The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement believes that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Within its pages, True Believers® will find everything they need pertaining to life and godliness. The Bible, then, is a roadmap or a blueprint for life. Follow it and all will be well. Don’t follow it and you risk chastisement/judgment from God. IFB adherents are literalists who believe that all one needs to do to be pleasing to God is to strictly follow the commands and teachings of the Bible. Much like other sects, IFB congregants pick and choose which commands to practice and which to ignore. Their buffet line may have different foods from, say, Orthodox Presbyterians or Southern Baptists might have on their buffet, but the end result is the same: individual believers picking and choosing the foods they want to eat, ignoring the rest.
Most IFB preachers believe that while each Bible verse has only one meaning, it has many applications. It is in applying the various commands/laws/precepts of the Bible that IFB churches and pastors develop what are called standards. These standards often become an extra-Biblical law that True Believers® are expected to follow. Failing to follow these standards will cause fellow church members to question your devotion and commitment to Jesus/church, and in some instances may cause them to doubt that you are a Christian. Thus, it is not uncommon for IFB church members to outwardly conform to these standards even if they don’t actually agree with them. All that matters is that you look the part.
When it comes to sex, all IFB churches are puritanical, believing that sexual intercourse should be reserved for monogamous, married, heterosexual couples. While there are many behaviors which will bring the ire of the church’s gatekeeper (the pastor), illicit sexual activities are viewed as sins above all others. Spend three months attending an IFB church and you are sure to hear preaching against fornication, adultery, anything LGBTQ, pornography, lust, and masturbation. In the minds of many IFB preachers, it is important to frequently remind church teens and adults of what God/church expects of them sexually. Virtually everything IFB preachers say about sex runs contrary to normal, healthy sexual desires. Thus, Sunday services all too often feature preachers screaming about sexual sin while countless congregants feel guilty for violating the Bible’s/church’s/pastor’s sexual mores. Of course, the root problem is the fact that humans are sexual beings, and it is healthy and normal to want/need/desire sexual intimacy.
What happens when it becomes public knowledge that a congregant violated his or her church’s interpretation of the Bible; when a church member gives in to their worldly, fleshly desires and commits adultery or fornication? Most IFB churches are anti-birth control for unmarried people. They ignorantly and foolishly believe that teens and adults will wait until marriage to have sex, so there’s no reason for anyone to be instructed in how to use birth control, This, of course, leads to church girls occasionally getting pregnant. How do IFB churches respond when one of their “virgins” ends up pregnant?
Some IFB churches try to hide these things from view by sending offenders away to Christian reform schools or homes for unwed mothers. Out of sight, out of mind. Other churches demand immediate marriage. Believing that the sex act binds a couple to one another (it’s in the Bible), marriage is viewed as the Christ-honoring thing to do. Years ago, in one church I worked in, a sixteen-year-old girl got pregnant. The pastor told her that she had to immediately marry her baby’s father. A private, close family-only wedding service was held, with the bride forced to wear a non-white dress. The pastor told her that white was reserved for virgins, and since she was no longer “pure” she forfeited the right to wear white. This forced wedding, of course, didn’t last. After a few years, she and her husband divorced, bringing a fresh wave of condemnation from the church congregation and its pastor.
Back in my college days, one of my wife’s friends had sex with her boyfriend before they were married. They had planned to get married soon, but as was often the case, their raging hormones won out over Jesus/Bible/church. Unfortunately, this young woman bled profusely after having sex, alerting her parents to the fact that she had broken the law of God (and her hymen). Her father forced her to drop out of college and immediately marry the man who robbed her of her virginity. She never returned to school.
Some IFB churches publicly shame and humiliate teens and adults who engage in sexual sin. My wife and I were visiting an IFB church one Sunday when the congregation and its pastor had a pregnant teen stand before her family, friends, and fellow church members and confess her sins. I felt so sorry for the girl. Her bulging abdomen was not enough shame for her. It was necessary to heap Bible-inspired judgment upon her head. Of course, once she had repented with wailing and gnashing of teeth, the church body surrounded her and showered her with “love.” One might ask, what kind of love is this? IFB love. A warped love that is conditioned on obedience; an abusive love that is extended only after the person has been violently assaulted with the Bible.
It should not come as a shock, then, that there is a lot of sexual and marital dysfunction in IFB churches. From the pulpit to the youth group, you will find True Believers® who have warped understandings of human nature and sexuality. Instead of embracing their sexuality, IFB congregants are in bondage to the Bible and a fallible man’s interpretation of an ancient religious text. Giving in to the “flesh” leads to a constant cycle of sex/guilt/forgiveness. Try as they might, once IFB church members drink a milkshake at the Dairy Queen, they always want to stop for a shake every time they pass a DQ. So it is with sex. Once you have experienced raw, exciting sexual passion, there’s no going back. Instead of acknowledging this fact, IFB preachers demand offending congregants put the proverbial genie back into the bottle and live chaste, “Biblical” lives.
If I have learned anything about IFB churches it is this: there’s a lot of fucking going on. The only difference between what goes on in secret in IFB churches and what goes on in the world is that True Believers® feel guilty afterward. The unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world don’t worry about what the Bible says about their behavior. Yes, some worldlings have problems with guilt too, but more often than not, you will find Fundamentalist religion lurking in the shadows of their lives.
How did your church/pastor handle sexual behaviors deemed sinful? Did any of the unmarried girls in your church get pregnant? How did your church/pastor respond to their pregnancy? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
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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The Church my wife and got married in is such a different environment to these IFB Churches, and I’m grateful to them for their very different attitudes towards marriage and sex. I think the congregation and the Reverend all understood that sex before marriage happens, that people get divorced and remarry, and that life is far more nuanced that the black and white IFB world. You’d think the evidence of their own experiences would lead to a change of attitude – when has abstinence ever actually worked as a form of birth control?! As one commentator said to me – fundies think abstinence is actually a sex position!
I noticed you mentioned the pregnant teen was forced to stand before the church. Since it takes 2 to tango, where was the expectant father? Pretty sure teen girls and women are forced into shame over this stigma more than dudes. Because guys can’t help themselves…right?
Here are some incidents I remember about fundamentalist religion and sex.
1) 2 girls at the fundamentalist Christian school I attended got pregnant and were summarily expelled
2) The only reproductive education at the fundamentalist Christian school (and this includes any reproduction other than plant reproduction) was from sermons about sexual purity and sin. I got my sex ed from my mom and Encyclopedia Brittanica.
3) At church Sunday school teachers in gender segregated classes addressed NO SEX BEGORE MARRIAGE.
4) When I was a teen, our church hired a music minister who was engaged. His fiancee also helped out with the music ministry so it was a BOGO situation. After they got married, they met with the youth group to talk about how they waited to have sex until after their wedding day because even if they were engaged it would have still been a sin.
5) when I was a teen, the church hired a young youth minister who was good-looking and many of the girls had a crush on him. He started bringing his girlfriend, who became his fiancee then wife. It turns out that they started dating when he was a youth minister in training at another church and she was an underage teen. Ew.
6) I worked with a young woman from a Muslim family. They didn’t practice, but they still held fast to condemnation of extra-marital sex. She went to Planned Parenthood for her birth control and gynecological exams. She couldn’t even go to the gynecologist because her parents mistakenly thought that gynecological exams weren’t necessary for people who weren’t sexually active (uh, hello, breast and cervical screening which is necessary for anyone with breast and cervix).
Hi Bruce. You have touched on a subject close to my heart. The various Baptist churches in Queensland, Australia, which I attended, displayed all of the behaviours you discussed. Their teachings and practices included: the need to repress sexual desire; the prohibition of premarital and extramarital sex and contraception outside of marriage; and the condemnation of abortion. They also treated unwed mothers as pariahs. I rail against these teachings, and was subjected to some of these behaviours by the Church and my parents. As an expectant mother outside wedlock, in the 1970s, I was told by the pastor of my parents’ church that I was, in God’s eyes, married to the father of my unborn child. I learned that my parents had sent him to deliver this message (and other messages). including disdain tor ‘Ivory Tower’ learning. I was attending university at the time.. As you have observed, the Evangelical (Fundamentalist) Baptist Church is antithetical to the practice of reason. It is also intrinsically misogynistic. I cannot begin to count the number of sermons which focused on temptresses – Eve, Lot’s wife, Jezebel, Delilah and Salome, etc. Some preachers were worse than others. Oh, I should mention that the Baptist Church in Queensland has not, to date, permitted women to be ordained as pastors.
I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. As an altar boy, I served at weddings in which the bride was visibly pregnant and, one suspects (as even I, at such a tender age, did) that in others, the girl wasn’t “showing.” Although no one made the spectacle Bruce describes, I could see attendees whispering to each other–as I’m sure they did outside the church.
In the Evangelical church in which I later “gave my life to Christ,” the shaming was definitely more public: I recall at least one “testimony” from a young pregnant woman. The thing that upset me most, though, was the hypocrisy: I know of a minister who impregnated a young woman, sent her for an abortion and told her to “keep quiet” about it. She did, but the secret got out, even if it wasn’t shared openly.
At the SBC church I grew up in we stumbled across the preacher’s daughter orally stimulating her then boyfriend (who was the son of a preacher at another nearby IFB/SBC church) behind the church one Sunday evening. We knew there was nothing we could do as she had everyone convinced she was this holy rolling, bible thumping, perfect daughter – an angel on Earth. She was so fake it was nauseating. She must have learned it from her mother as two years after that event the pastor’s wife up and left him after it was discovered her and the choir director were a bit too friendly and ran off together.
Sin is sin, big or small, obvious or hidden.
The churches I’ve been in over the years have preached purity as an objective but also preached forgiveness of sin. They have been adamant about public ministry being out of the question for “a time” but that, obviously, applies only to those who have been exposed or caught.
At the end of the day (or my day anyway) sin is disobedience to God’s instruction to an individual. God, then, is the only one mandated to call us up on that sin and anything else then is a bowl of crock.
Christians just love “lording it over” each other but Jesus was quite clear that we could never cut it with this “right living” thing so I fail to see why church movements think they can corner the market on it.
Just my view anyway – I don’t see Jesus condemning any “slip ups” only those who pretend they don’t slip up.
Hypocrisy I say, all hypocrisy.
I was raised in an IFB church, from about age 10 until I ran away from home at 18. I happened to be running away to the respectability of a 1000 mile away university, but no matter. 🙂
My first Christmas home from university, one of the girls I knew from our teen group, now 18, was pregnant. When I was there her dad went before the church and apologized for her sin and put some of the blame on the babydaddy. That’s a small improvement, I guess, over forcing the woman herself to get shame heaped upon her. Afterwards I and the pastor’s son, also from my teen group, complained to each other about what bullshit the whole spectacle was. I recall saying, “You know what prevents pregnancy? Birth control!”
A year or two later, one of the choir members, a thirty something year old man, tried to assault a 13 or 14 year old girl. She fought him off, so we were told, and he was excommunicated. Also a refreshing change from the usual story, I suppose.