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The Day IFB Luminary Russell Anderson Called Out Redheaded Teenager Bruce Gerencser for Misbehaving in Church

russell t anderson

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) luminary Russell T. Anderson died yesterday. Over the course of his life, Anderson helped start, through his multi-million dollar contributions, seven IFB colleges and 1,300 churches. One of those colleges was Hyles-Anderson College in Crown Point, Indiana.

Hyles-Anderson posted the following statement:

We are saddened to announce the passing of our co-founder, Dr. Russell Anderson. He went to Heaven with his family by his side last evening at 7:34 p.m. Dr. Anderson and Dr. Jack Hyles were the best of friends and worked together to start Hyles-Anderson College in 1972. Dr. Anderson was a regular source of encouragement and support for Hyles-Anderson College.

Russell Anderson’s passion for souls was contagious. His dedication to training the next generation was evident. His generosity and true spirit of giving was unmatched. Dr. Anderson was a friend who will be greatly missed on this earth, but who was undoubtedly welcomed with a hero’s welcome at the doorway to Heaven.

Thank you, Dr. Anderson, for your love for Jesus, your friendship for decades, and your eternal investment in Hyles-Anderson College.

Please keep his family in your prayers at this time.

Anderson was hardcore IFB until the end. Part preacher, part businessman, he devoted his time, energy, and money to advancing the IFB cause.

Several readers have asked me to opine on Anderson. I really don’t know much about the man other than he was the money behind Hyles-Anderson College and several other IFB college institutions. That said, I did have one memorable interaction with him one Sunday in 1971 at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio.

Trinity Baptist is an IFB church. During the time I attended the church, it was pastored by Gene Millioni. Ron Johnson was the assistant pastor, and Bruce Turner was the youth pastor (please see Dear Bruce Turner). I was an active member of the youth group, though in 1971 I had yet to be saved and called to preach. That would happen in 1972. In 1971, I was a rebellious youth, focused on having fun, chasing girls, and hanging out with my friends. I wasn’t as rebellious as my non-IFB schoolmates, but, as my school friends will tell you, I had an ornery streak. They will likely tell you of the time in the fall of 1971 when I told Bob Bolander, a man in the church who was holding a youth group hayride at his rural home, to go fuck himself. 🙂 I had quite a sharp tongue, but Jesus delivered me from cursing when he saved me at a revival meeting in 1972. Seriously, I stopped swearing for decades after Jesus washed my mouth out with soap.

On the Sunday mentioned above, Russell Anderson was scheduled to preach. I was sitting in the far back of the church with several of my friends. There were folding chairs in the back of the auditorium, so I was as far away from the preaching as I could get. Sitting down the row from me and my friends was Ralph Ashcraft, a church deacon. Ralph was the father of a friend of mine named Rod. I don’t remember if Rod was sitting with me on that particular day. I suspect not. Most church teenagers tried to get as far away from their parents as they possibly could.

Anderson started preaching, and that was the signal for me and my equally restless friends to start horsing around. Somewhere in his sermon, I caught Anderson’s eye. He stopped his sermon and called me out, telling me that I needed to sit still and listen. This was common behavior from IFB preachers. They are known for publicly chastising and embarrassing congregants for not behaving in ways deemed appropriate by these so-called men of God during church services.

I sat up and paid attention for a few minutes, but boredom quickly returned, and I went back to horsing around with my friends. My behavior got Anderson’s attention again, and in classic bully fashion, he stopped his sermon, and called on one of the ushers to go sit with that redheaded boy in the back and straighten him out! Welp, “redheaded boy” told everyone, including my parents, that Bruce Gerencser was misbehaving. Ralph Ashcraft, jingling keys hanging from his belt, plopped down next to me, telling me to sit up and behave. Busted. 🙂 The next Sunday, and a few after, I was consigned to church hell — sitting next to my parents. Eventually, Mom and Dad allowed me to return to my wicked ways.

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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    That’s so funny, Bruce!

    I will always remember the disdain that fundamentalist adults have for teens. Any teen that isn’t perfectly quiet, prayerful at all times, or silently sitting and reading their Bible is labeled as engaging in rebellious behavior. It felt like teens’ mere existence is perceived as an act of rebellion.

    Bruce, I have an observation that red-haired kids get called out for “bad” behavior more often than other kids. My 2 first cousins are red-heads, and they were constantly getting in trouble at school, especially my male cousin. The red-headed boys in my fundamentalist Christian school were always on teachers’ radar – and one of those boys was virtually perpetually silent! I feel like due to their visibility, red-heads were constantly under scrutiny.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    It’s so true . Red hair really does stand out, especially the deep russet kind. It’s quite beautiful, actually. Sometimes, you’d see an Asian kid with russet hair. The Irish kids were often in trouble for hijinks at school. I didn’t go to church growing up, so I didn’t know they singled out redheads there. I’ll have to check out the blog above,sounds interesting. In retrospect, I bet you were probably quite funny to watch, horsing around then. I never saw horsing around at the Pentacostal churches I attended as a young adult. The parking lot was another story,lol.

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    Were any of those 7 colleges actually accredited (i.e.: held to any sort of recognized academic standard) or were they all christian fundamentalist versions of madrasas?

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    MJ Lisbeth

    “Eventually, Mom and Dad allowed me to return to my wicked ways.” I got a laugh out of that.

    About redheaded kids: The few times I was called out or punished for anything–whether by nuns in school or other adults–it was over some relatively minor infraction. I think that’s why (at least according to my mother) I was usually a well-behaved kid. Also, I was bullied by other kids, so I didn’t want any more torment.

    I have the same question as JW. It seems to me that people like Hyles and Anderson are more interested in indoctrination (in their version of the truth, of course) than in education.

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    Speaking of preacher deaths, I notice Charles Stanley died at age 90. I remember when I had cable in the early 90s, Pat Robertson’s family channel had a Sunday array of preachers on it, including Charles Stanley. They all amused me, and a lot of them or their offspring are still around. As for “Dr.” Stanley, he always seemed so prim and proper and enunciated clearly almost to consciously fight a southern drawl.

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    Mary Lynn Russell

    Bruce, just curious if the Ron Johnson you speak of is the Dr. Ronald E. Johnson that moved to TX and became a VP of Accelerated Christian Education? ACE was located in Lewisville, TX and Dr. Johnson passed a couple years ago. Thanks for reading my comment.

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Bruce Gerencser