I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement in the 1960s and 1970s. IFB churches are known for fighting amongst themselves, often over trivial matters. These internecine wars are fueled by pastors who are certain their beliefs and practices are not only right but also straight from the Bible — God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. Prooftexts abound. Every point of contention is justified by one or more King James Bible verses. No issue is insignificant. If it’s in the Bible, IFB preachers say, how dare we trivialize God’s Word! Thus, churches split, pastors resign, and fellowship groups dissolve over issues trivial and insignificant.
I’ve seen or heard of open warfare between followers of the Prince of “Peace” over things such as:
- Long hair on men
- Short hair on women
- Pants on women
- Wearing blue jeans
- Wearing jewelry
- Wearing wire-rimmed glasses
- Wearing shorts
- Wearing culottes (Baptist shorts)
- Playing cards
- Going to movies
- Eating at places that sold alcohol
- Beard and mustaches (on men) 🙂
- Bible translations
- Rock music
- Contemporary Christian music (CCM)
- Mixed swimming
- Physical contact between unmarried teens, young adults
- Sending your child to a secular college
- Sending your child to the wrong Christian college
These things are just a taste of the conflicts that go on in IFB churches. Sometimes, church members leave and go to another church over points of disagreement. Other times, they stay and work behind the scenes to foment disunity. After all, God cares about these things; shouldn’t they? Or so the thinking goes, anyway. More than a few churches have split over such issues.
From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. This church was a delight to pastor, but we did have conflict one time over a monumental, life-changing matter: using contemporary Christian music in our worship services. 🙂
I started the church as a traditional Independent Baptist church. We sang hymns and choruses. I decided to introduce contemporary Christian music into our worship services using what is called blended worship — a mix of hymns, choruses, and contemporary music. Our three oldest children started taking music lessons. Our oldest played the bass, and the other two played electric/acoustic guitars. We bought an expensive electronic keyboard — a Clavinova. A woman in our church, classically trained, played the piano and led worship, and Polly and another woman sang too. I was quite proud of what we had put together. The music was phenomenal — relevant and inspiring. Every week we sang a mix of classic Baptist hymns, contemporary music, and choruses. Everyone loved the music except for three families, aged 50s to 70s. They demanded change, I said no, and out the door they went, never to be heard from again. (This story is a bit more complicated than this, but I will leave its telling to another day.)
I pastored seven churches over the course of twenty-five years. In every church, I had people get upset, raise a ruckus, and leave. The issues that upset them were almost always trivial in nature, often little more than differences of opinion over how to interpret this or that verse or how to properly live out the teachings of the Bible. And sometimes I was the problem. I remember one dear couple, Terry and Wendy Broceus, leaving the church because I insisted Wendy only wear dresses/skirts. Terry drove one of the church buses and Wendy sang specials during worship services. They were (and still are) devoted followers of Jesus. They regularly attended church, tithed, and participated in various church ministries. Yet, because I had a strict code of conduct for ministry participants, I expected them to play by the rules. So, the Broceuses left. My unwillingness to bend on the pants issue cost the church a good family. Several years ago, I apologized to Wendy for what happened. (Please see A Letter to a Former Parishioner: Dear Wendy.) Such skirmishes and conflicts were/are common in IFB churches. At pastor’s fellowships, preachers would get together and share war stories, gossip, and complain about contrarian church members. Rare was a preacher who didn’t have one or more stories to share. Quite frankly, without conflict, most IFB preachers wouldn’t know what to do.
Other Evangelical sects have similar problems too. Take the recent skirmish over whether men should paint their fingernails. Worship singer Corey Asbury recently said that he didn’t have a problem with men painting their nails. He called opposition to the practice a “social construct” that needs to change:
That is cultural, it has zero to do with the Bible, Jesus, Christianity, moral code at all in general.
Say it’s just a culture thing that men can’t wear lipstick, you know, or men can wear hoop earrings, men can wear dresses and things like that. You go down that rabbit hole and things don’t stop.
I am a sixty-five-year-old curmudgeon. I don’t get the nail painting thing. One of my sons occasionally paints his nails. My youngest daughter will paint my youngest grandsons’ nails now and again. This practice is quite foreign to my boomer brain, but that’s okay. I don’t have to “get” it. I might laugh, sigh, and go “hmm,” when I see certain things, but I’m not going to get in a fight with people over how they dress, cut their hair, or paint their fingernails. To put it bluntly, who gives a shit? Think for a moment about all the serious issues facing the human race, yet Evangelicals spend time fussing and fighting over non-important, trivial matters. Want to paint your nails? Go ahead. Don’t want to? That’s fine too. This approach could be applied to 99% of the things Evangelicals fight over. Each to their own. Of course, religious Fundamentalism demands conformity. They fight because EVERY issue matters. Diversity of thought is never welcome. One IFB evangelist said, “fellowship is a bunch of people in a boat rowing in the same direction.” God forbid if a church member thinks differently, dresses differently, or paints his or her nails red, white, and blue. Does anyone really believe that when they stand before God (I’m speaking as an Evangelical) that he is going to care about what color they painted their nails? “Only clear coat was approved by Me! You shall be banished to a cheap cabin on Trump Drive for wearing turquoise polish!” Will “This Was Your Life” Judgment Day really be all about the trivial, superficiality of life? I suspect that most of the things IFB preachers spent an inordinate amount of time preaching about will not even be on God’s radar on Judgment Day. If the Bible is true, as Evangelicals say it is, we do know what will actually be on God’s mind when they stand before him:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
As an atheist, I don’t think the Bible is true. However, I do support caring for the least of these; those who are sick, hungry, and dying. Jesus and I seem to agree on this matter. 🙂 Haha — an atheist taking the Word of God more seriously than Evangelicals. What’s up with that? 🙂
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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