. (Please see An IFB Funeral: Fundamentalist Christianity Poisons Everything.) Despite me publicizing their recklessness (and the church and its pastor are very much aware of my writing), the Baptist Temple and its pastor continue to ignore the seriousness of COVID-19.

While family members swear on a stack of Bearing Precious Seed Leather Bound King James Version Bibles that Pastor Falls takes the virus seriously, video evidence suggests otherwise. Sure, Falls wears a mask (he and his family were infected last year), as do other church members, but by and large, the congregation continues to have unprotected sex with COVID-19. A recent family photo shot in the Baptist Temple’s gymnasium features at least three family members with serious health problems (including Polly’s mom). Not one person in the photo is wearing a mark. I see the same thing in other photos taken at the church or its school, Licking County Christian Academy. All the evidence suggests that the church gives lip service to CDC and Licking County Health Department COVID-19 guidelines.

Last Sunday, Polly’s mom told her during their weekly phone call that ten of her fellow church members were currently infected with COVID-19, and two of them were in the hospital. The church has had other outbreaks, and I believe at least one member has died from the virus. It is clear, at least to me, that the Baptist Temple facilitates and promotes super-spreader events, also known as Sunday church services. Polly’s mom continues to attend Sunday services, saying that she wears a mask and sits in the back of the church away from other people. Mom refuses to get vaccinated, claiming that COVID is no worse than the flu. And since she doesn’t get the annual flu vaccine, she has no plans to get the COVID-19 vaccine either. Besides, according to Mom, Jesus is in control, and she is ready to die and go to Heaven.

Earlier today, our nephew — who pleaded with Mom to get vaccinated — informed us that Mom coded while at the doctor’s office (she has congestive heart failure). She had yet another heart attack and was tested for COVID-19 while waiting to be admitted to the hospital. The test came back positive. She is currently asymptomatic, but the doctor told her the heart attack could be COVID-related. While it is impossible to know exactly where she was infected — she doesn’t go anywhere besides church and rarely comes in contact with people outside of her church — it is safe to conclude that the Baptist Temple is the vector.

Pastor Falls, a libertarian, refuses to insist that church members wear masks and practice social distancing. I suspect he thinks doing so is a good idea, but his libertarianism keeps him from demanding congregants follow CDC and Ohio Department of Health Department guidelines. The Baptist Temple is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. The church has all sorts of rules mandating member behavior, yet when it comes to COVID-19, it is hands-off and follow the Lord’s leading. Women can’t wear pants, and premarital sex will get you excommunicated, but whether to take steps to protect oneself from a deadly virus is just a matter of personal opinion.

Polly and I are beyond angry. And frustrated. And helpless. Nothing we say or do will change what is happening at the Newark Baptist Temple. We are forced to sit by while Mom gambles away her life, believing that Jesus and good genes will keep her alive. And if they don’t? Polly and I are left with the chore of dealing with the church, its pastor, and family members. We are left with the chore of cleaning up the mess Mom leaves behind after she dies. She refuses to update her will, leaving Polly and me to take care of everything after she is gone. We pleaded with Mom to set her house in order, but she refuses to do so, leaving her only daughter and son-in-law to deal with all the shit that is sure to come. We will certainly take care of things and do what we can to honor her wishes, but Mom’s unwillingness to make things easier for us is selfishness on her part.

I texted my oldest son the following today: I HATE the Baptist Temple. I literally hate what this church has done to my mother-in-law (and my deceased father-in-law) and our extended family. While Mom is certainly culpable for her ignorant beliefs about the virus and Jesus’s hands-on care, it’s hard not to put much of the blame on the church she has attended for the past forty-five years. Fundamentalist indoctrination has crippled her ability to think and reason, and in the end, it will probably kill her.

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

    I’m sorry, Bruce and Polly. I hope Polly’s mom recovers but if she has congestive heart failure, it’s already tricky.

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    We’ve currently got a court case in Manitoba with several churches suing the government over the pandemic restrictions. I hope the judge upholds the right of the government to protect the health of citizens even if religious liberty licentiousness has to be sacrificed to do so.

    There is one ace that the Province could play, though, even if the court finds in favour of the churches: The “Notwithstanding Clause” of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which allows the federal or provincial governments to override the Charter temporarily.

    Personally I think that any organization that violates a public health order should be closed permanently, its leaders imprisoned, and its property seized. Alas, in the case of Newark that’s highly unlikely.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      Sadly, here in Ohio churches are EXEMPT from ALL COVID-19 related health mandates. Governor DeWine says the First Amendment trumps Ohio’s C0VID-19 mandates. 🤬🤬

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    No doubt this congregation labels itself “shepherding.” Now, didn’t Jesus say “Feed my sheep?” This to me implies “Keep my sheep healthy.” A good shepherd will remove toxic weeds from the meadow before the sheep start grazing, yes? Looks like a certain pastor was asleep at the switch when they studied that particular passage. I’m sorry for the looming burdens that you and Polly are soon to face, largely thanks to a pastor who is in it for the $ and accolades but little else.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    The IFB way is a sickness that embraces self-harm. I sit here just shaking with rage and sorrow that you are facing the church’s ignorant denial of the need to care for self. Polly’s mom is going to drink the Kool-Aid and smile as the poison takes her. Cult…Damn!

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Good morning, Bruce and Polly. I feel so bad for you and your children, given all the work involved. I’d love to see victims of that dictatorial pastor on your mother- in- law’s church get sued big time !! That idiotic cuck ! He’s got blood on his hands for sure . How does dealing with an epidemic coincide with the First Amendment ?? Trying to muzzle your blog in Ohio certainly qualifies for messing with said Amendment. For what it’s worth, please see if your mother-in-law’s doctor can give her an IV with vitamin C, and chewable D3, zinc, and B12 shots or liquid. People DO say it made a difference in their survival. People should be on these supplements anyway. I am. Whatever will help. Please keep us posted. Stay well as much as you can, all of you.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce— I am sorry for you and Polly. Both of you have endured so much already!

    The pastor of that church is a killer, full stop. Not only might he cost the life of Polly‘s Mom, but also those of many other people, some of whom have no connection to the church. (Think of grocery store workers and others who may come into the orbits of church members.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I suspect that pastor would kick someone out of his congregation if she were to have an abortion—on the grounds that she “killed” someone who didn’t have a chance to be born. If he won’t at least enforce a life-saving measure—wearing masks—in his church, he is a hypocrite as well as a killer.

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      ... Zoe ~

      I suspect the pastor would also object and sue any cardiologist doing open-heart surgery on him if the doctor refused to wear a mask during the procedure.

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    I am so sorry to hear this.

    Biblical and early Christians did not meet in church buildings. There has been a revival of house churches where I am. Families can have church and people who live on their own have had church with people in their own social bubble.

    A Pastor cannot allow this because it would challenge his power.

    If I may say Bruce, you are doing something to change this by exposing it on your blog. All the best.

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    Howard Grant

    If I were in this position, I would tell my MIL that if, and when she dies, she will have a funeral service at the funeral home & you will pay a non-religious person to hold the service. None of her fellow congregants will be allowed to attend, particularly the Pastor, and that they will never get another dime from her estate. Seems like they want to play games so as we say in the Marine Corps, let’s play games then!

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    So sorry to hear of this. If she does pass, here’s to hoping you guys can get everything handled in a timely manner w/not so much stress.It’s sad that the preacher needs to keep his power going so badly that he will risk lives to do it. I understand your feelings about Baptist Temple. I feel the same way about churches that were an unfortunate part of my life for so many years. Good thoughts and wishes your way.

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    I wrote of my concern about the Covid vaccines on your other article, but I think it’s awful how these churches spread the Covid around too. In fact one person I know how got Covid got it from church and there was a group of 7 she said who got it, and one did end up in the hospital. They were meeting and I don’t believe wore masks either.

    Most right wing churches are open and have been for months. I feel upset, lately feeling like life has been ruined by Covid and now the covid vaccines have so many bad side effects and know too many suffering in that world. I am angry at the evangelical world for helping to turn the virus endemic, but now feel like I am out of sorts on the left, which is not taking serious all the terrible side effects from the Covid vaccines. I know too many people who have had very bad things happen. I saw censorship of people who had terrible Covid vaccine side effects for myself. So feel damned if I do on both sides. Why are liberals now trusting big Pharm and the system so much? I have a history of severe autoimmune disease and anaphylaxis and do not want a vaccine passport dictatorship either.

    I wear KN95 masks when I am out.

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      I understand you’re upset. By the way, I have had fibromyalgia and Hashimoto’s disease for a long time, and I got vaccinated with the J&J vaccine. And I’m fine. Quit listening to anti-vaxxers scaring you to death over the vaccines. Any possible vaccine injuries or deaths are far, far less than the risk of Covid-19. Do I trust big corporations? No, but if there are serious side effects in enough numbers, they will make less money. Seriously, they are motivated to make money and killing people won’t make them money.

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        I didn’t need anti-vaxxers to scare me. In fact when I looked up the Covid vaccines, I was trying to choose which one and to see if they were safe for someone with extreme autoimmune disorders and history of anaphylaxis.

        I found out foreign countries said they were not for anyone with a history of anaphylaxis and don’t know why the USA didn’t follow that logic. I also know perfectly healthy people who were bedridden for a week-two [people I knew on Zoom and visited with every week] who felt “burning inside”, extreme headaches and pain. I know the two who had neuropathy personally and a friend had a family member get seizures, they have no reason to lie. Add to this all the even young people talking about messed up periods, heart problems, fast heart beats etc, it was ordinary normal people online not anti-vaxxers. I saw them censoring people everywhere too about side effects. it scares me too that one can’t even question the vaccines almost like they are a religion and we are to trust in Pfizer like Christ or something. Johnson and Johnson had the baby powder debacle.

        I am in shock that people trust them so readily, it doesn’t take much looking to see the bad side effects. I posted this to someone else but take a look for yourself. Other vaccines were safe except RARE events, gave immunity and stopped transmission, these vaccines are poor quality and don’t even give immunity or stop transmission. You ever wonder why they want to give this stuff to kids and teens who are at little to no risk from Covid? [remember these Covid vaccines don’t give immunity or stop anyone from spreading it]

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          ... Zoe ~

          VAERS is a place where people self-report. That doesn’t mean all submissions are fake. It also doesn’t prove causation. One needs to approach self-reporting with caution and rightfully so.
          Currently, the focus on side-effects and adverse reactions, including allergic reactions is the focus and again, that is to be expected and investigated. If we sit down and consider the number of deaths during surgery or with the administration of various meds, the stories present as horrific. I agree, if one reads the VAERS site it scares one to death. The thing is, we simply do not know the accuracy of all reporting, nor do we have all the information we need to see a direct causal link. With self-reporting there are many things we do not know.

          In these political times we also need to be aware that it can and does happen that false reports are made. I learned yesterday that in the U.S. it is a criminal offense to knowingly submit a false report. Federal law (18 U.S. Code S 1001) There is a suggestion now that there is indeed some false reporting going on. Who would intentionally submit a false report? A good question. Currently, the amount of anti-vaccine rhetoric is rampant online and sadly also associated with conspiracy theories. Perhaps VAERS offers a way to see what’s happening out there with self-reporting. Again, to make a direct link to causation just from a submission doesn’t guarantee causation.

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            You seriously expect me to believe that legions of antivaxxers are going to risk federal offenses to fill VAERS up with fake reports?

            Sheesh, you got to be kidding me.

            You know what is ironic here, is you are acting just like the evangelical people who refused to take Covid seriously and allowed it to be spread to the most remote hinterlands of USA and in these churches and told people like Bruce’s MIL, oh you can go to church no problem and then they got sick and had their lives put at risk, and now on the other side, brainwashed liberals, who refuse to face facts about what is happening with EXPERIMENTAL vaccines not caring about people’s side effects, lost loved ones or deaths.

            So if VAERS can’t be trusted how will we know the real affects, oh yeah you trust in the system totally, the big pharms should tell us. I am incredulous that one woman here remains completely trusting of her J and J vaccine, one that was even paused for a time and STILL IS in foreign countries because it caused blood clots.

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          You are a perfect example of why the pandemic is likely to be so hard to bring under control. You read everything that the anti-vax propaganda brigade produces and post it as fact, yet never once do you check as to whether there is another side to the story.

          The reality is that there have been the tiniest number of deaths worldwide caused by vaccinations, and certainly a tiny proportion of those whose lives have been saved by the vaccines. In the UK the virus is now almost under control because of vaccinations. It’s possible, but not certain, that perhaps around six or seven deaths arose as a result of blood clots caused by the vaccine, but even that link isn’t certain as there are too many variables. All vaccines can cause temporary side effects, but these are minor in well over 99.99% of cases. There are, of course, those who medically are advised not to be vaccinated, and that can include those suffering from certain autoimmune conditions.

          Even those not at real risk from the virus should be vaccinated to prevent its spread and assist herd immunity. A much more considered link is the one below

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    There is too much rhetoric and hype from the anti vaxxer crowd. Misinformation is all over the internet. There is so much hearsay from that group that everything must be closely reviewed. Very little from that crowd is well sourced or backed by credible study. It’s all just anecdotes or something taken from someone who knows someone. It grabs so many unrelated incidents, ties them together in what seems a logical method, then proves its true by saying the facts are all hidden, the data is there is you put it together, and government, science, and business around the world are all in on covering it up.

    JFK, moon landing, child sex rings in basements, and stolen elections all have the same basis. And now it’s the COVID vaccine. This is nothing more than conspiracy theory in a new for COVID vaccine.

    The real irony is you accept it without any real scientific proof. I will believe it when the science is there. Right now what I see is Covid starting to trend downward. I see health services less stressed. I see Covid vaccines making a difference.

    Also ironic… along me and others brainwashed? I can have my mind changed if the facts come in, I am willing to think critically and be a skeptic. But can you change yours when the fact do not come it, or will that simply be part of the big cover up?

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      Sage, I couldn’t agree more. It’s ironic that the people most prone to saying things like ‘I like to think for myself’’ or ‘don’t be taken in by the media’, are actually the people who are the most gullible. The trouble is that believing the moon landings were faked is harmless stupidity: believing anti-vax nonsense is, literally, killing people.

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    Bruce you were rude to me and dismissive. I have supported you and your blog and shared it multiple times in the deconversion community. Is this how you treat long time commenters when they disagree with you on one subject? I was a long time supporter and well you just shut me down in some of the worse rudeness I’ve ever seen. I am not an antivaxxer and don’t appreciate that word being fobbed on me. It is ironic to me as I wrote to you all how worried I was about the censorship out there, your first instinct was to tell me to shut up and go away after I’ve read this blog for years and shared it’s link in various places including my own blog. I hope you don’t treat anyone else like you have me. I doubt any apologies will be forthcoming. Yeah I worry about people suffering from these vaccines, silly me. Oh, they are reporting visual side effects from the vaccines, I hope that isn’t what happened to your eyes. See a rheumatologist otherwise, they may be able to help.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I am sorry that you feel hurt. However, you were spreading anti-vaxxer talking points and conspiracy theories. The fact that you were a long-time commenter is what got you more space than other people would get to spew such nonsense. That said, being a long-time commenter is not a license to say whatever you want, especially when it is harmful to others. And anti-vax bullshit and conspiracy theories do harm others.

      I have done nothing wrong, so no apology is forthcoming. I am sorry to lose you as a reader. Your post about me and the readers of this blog ends your run on this site. I won’t dignify it with a response. Other people might.

      I wish you well, and I sure as hell hope you get vaccinated.

      Bruce Gerencser

      • Avatar

        Bruce, I also posted my reply here on her blog. I doubt it will be approved but I wanted her to see it. And I am now done with her, also. I can love the antivaxxers already in my life but I’m not real interested in making new friends out of any.

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      Hey fivehundredpeeps, I normally don’t comment on something just by the first sentence, but hey there is always that time,

      ‘In real life, I am keeping my mouth shut.’

      ^ First sentence on your blog post. Bruce, myself and many others have done the opposite of keeping our mouths shut in real life for what we believed in, Christianity. For me it cost me my career, relations, and so much more. I suppose you are wise to ‘keep your mouth shut’ in real life, but you are against COVID vaccination, aka anti vax. I suppose in hindsight at least myself and others had the courage to not ‘keep our mouth shut’, in real life, even although what we believed in wasn’t true. All the best.

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    Five hundred, maybe you feel slighted by the left. Maybe you hate being called an antivaxxer. But you are repeating easily refutable bullshit, and in what seems to be a hysterical fashion. The more links presented to you refuting your arguments, the more frantic you seem. So your behavior isn’t going to change minds. Have you thought about actually checking things out?

    Yes, I got the J&J vaccination (in March) that so freaked you out. I’m not happy with factory conditions in one place that got shut down. But the miniscule number of people who got blood clots actually averages to zero, statistically speaking. And you know what? I feel better right now than I’ve felt for a couple or 3 years or so. How I feel is not determinative of anything in the short term, but I don’t know all these so-called people who got sick and died etc from the vaccine. My husband got the Pfizer vaccine and he’s doing all right. We don’t personally know ANYONE who had serious problems. Once again, this information isn’t determinative.

    But the science studies (you know, actual science where actual, qualified epidemiologists test hypotheses) have come back and show that once we are fully vaccinated, 2 weeks after final shot, we won’t get sick and die from the vaccine. Nor will we pass it on to others.

    I hope you can find some quiet space in your head to open your mind. Because the way you are carrying on now, you are allied with antivaxxers, which means you are also one. And if you are one, you might as well accept that it is so.

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