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Why Do Christian Fundamentalists Burn Books?

greg locke book burning

Recently, Evangelical pastor Greg Locke, pastor of Global Vision Bible Church in Juliet, Tennessee, was in the news for holding a book burning service. The Harry Potter books, Twilight books, other books, clothing, and things deemed Satanic were thrown on a pyre and burned.

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In 2019, Locke burned the book “The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American” by Freedom From Religion Foundation attorney Andrew Seidel.

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Those uninitiated in Evangelical thinking may view Locke’s behavior as extreme, cultic, or the actions of a man mentally sick. However, Locke’s actions have a firm grounding in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Words of God. Further, I had book burnings too back in my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days.

The Bible says in Acts 19:11-20:

And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. In certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.

In this passage of Scripture, we find the Apostle Paul coming to the city of Ephesus to preach the gospel and work miracles. All told, Paul spent two years in Ephesus. Some of the people who were saved, those who practiced the “curious arts.” Evangelical theologian Matthew Henry explains “curious arts” this way (from E-Sword):

[people who] traded in the study of magic and divination, in books of judicial astrology, casting nativities, telling fortunes, raising and laying spirits, interpreting dreams, predicting future events, and the like.

Those delivered from these practices gathered up their magic and divination books and burned them. The Bible puts the value of these books at 50,000 pieces of silver. At $20 value for each piece of silver, that’s $1 million in today’s money. Does anyone else think this valuation is embellished (Greek for a lie)?

These verses provide a Biblical foundation for Greg Locke’s book burnings, and the two book burnings performed by me in 1984 and 1987.

In 1983, I resigned from Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, moving 30 miles to the start to plant a new IFB church in the rural community of Somerset. I would go on to pastor Somerset Baptist Church for eleven years.

In 1984, convicted by the Holy Ghost over church members listening to secular rock music, I called for a book burning. I preached a scathing sermon about worldliness and the Satanic nature of modern rock music. I asked church members to go through their homes, remove any music that was dishonoring to God, and bring it to church that night so we could make a symbolic offering to God by burning them. A handful of congregants brought cassette tapes, 8-tracks, and LPs to church so they could be burned. We gathered in the side yard of the church, kindled a fire, and burned the offending items. God was pleased, and all his children said, AMEN!

Three years later, I became under increasing conviction (guilt) over “worldly” entertainment, including TV, videotapes, and music. After several Sundays of sermons, I called on church members to bring their sinful wares to church so they could be burned. Few members felt as convicted as I did. At the appointed time, we started a fire in the churchyard and gathered up the offending items so they could be burned. I wanted to make a big impression on congregants, so I planned to destroy our 13-inch television with a sledgehammer. (Please see The Preacher and His TV) Just before I hit the TV, one church member said to me (in front of everyone), “hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV, I’ll take it!” He, of course, missed the point of my recent sermons. I angrily told him NO! and then I slew our TV in the name of the thrice Holy God.

Did you ever participate in a book-burning service? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

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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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11 Comments

  1. Avatar
    amimental

    Never participated in a book burning, but I do have a book burning story. πŸ™‚

    Middle school principal (I was in 8th grade, so I think 1972) took the book The Exorcist from my friend Kerry. Her mother had given it to her to read. Her family attended the Catholic church, so did our principal. He told Kerry that she was ‘probably possessed by demons’ and took the metal wastebasket from under his desk, tossed the book in, sprayed lighter fluid on it and lit a match. The school secretary was quick, she grabbed the fire extinguisher and put the fire out after it only burned the paint and the world map on one wall of the principal’s office.

    You’d think they’d fire the guy. (haha… FIRE… that’s punny) but they didn’t. School superintendent ALSO went to Catholic church and suggested that ‘next time’ he burn the book outdoors.

    True story.

  2. Avatar
    clubschadenfreude

    no book burning, but I remember my church having some idiot come into talk about backmasking. Even then I knew this was utter nonsense, nothing more than coaching people to hear what wasn’t there. Then a few years later my mom and brother came to me and asked with concern what the “strange words” on my brother’s new cassette meant. It was “serpens alba” on White Snake’s album.

    Yep, I’m the smart one in the family.

  3. Avatar
    Jen

    My evangelical family was too holy to attend regular churches, but my parents regularly burned blasphemous items as the spirit led. These included books (anything not overtly Christian, even childrens books gifted by grandparents), Christmas trees, TVs, etc. As a book lover I was more upset about those than anything else.

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I never participated in a burning or even heard of one around us. I wouldn’t be surprised if groups held them, though – Mt Juliet where this nut job lives is not far from where I grew up.

    My brother got rid of all his sons’ video games after my brother got into a more charismatic strain of Christianity. He thinks “worldly” things are portals for demons to come through and spiritually attack us or whatever. I wouldn’t be surprised if he participated in burnings. I did take some pleasure recently – he sent me a video of his sons’ music recital. One played what was described as a Johnny Cash song, but I know it’s a cover of a Nine Inch Nails song and couldn’t resist telling him that. Ba ha ha!!!! I bet the music teacher got an earfull…..earful……

  5. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    I have not personally attended a book burning. However this topic is both an intellectual and emotional one for me. Would they burn the book ‘How the Hippies Saved Physics’? This is about a group of people (some of whom were hippies) who wanted to work on theoretical physics themselves (without control of professors) in the 1970s. I have read about many political and religious groups burning books. This achieves nothing except making the people who are the ‘other’ the ‘enemy’.

  6. Avatar
    Bruce Gerencser

    David Tee’s justification of book πŸ“• burning:

    β€œWe can burn books but do so because God is leading you to do it and not to insult those around you. God is to get the glory in all things including our acts of obedience in difficult issues like book burning.”

    We only burn books πŸ“• if God tells us to. πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ Kinda like we only kill our first-born if God tells us to (it’s in the Bible)

  7. Avatar
    Matilda

    Cos I went to China in 2007 to help my friend adopt her baby, I read several adoption blogs. I was horrified to find that some fundy adopters advocated that, as soon as they got home, they should burn the clothes the child was wearing when handed over to them. Cos otherwise, demons might creep out of them and and infect the whole household. How horrible that you’d look at new beautiful baby in your arms……and not immediately begin to lavish on them all the love every child needs….but fear demons.

  8. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    No book-burning scenario to share but wanted to say how much blame and shame we were forced to feel by being indoctrinated by conservative Baptists. My mom bought me a record album one year in my preadolescence. It was a geneeric kind of country and western type thing with various artists doing covers… My dad shamed her for buying ‘that kind of music’, though he did not confiscate it. It became, generic crap that it was, a precious belonging even though I had to feel slightly dirty to have it in my possession. People willing to burn books and attempt to prevent the free exchange of ideas are not so rare… Thank goodness for Reedom From Religion Foundation!

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Bruce Gerencser