Evangelicalism

Why Accepting Evolution is Incompatible with Christianity

bible vs evolution

As much as some people might try, it is impossible to square evolution with Christianity. Even embracing theistic evolution requires a significant amount of intellectual gymnastics in order to reach the conclusion that the Christian God is behind evolution. In my opinion, theodicy — the problem of evil and suffering —  presents an insurmountable problem for theistic evolutionists. Why would a God, any God, choose such a violent, painful, deadly way to create?

Jerry Coyne, a biologist and a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, writes:

…It is in fact different from asking whether one believes (“accepts” is a better word because “believe” implies a religious-like faith) in theory of gravity or generality relativity, and the reason is obvious. The theories of gravity and relativity don’t impinge on anyone’s religious beliefs. Evolution carries implications that no other science does—save, perhaps some branches of cosmology. It implies that humans evolved by the same blind, materialistic, and naturalistic process involved in the evolution of every other species, and so we aren’t special in any numious sense. It implies that we’re not the special objects of God’s creation. It sinks the “design” argument for God—the most powerful argument in the canon of Natural Theology. It implies that we were not endowed by God with either a soul or moral instincts, so that our morality is a product of both evolution and rational consideration. It implies that much of our behavior reflects evolved, genetically-influenced propensities rather than dualistic “free will.” It implies that even if God did work through the process of evolution , He did so using a horrible and painful process of natural selection, a form of “natural evil” that doesn’t comport well with God’s supposed omnibenevolence…

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New Bethany Home for Girls: DNA Requested in Unsolved Murder Case

bossier doe and carol ann cole

Bossier Doe and Carol Ann Cole

Last week, I posted a story about a Jane (Bossier) Doe and a murder case dating back 34 years that might be connected to the infamous New Bethany Home for Girls in Arcadia, Louisiana.  You can read that post here. If you are not familiar with Mack Ford and New Bethany Home For Girls, please read Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home fore Girls, IFB Preacher Mack Ford is Dead, and Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sin.

Today, Rebecca Catalanello, a reporter for the Times-Picayune, posted to the nola.com website an update to the murder case story:

Bossier Parish detectives believe they may have a major break in the case of an unidentified woman found stabbed to death in the woods 34 years ago. And they have requested a DNA sample from a relative of a Michigan woman whose last contact with her family was more than three decades ago.

Carol Ann Cole of Kalamazoo, Mich., last called her family from what they believe was a residence in Shreveport, according to information her sister posted on a missing persons Facebook page Jan. 18.

“Our mom says she was in a girls home and ran from there,” wrote Jeanie Phelps.

Bossier detectives created a Facebook page Feb. 6 to try to generate new leads in the case they have nicknamed “Bossier Doe.” A week later, thanks to information generated there, an investigator reached out to Phelps’ friend Patty Thorington, who has used Facebook and Craigslist to try to find information on Cole for years.

“Bossier Doe fits more closely than anything we have ever found” in the search for Cole, Thorington said Wednesday (Feb. 18). But after years of false leads, Thorington said she is holding out for more conclusive evidence.

Lt. Bill Davis said detectives have requested a DNA sample from one of Cole’s relatives. The results could take weeks, he said. In the meantime, New Bethany Home for Girls has become a strong source of leads for the investigation, Davis said.

Two days after detective Lt. Shannon Mack of Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office launched the Bossier Doe Facebook page, she started reaching out to former residents of New Bethany Home for Girls after someone who was familiar with news coverage of the New Bethany school suggested it might hold some clues.

The unidentified stabbing victim was believed to have been in her mid-teens to early 20s when she was killed in late 1980. Her body was found four to six weeks later, on Jan. 28, 1981, by hunters about 40 miles northwest of New Bethany off Louisiana 157. She was fully clothed and wearing athletic socks and shoes with the name “D. Davies” written in marker on the inside — not unlike the clothing that former New Bethany residents say they were required to wear.

Davis said Wednesday that detectives have not conclusively determined that Cole attended New Bethany. Cole turned 17 in November of 1980. When Thorington learned about New Bethany, she said she posted a photo of Cole to a Facebook page for former residents to see if anyone there recognized her…

You can read the entire report here.

Putting Out a Fleece

fleece

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judges 6:36-40)

Let me give you a bit of context. The Israelites, those oft sinning followers of Jehovah, disobeyed Jehovah and he punished them severely for their sin:

And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds. And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it. And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD. (Judges 6:1-6)

Jehovah impoverished the Israelites because of their sin. Modern day followers of the Christian God must really be living right because they are definitely not impoverished.

For seven years, God pummeled his followers with the judgment stick. At the end of the seven years, the Israelites cried out to God and God sent a prophet to ask them if they had had enough of his judgment.

After the prophet left, an angel came to a Israelite named Gideon. The angel and Gideon had a conversation:

Angel: The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.

Gideon: Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.

Angel (or Lord): Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?

Gideon: Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.

Angel (or Lord):And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.

Gideon: If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.

God gave Gideon the sign he requested and Gideon went forth to be a messenger for God, for a while.

It seems that Gideon’s skeptical side kept getting in the way. He wanted to make sure it really was God speaking to him, so Gideon asked God to prove to him he really was God.

Gideon put a fleece of wool on the floor. He said if the fleece was wet in the morning and it had not rained (or dew covered the ground) outside he would believe what God had said.

Sure enough, the fleece was wet in the morning. Did Gideon believe God? Nope. Skeptical Gideon asked for more evidence.

Gideon reversed the fleece experiment. He said if the fleece was dry in the morning and there was dew on the ground outside he would believe what God had said.

Sure enough, the fleece was dry in the morning.

God allowed Gideon to test him multiple times. (read Judges 7 to see more of Gideon’s God tests) Evidently, Gideon had a faith that required authentication and proof.

In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement I grew up in, putting out a fleece was  common practice. Putting out a fleece was a way of “testing” God or finding out the “will of God.”

Like casting lots and drawing straws, Christians use putting out a fleece as a way to make decisions. Years ago, I was looking for a job, so I applied for a restaurant management job with a company in Findlay, Ohio. They told me they had interest in me working for them and they would get back with me with their final decision. At the time, we were living in Montpelier, Ohio. We were also thinking about moving to Newark, Ohio, the central Ohio community where Polly’s parents lived. What should we do? Restaurant manager in Findlay or move to Newark?

So, I put out a fleece. I prayed, “God if you want me to take the restaurant manager job then have the company call me by ____________. If they don’t call, I will take that as a NO from you.”

The call didn’t come, so we packed everything up and moved to Newark. The funny thing? The restaurant company called a day or two AFTER the fleece deadline and offered me a good paying job. I stood by what I had divined through putting out the fleece.

Silly, I know.

Christians often use this kind of thinking without even recognizing it. Such and such will happen in their life and they take that as “proof” that God is moving and working in their life. I have heard countless prayers where a person said “I was praying for _________________ and sure enough God came though. What an awesome God we serve!”

Never mind that there are multiple explanations for _________________ happening. Even when unexplainable things happen, why is it assumed that it is God making things happen? Unexplained things are just that, unexplained.

Sadly, many Christians wait for God to work, move, come though, or bless them. As a result they are robbed of the ability to make decisions on their own. Unless they can “sense” God working they refuse to make a decision. Or they make a horrible decision because they have a feeling they call “God.”

For the non-Christian, reason, common sense, experience, and advice from others, is usually sufficient for making a decision. Sometimes, when it is necessary to make a quick decision, we have to “go with our gut.” Going with our gut is not the same as going with God. (article on Psychology Today about this subject)

How about you? Do you have any “putting out a fleece” stories to share?

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According to Byron Paulus, Fifty Shades of Grey More Dangerous than ISIS

taylor swift

Oh My God, did you see  Fifty Shades of Grey?

Byron Paulus, is the executive director and president of Life Action Ministries, a fundamentalist Christian group that seeks to “ignite Christ-centered movements of revival among God’s people that display His glory and advance His kingdom throughout the world.”

Yesterday, the Charisma News site posted an article written by Paulus  for the True Woman website. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

It’s no secret. When black and white merge, they produce grey. Every time.

There is absolute white. There is absolute black. But there is no such thing as absolute grey. The color grey has an infinite number of shades. Not just 50. And that is exactly why this Friday could go down as one of the most morally destructive days in our nation’s history.

For us as Christians, the lightest shade of grey is destructive when we know it is a matter of disobeying the Word of God or the Spirit of God.

I heard one preacher say, “It could be the most destructive day globally since Eve took a bite of fruit in the Garden.” Eve allowed her curiosity to lead her to just one bite. Satan did not tempt her with the entire tree; just a bite.

One bite hidden and not resulting in brokenness and repentance will naturally lead to many bites. Don’t fall for it. The grey pathway is paved with increasing desensitization resulting in destructive behavior. This chart is the path David took regarding Bathsheba and Uriah in 2 Samuel 11.

Even a small amount of societal grey can be destructive. For us as Christians, the lightest shade of grey is destructive when we know it is a matter of disobeying the Word of God or the Spirit of God.

Even a seemingly small area of disobedience is sin. And the wages of sin is death, in some form or fashion. Therefore, this Friday will likely be remembered by godly people not as a “grey” day in history, but a “black” day.

When it comes to desensitization to moral perversion resulting in cultural disintegration, the release of the movie Fifty Shades may be more destructive than ISIS. Why? Because at least we are still on our guard fighting against ISIS at some level. But on many fronts, we quit fighting against sin in the sexual realm.

While we vigorously defend our geographical boundaries against physical aggression of evil designed to torture and kill the human body, we passively support and even promote soul aggression of evil that tortures and destroys the mind, emotions and human spirit.

Even a seemingly small area of disobedience is sin.

We must not forget that 50 of 52 major civilizations were destroyed because of inward moral decay … from allowing white to lead to grey and then to black…

…A nation of no black and white (absolutes) will become a nation where all shades of grey are acceptable. So this Friday is not only the opening of a movie but the opening of a desensitization like that could release unparalleled sexual immorality … UNLESS …

I believe using the name Christian Grey as the lead character in Fifty Shades is not coincidental. We must not allow “gray” to describe “Christian” and thus define our lifestyles as believers. We are Christians with absolutes, not Christians without absolutes…

…The church exists to glorify a holy God, a pure God who fully understands our temptations to invite gray in as a brief house guest. Regarding Fifty Shades of Grey, do not even go on a curious search. Not even one small “bite” of curious search…

The slide downward to a gray lifestyle can be countered by praying for supernatural protection from even innocent exposure, and taking steps to avoid temptation that is fostered by curiosity. Then biblical persuasion will be the tool to continue a pathway to avoid all shades of gray…

I ask you dear reader, what kind of mental gymnastics is required to convince yourselves that

fifty shades of grey

is far more dangerous than

isis

Does Paulus really believe Christian women reading mommy porn and going to see an R rated movie is going to bring Western civilization to its knees? Or is he just trying to gin up controversy and support for the Christian women who really, really want to go see the movie but can’t because their church/pastor forbids it?

Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, got himself in a bit of trouble this week with Team Evangelical. Russell is an Evangelical, and during the week before the Super Bowl, countless Evangelical blogs, website, and news sites, featured stories about Russell Wilson, the great man of faith. They were as proud as a peacock over having one of their own on such a prominent stage.

Imagine their outrage when Wilson tweeted:

russell wilson tweet

You can read all the tweets from outraged Christians here.

Wilson later tweeted:

russell wilson tweet 2

And, offended Christians were even more offended.

My take? It’s just a lame movie that will be forgotten about like the Passion of the Christ was when it was hailed as the greatest movie ever made.

Unlike Paulus and the horde of whining, offended Christians, I know that a book/movie like Fifty Shades of Grey, will have little to no cultural impact. A far more real threat to our culture and the world is the Muslim extremism of ISIS. Surely, anyone capable of rationally looking at the two things will conclude:

  • ISIS=big problem that could result in American military action and increased violence and bloodshed
  • Fifty Shades of Grey=mental diversion into the seedier side of life that will likely have no lasting effect on those who dare to watch

Dear Bruce, I Think You Are Still a Christian

horse

Free at Last!

I’ve blogged for seven years.

Bruce Droppings, Fallen From Grace, NW Ohio Skeptic, The Way Forward, and now The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.

I used taglines like A Wandering Man in a Restless World and One Man’s Journey from Eternity to Here.

Several thousand posts, tens of thousands of comments.

I write, burn out, and like the Phoenix, rise again.

It’s what I do.

When I started blogging in 2007, I was still a Christian, a liberal emergent church Christian.

I was still going to church, still reading the Bible, still trying to find to find a Christianity that mattered.

I never found it.

I did find that I was just an ass in the pew, an offering to be collected. I had talents and gifts that any church would benefit from, but I found that pastors were quite territorial and allowed no one to get near their throne.

Six years ago, after a tremendous amount of study, angst, and heartache, I finally concluded that I was no longer a Christian.

Try as I might, I couldn’t square what I knew with Christianity.

As I tried to find a stopping place on the slippery slope of reason, I found there was none.

Liberal Christianity, Unitarianism, Universalism, provided a brief respite but failed to stop my slide.

Atheism became the label that best described my belief about God, gods, and religion.

Technically, I am agnostic on the God question, but in my day-to-day life I live with nary a thought about God.

I have no need of God, a God, any God.

I am an A-T-H-E-I-S-T.

Imagine my surprise when I read an email yesterday where the writer said he believed I was still a Christian, that deep down I still have a longing for God and faith.

I thought, how can anyone read my writing and come to this conclusion?

Just because I write about and critique Christianity and Evangelism doesn’t mean that I am still a Christian.

The person who sent me the email has only been reading my writing for a few weeks. Since I just started blogging again a couple of months ago and I am re-posting some of my greatest hits, perhaps my writing gives off the vibe of a man trying to work through his beliefs about God, Christianity, and faith.

I am not…

I write because I must. No matter how many times I quit and say, I will never write again, like a moth to a flame, I am drawn back to the keyboard.

And then there’s you, the readers, the thousands who take the time to read my writing.

I have far greater reach today than I ever had in 25 years of pastoring churches.

I know my writing deeply resonates with many people and it gives a voice to their thoughts. I also know my writing angers and infuriates many Evangelicals. They write and talk about me, preach sermons about me, mention my name at prayer meeting, send me nasty and hateful emails, and leave arrogant, self-righteous comments.

The latter are going to do what they do. I can’t stop them, nor do I want to, because their anger and indignation are a reminder to me that, next to marrying Polly, the single best decision I ever made was the day I walked away from Christianity. They’ve tried bombing with email spam, using bots to leave massive amounts of comment spam, spreading rumors and lies about my story, my mental fitness, my marriage, and children, and have even threatened to kill me…yet here I am.

Those who matter to me are the readers who lurk in the shadows, laden with fear and doubt. They have questions that aren’t being answered by their pastor or church. Their eyes have been opened to what is going on around them. Are they atheists in the making? Maybe, but I doubt it, and I don’t care. My goal is facilitation, not evangelization. If I can help wanderers as they journey on, that’s enough for me.

Others who read this blog are post-Evangelical or post-Christian. They are trying to find purpose, meaning, and peace. Now that their life is no longer defined by religious belief, they are left with the task of shaping a new life for themselves. It’s not easy, and I want to do what I can to provide a safe, friendly place for them to hang out. If telling my story helps them in some small way, I am grateful.

In the Biblesee Bruce, you just mentioned the Bible and this PROVES you are still a Christian, there’s the story of the Good Samaritan, a man who helps and cares for a man beaten and left for dead along the side of the road. Religion, especially Evangelical Christianity, beats people up, often leaving them for dead along the side of the Road of Life. I want to be like the Good Samaritan, lifting up those who’ve been beaten, robbed, raped, and scarred by religion. If I have a calling, this is it.

In many ways, I am a far better man today than I ever was when I was a member of God’s exclusive club. I no longer have to view life and others through the lens of the Bible and the teachings of Christianity. I am free to live life on my own terms and embrace others as they are.

Why would I ever want to go back to Egypt, to the land of leeks, toil, and bondage? Why would I want to return to a worldview governed by the ancient writings of fishermen and sheep herders? Like the proverbial horse that escaped his corral, I am free and I have no intentions of returning to Christianity.

If some people can’t see and understand this, I am not sure what more I can do for them. They’ll just have to keep hoping that I will some day walk back into the church and say, in an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice, “I’m B-A-C-K.”

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The Evangelical Cult of Personality

church size matters

Cartoon by David Hayward, The Naked Pastor

For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:11,12)

According to the Bible, the church at Corinth had become factional, with the various groups saying that they were a follower of Apollos, Cephas, Paul, or Christ. In verse 13 of I Corinthians 1, Paul asked:

Is Christ divided?

Two thousand years later, we can answer Paul’s questions with an emphatic YES! The followers of Jesus Christ have spent 2,000 years fighting amongst themselves, leading to, according to the Pew Forum, 41,000 Christian denominations throughout the world. (Wikipedia list of major Christian denominations)

Every Christian Bible has the following verses:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35)

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:13)

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

These four verses alone stand as an indictment of modern Christianity with all its divisions and internecine warfare. The various Christian sects can’t even agree on basic beliefs such as salvation, baptism, and communion.  Jesus said, I am the way, truth, and the life, and almost every Christian sect thinks it has the way, truth, life market cornered. Pick the wrong sect and, according to many sects, you will miss heaven and be tortured by God in hell for all eternity.

Evangelicalism, an inherently fundamentalist religious belief, has a unique problem in that its churches are generally a blend of sectarian divisiveness, Madison Ave advertising technique, and a fan of moviestar devotion to their pastor and successful Evangelical leaders. This has led to a cult of personality, similar to that which Paul was addressing in the church at Corinth 2,000 years ago.

Drive by many Evangelical churches these days and what do you see on the church sign? Almost every sign will have the pastor’s name prominently displayed. Why is this important? Why is it necessary to advertise the name of the pastor? If the church is one body worshiping the one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, why call attention to the identity of the pastor? Why don’t churches put the names of the poorest church members on their signs as James suggests in James 2:1-4:

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

Isn’t giving the pastor top billing on the church sign showing the pastor undue respect? After all, Peter said in Acts 10:34 that God is no respecter of persons. God may not be a respecter of persons, but Hhis Evangelical followers sure are. Ask Evangelicals where they go to church and they are just as likely to say I go to Pastor So-and-So’s church as they are I go to First Baptist Church.

In the average Evangelical church, the center of attention is not Jesus, the Word, or the sacraments. The focus is on the man standing behind the pulpit. He is the man of God, God’s messenger, the pastor.  In some Evangelical churches, he is also the bishop, prophet, or apostle.  He is the main cog in the machine, without which the machine won’t run. If you doubt this, watch what happens when one of these superstar Evangelicals leaves his church. The membership inevitably declines, often because church members don’t like the new guy. Evangelicals then feel “led” to join another church so they can be “fed.” Rarely will they admit that the reason they changed churches was because they were spiritually and emotionally infatuated with the previous pastor .

A while back, I wrote a post about Evangelical pastor Steven Furtick and his new house. It is scandalous how these “profits” of God rake in millions of dollars from the churches they pastor, the books they sell, and outside speaking engagements. Even an atheist can see that these kinds of pastors are not following in the steps of Jesus. Instead of following the WWJD mantra, they are following what would a Wall Street profiteer do.

Any time I write about one of the Evangelical superstar pastors, people are sure to come along and defend him. I have attacked their god and it doesn’t matter what the Bible or common decency says, they are not going to stand for it. Little to do they realize that their defense simply illustrates my contention that the Evangelical church is a cult of personality.

I would love to be able to say to readers of this blog that I was different when I was a pastor, but I wasn’t. My name was prominently displayed on the church sign. I was the center of attention, the main cog of the machine. People came to the churches I pastored because they loved my preaching and liked me as a person.  When I pastored a fast-growing church in SE Ohio, people would drive 30-45 minutes to hear me preach.  Our church was exciting and growing, and I was — uh I mean God — was the reason.

I am sure a Calvinistic Evangelical reader is thinking, my church is different! We focus on the WORD and not the pastor. Really? Are you sure?  How many books written by Tim KellerDon CarsonKevin DeYoungAl MohlerMark DriscollStephen Um,  John MacArthur, or John Piper do you own? Why are these names bandied about on every Calvinist blog, website, and conference?

From 2005 to 2008, I was enamored with the Emergent/Emerging church movement.  Even here, I found the cult of personality with people fawning over the likes of Brian McLarenDonald MillerRob Bell,  and Shane Claiborne, to name a few.  Even the home church movement has its own cult of personality. Who hasn’t heard of Frank Viola?

What drives the cult of personality?  Here in America, we are enamored with success. We tend to give respect to people who appear to be winners. Even in the blogosphere, we often judge the value of a writers by the number of people who read their blogs and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+.  We forget that these numbers say NOTHING about the person. I have to constantly guard against this. I know my blog readership numbers, page views, and subscriber numbers are growing. Does this mean that I am ”more” successful than I was years ago when a hundred people a day read my blog? Should people respect me more now that thousands of people read my writing? Of course not. A person’s success proves nothing.

size matters

For Evangelical pastors, size matters.

Within Evangelicalism, numerical success is everything. Success for a pastor is measured by the size of his penis, uh, I mean size of his church. The criteria for calling a pastor/church a success is not much different from the criteria used to judge a successful CEO in the corporate world;: growing the business and maximizing profits.

The sure sign that a pastor has arrived is when he writes a book telling everyone how he achieved his success. When I was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, almost every big-name pastor wrote a book detailing how they achieved numerical success. The subtle message was this: God is blessing me and this is why. Do you want God’s blessing? Do what I am doing!  Why is it these successful pastors never write a book years later detailing the fact that “God’s blessing” didn’t last and their penis size dramatically shrank?

American Evangelicals love their conferences. Hundreds of Evangelical conferences are held each year. Who are the speakers? Why, those who have achieved “success.” These conferences always feature big-name pastors who pastor large, successful churches. When’s the last time  Evangelical conference promoters have had a Bro. Joe, who pastors 20 people on the backside of some hill in West Virginia, come and speak at their conference? It never happens.

One of the reasons people leave Evangelicalism is the cult of personality. They become tired of everything being about the pastor or the focus being on the methods of the latest hotshot, knows-everything, successful pastor.  They sincerely thought that Christianity was all about Jesus. They found out that Jesus was just the window dressing for their pastor’s ambition. Most Evangelical churches, thanks to their leaders, have lost all sight of what it means to be a Christian. They proclaim that the Bible is their standard of faith and practice and then ignore its teachings and examples. Christianity should be about Jesus and his kingdom. From my seat in the atheist pew, it seem that Evangelicalism is all about the pastor’s kingdom and not the kingdom of the Jesus they say they follow.

Notes

Atheism is not immune from the cult of personality. We have our own demigods and it shows when you see the speaking lineup for the various atheist/humanist conferences. When it comes to clergy who have left the faith, you would think that Jerry DeWitt, who is now listed on Wikipedia as a prominent member of the atheist community, was the only pastor to ever have left the faith. I am not knocking Jerry. I am pointing out that we have our own cult of personality, and the way to cure this problem is to be more diverse and to quit using the same few speakers at every conference. It is important that people be exposed to a variety of atheists, agnostics, and humanists especially those who are not as well-known as Richard DawkinsDaniel DennettSam HarrisDan BarkerDan Savage, Jerry DeWitt, et al. When groups like the Freedom from Religion FoundationAmerican Humanist Association, and American Atheists refuse to do this, they present an inaccurate view of atheism/humanism. How about featuring some working-class atheists who can’t even afford to attend the conferences? To quote the Bible, let our atheist message be confirmed through the mouths of many witnesses.

With humans, the cult of personality is prominent because of tribalism. We want to think that the successful members of our tribe are superior to others in our tribe and the leaders of other tribes. The cult of personality blinds us to our common humanity and it causes us to devalue those who are not considered successful (however we define success).

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Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps

camps

Pastor Snoopy, a big dog in the IFB church and Pastor Woodstock, pastor of a small struggling church

To properly understand the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, you must first understand the IFB concept of camps. In the IFB, a camp is the tribe to which you belong. It is a membership group that is defined by such things as what Bible version is considered the “true” Word of God, what college the pastor attended, approval or disapproval of Calvinism, open or closed communion, or ecclesiastical, personal, and secondary separation. Many IFB camps will have multiple “positions” that define their group, and admission to the group is dependent on fidelity to these positions. Many pastors and churches belong to more than one camp.

IFB churches, colleges, parachurch organizations, evangelists, missionaries, and pastors are quick to state that they are totally independent of any authority or control but God. Like the Church of Christ, the IFB church movement is anti-denomination and any suggestion that they are a denomination brings outrage and denunciation.

The IFB church movement found its footing as a reaction to the perceived liberalism in denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the American Baptist Convention. In the 1970s and early 1980s, I heard IFB luminaries like Jack Hyles go on preaching tirades against the Southern Baptist Convention. Hyles would run down a list of the top 100 churches in America, attendance wise, and proudly remind people that the list contained only a handful of Southern Baptist churches.  Hyles made it clear that the attendance numbers were proof that God was blessing the IFB church movement. Hyles, along with other noted IFB preachers, encouraged young pastors to either infiltrate Southern Baptist churches and pull them out of the Convention or start new churches.

It should come as no surprise then that many local Southern Baptist churches, under the direction of an area missionary, would not accept resumes from men trained in IFB colleges when there was a pulpit vacancy. They rightly feared that if they hired an IFB-trained man he might try to pull the church out of the Convention. This was not paranoid thinking. Almost every IFB pastor who came of age in the 1960s-1980s heard sermons or classes on how to infiltrate a denominational church and change it or take it over. Pastors were schooled in things such as diluting the power base.  They were told that one of the first things they should do as a new pastor is determine who the power brokers were. Could they be brought over to  the pastor’s way of thinking? If so, he should befriend them. If not, he should work to marginalize their power by adding pastor-friendly men to church boards and by flooding the church membership with new converts. The goal was to further cripple denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention and to establish IFB churches in every community in America.

For decades, this plan worked and countless churches abandoned their denominational affiliations and became IFB churches. Thousands of new IFB churches were planted all over America. The IFB church movement, as a collective whole, was a religious force to be reckoned with. Their rape-and-pillage policy left carnage and destruction in its wake, not unlike the Charismatic movement during the same time period.

Despite taking over countless churches, starting new churches, establishing colleges, and sending missionaries across the globe, the IFB church movement could not maintain its meteoric growth. Over time, internal squabbles, scandal, doctrinal extremism, worship of personalities, charges of cultism, and a changing culture, eroded what had been built.

IFB pastors were quite proud of the fact that many of the largest churches in America were King James-loving, old fashioned, fire-and-brimstone preaching IFB churches. Today, there are no IFB churches on the Top 100 list.

Outside of Jerry Falwell’s church, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia — now a Southern Baptist congregation– none of the IFB churches on the Top 100 list in 1972 have as many people attending their churches today as they did in 1972. Some, such as Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan — the church I attended while in college — and the Indianapolis Baptist Temple have closed their doors. Others, such as the Canton Baptist Temple, Akron Baptist Temple, Landmark Baptist Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio, Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida are mere shadows of what they once were.

In 2008, only one IFB church was on the Top 100 Churches listFirst Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. They were listed as the 19th largest church in America, with a weekly attendance of 13,678.  This attendance number is less than their average attendance number in 1976.  Outreach Magazine lists NO IFB churches on their 2013 Top 100 Churches list. This does not necessarily mean that there are no IFB churches that are large enough to make the list. I suspect many of the larger IFB churches have stopped bragging about their attendance numbers or they don’t want to be grouped together with “liberal” churches.

Most of the IFB colleges that saw meteoric growth during the 1960s-1980s, now face static or declining enrollment numbers. Some have even closed their doors. Publications such as the Sword of the Lord, the IFB newspaper started by John R Rice, have lost thousands of subscribers. Everywhere one looks, the signs of decay and death are readily evident.  A movement that once proudly crowed of its numerical significance has, in three generations, become little more than an insignificant footnote in American religious history. While millions of people still attend IFB or IFB-like churches, their numbers continue to decline and there is nothing that suggests this decline will stop.

Many current IFB leaders live in denial about the true state of the IFB church movement. They now convince themselves that the numeric decline is due to their unflinching, uncompromising beliefs and preaching. Upton Sinclair wrote:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

I think this aptly describes what is going on among the leaders of the IFB church movement. Their continued power, control, and economic gain depend on them maintaining the illusion that the IFB church movement is healthy and still blessed by God. However, the facts on the ground clearly show that the IFB church movement is on life support and there is little chance that it will survive. Those who survive will liberalize, change their name, and try to forget their IFB past.

Every IFB church, pastor, and college has what I call a camp identity. While they claim to be Independent, their identity is closely connected to the people, groups, and institutions they associate with.

Some churches and pastors group around a college like Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, Cedarville University, Baptist Bible College, The Crown College, Maranatha Baptist University,Texas Independent Baptist Seminary, West Coast Baptist College, Massillon Baptist College, or Hyles Anderson College. Others group around specific doctrinal beliefs like Sovereign Grace Baptists, Association of Reformed Baptist Churches in America, or the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelical Churches.  Some, such as Missionary Baptists and Landmark Baptists group around certain ecclesiastical beliefs.  Still others, group around missionary endeavors. There are also countless churches that are IFB churches, churches such as John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, but refuse to claim the IFB moniker. The Bible church movement, IFB in every way but the name, has fellowship groups like The Independent Fundamental Churches of America.

Some of these groups will likely object to being considered the same as other IFB groups. Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptists will most certainly resent being talked about in the same discussion as the Sword of the Lord and Jack Hyles. But many Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptist pastors come from an IFB church background. While certain aspects of their theology might have changed, much of the IFB methodology and thinking remains. Some of the most arrogant, mean-spirited pastors I ever met were Sovereign Grace or Reformed Baptist pastors. They may have been five point Calvinists, but they were in every other way an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.

Most people don’t know that groups like the Southern Baptist Convention and the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches are really fellowship groups of like-minded pastors and churches. While they have many of the hallmarks of a denomination, their churches and pastors remain, for the most part, independent, under no authority but the local church.

IFB churches and pastors trumpet their independent nature and, as their history has clearly shown, this independence has resulted in horrible abuse and scandal.  But, despite their claim of independence, IFB churches and pastors are quite denominational and territorial.  They tend to group together in their various camps, only supporting churches, colleges, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries, that are in their respective camps.

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio. I contacted Gene Millioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church — the church where I was saved and called to preach — and asked him about the church supporting us financially. Millioni  asked me if I was going to become a part of the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship. He wanted to know if the church was going to be a BBF church. I told him no, and he told me that I could expect no support from Trinity unless I was willing to be a BBF pastor and church. I ran into similar problems with other pastors who demanded I be part of their camp in order to receive help.

Only one church financially supported me: First Baptist Church in Dresden, Ohio.  First Baptist, pastored by Midwestern Baptist College grad Mark Kruchkow, sent me $50 a month for a year or so. Every other dime of startup money came from my own pocket or the pockets of family members. I learned right away what it meant to be a true Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.

Over the years, I floated in and out of various IFB camps. I attended Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship meetings, Midwestern Baptist College meetings, Massillon Baptist College meetings, Sword of the Lord conferences, Bill Rice Ranch rallies, and the Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship. For a few years, I attended a gathering of Calvinistic Baptist pastors called the Pastor’s Clinic in Mansfield Ohio. When I pastored in Texas, I fellowshipped with like-minded Sovereign Grace Baptist pastors.

Every group demanded something from me, be it money, commitment, or fidelity to certain beliefs. If I were part of the group, I was expected to support the colleges, churches, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries the group approved of. Stepping beyond these approved entities brought disapproval, distance, and censure.

The next time an IFB church member or pastor tries to tell you he is an INDEPENDENT Baptist, I hope you will remember this post. Take a look at the colleges, missionaries, churches, and pastors, the IFB church member or pastor supports. It won’t take you long to figure out what camp they are in, and once you figure out what camp they are in, you will know what they believe and what they consider important. The old adage, birds of a feather flock together, is certainly true when it comes to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement.

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Tony Soprano Would Make a Good Independent Baptist Preacher

tony soprano

(The terms preacher and pastor are used interchangeably in this article)

Several years ago, I binge watched all 86 episodes of  the HBO show The Soprano’s. Once I started watching The Soprano’s, I was hooked. I quickly found out that the HBO version was quite a bit more racy than the sanitized version currently found on various cable TV channels.

The main character in The Soprano’s is New Jersey mafia boss Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini. As I watched episode after episode, it dawned on me that Tony Soprano would make a good Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher.

Now before I detail why Tony Soprano would make a good IFB preacher, I want to make sure every easily offended IFB preacher understands that I am not writing about ALL Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preachers. Yes, there are decent IFB preachers, just like there are non-pedophile Roman Catholic priests. However, the personality and character displayed by Tony Soprano is quite prominent among IFB preachers, so I have no qualms about painting with a broad brush. Especially since little is done in IFB circles to deal with the Tony Soprano’s in their midst.

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is noted for elevating men to a religious version of rock-star status. Every year, conferences are held that showcase the rock-star preachers of the IFB church movement. These men are treated like gods. People sitting in the pew listening to their oration are awed by their preaching and their stories of God’s power and blessing. More than a few young preachers leave such conferences with their mind made up that they are going to pattern their ministry after So and So famous IFB preacher. After all, God gave So and So IFB preacher great success, surely God would do the same for the young  preacher if he just followed in So and So IFB preacher’s footsteps.

Even among IFB preachers who are not on the conference circuit, rock-star status can be gained. I know, for a time, I had such status. From 1983-1994, I pastored the Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio. I started the church from scratch and the church grew quickly. In a few years, I was advertising the church as “Perry County’s Fastest Growing Church” and “The largest Non-Catholic Church in Perry County.”

Pretty soon young and/or struggling preachers wanted to know my recipe for success. I humbly told them…God, and then I went on to list  the five keys to my success:

  • Aggressive evangelism
  • Bus ministry
  • Regularly visiting in the homes of every church member
  • Great preaching
  • Attracting Christians who had the same vision I did
  • Marginalizing or running off church members who did not share my vision

Having rock-star status afforded me the opportunity to preach at other churches, conferences, youth rallies, and revivals. It would be dishonest of me not to say that I was quite enamored with my success. Yes, I believed it was God working through me, but it was me doing it. (I was 26 years old when I started the Somerset Baptist Church)

IFB churches are almost always pastored by one man. Rarely do IFB churches have more than one senior pastor. Things like a plurality of elders or a church board are often preached against and considered unbiblical. Most IFB preachers I knew, including myself, bought into the Lee Roberson philosophy, Everything rises and falls on leadership. This meant that the success and failure of the church depended on me, the preacher.

Sadly, the focus on one man leads to all kinds of problems. In most IFB churches, the preacher has near absolute power and control over the church. Unless he preaches heresy, steals money, screws a deacon’s wife, or gets caught at the local strip club, his power will likely not be challenged.

The longer a preacher is at a church the more power he accumulates. Often, when a church member tries to challenge the preacher’s control, they’ll  be run out of the church. Obedience to the Man of God is expected.

Three Bible verses are used to prop up the preacher’s authoritarian rule. After all, if it is in the Bible, it must be obeyed:

  • Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. (Psalm 105:15)
  • Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17)
  • Rebuke not an elder…(1 Timothy 5:1a)

Never mind that these verses are taken out of context. Countless IFB preachers use these verses to remind church members that they are the man  GOD has put in charge of the church. He is the CEO, bwana, potentate, and king of the church.  Messing with the preacher means you are messing with God.  Church members are reminded about what happens when you mess with God’s man:

And he (Elisha) went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. (2 Kings 2:23,24)

Mess with God’s man, challenge his authority, and you might get eaten by bears or some other judgment might befall you.

In most IFB churches, the preacher is the cog around which everything turns. When church members are asked about where they go to church they often say I go to Pastor So and So’s church. The preacher’s name is prominently displayed on the church sign, church advertising, and printed materials.

Sadly, many IFB churches, due to their preacher-centered structure, suffer serious decline or even closure when the preacher leaves. This is especially true for churches who lose their founding pastor. People are loyal to the man, and when the man leaves so does their loyalty. If the church survives, it often faces attendance and offering decline as members seek out other IFB churches to attend. Many of the big name IFB churches in the 1960’s-1980’s did not survive the founding pastor leaving.  Those that did survive are but a shell of what they once were. This same problem is often seen in privately held corporations when the next generation takes over the company.

Many IFB churches survive the founding pastor’s departure and the resultant attendance and offering decline. A new pastor comes in, states his new vision for the church, and things continue on. In time, the new pastor leaves and the whole process of upheaval and decline continues until the church gets a-n-o-t-h-e-r new pastor. The average church changes its pastor every 30-60 months.  Some churches, after years and years of new pastors coming and going, close their doors.

With the above background in mind, let me now show you why I think Tony Soprano would make a good IFB preacher.

Tony Soprano is a charismatic person. He has a way of getting people to like him. People are drawn to him. He has a way of manipulating people to get what he wants from them. Most every episode of The Soprano’s shows Tony Soprano manipulating women, fellow mobsters, family members, political leaders, business owners, and even his psychiatrist to get what he wants.

In Tony Soprano’s world, it is all about getting what he wants. As the boss on the New Jersey crew, he has absolute life and death power. He ruthlessly uses this power to have sex with women, amass large sums of illicitly gained money, and remove anyone who challenges his control of the New Jersey crew.

Tony Soprano is a textbook narcissist. It is all about him. Tony Soprano is, with rare exception, indifferent to the problems of others. All that matters to him is his continued control of the mob kingdom he and his father John and Uncle Jr. have built.  Anyone who gets in his way ends up in a shallow grave or wearing concrete boots at the bottom of the ocean.

Tony Soprano expects people to be loyal to him. No matter what he wants done, say having his cousin’s fiancé murdered, he expects people to support him.  He expects everyone to follow the Mafia Code of Conduct, (check out Wikipedia article on omertà)  even though he, at times, ignores the code.

In Tony Soprano’s world, it is all about power and control.  This even extends to his wife, children, and extended family. Tony Soprano is THE man and he expects everyone to bow to his wishes. As anyone who has watched The Soprano’s knows, Tony Soprano has on and off problems with getting his wife and children to obey him.

Carmella, played by Edie Falco, Tony Soprano’s wife, throws him out of the house because of his philandering. When Carmella tries to file for divorce, she finds out that no divorce lawyer will take her case. Ultimately, she realizes that getting a divorce is impossible and she makes an uneasy peace with Tony.

Tony Soprano is the cog around which everything revolves. He expects everyone to tell him what is going on. Failing to do this often results in Tony punishing them physically or monetarily, and in some cases Tony punishes them by “whacking” them.

Occasionally, those close to Tony try to talk to him about his excesses or errors in judgment. (people like Jackie, Silvo, Paulie, Chrissy, Johnny Sack, Hesh, and Bobby) In a few instances, Tony changes his ways, but most often Tony ignores those who try to correct him. Often, attempts made to challenge his actions or behavior result in Tony holding a grudge. Sometimes, these grudges end with the person being killed.

At times, Tony Soprano is conflicted over his behavior. He has twinges of guilt over his infidelity and his killing of once loyal soldiers and friends. He often talks to his psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, played by Lorraine Bracco, about his guilt and misgivings over some of the things he has done. Tony is rarely completely honest with Dr. Melfi, and when she challenges him, he often explodes in anger and ends the therapy session.

I see in Tony Soprano the perfect Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher. He is charismatic and friendly. He believes he is right and he is willing to use his power and authority to maintain his rightness. He is a chosen man, rising from the streets to mob boss. His testimony would be quite similar to many an IFB preacher’s testimony of salvation and calling.

Like the IFB preacher’s appeal to the Bible as his sole source of authority, Tony Soprano appeals to the Mafia Code of Conduct to govern his actions. And like more than a few IFB preachers who ignore the Bible when it suits them, Tony ignores the Mafia Code of Conduct when he needs to.

Tony Soprano expects others to pay homage to him. He is, after all, the boss. So it is with many IFB preachers. They are the man of God, they are the de facto power and authority in the church.  IFB preachers are often lavished with gifts, money, all-expense paid trips, new suits, etc. These things are considered proper expressions of the church’s love for their preacher. After all, where would the church be if Pastor So and So was not their preacher?

In many instances, the IFB pastor is regaled like Herod. In Acts 12:21-23 we find:

And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.

While I don’t think there is a god that strikes anyone dead, rock-star preachers go the way of all men. They die and their power and authority dies with them. That is, unless they pass their power and authority on to their son, a common occurrence in IFB churches.

In the final episode of The Soprano’s, Tony is sitting in a café with his wife and son. His daughter is outside parking her car. Into the cafe walk several men who look suspicious. Due to an ongoing bloody war between the New Jersey crew and one of the New York mafia families, Tony is afraid they are going to try to kill him.

The episode ends with the doorbell of the café ringing as the door is opened. Tony Soprano looks up and then the screen goes dark. Viewers are left to wonder what happened. Was it Tony’s daughter coming through the door? Was it a hit-man?

Unlike Tony Soprano’s fate, we know what is happening to the IFB church movement. It is dying. While some IFB churches continue to attract people, countless other churches have closed their doors or changed their affiliation. Thousands of church members have fled IFB churches in hopes of finding a kinder, gentler, less authoritarian Christianity. Sadly, they often find out that there are Tony Sopranos in every denomination.  Many IFB church members end up leaving Christianity altogether. Some embrace other religions or become humanists, agnostics, or atheists.

As I have stated many times before, I am not anti-Christian. I am well aware that there are many fine Christian churches and pastors. While I disagree with their beliefs, I recognize that many people desire and need religion in their lives. My primary beef is with  authoritarian IFB churches and pastors and Evangelicals who use cult-like tactics to control people. My wish for the IFB church movement is a swift and sure death. There are better religious choices for people if they dare look. Why continue to eat steak at Ponderosa (Pound-of-Gristle)  when you can eat a thick-cut steak at Texas Roadhouse?

Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sin

lester roloff

Lester Roloff

In the 1970s, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher Lester Roloff began what later would be called the IFB teen home industry. In 1958, Roloff started The Lighthouse for Boys, a home  for “delinquent boys to be isolated from drugs and liquor until they were delivered.” Marie, Lester Roloff’s wife had this to say about The Lighthouse:

“the Lighthouse has been a haven for boys no one else wanted- boys who were one step from reform school or the penitentiary. … The boys come in all sizes and shapes, but they have one thing in common regardless of their age- they are old in sorrow, sadness, and hostility. … At first the boys cover their inward hurts with belligerence and a bravado that they do not actually possess. These boys are almost without exception bereft of parental love and guidance. Some are actually homeless while others have rebelled against parental authority and have gotten into serious trouble with the law.”

In 1967, “while preaching at a gospel meeting in the Fort Worth, Texas area,… Roloff became aware of a need for a home for unwed pregnant girls.” A short time later, Roloff started the Rebekah Home for Girls near Corpus Christi, Texas. Marie Roloff described the girls at Rebekah Home this way:

“as we began working with these girls, we realized that many of them were unwanted and consequently unloved. Lester said, ‘No wonder children have become embittered and even criminals at an early age. They’ve never seen love in those who gave them birth. The right kind of love would lock and stop the wheels of divorce, delinquency, murder and war and turn this hell on earth into a haven of peace, rest, and joy for these children.”

Countless IFB churches and pastors supported Roloff in his attempt to bring order, discipline, and righteousness into the lives of rebellious teenagers. When parents were frustrated with their “rebellious” teenager and didn’t know what to do, The Lighthouse for Boys and Rebekah Home for Girls became the go-to places to send their children. Their pastor assured them that Brother Roloff knew how to “fix” their offspring.

What many parents, churches, and pastors didn’t understand, was that Roloff and his staff used violence to beat children into submission. After the homes closed for the last time in 2001, The Texas Monthly reported:

…The Rebekah Home took in fallen girls from “jail houses, broken homes, hippie hives, and dope dives” who were “walking through the wilderness of sin,” he told his radio listeners. Roloff remade these “terminal cases” into Scripture-quoting, gospel-singing believers. Girls who had been saved harmonized along with his Honeybee Quartet at revivals and witnessed to the power of the Lord on his radio show. He showed off his Rebekah girls at every turn, and he was amply rewarded: Each day, packages arrived at Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises laden with checks, cash, jewelry, the family silver—whatever the faithful could provide.

Discipline at the Rebekah Home was rooted in a verse from Proverbs: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.” The dictum was liberally applied. Local authorities first investigated possible abuse at the Rebekah Home in 1973, when parents who were visiting their daughter reported seeing a girl being whipped. When welfare workers attempted to inspect the home, Roloff refused them entry on the grounds that it would infringe on the separation between church and state. Attorney General John Hill promptly filed suit against Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises, introducing affidavits from sixteen Rebekah girls who said they had been whipped with leather straps, beaten with paddles, handcuffed to drainpipes, and locked in isolation cells—sometimes for such minor infractions as failing to memorize a Bible passage or forgetting to make a bed. Roloff defended these methods as good old-fashioned discipline, solidly supported by Scripture, and denied that any treatment at Rebekah constituted abuse. During an evidentiary hearing, he made his position clear by declaring, “Better a pink bottom than a black soul.” Attorney General Hill bluntly replied that it wasn’t pink bottoms he objected to, but ones that were blue, black, and bloody…

…The Rebekah Home was bent on driving sin from even the wickedest of girls and making them see the light of God. Jo Ann Edwards was brought to the Rebekah Home in 1982, after running away from home at the age of thirteen. “I was an acolyte at my church before I went there, and God was very close to me in my heart,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Victoria, where she is the mother of five children. “But that place turned me against Him for a while and made me very hard. I thought that even He had left me.” As a new girl, she was scrutinized by “helpers,” the saved girls who handed out demerits for misbehavior. Demerits were given for an endless host of wrongdoings: talking about “worldly” things, singing songs other than gospel songs, speaking too loudly, doodling, nail biting, looking at boys in church, failing to snitch on other sinners. Each demerit earned her a lick, which the Rebekah Home’s housemother administered with a wood paddle. The beatings left her black and blue. “I got twenty licks my first time, and I was hit hard—so hard that I couldn’t sit for days,” Jo Ann said. “I begged [the housemother] to stop. When she was done, she hugged me and said, ‘God loves you.’ She told me to go back to the living room and read Scripture and sing ‘Amazing Grace’ with the other girls.”

Only Rebekah girls who had proven their devotion by repeatedly testifying to God’s grace could avoid Bible discipline. Some girls were genuinely troubled teenagers who had gotten mixed up with drugs or prostitution; others had been caught having sex; many were guilty of nothing more than growing up in abusive homes. Tara Cummings, now 31 and a mortgage consultant in Chicago, was sent there by her father, a preacher, whose beatings had left her badly bruised. Even she was not immune to judgment. “I was told that I was a reprobate, that I was beyond help and was going to hell,” she said. She was treated to the full range of the Rebekah Home’s punishments, which were not limited to lickings. “Confinement” meant spending weeks hanging her head without speaking. “Sitting on the wall” required sitting with her back against a wall and without the support of a chair, even as her legs buckled beneath her. But kneeling was what she most dreaded. Kneeling could last for as long as five hours at a time; she might have to kneel while holding a Bible on each outstretched palm or with pencils wedged beneath her knees. Only girls seen as inveterate sinners received the full brunt of the home’s crueler punishments. “You had to be saved,” Tara said. “It didn’t matter if you didn’t feel moved to do that—you did it to survive.”

The worst form of punishment, the lockup, was reserved for girls who had not yet been saved—who had talked of running away or who had proven to be particularly intractable. The lockup was a dorm room devoid of furniture or natural light where girls spent days, or weeks, alone. Taped Roloff sermons were piped into the room, and the near-constant sound of his voice was the girls’ only companionship. Former Rebekah resident Tamra Sipes, now 34 and working in advertising for a newspaper in Oak Harbor, Washington, remembers one girl who was relegated to the lockup for an entire month. “The smell had become so bad from her not being able to shower or bathe that it reeked in the hallway,” she said. “We could do nothing to help her. I remember standing in roll call one day waiting for my name to be called off, and I was directly across from the door. She was singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to herself in such a pitiful voice that I couldn’t help but cry for her.”…

You can read the entire Texas Monthly article here.

Though Roloff died in a plane crash in November 1982, the Roloff homes remained in operation until Wiley Cameron, Roloff’s right hand man, closed them in 2001. When  asked about charges of abuse, Cameron stated:

We feel it’s a Bible mandate, like the Samaritan, to help people in the ditch. If we have to get down in the ditch to help people, sometimes we get a little dirty doing it. Put another way, We get troubled kids and we use unconventional methods. We have never abused one person—all of these years, there has never been one case of child abuse that’s been proved in court. There have been allegations, but some people construe abuse where there was not abuse.

In IFB circles, Lester Roloff was quite popular. He and the traveling singing groups from the Rebekah Home for Girls made uncounted appearances at IFB preacher’s conferences and churches. As a young pastor, I heard them several times. Through his preaching and the singing of the Honey Bees, Rainbow Quartet, and Rebekah Choir, Roloff appealed to pastors to help support his work. Pastors, thrilled that there was a place where troubled church teenagers could get godly, Christian help, made sure Roloff had a steady stream of teenagers to “help.” This stream would later number 500 or more children under the care of  Roloff’s “ministries.”

(The above video is from 1979,  Piney Heights Baptist Church, now Lakeside Baptist, in Clearwater, South Carolina. Bill Reese pastored the church for over 50 years. Please listen carefully to this video. Look at the girls in the singing group. What do you see? Happiness? Joy? Where are their smiles? Listen as Roloff calls his charges terminal cases and dividends paid out to stockholders. Listen, as Roloff and Reese brag about how God is using them in a mighty way)

My wife and I grew up in the IFB church movement, attended Midwestern Baptist College, an IFB institution operated by Tom Malone, and pastored several IFB churches in the 1970s and 1980s. Lester Roloff and the great work he was doing in Texas and his battle against the evil government were topics of frequent discussion. We never heard one person speak negatively about Roloff. While we heard rumors about the charges of abuse, these rumors were dismissed as government attempts to destroy Roloff’s work or the words of jealous men who weren’t as blessed by God as Brother Roloff was.

Influenced by Roloff, many IFB pastors started up group homes to help rebellious teenagers.  New Bethany Home for Girls was one such enterprise. In 1971, Mack Ford opened New Bethany. Following the Roloff blueprint, administrators used physical violence to break the will of rebellious teen age girls who were incarcerated against their will at New Bethany. Girls were also sexually violated, molested, and raped. As with Wiley Cameron in 2001, Ford denied anything untoward happened at New Bethany. He died February 11, 2015, having never been brought to justice.

It’s time for IFB churches and pastors to atone for their sin. It is now known that IFB teen group homes routinely used violence to break the will of those sent to them. In some instances, sexual violence took place and criminal acts were committed by serial predators. IFB churches and pastors provided these homes with a steady supply of children; children whose lives were often scarred forever. Just as the man who drives the get-away car for a robbery crew are accessories to robbery, IFB preachers are culpable in the abuse that took place at The Lighthouse, Rebekah Home for Girls, New Bethany Home for Girls, Hephzibah House, and other similar homes.

Where are the IFB pastors who are willing to admit their culpability? Where are the preachers who are willing to publicly air the dirty laundry of the IFB church movement? Countless boys and girls had their lives ruined by men like Lester Roloff and Mack Ford. Thanks to the internet, the stories of abuse, rape, and violence are readily accessible. When will a noted IFB pastor, one of the big dogs, decide to publicly and completely expose IFB teen group homes for what they are/were: money-making businesses that abused and molested children in the name of God?

Here and there, often under the radar, IFB teen group homes are still in operation. Exempt from state and federal laws, these homes are free to follow Roloff’s plan for making rebellious teenagers submissive. In some cases, these current Roloffs and Fords, use their homes to take sexual advantage of vulnerable boys and girls. Why is there not an IFB pastor willing to stand up and say ENOUGH? Is their hatred of the government blinding them to what went on in these homes and what continues to go on until this day?

Thankfully, I can say that I never had a part in sending a child to one of the IFB teen group homes. It almost happened once, but the parents decided against it. In the 1980s, Ron Williams and a group from Hephzibah House came to the church I pastored in SE Ohio. By then, I was beginning to have my doubts about the IFB church movement, so nothing came of Williams’ visit to our church.

While my hands are relatively clean, I know a number of pastors who promoted and supported men like Lester Roloff, Mack Ford, Jack Patterson, Olen King, and Ron Williams, and others whose names are lost to me. Just the other day I mentioned in a post that the home church of IFB evangelist Don Hardman supports Ron Williams, Hephzibah House and Olen King, Second Chance Ranch.

Uncounted IFB churches and pastors continue to support unlicensed teen group homes that use violence to break “rebellious” of teenagers. Why do they continue to do so? Why do they lend their support do abuse and violence? Perhaps it is time to publicize the name of the churches and pastors who don’t have a problem with using violence to subdue a teenager or don’t have a problem with sexual assault or rape. If you, dear reader , run across information that clearly connects an IFB church or pastor to one of these homes, please let me know.

For further information on IFB teen group homes (please use the contact form to send me any other links that should be added to this list):

Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls

Jo Wright, Victimized No More

Rebecca Catalanello, The Long Road: To the Gates of New Bethany and Back

Andy Kopsa, History of Violence: Christian Boarding Schools and the Trial of Jack Patterson

Kathryn Joyce, Horror Stories from Tough-Love Teen Homes

HEAL database for New Bethany Home for Girls

HEAL articles on Fraudulent and Abusive Treatment Centers for Children and Young Adults

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Dear Women: Jesus Should be Your Romantic Interest

fallen annie lobert

According to Annie Lobert, founder of the group Hookers for Jesus, women are putting their love, hope, desire, and need in the wrong place. The only person who can give women all they could ever want from a relationship is Jesus.

In a recent Christian Post interview, Lobert had this to say:

“What us women need to understand [is] if a man can’t do what you ideally think he should do, [it is because] God is the only one who can do that for you. Jesus Christ is the only one who can ultimately be your ultimate romantic interest and I’m not talking about sexually. I’m talking about that intimate love bond that we have that heals all wounds, that heals all insecurities, that heals all the things that we think our husbands should do and be…”

“My prince was Jesus Christ. I said that in the book, it was Jesus Christ, that was my knight in shining armor and I didn’t know it.”

We poor men don’t stand a chance.

On second thought, maybe we do. What kind of man was Jesus? Was he a man whom women would love to be in a relationship with? When Jesus walked into a bar or club, did everyone’s eyes turn towards him? Did women think, wonder what Jesus looks like under his tunic? Was Jesus THE man that every woman longed for?

Jesus was a single man born out-of-wedlock. He grew up in a carpenters home in a squalid village. As a 12-year-old, Jesus disrespected his parents and ran off and later in life he publicly disrespected his mother when she asked him to get some wine from the fridge. Jesus spent most of his life traveling with a group of men. Dare we imagine how many fart jokes were told by Jesus or how rarely he took a bath, shaved, or used Giorgio Armani cologne? While there were women who traveled with Jesus from time to time, we don’t know if he ever had sex with one of them. Perhaps, as some suggest, Jesus was gay.

The Bible doesn’t tell us how the adult Jesus made a living. Did he work for a living or did he sponge off the people who traveled with him? He owned no property and had no house he called home. When a man expressed interest in traveling with Jesus but wanted to wait a couple of days so he could bury his father, Jesus told him to forget about the funeral and follow him.

And I could go on…the gospels paint a less than flattering picture of Jesus. Once you strip away the supernatural and fantasy from the story, what you are left with is a very ordinary man whom many women would not view as the ideal catch. Jesus was hardly the man above all men with whom every woman would want to have a relationship.

Lobert fails to realize that she actually makes life more complex for Christian women with her “Jesus Christ is the only one who can ultimately be your ultimate romantic interest” thinking. This fictitious, romanticized Jesus is the gold standard women are told they should measure their relationships by. When compared to the human Jesus, many men fare quite well. But, the fictitious, romantic, gives-me-an-orgasm-every-time-I-pray Jesus? No man can measure up.

The good news for men is that Lobert’s Jesus is a fiction of her imagination. If a woman wants a relationship with a man, we’re it.

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God Gave Me Breast Cancer Because He Loves Me

calvin and hobbes god

Joni Eareckson Tada was severely injured in a diving accident in 1967. For the past forty-eight years she has been a quadriplegic. Tada’s life story was popularized in a best-selling book titled Joni.

In the Friday, June 25, 2010 edition of the Defiance Crescent-News, there was a story about Tada undergoing treatment for breast cancer (behind pay wall).

As I read the article, what astounded me was Tada’s comment about God’s involvement in her breast cancer.

Tada said:

I’ve often said that our afflictions come from the hand of our all-wise and sovereign God, who loves us and wants what’s best for us. So, although cancer is something new, I am content to receive from God, what ever he deems fit for me. Yes, it’s alarming, but rest assured Ken and I are utterly convinced that God is going to use this to stretch our faith, brighten our hope and strengthen of our witness to others.

In other words, God gave Tada breast cancer because he loved her and deemed it best for her. God gave her cancer so that she and her husband would have more faith and be a stronger witness to others.

Tada’s God is best described as a know-it-all deity who afflicts humans with sickness, disease, suffering, and death because he loves them and wants to increase their faith in him. He then wants them to use the afflictions he gave them to tell others what a wonderful God he is.

Crazy, isn’t it? I doubt if Sigmund Freud could even figure this out.

The Christian interpretation of the Bible presents God as a father and the Christian as a child. Good fathers love, protect,  and nurture their children. They don’t beat them, abuse them, or afflict them with suffering. Every right-minded human being knows what qualities make for a good father. We also know what qualities make for a bad father.

A father who has the power to heal and doesn’t is a bad father. A father who causes suffering, sickness, and disease when he could do otherwise is a bad father. A father who afflicts his child with breast cancer is a bad father. A father who gives his child breast cancer so she can tell everyone what a wonderful father he is, is a bad father. From my seat in the pew, this God-the-father, as presented by modern Christianity, is a bad father.

Tada’s argument for a breast cancer-giving God is one of the reasons I left Christianity. I could no longer believe in a loving God that willingly afflicts and kills his children because he has determined that it is best for them. This God demands the Christian bear whatever affliction he brings upon them, and in true narcissistic fashion also demands that they love him while he is afflicting them. I want nothing to do with such a capricious, vindictive, warped God.

Disease, sickness, suffering, and death are all around us. If God could do something about these things and doesn’t, what are we to make of such a God? What are we to make of a God who is seemingly involved in the intimate details of life, yet when things really matter is absent without leave (AWOL)?

Christians sing a song that says “what a mighty God we serve.” A mighty God? In what way is the Christian God mighty? Batman and Superman were mighty gods. They used their powers for good. They were always on call, ready at a moment’s notice, to swoop in and help those in need.  But the Christian God ? It seems the bigger the need the harder he is to find.  As I noted in another post, God seems to involve himself in trivial matters like getting a woman a $200 refund on her plane ticket, but he seemingly can’t be found when an environmentally catastrophic oil leak needs plugging. Perhaps we need to forget about this God and turn on the Bat signal.

I am saddened by Joni Eareckson Tada’s affliction with breast cancer. Being a quadriplegic for over fifty years is enough suffering for one lifetime. But I know just because you have one health problem in life doesn’t mean you won’t be afflicted again. As I have learned in my own life, just because I have Fibromyalgia doesn’t mean I won’t get some other disease. Life isn’t fair. Life can be cruel.  I’ve known Christians whose lives were devastated by one tragedy or sickness after another. If God is the one dumping all this on them, it would seem proper to ask God to move on to someone else. “Please God afflict sister so-and-so. She is in perfect health.”

Christians often quote the verse that says God will never give anyone more than they can bear. In other words, no matter what you face in life, God has determined you can bear it. This verse always leaves God off the hook. God, who is sovereign over all things, determines that you can bear to have cancer, AIDS, Fibromyalgia, ALS, MS, emphysema, or any other dreaded disease, so he afflicts you. You are expected to bear whatever he brings your way. If you don’t, it is your fault. Your failure to bear your burden shows that you lack faith.

Reality paints us a different picture. Many Christians, if not most, do not bear their burdens as the Bible says they should. I have counseled hundreds of Christians over the years who were weighed down by the burdens given to them by God (so they thought). At the time, I encouraged them to have more faith, but rarely did the faith of the afflicted rise to the weight of the burden. Most often, the burden broke their back. Sadly, many of these people continue to walk around, stooped over and crippled, all the while singing “what a mighty God we serve.”

There is a hypocritical vein in this line of thinking. The theory is this: God afflicts his children with suffering for their good because he loves them and wants to increase their faith. I would ask then, why do Christians go to the doctor and take prescription medications? It seems to me that not seeing the doctor and not taking medication would result in a greater increase in faith. Surely a sovereign, omnipotent God is bigger than high blood pressure or diabetes and surely a sovereign, omnipotent God is bigger than any pain a Christian might have, right?

There are Christian sects that do have this kind of faith. They don’t go to doctors and they refuse to take  medication of any kind. And every few years we have the privilege of reading about them in the newspaper when they are charged with manslaughter or child abuse for failing to get proper medical care for one of their children.

For me personally, it is more palatable for there to be no God, or a God that is not involved in his creation, than there is a God that afflicts people because he loves them and wants to increase their faith. Such a God is a monster of vast proportions, a God unworthy of  worship.

I recognize that sickness, suffering, and disease can be instrumental in shaping us and changing us and making us better people. But this is far different from a loving God-the-father afflicting us so that we will love him, have more faith, and be better witnesses. Such thinking is barbaric and best relegated to the ancient past it came from.

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Jack Hyles Teaches Parents How to Indoctrinate Their Babies

jack hyles praying

Jack Hyles Praying

If you are unfamiliar with Jack Hyles, please read The Legacy of Jack Hyles.

Excerpt from How to Rear Infants, by the late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana:

Children should be taught that God has given to them a preacher. That preacher is God’s man to lead them, to teach them, to preach to them, and to guide and instruct them concerning their lives. It is important for a family to have a man of God just like it is important to have a family doctor, a family dentist, etc. For that matter, it is even more important! The parents should never criticize God’s man but should train their children to love and respect him.

This can be done in many ways. One of the most important ways is to lead the child to pray for the preacher many times a day. Every time he bows his head to say grace or to say his “Now I lay me” prayers, he should pray for his preacher. He should get an early impression that one of the most important persons in the world is God’s man, his pastor.

The nursery workers at First Baptist Church have little bibs made for the babies. On each bib is printed, “I love my Preacher.” This is very important.

The child should feel that he has a friend in the pulpit and that that friend loves him and is very wise. The time will probably come when the parents will need the pastor in the rearing of the child. It often is true that a time comes when the only hope of saving the child is the pastor. If the parents have been critical of him or have a negative attitude toward him, the children will develop such an attitude and will not come to the pastor when they need him in a period of crisis…

…When I was an infant my mother started a little ritual. Every night she would put me on her knee, hold her Bible in front of me and say, “Son, the Bible is the Word of God.” Then she would ask me to repeat after her those words. Three times she would do this. Then she would tell me that Jesus is the Son of God. I would have to repeat it after her. Again she would say it and again I would repeat it. A third time she would say it and a third time I would repeat it. She then told me that I should always believe those two great truths. Now I do not recall when she started it; I do know she started this practice long before I could comprehend what was going on, but as far back as I can remember I can see my mother teaching me that Jesus is God’s Son and that the Bible is God’s Word.

She would then mention some kind of sin and warn me concerning its evil. One night she would take a whiskey ad. She would hold it up before me and say, “Whiskey – bad, bad, bad, bad! Whiskey – bad, bad!” Then I was required to say, “Whiskey – bad, bad!” She would then get a frown on her face, tear up the ad, throw it on the floor and stomp on it. She would shout, “WHISKEY – NO, NO! WHISKEY – BAD, BAD!”

Mother was trying to associate bad words with whiskey. I do not know when she started this. I do know it was before I realized it, and the association between the words “whiskey” and “no” made a lasting impression on my mind and life…

This excerpt illustrates the fact that indoctrination in authoritarian sects and churches begins as soon as a child is born.

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