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How Evangelical Churches Exploit Children to Advance Their Agenda

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Contrary to popular belief, Evangelical churches are not safe spaces for children. In fact, I would argue that churches can be and are dangerous places, and if parents must take their children to church, they shouldn’t let them out of their sight. If the Black Collar Crimes Series has shown me anything, it is that abusers, rapists, and child molesters hide in plain sight behind the pulpits of countless Evangelical churches. Policies, procedures, and criminal background checks do little to protect children (and adults) from predator preachers. Until a Jesus-loving predator preacher has been convicted of a crime, nothing will show up on a background check. We know that predators often commit crimes for years, and even decades, before they are caught, having a clean background check proves nothing. One IFB megachurch preacher committed sex crimes for fifty years before he was caught. Such stories are not uncommon. Just because a preacher is winsome, smiles a lot, shakes your hand, and preaches oratorial gems doesn’t mean he is safe to be around. This is especially true when it comes to youth pastors — young men (and women) with raging hormones who are tasked with teaching and caring for church teenagers. Youth pastor sexual misconduct is so common that I can’t imagine a scenario where it is advisable to let teens participate in church youth programs. Well, maybe if eighty-year-old Granny Sue is the youth director it might be okay to let your teens attend youth group. Note, I said maybe. More than a few of the sexual predators featured in the Black Collar Crimes Series are in their sixties, seventies, and eighties (all men, most of whom preyed on women and children for years before they were caught).

While it is true most Evangelical preachers are not sexual predators, there’s another way these so-called men of God and their churches materially harm children. How? By exploiting children through indoctrination to advance their agendas. The goal is to indoctrinate children, turning them into the next generation of soldiers for God. This training begins as soon as church children are placed in the nursery, places where church workers feed them, hold them, change their diapers, sing religious songs, and read Bible verses to them. Soon these children are enrolled in preschool classes where Bible stories are used to “teach” children “truth.” From there, children move on to children’s church/junior church. It is at this juncture that deep indoctrination begins. Children are taught they are vile sinners, enemies of God. They are told about the Christian blood cult, and how Jesus died on the cross to pay for their sins. Children are pressed to admit they are broken sinners needing salvation through the blood of Jesus. It is not uncommon for church children to make public professions of faith in elementary school. Imagine the pressure placed on children to conform to certain theological and social beliefs. This pressure only increases as children get older, especially teenagers. Teens are expected to fully embrace the Evangelical cult.

Evangelical churches invest boatloads of money and time trying to indoctrinate children. The goal, of course, is to keep children in the church when they grow up. Churches use all sorts of methods and programs to “reach” children — both inside and outside of the church. Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). Vacation Bible School (VBS). Youth Camp. Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Bible studies in public schools (allegedly student-sponsored). Off-time revival meetings in public schools. Gideon Bible distribution. Ignoring this puts children at risk for religious indoctrination at a time when they lack the requisite skills necessary to separate fact from fiction (and Evangelicals know this, and that’s why they go after children when they are young).

Why do churches separate children from their parents? Rarely do families worship together these days. One youth pastor at a church we attended years ago would badger us about allowing our children to attend youth church during the main worship service. I had to tell him NO repeatedly before he finally got the point. What better way to indoctrinate children than to separate them from their adult caregivers? Sermons can be boring to children (not mine, of course — just don’t ask my kids) so churches segregate children by age and provide trained indoctrination experts to “teach” them the “truth.”

As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I aggressively and shamelessly used every available method to indoctrinate them. Were my motives sincere? Sure. I believed Hell was real, and once a child was old enough to understand the difference between right and wrong he or she could go to Hell unless they were born-again/saved. Who wouldn’t try to keep children from being tortured by God in the Lake of Fire for eternity? However, children lack the mental capacity to make rational decisions about God/Jesus/Bible/Christianity/Heaven/Hell. And even when children reach their teenage years and have the ability to think skeptically and rationally, churches/pastors/and parents often manipulate them by not telling them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. You are never going to see an objective comparative religion class taught in Evangelical churches. Children are never going to be exposed to other religions or atheism. And it is for these reasons, and others, churches are dangerous places for children. The goal is not their well-being. The goal is evangelization and indoctrination, thus providing the church with another generation of indoctrinated soldiers for Christ.

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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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7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    And we never thought of it as indoctrination, but as “teaching them the truth so they can be saved.” In that case, learning about other religions and no religion sends children on the road to hell.

  2. Avatar
    missimontana

    As a child, I loved VBS. At age 11, I had to join a Bible study group for my age group (11 to 13). That’s when I began to hate church. I was looking for an explanation of unmentioned details in Bible stories, such as who did Cain marry, who did Noah’s grandkids marry, etc. Of course, all I got was lies and BS. I had to fight my mom hard to stop going. She never understood why the anti-intellectualism offended me.
    And youth leaders? The biggest bullies I have ever met were teenage church kids. They could do whatever they wanted, and they knew it. Anyone who thinks church is a safe space is either naive or part of the problem.

  3. Avatar
    Matilda

    Re: Parents and children not being separated in morning worship. As a children’s evangelist, I learned this was the latest cool hip way to grow your church. Most families now had both parents working all week, so liked ‘quality time’ together at weekends. The notion soon fizzled – yet one more amazing way to get bums on pews that came to nothing. Maybe decades ago children sat meekly through adult sermons etc. Now children expect to be catered for, entertained and noticed. A pastor told me it’s ‘The Netflix Generation.’ Kids expect many choices, and if one is boring, they switch. Churches – in the UK anyway – are finding it impossible to compete with what the world is offering. I can also state categorically from conversations I’ve had with parents here, that they don’t see churches as safe places for their children. One said ‘My child’s not coming to your kids’ club, they’re all paedophiles in churches.’

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    The youth pastor at my church was a young good-looking guy named Scott. Most of us girls had a crush on Scott. He had a girlfriend who he involved in leading the teen girls group. Scott and Beth had met when Scott was interning at Beth’s church when he was in seminary. Beth was one of the cute youth group girls, 17 when they started dating. Scott and Beth got married at our church. I don’t think she was even 20 when they married. Eek.

    I got into trouble asking the hard questions in Sinday school because a lot of the myths didn’t line up with what my curious, observant brain had seen in the world. Sunday school teachers complained to my mom who told me not to ask those questions at church, to ask her instead. She got an earful. I did become a devout evangelical for awhile, but started edging out during college.it took a long time for me to learn to use critical thinking skills having been primed not to.

  5. Avatar
    SH

    My already violent parents were emboldened to be even more violent towards me, thanks to church teachings. Other teachings made me and my older sister a sitting duck for predators. Perhaps worse of all to my psyche, is how teachings from church and my parents alike compounded on each other, and my older brother became a cruel, sadistic, twisted boy who sexually abused me as well as beat and stalked me.

  6. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Let’s be clear: Indoctrination is milktoast compared to what happens in IFB type churches. Child abuse can be given a protocol and call it what you will but I call it Baptist child abuse. It is exactly the template used by fundamentalist Islam… one and the same. Parents beat their children psychologically and physically for sweet baby Jesus or the prophet I will curse if I please. Religion in extremes is global scourge, a pandemic virus that continues to maim, to kill us. Why can’t we have a mask for this?

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Bruce Gerencser