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Tag: Andrew Seidel

Why Do Christian Fundamentalists Burn Books?

greg locke book burning

Recently, Evangelical pastor Greg Locke, pastor of Global Vision Bible Church in Juliet, Tennessee, was in the news for holding a book burning service. The Harry Potter books, Twilight books, other books, clothing, and things deemed Satanic were thrown on a pyre and burned.

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In 2019, Locke burned the book “The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American” by Freedom From Religion Foundation attorney Andrew Seidel.

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Those uninitiated in Evangelical thinking may view Locke’s behavior as extreme, cultic, or the actions of a man mentally sick. However, Locke’s actions have a firm grounding in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Words of God. Further, I had book burnings too back in my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days.

The Bible says in Acts 19:11-20:

And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. In certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.

In this passage of Scripture, we find the Apostle Paul coming to the city of Ephesus to preach the gospel and work miracles. All told, Paul spent two years in Ephesus. Some of the people who were saved, those who practiced the “curious arts.” Evangelical theologian Matthew Henry explains “curious arts” this way (from E-Sword):

[people who] traded in the study of magic and divination, in books of judicial astrology, casting nativities, telling fortunes, raising and laying spirits, interpreting dreams, predicting future events, and the like.

Those delivered from these practices gathered up their magic and divination books and burned them. The Bible puts the value of these books at 50,000 pieces of silver. At $20 value for each piece of silver, that’s $1 million in today’s money. Does anyone else think this valuation is embellished (Greek for a lie)?

These verses provide a Biblical foundation for Greg Locke’s book burnings, and the two book burnings performed by me in 1984 and 1987.

In 1983, I resigned from Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, moving 30 miles to the start to plant a new IFB church in the rural community of Somerset. I would go on to pastor Somerset Baptist Church for eleven years.

In 1984, convicted by the Holy Ghost over church members listening to secular rock music, I called for a book burning. I preached a scathing sermon about worldliness and the Satanic nature of modern rock music. I asked church members to go through their homes, remove any music that was dishonoring to God, and bring it to church that night so we could make a symbolic offering to God by burning them. A handful of congregants brought cassette tapes, 8-tracks, and LPs to church so they could be burned. We gathered in the side yard of the church, kindled a fire, and burned the offending items. God was pleased, and all his children said, AMEN!

Three years later, I became under increasing conviction (guilt) over “worldly” entertainment, including TV, videotapes, and music. After several Sundays of sermons, I called on church members to bring their sinful wares to church so they could be burned. Few members felt as convicted as I did. At the appointed time, we started a fire in the churchyard and gathered up the offending items so they could be burned. I wanted to make a big impression on congregants, so I planned to destroy our 13-inch television with a sledgehammer. (Please see The Preacher and His TV) Just before I hit the TV, one church member said to me (in front of everyone), “hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV, I’ll take it!” He, of course, missed the point of my recent sermons. I angrily told him NO! and then I slew our TV in the name of the thrice Holy God.

Did you ever participate in a book-burning service? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Quote of the Day: The Futility of Religion in the Midst of a Pandemic

Cartoon by Lalo Alcaraz

Wash your hands or say a prayer? Social distancing or Sunday mass? Cancel public events or give out coronavirus communion wafers to the credulous?

Many believers face these choices as the coronavirus spreads. There is no religious response to the pandemic, unless we count abandoning religious rules in favor of science and medicine. Faced with these choices, most people accept that religion is pointless, at best, and harmful, at worst. Most are making decisions that appear to be motivated by science and medicine, not scripture and sacred doctrine. 

And this is different. 

Think about American responses to mass shootings or drought or oil spills or wildfires. Thoughts and prayers. Prayer vigils. More god. As horrific as some of these tragedies are, our response to preventing repeats, especially for mass shootings, is little different than the immediate response: Get on your knees and pray.

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We’re not in the aftermath of a catastrophe or thinking about the best way to prevent some hypothetical tragedy — we are in the middle of an outbreak, a pandemic. In the wake of tragedy, we at FFRF often get complaints about government officials using government power to push people to religion or prayer. This may simply be a misguided attempt to assuage societal sorrow or it may be a deliberate attempt to prey on the unfortunate. Both are plausible, neither is permissible. But what is interesting is that, so far, we are not seeing that as a response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. In fact, while FFRF reliably gets state-church complaints after a front-page tragedy, we’ve had none about responses to the coronavirus. 

So far, we’ve had no reports of teachers telling kids “this is in God’s hands” or that the virus “is God’s wrath” (which some clergy are now preaching). So far, we’ve had no complaints about coaches or principals telling students to pray to end the outbreak. Not even local government officials touting the efficacy of thoughts and prayers as a response, at least not yet.

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In perhaps the most telling response, even churches are getting in on the science. Catholic churches are draining holy water and shuttering after infected priests passed out slices of their savior’s flesh. Catholic schools are closing. Not just mainline churches but fringe churches are also shutting down. Even — and this is the most telling of all and a glorious admission —  faith-healing congregations are halting programming. Just three months ago, Bethel Church in Northern California promised to raise 2-year-old Olive from the dead. Now, it’s refusing to visit hospitals to pray for and prey on the sick.

There are, of course, exceptions to the general observation that people are abandoning harmful and ineffective religious regulations in favor of science and medicine. But the clingers seem to be at the higher, more removed, and dare we say, privileged, levels. The Christian Nationalist Trump administration and its political appointees have bungled the response, suffocated information that might reflect poorly on the White House, and have sought to tout their religion and prayers. But they appear to be the exception to the rule. Vice President Mike Pence is all about the prayer, as we documented last week. As is the pope, who has encouraged priests to visit those infected with the coronavirus and give them communion. Francis won’t be putting his fingers in mouths laden with coronavirus, his lackeys will, and then they’ll move on to another mouth and another. This, in the country with one of the worst outbreaks. Then there’s Joel Osteen, the greedy and shortsighted megapreacher who can’t go two or three weeks without passing the collection plate, even to save the lives of a few of his sheep. 

One wannabe Osteen, a right-wing preacher named Jonathan Shuttlesworth, posted a video in which he said churches that heed medical guidance and close are “sissies” and “pansies,” with “no balls” who “got neutered somewhere along the line.” 

But in between his sips of Acqua Panna, this Patagonia-clad preacher stumbled on the truth when he asked of the basins bereft of holy water: “How holy is the water then? That should be a sign to you that your whole religion’s a fraud. Any faith that doesn’t work in real life is a fake faith. Totally fake.” Even without this refreshing admission, Osteen, Trump, Pence and the pope were already proving the point: Religion has nothing to offer in the face of a pandemic. Instead, we must rely on science and medicine. Wash your hands, work from home, avoid travel and large crowds, don’t hoard supplies: Flatten the curve.

Andrew Seidel, Attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, March 12, 2020

Bruce Gerencser