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Baptist Bible College President Mark Milioni Says the Church He and I Grew Up in Wasn’t “Legalistic” or “Authoritarian”

mark milioni
Mark Milioni

I always find it interesting when two people can have similar experiences yet come to wildly different conclusions about those experiences. Take me, Bruce Gerencser, and Mark Milioni, the president of Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Both of us attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. Trinity was pastored by Gene Milioni, Mark’s father. Ron Johnson was the church’s assistant pastor and Bruce Turner was the youth pastor. (Please see Dear Bruce Turner.)

I am five or six years older than Mark. He was a young boy when I was a teenager at Trinity. I attended Trinity from June of 1970 to May of 1974. Both Mark and I were exposed to the same preaching, the same theology, the same social practices. Yet, Mark’s view of his father’s church is very different from mine.

Earlier this year, Mark did an interview with the Recovering Fundamentalist Podcast. Mark stated:

I came from a Baptist church [that was] conservative to the hilt, but it was not legalistic. It was not militaristic. There was not regular preaching on dress code and on worship or on a strong pastoral demanding, authoritative, dictatorship type of leadership.

As I read this, I thought, “did we attend the same church?” To suggest that Trinity and its pastors weren’t legalistic is ludicrous, as any person (except Mark) who grew up in the church will attest. While there wasn’t “regular” preaching on a dress code or church standards, there certainly were, at times, sermons on these subjects. Long hair on men, short skirts on women were frequently mentioned from the pulpit, in Sunday school, and in youth group meetings. Teens were expected to dress a certain way. “Biblical” morality was outwardly enforced, though, as I learned years later, most church teenagers, except me, were fornicating. There was the facade of Baptist morality, and then there was what really went on behind closed doors.

Granted Pastor Milioni wasn’t an authoritarian like Jack Hyles, but he had authoritarian tendencies — a common character trait for IFB preachers. I had several run-ins with Mark’s father. I can tell you from personal experience that Pastor Milioni could be authoritarian. The same could be said for the other pastors. One pastor had a violent temper. I saw him beat his son on two occasions with a belt for failing to have good grades. These authoritarian tendencies were also expressed by some of the deacons and Sunday school teachers.

I have lots of good and bad experiences I could share from my three-plus years at Trinity Baptist. I am sure Mark does too, having spent his formative years as the son of Trinity’s pastor. I don’t think Mark is lying. I am, however, perplexed about how it is we have wildly different experiences. I wonder if Mark is trying to be honest, yet protective, whereas I have no need to protect the testimonies of others. Granted, our family experiences were very different, he the son of the pastor, me the son of a divorced couple. I would love to sit down with Mark and share a meal or a beer (if he is one of those enlightened IFB preachers) and talk about our shared experiences. Maybe we could find some common ground.

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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    Maybe he’s completely comfortable in the life he has. So he has no real reason to reflect deeply on his beliefs, since they have served his identity well. And while he’s living this life, he probably focuses on the positive. Of course, if he ever became deeply disillusioned and left, all of the doubts he may be suppressing would come out. Maybe.

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    Hi Bruce, I would find it most interesting to read or listen to you and Mark Milioni reminisce of your experiences and memoirs of your Trinity Baptist Church days.
    The Recovering Fundamentalist Podcast is dedicated to addressing Legalism in the Church. I also listened to the episode with Mark Milioni. At the 39/40 minute mark, Mark Milioni says that he receives critical letters and that he responds to each of those with a hand written reply.
    I suspect that Mark Milioni endorses mandatory church attendance( Hebrews 10:25) mandatory financial giving( Malachi 3:8-10) and submission to church authority ( Hebrews 13:17) in some form. Are not those three things commands? Are not commands enforced by some sort of authority? Now that is just a suspicion on my part. Other that his talk on the Recovering Fundamentalist Podcast, I had never heard Mark Milioni before, so I don’t know what he believes about a individuals practice of attending church services, tithing to a local church or the extent of church leaders authority. But Mark Milioni did state that he is a “Rules Guy.” Rules = Legalism which must be enforced by some sort of Authority.
    Bruce, Mark Milioni may not take time to have a meal with you but he did say that he answers every critical correspondence with a hand written letter. Bruce, your blog is read by quite a few people. Eventually, Mark Milinoi may read your post.
    Perhaps you’ll receive a response from him.
    Thank you.

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    I just read the statement of beliefs at the Baptist Bible College. Of course, it supports an inerrant and literal view of the Bible, including the creation story. It’s typical fundamentalist evangelical drivel. I tried to find the rules/handbook for students which I find useful in assessing these types of schools, but I couldn’t find it. I read the school’s self-report on alcohol and drug abuse, but it basically was a pat on the back regarding their abstinence stance. Their crime statistics reporting was not surprisingly “clean” as Christian colleges like to hide and cover up their own issues (particularly with regard to sexual assault).

    Mr. Milioni has a successful career in this niche space, so it behooves him to speak outwardly favorably about his experiences. He probably believes that he isn’t living in, and has never lived in, a legalistic environment. As he is a prominent figure in this environment, he benefits from maintaining status quo. Why change what’s working for him? He isn’t female, LGBTQ, and he’s in a place of privilege and power.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    BJW and Obstacle—Your comments got me to thinking about how my point of view changed when I went from living as a (seemingly) straight cis white male to a transgender female. Although I was trying to live with my “secret,” I still enjoyed many of the privileges of being white and male.

    One thing I learned is that you don’t see a privilege as a privilege when it’s a normal part of your life. One of those privileges is the presumption of innocence. When you have that, a system doesn’t seem legalistic. But, when some arbitrary rule is arbitrarily applied to you, but not others, the world becomes a very legalistic place: You’re always on guard, thinking about what you’re not allowed to do—especially if others are allowed to do it.

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    Neil Rickert

    I grew up attending a similar Church. They did not have a dress code. They did not need a dress code, because society as a whole had a dress code for churches.

    It was understood that we always attended Church dressed in our “Sunday Best”. I could be a bit more sloppy attending school, even though my high school did have a dress code.

    The Churches did not need to pull authority when society as a whole already did that for them.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Revival Fires? Let me guess: Burn books for a big fun flamiong faith! Hate people and call it love! Hate learning and Reason because you KNOW the truth….you just feeeeel it so strongly!

    Christianity as we know it in the West is mind-bullying: This fellow, Mark, is able to see things that are entirely other than Bruce’s experience at the church because Mark has been undermined by a religion that does not respect basic Reason but instead preaches lying to oneself: You crucified Jesus etc…. In this manner Bruce can become the liar, the exaggeration man while Mark says everything was hunky-dory. It’s an easy switch: You begin by admitting your worthlessness, that’s all! Say the sinner’s prayer…. don’t you worry. All the rest will be spoon-fed and you will soon see that all you need do is obey! Thinking is not required.

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