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How IFB Preaching Leads Church Teenagers to Make Bad Decisions

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Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches are pulpit-centric — meaning the man preaching from behind the pulpit is the hub around which the church turns. Steadfastly trusting that pastors are supernaturally called (odained) by God, church members believe their pastors speak on God’s behalf. Thus, these so-called men of God have an outsized influence on the lives of church members, especially teenagers.

IFB preachers stand before their churches and declare “thus saith the Lord!” Congregants are expected to believe and obey. While not all IFB preachers are authoritarians, many of them are. Church members are expected to submit to their authority, under penalty of judgment or death at the hands of God if they do not. Speaking against the man of God is treated as a mortal sin, one which could result in bears coming out of the woods and eating you — a common illustration straight from the Bible used by preachers to warn people about the danger of speaking ill about them. (Please see Touch Not My Anointed.)

Preachers dispense all sorts of “wisdom” from the pulpit, complete with KJV proof texts. Teenagers, in particular, hear all sorts of “wisdom,” not meant as advice, but as divine edicts straight from the mouth of God, through the Word of God, to the man of God, and finally to the people of God. Parents expect their teen children to listen and obey, no questions asked. Believe and obey! Remember the old gospel song? Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.

This kind of thinking leads to all sorts of problems for IFB teenagers. They are expected to “obey,” but as every teen who has ever lived, they want what they want. Not children, but not quite adults, they have wants, needs, and desires. Unfortunately, they are expected to drown those things in the sea of obedience. Taught that all that matters in life is obeying God (and by extension, their parents and pastors), church teenagers often make bad decisions, some of which can cause harm that will last for a lifetime.

IFB teenagers are expected to live morally pure lives. Never mind the fact that their parents and pastors didn’t; they are expected to save themselves for marriage. And while they are saving themselves, don’t spank the monkey or ring the Devil’s doorbell! Teens raised in such an environment often receive really, really bad information about sex, if they receive any at all. No need to teach them about the birds and bees. None of them is going to have sex before marriage, so need to teach them about birth control use or how their plumbing works. If you’re not knocking boots before marriage, there’s no need to know anything about birth control. Ditto for the HPV vaccine. Only sexually active teens need the shot, right? IFB teens don’t have sex!

I was a virgin, as was Polly, on our wedding day. We were true, blue believers. Our greatest “sin” was breaking the six-inch rule. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.) A lot of kissing and handholding, but no roving hands — although my “hands” felt quite cramped, at times. 🙂 Several years ago, Polly and I had lunch with two high school friends of mine. We attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio in the 1970s. One subject that came up was the strict moral code we were expected to obey. I told my friends that we were virgins when we married. They both snickered and told me that there was a whole lot of fucking going on back in the day! I was shocked to learn who was having sex with whom! I suspect things haven’t changed much these days in IFB youth groups. Hormones . . . they are always more powerful than the Holy Spirit.

Of course, IFB teenagers have sex much like their counterparts in the world. Poorly taught and unprotected, what happens? They contract STDs or get pregnant. All of this could have been avoided if science and common sense were their guides instead of the rants of their preacher from the KJV.

Another area where IFB preachers lead church teens to make bad decisions has to do with their lives post-high school. Teenagers have all sorts of dreams. Who among us didn’t at one time or another think about what we wanted to be when we grew up? The choices are endless, right? Not for IFB teens. You see, in the world they were born into, patriarchalism rules. Girls are taught that their highest goal in life should be marriage and childbearing. Boys are encouraged to become pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. Get married to a virgin, have lots of children, and win souls for Christ! This kind of thinking, of course, leads to church teenagers pairing off at young ages, never coming into physical contact with each other until their wedding day. No kicking the tires before buying the car. Just trust God. What could go wrong?

IFB preachers encourage church teenagers to attend Christian colleges after high school. Most of these institutions are unaccredited. Their credits are worthless outside of the IFB bubble. One of our great-nieces just left for The Crown College to become a teacher. Her degree will only be valid in IFB schools. She will spend four years earning a degree that has no value outside of IFB institutions. This is, to put it mildly, a travesty.

If teens want to go to godless secular colleges, they will be encouraged to attend Bible college for one year. “Everyone needs a Bible college education,” their preachers say, knowing that if they go for one year they will likely stay. Some IFB parents will tell their children that if they go to a Bible college, they will pay for it. If they go to a secular college, they are on their own. This is, of course, extortion.

Pastor’s children often receive free tuition. The goal, of course, is to get pastors to send more students their way. My oldest son planned to go to Pensacola Christian College. (Jason, feeling pressured to attend PCC, started to doubt his salvation. I told him he didn’t have to go to PCC. Once freed from pleasing his earthly father, his assurance of salvation quickly returned. Of course, years later he permanently lost his faith and now has a business degree from an accredited college.) One of the motivators was the fact that as a pastor’s son, he could attend PCC tuition-free, saving him thousands of dollars. I sure liked that idea.

IFB preachers are notorious for dispensing bad information from the pulpit. Premarital sex is not fun. Marijuana is a gateway drug. Masturbation will make you blind. Looking at porn will turn you into a child molester. Listening to rock music leads to demonic influence. LGBTQ teens live in the dark shadowlands of IFB churches. They are told that people like them are evil and disgusting. Never accepted, is it any wonder that many, if not most, gay IFB teens flee their churches as soon as they are able to do so?

By the time IFB teens reach eighteen, they are often confused and ill-prepared to face the real world. The blame for this rests squarely on the shoulders of their Fundamentalist Baptist parents, pastors, and teachers. I don’t doubt the sincere intentions of these people, but they do cause great harm, as many of the readers of this blog can attest. Baptist Fundamentalism is not a benign system of belief. Its beliefs and practices have real world consequences.

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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
    MJ Lisbeth

    When you said that IFB churches are “pulpit-centric,” I thought of my own education and early teaching days. Then, classes were instructor-centric, if you will. While the results aren’t quite as dire as what you describe in the IFB churches, it does lead to bad habits and decisions for the same reasons: Young people don’t learn to think for themselves. Of course, they need guidance, but they also need to know they have capacity to make the best decisions for themselves, even if they have to make mistakes along the way.

    • Avatar
      Karen the rock whisperer

      When I attended university for 4.5 y for my BS, I was a mouse. Rarely asked a question in lecture, pestered? instructors at their office hours apologetically. When I went back for an MS in an unrelated field in my 40s, I was still an introvert but no longer the least bit shy. In the (make-up for me) undergrad classes especially, I badgered instructors in lecture all the time. They actually appreciated it, because they knew that I was asking the same kinds of questions that the then-mice were reluctant to ask. Sometimes my questions opened a free-for-all cascade, which helped all of us.

      I suspect that even if I was still a believer, my behavior would not be welcomed in the middle of an IFB sermon. I consider that a reflection on those pastors and congregations, not on me.

  2. Avatar
    BJW

    Oh yes. No reason to know common sense rules if you’re never going to have sex. When I was a Christian, I was giving a woman bible studies. She was a single mom who struggled to take care of the children she had. I actually told her she should go on birth control, as she had an on again, off again relationship with a questionable dude (from what she told me). I told her that because she would mention “slipping” and having sex with the man. But she wasn’t going to do that again! And she didn’t believe in abortion either. Well, it happened, she got pregnant. Then she got an under-the-counter early chemical abortion. (Or so she said.) In the end, she slipped again and got pregnant again, and carried that child since she felt guilty from her previous abortion.

    This poor woman was being taught that sex was wrong, so birth control is wrong (because then you are planning sex). And she already had 5 children, with only one father in the picture. It was sad, really sad. Conservative Christian values completely screwed this woman over. Combined with a rough upbringing, it certainly complicated her life. And she really couldn’t handle the children she had. If ever a woman needed to feel free to use birth control and/or have abortions, she was one. Of course conservative Christians would blame her for all her problems, and not give her enough help, only condemnation for her choices.

  3. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    I do not know how to get people to give up these absolutist ideas. I have told this tale many times but it is true. Sometimes trying something for a while makes you decide YOU do not like it. Not that other people have forbidden it. My parents had the sense to tell me if I wanted to be a nurse, I should try volunteering at a hospital. I did this and decided I did not like it at all. BUT THIS WAS MY DECISION. My mother drove me to the hospital to volunteer and then picked me up at the end of the evening while I was a volunteer.

    This is the best way to get a teenager to make a good decision.

  4. Avatar
    Troy

    For IFB college bound, this is great advice, unfortunately those that need it are unlikely to see it and even if they did are unlikely to have agency to leave the path they are on.

  5. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I feel really bad for students that have to go to religious colleges because that’s all their parents will pay for. There’s a good podcast called “Chapel Probation” by a former professor at Azusa Pacific University (Scott Okamoto) where students who attended religious universities tell their stories. So many women, LBGTQ folks, and people of color talk about their experiences and their deconstruction.

    The school I attended was basically IFB, though they didn’t advertise themselves as such, just as “Christ-centered” and their statement of beliefs was your boilerplate evangelical garbage. They walked a fine line on misogyny – they were in the business of education, and many of their teachers were women. Fun fact: a married couple sued the school because the husband got paid more than the wife for equal work. Another fun fact: while the school strongly pushed colleges like BJU, PCC, and the defunct Tennessee Temple, most students went to secular colleges or “liberal” Christian colleges like Belmont University.

    I used to work with 2 young women whose Muslim parents didn’t see the need for their daughters to go to a gynecologist until they were married. How ignorant is that! One of the women went to Planned Parenthood on her own for exams. The other one was afraid her parents would find out. We kept telling her that it’s important to get breast and cervical exams regardless of her sexual activity.

    Fundamentalist religions are seriously messed up.

  6. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    This crap infuriates me. The best way to deal with sex is to plan for it, with birth control and with protection against STDs. Full stop. And yet, religious people are still clinging fiercely to a time when such measures were not readily available and insisting people don’t need them anyway if they just follow the restrictive script of the religion. News flash: teen hormones aren’t on board with the script. Gah.

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Bruce Gerencser