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Q & A Time in the IFB Church

i have a question

As a pastor, I would have occasional Q & A times on Sunday evenings. Congregants could ask me any question and I would try to answer them (regardless of my expertise or lack thereof). There would be times church members would ask me questions for which I had no answer. Instead of saying “I don’t know,” I would bullshit my way through an answer, hoping the questioner would be satisfied. For those raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, you know that pastors were viewed as oracles of sorts, answer machines that could quickly spit out answers to every question. Perception was essential to the work of the ministry. It was important for pastors to be perceived as authoritative and knowledgeable. When asked questions beyond their requisite skillset, IFB pastors would try to give off the air of knowledge and understanding when there was none. Saying “I don’t know” was never an option.

I spent twenty-five years pastoring churches. I fielded countless questions from congregants, and without fail I answered them, even when I shouldn’t have. I thought it important to portray intellectual prowess. I wanted people to come to me for the answers to their questions. After all, I was a God-called, God-ordained, Holy Spirit-filled preacher. Who better to answer their questions than me? I thought to myself. The problem, of course, is that I was lacking knowledge of all sorts of subjects. Want to talk about the Bible? I was your man. Want to talk about computers or photography? I was still your man. However, when it came counseling issues, for which I had all of 2 credit hours of training, I was definitely out of my depth. Sure, I could give my opinion, but I had no training on how to deal with complex psychological problems. I believed for years that the Bible was the answer to every question; Problems were reduced to sin and rebellion, and correction of these problems was only a few Bible verses away.

During my time as a pastor in Southeast Ohio, I was friends with a fellow pastor at a nearby IFB church. One day we were sitting in his office shooting the breeze when a visibly agitated man came into the room. It quickly became clear to both of us that this man was having severe psychological problems. I thought, at the time, that my friend would sit the man down and try to help him by taking him through the Scriptures. The answer to every problem was found within the pages of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Instead of doing this, my pastor friend offered to take the man to the stress center in Zanesville. He asked me if I wanted to go along, I said, “sure.” After we arrived at the hospital, my friend told the man to go inside and they would help him. And he did. And with that, we drove off and found a place to eat lunch.

I asked my friend why he didn’t try to “help” the mentally disturbed man. He replied, “I did. I brought him to a place where trained professionals could help him.” My friend could see that I was quite puzzled by his answer. He turned to me and said, “look, Bruce, it’s not our job to answer every question or fix every problem.” Years later, I came to see that my friend was right. I went from the “answer man” to the preacher who recognized the limitations of his training, knowledge, and expertise.

Years ago, my best friend was a young preacher named Keith Troyer. We got along famously. I encouraged Keith to have Q & A times on Sunday evenings. He did so, and continues to do so to this day. Keith now pastors an IFB church in Pennsylvania. This past Sunday, Keith held a Q & A time during the evening service. Keith’s theology hasn’t matured much over the years. He’s still KJV-only, a Bible literalist, and a right-wing extremist. Just your typical, run of the mill, IFB pastor.

What follows is a video of Keith’s Q & A time. As you shall see, beginning at the 18:10 mark, when presented with a question that requires an answer that puts God in a bad light, Bible literalism went out the window.

Video Link

A young man in the church asked Keith a question about Psalm 137:9: Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

The young man asked, “does it mean literally?”

I am sure my former friend, who thinks I am mentally ill and under the influence of Satan, thought, “oh, shit, how am I going to answer this question?” Instead of holding true to his literalistic hermeneutic, Keith spent the next ten minutes giving a convoluted answer meant to obscure and protect God’s image and name. I chuckled as I listened to Keith’s attempted dodge of what this verse actually means. For those of you who have interacted with IFB Christians, you know they are Bible literalists until they are not. When uncomfortably cornered about the “literal” reading or interpretation of a verse, they will try to obfuscate what the text clearly says or change the focus of the discussion. And if all else fails, IFB Christians will say, “well, brother, we are just going to have to agree to disagree.” Discussion over. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Although I don’t approve of someone bullshitting his or her way out of a question for which he or she doesn’t have an answer, I empathise with you, Bruce, and other preachers and pastors in your position. It’s almost as if you’re set up to fail: You’re expected to be an authority and arbiter and your only source of information is a book of mysterious provenance.

    Also, any misinformation you or other clergy members may have given probably did no more harm than what many a Catholic priest or nun has given to couples about their marriages and families.

  2. Avatar
    Matilda

    I had a head-banging example of the pastor being the fount of all wisdom and knowledge on Dec 26th at family’s fundy church. The pastor has Covid, so treated us to a livestream sermon from his kitchen. It was very un-xmasy and was visually hard to watch and concentrate on as it was so blurry and echo-y. It was about Ruth and began with the adamant assertion that The Word is always truthful and reliable. So when it says Ruth, needing the protection of a male relative, lay across Boaz’s feet in the night, we can be sure that’s all that happened. IOW, no naughty hanky-panky took place, no siree, none, zero. And that was supposed to be edifying to our x-tian lives? What a waste of time!!!!I Couldn’t help thinking of his 3 small sons, he usually manages to insert a homophobic comment or two into his sermons…so hope none of them is gay and he doesn’t make life hell for them in the future.

  3. Avatar
    ... Zoe ~

    MJ: “It’s almost as if you’re set up to fail: You’re expected to be an authority and arbiter and your only source of information is a book of mysterious provenance.”

    Zoe: This was so good MJ I had to highlight it again.

  4. Avatar
    BJW

    Bruce, I have attended church services of the more liberal sort of Christian, and belonged to a more conservative church. Could there be a tendency for any of the fundamentalist/evangelical/conservative* type to insist the preacher knows it all? It seems the more liberal the denomination, the more the minister could admit what they didn’t know. Of course this is a generality and I’m sure there are exceptions.

    *I’m using conservative in the hard conservative meaning.

  5. Avatar
    Troy

    I was curious about how online apologists would handle the question for your IFB friend, this is a good synopsis of what I found:

    “…back in those days, when a country over-took another, ‘bashing the heads of infants’, was very much, the order of the day, unless the over-taking country’s ruler, was more benevolent. Killing the infants, would be a way to keep that people’s blood-line, from proceeding.”

    While apologists like this one (Bart Taylor who studied at Wattsumatta U. [he he]), are saying is that the Bible is morally bankrupt and hopelessly out of date. You can argue “historical context” all you want, but it is so repugnant to a modern reader that it is not only irrelevant, it is as alien as putting a woman on trial for witchcraft.

  6. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    It’s interesting how fundamentalists never learned to say “I don’t know” and be ok with that, and then perhaps trying to find information…..

  7. Avatar
    Brocken

    https://www.pristinegrace.org/media.php?id=21004 I think Keith Troyer was pretty ill-prepared to answer that youth’s question. What he should have done is gotten a copy of this tape. He then could have handed the youth a copy of that tape and then say ” This man can answer that question better than I can” and then tell the youth that Psalm 137:9 should be taken literally. Mr. Troyer then should have told the youth that he should be thankful that the God of the Bible hasn’t killed him yet.

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Bruce Gerencser