Tag Archive: Authoritarianism

Questions: Bruce, Was it Hard to Change Authoritarian Thought Patterns?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Emma asked, “Bruce, How hard was it to change the authoritarian thought patterns that you had as a pastor? Did they affect your family? How have your relationships with your family changed since you became an atheist?”

Authoritarianism is found throughout the Evangelical community. The farther right one moves on the Evangelical spectrum, the more authoritarian churches and pastors become. For a number of years, I was a part of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. In this Evangelical subset, authoritarianism is foundational, both in church and family structures. Much is made of pastoral authority. The pastor or the elders are the governing leaders of churches who control the day-to-day operations, including hiring and firing staff, disciplining church members, and controlling the various activities and programs. Congregants rarely have much to say regarding the operation of the church except when it comes to large expenditures or the hiring and firing of their pastors. Many Evangelical churches are patriarchal, meaning they believe that there is a God-ordained structure and order for the family. Husbands are to be the heads of their homes, and wives are to submit to their leadership. Couple pastoral authority with complementarian patriarchal authority, and what you end up with is a religious culture dominated and controlled by men; a religious culture that marginalizes women; a religious culture that promotes psychological and physical violence towards women and children; a religious culture that can be cultic in belief and practice.

I grew up in authoritarian Baptist churches, attended an authoritarian Baptist college, and was surrounded with people who modeled to me an authoritarian way of life. It should come as no surprise, then, that I was an authoritarian husband, father, and pastor. I did what I was taught to do, and I was in my 40s before I realized how much damage authoritarian thinking had done to my wife, my children, and me personally. I’ve spent the past decade trying to undo the damage I caused. I have learned that it’s hard, at times impossible, to unring a bell. All I can do now is model a better way of life, an inclusive, egalitarian way of living. This does not mean that I no longer have authoritarian tendencies. I do, and I suspect I will continue to battle with authoritarianism all the days of my life. The same can be said of any belief system in which a person is immersed for a number of years. It’s hard to break free, and almost impossible to clear one’s mind of all the damaging beliefs of the past. All I know to do is strive to be better today than I was yesterday.

Being married to an authoritarian pastor and growing up in an authoritarian home deeply affected my wife and children. While our lives have greatly changed since I deconverted, the scars of the past remain. All I can say to my wife and children is this: I’m sorry. That’s all that I can say to anyone who came under my influence as an Evangelical pastor. Since Polly and I left Christianity in 2008, we have embarked on rebuilding our lives according to the humanistic ideal. The goal is to treat each other as equals, mutually respecting the thoughts, beliefs, and spaces of the other. This hasn’t been easy. Both of us can, on occasion, revert to our former ways. I like being the boss, and Polly often likes not having to be responsible for making decisions. When you’ve spent thirty years of married life living a certain way, it’s hard to all of a sudden change course — hard, but not impossible.

My children grew up with a man who is not only their father, but also their pastor. They received a double dose of authoritarianism. As the head of the home and as their pastor I ruled their lives. Now, some readers might think that the Gerencser home was a bad place to live, when in fact we were quite happy. Remember, we were living out what had been modeled to us by others. We did what we had been taught to do and what we had seen others do with their families. Within the bubble, life was enjoyable and satisfying. While I cannot speak for Polly or my children, I can say, generally speaking, that life overall was good. My children are quite fond of telling stories about growing up in a pastor’s home. Most of their stories are amusing and fun, but some of them are dark and dreadful. With authoritarianism comes strict discipline, and as the primary disciplinarian in our home, I did not spare the rod. I took seriously the Biblical commands about child rearing and discipline. As I’ve mentioned before, I now see that such discipline was abusive. I now know that violence is never the answer, be it in the Middle East or in my home.

I frequently talk to my counselor about my authoritarian past. I find our discussions to be quite enlightening as we delve into the reasons why I was drawn to authoritarianism and why my wife and I still fall into authoritarian patterns post-Jesus. I naïvely thought that once we the deconverted, our lifestyle would naturally become egalitarian, with Polly and me equally sharing decision-making responsibilities. There have been times when I told my counselor that I was frustrated with Polly’s unwillingness to make decisions. He told me that demanding she make decisions was authoritarian, and that to truly be free and equal she must have the right to not make decisions. At the heart of authoritarianism is the telling of others what to do. If I want Polly (and my children) to truly be free, that I must allow them the space to determine for themselves how they will make decisions. This complicates things, of course, because there are countless decisions that must be made each day. In our authoritarian days, life was simple. I made the decisions, end of story. Now, I still make a lot of decisions, but I must be cognizant of the fact that I do not have the right to, without permission, make decisions that materially affect Polly.

My counselor suggested to me that perhaps part of Polly’s freedom is her desire for me to make certain decisions; that she doesn’t want to make certain decisions; and that me forcing her to make these decisions is authoritarian. Polly’s personality is very different from mine. I’ve never had a problem being a decision-maker. It should come as no surprise that most of the secular jobs I worked over the years were management level jobs. I like being the boss. Polly, on the other hand, prefers not to make decisions. Do I have the right to force her to behave as I do? Of course not. That said, when it comes to matters that materially only affect Polly, I refuse to make decisions for her. For example, Polly gets her hair cut every six to eight weeks. She will often say to me, I need to get my hair cut. In saying this, she is asking for my approval and permission. I usually tell her that I am not her father, and that she is free to get her hair cut when, where, and how she wants. I remind her that she does not need my permission to get her hair cut. This scenario is played out time and again in the ebb and flow of our home. Much like her husband, she remains a work in progress.

Polly has worked for a local manufacturing concern for twenty years. She is now a supervisor in her department, responsible for a small group of employees on second and third shift. The transformation of her into a competent, assertive, outspoken boss has been nothing short of amazing. My role in all of this has been that of a sounding board. Polly knows that I have a lot of managerial experience, so when she faces certain employee-related issues for the first time, she will ask me for advice. Polly has had to learn that being a boss means she is going to make decisions that upset people. I often remind her of my favorite Colin Powell quote, “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.” Being more assertive at work has spilled over into our marriage. Polly’s assertiveness at work has helped her decision-making at home. She is now much more of an active participant when important decisions need to be made. She often brings a different viewpoint to discussions, and this helps to temper and challenge my thinking. The biggest difference between our authoritarian past and now is that discussions begin with, “What do you think about _______?” Instead of, “We are going to do _________.”

We still have moments when our personalities clash. A good example of this is ordering food at a fast-food drive-thru. I know what I want before we get in line. Not Polly. She hems and haws over her order, increasing my blood pressure exponentially, especially when she orders the same thing she always orders. While I find such moments irritating — “make a damn decision, will ya?’ — once the food arrives all is well. After we finish eating, we do come to common agreement on one thing: why do we keep eating this shit?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Bible Says Obey Those Who Have the Rule Over You

hebrews-13-17

Have you ever wondered why many Evangelicals blindly believe and submit to whatever their pastors utter from the pulpit? During the last Presidential election, Donald Trump said “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Candidate Trump is now President Trump, so reasonable people can conclude that tens of millions of Americans, including eighty-two percent of white Evangelical voters, weren’t bothered by his committing-murder comment. Think of all the offal that has fallen from the man’s lips, yet millions of Republicans still think he is a Christian or, at the very least, a man God is using to restore Fundamentalist Christianity to its rightful throne.

These Trump voters are more often than not the same people who bow in reverence to self-appointed men of God; men who say they are called by God to preach and lead churches — yet their calling comes not from a deity, but from their own wants, needs, desires, and that of the churches they pastor. Skeptics wonder why these people don’t see though the con and think for themselves. All any of us needs to do is listen to what these preachers are saying to conclude that they are spouting harmful nonsense. Yet, otherwise intelligent people check their minds at the church door and give themselves over to men who will purportedly teach them truth and provide a blueprint for living. No need to think, just believe. No need to wrestle with questions and doubts, just have faith. Belief and faith, not just in the Christian God and the Protestant Bible, but also the words of pastors and evangelists who are given almost absolute power over congregants.

Evangelical churches are generally pastored by one man. This is especially true in Southern Baptist and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. Some churches have a plurality of pastors (elders), but I have found that despite this plurality, there is always one man who has the final say. Most Evangelical churches have a congregational form of government. This means that the church membership has the final say on how the church is run, including who their pastor will be. The thinking goes, then, that if congregants want a new pastor, all they have to do is vote him out of office. However, rarely is getting rid of a pastor so simple, especially in churches that aren’t part of a denomination. If a church is a member of a particular denomination, the congregants can, if need be, call on denominational leaders to help remove a pastor from office. In independent churches, the congregation has the final say; that is, if the church hasn’t ceded its control to a board of elders or, as is the case in many megachurches, an outside board of directors (much like the corporations such church are patterned after).

Churches have governing documents, one of which is a constitution. The constitution details who is a voting member and how/when votes can be called. If a church wants to dismiss its pastor, it must follow the process detailed in its constitution. Many constitutions state that removing a pastor requires a two-thirds or three-fourths vote of the membership. This high standard makes it hard for congregations to fire their pastor. Even worse, pastors — if they are at a particular church for a long time — will attract loyal church members who will oppose attempts to remove him. The longer a man pastors a church, the harder it is to get rid of him. Over time, he becomes the hub around which everything turns. The pastor is viewed as God’s mouthpiece;  a man called by God to pastor that particular church. Is it any surprise then, that long-tenured pastors tend to become authoritarians?

Baptist pastors, in particular, are fond of talking about pastoral authority — the power by which they control the church. Bruce, I thought Evangelicals were people of the Book; that the Bible was sole rule for faith and practice? It is, and the Bible does indeed grant pastors authoritarian control over their churches.

The Bible says:

And he [God] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11,12)

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. (Romans 13:1)

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. 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 13:7, 17)

I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth. (1 Corinthians 16:15, 16)

And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12,13)

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be ….One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Timothy 3:1,2,4,5)

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:17-19)

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; (1 Peter 5:1.2)

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

(And yes, I realize these verses can be interpreted many different ways. But this is my sermon, so I decide what these verses mean!)

These verses and others have been interpreted to mean that God-called pastors have rule over the churches they pastor. Church members are obligated to submit to their pastor’s authority. Not doing so is considered rebellion and could bring judgment from God or excommunication. Most often, rebellious congregants are shown the door and told to find a church that meet their “needs.” It is not uncommon to find Evangelical churches that have high membership churn rates. Members who become tired of eating McDonald’s quarter-pounders leave and hit the drive-thru at Wendy’s. And on and on it goes. I pastored people who had been members of numerous churches before they came to one of the churches I pastored. These church-hoppers rarely stay for long. Initially, they will find their new churches to be delightful, but given enough time, they will find faults with their pastors and move on to greener pastures. The one thing that church hoppers never do is consider that they might be the problem. They place blame on the pastor or the congregation, often couching their objections in theological verbiage, but more often than not, they are difficult people or they easily bore.

Most Evangelical churches are a mix of new and old members. The longer someone stays in the church, the more they become conditioned to their pastor’s preaching, teaching, and leadership. This conditioning allows pastors to gain authority over congregants that in any other setting would be considered cultic. When you are taught their entire lives that the man standing behind the pulpit is called by God to deliver divine messages to them, it should come as no surprise that, bit by bit, they surrender their will and critical thinking skills. In time, pastors amass great power and control, and once this happens these leaders can and do muddle the minds of their charges, rendering them powerless to resist.

Worse, many Evangelicals want to be told what to believe and how to live their day-to-day lives. They come to church on Sundays to be inspired and taught the ways of God. This is why, when Evangelicals are quizzed about their beliefs, more often than not they either can’t give an answer or they simply regurgitate the beliefs of their pastor. As a pastor, I was often asked, what does your church believe? I would respond, I don’t know what the church believes. This is what I believe, and it is these beliefs that are the foundation of my preaching and teaching. Most congregants are not going to spend significant time studying the Bible. This does not make them bad Christians. The truth is, pastors have the freedom and luxury to read and study the Bible. Church members have full-time jobs, families, and countless responsibilities that limit the amount time they can devote to theological learning. Thus, most Evangelicals have a theology they have borrowed from their pastors. They know what their pastor knows, and unfortunately many Evangelical pastors are poorly educated. When a man believes God speaks through him, why should he study? When he believes that God puts His words in the pastor’s mouth and all he has to do is speak them, why bother with the words of mere humans? And if members dare to think for themselves and challenge something their pastor has said, they can expect to reminded that Pastor So-and So has authority over what is taught and members are expected to believe as he does or leave.

Church aisles are littered with the bodies of those who dared to challenge the man of God’s authority. Their deaths are their own fault. Don’t they remember their pastor quoting 1 Chronicles 16:22:  Saying, Touch not mine anointed [Hebrew for pastor], and do my prophets [Hebrew for pastor] no harm? Surely, they have heard the Bible story about some children who mocked the prophet Elisha?  2 Kings 2:23, 24 says:

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.

Mess with the man of God, rebellious church members, and God might send bears to eat you alive, just like he did to the children who mocked Elisha. Simply put, mess with the pastor and he will have God fuck you up!

Is it any wonder that many people need therapy and counseling after extricating themselves from Evangelical churches? Those of us who spent most of our lives under the thumbs of authoritarian religious figures often spend years regaining a sense of self-worth. What’s worse for someone such as myself is that I not only was victimized by my pastors and teachers, I was also a victimizer. I taught and practiced what my pastors and professors taught me. I passed on to a new generation the dysfunction of my generation. The only good news in this sordid story, at least for me, is that I got off the crazy train and abandoned the damaging religious nonsense that controlled my mind for almost fifty years. Better late than never, I suppose, but I still lament the fact that I lovingly and sincerely caused untold harm to my family and the churches I pastored. By owning my past, I am in a better position to help people avoid a similar path. While I grudgingly and doubtfully admit that some religious expressions are less harmful than others, I can’t help but think that until the world reaches a place where it no longer has a need for deities, religion will continue to cause harm. This is especially true of Evangelical Christianity. It will be a good day when Fundamentalist Christianity draws its last breath. I will long be dead, but perhaps one of my grandchildren will have the privilege to hold a pillow over the Evangelical God’s face as it struggles to breathe. Good riddance, I say.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) Indoctrinates Children to Obey Church Leaders

religious pedophiles

What follows is a video put out by The Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), a “Christian religion whose primary purpose is to worship the Almighty God based on His teachings as taught by the Lord Jesus Christ and as recorded in the Bible. The Church of Christ is a church for every one who will heed the call of God and embrace its faith — regardless of his or her nationality, cultural background, social standing, economic status, and educational attainment.” (website)

Video Link

The sect’s executive minister is Eduardo V. Manalo. According to Wikipedia,The Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) is an ” international Christian denomination that originated in the Philippines.” The sect is now in 102 countries, including the United States, comprising over 5,000 congregations. Wikipedia states that Iglesia ni Cristo is the third largest religious sect in the Philippines, behind only Roman Catholicism and Islam. You can read more about  Iglesia ni Cristo’s extreme religious beliefs here. I say extreme, but not really.  Similar beliefs can be found in numerous American Evangelical churches. In fact, The Iglesia ni Cristo  can be traced back to nineteenth and twentieth century missionary work done by Evangelical missionaries to the Philippines.

If you care about children and how Fundamentalist religion affects them, I am sure you found this video to be quite troubling. These children, at a very early age, are taught to explicitly obey church leaders. A common cult-like practice, also found in sects like the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, indoctrinating children is a crucial component in the continued growth of Fundamentalist sects. The inquisitive minds of children must be destroyed and then reanimated with authoritarian beliefs. A failure to do this often results in church children, when they come of age, leaving the sect. This is why every Fundamentalist sect I know of targets children. Such sects are religious pedophiles, grooming children for a lifetime of submission and abuse.

Rebellion and How an Authoritarian God Deals With it

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Rebellion is a common word in the vocabulary of Evangelical Christian pastors, church leaders, husbands, and parents.

Here’s what the Bible says about God’s view of rebellion:

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. (1 Samuel 15:23)

Those who practiced witchcraft were to be put to death (Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:9-11), so it is clear that God considered rebellion a serious matter.

God commanded a harsh punishment for a rebellious son:

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them;Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you and all Israel shall hear, and fear. Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

The Old Testament is the written record of how a Holy God dealt with a rebellious people, Israel. Page after page details God’s judgments against his people and those who got in his way.

When we get to the New Testament, the word rebellion is not used. Does this mean that God has changed? Of course not. How is it possible for a perfect God to change?  Malachi 3:6 says:

For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.

The Bible says, speaking of Jesus:

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8)

It is clear that God is immutable. He doesn’t change. (though there are a few texts that seem to suggest otherwise)

The Evangelical Church is a sect that accepts both Testaments as authoritative. (especially those Old Testament verses about tithing) Granted, Evangelicals are quite contradictory in their interpretations of the Old Testament, picking and choosing what they want to believe, but they do say all sixty-six books of the Bible are authoritative.

The key word is AUTHORATATIVE.

Evangelicals take seriously the matter of rebellion because they believe that the Bible is an authoritative text and from that text they deduce an authority structure.

It goes something like this:

  • The Christian God is the supreme authority over everything. He is the sovereign over all. He is the creator. He is in complete and absolute control. Even with salvation, no one can be saved unless God permits them to be saved. (both Calvinists and Arminians believe God is the final arbiter when it comes to salvation)
  • The Christian God has established authority in the church. Under Jesus Christ, pastors (elders, bishops) are the head of the church. They have been called by God to teach, correct, lead, and direct the church. They are to initiate discipline when necessary to ensure the church is a pure, holy body. (though many churches have a pretty low standard for pure and holy)
  • The Christian God has established authority in the home. Again, under Jesus Christ, the husband is the head of the home and his wife is to submit to his authority. Children are to obey their parents and submit to their authority.
  • The Christian God has established authority in nations. All nations are to bow to the authority of the Christian God. Their laws should reflect God’s law. Better yet, theocracy, God rule, is the best form of government.

The Evangelical Christian believes God rules over all. There is no King but Jesus and no God but the Christian God.

The problem here is that Evangelical Christians are human. Contrary to all their talk about being saved and sanctified, Christians are pretty much like the rest of us. For all their praying and confessing sin, they live and talk just like everyone else. Simply put, like all of us, they do what they want to do.

And that is a big, big problem.

You see the God of the authoritative Bible demands obedience. God expects Christians to implicitly obey his commands. All of them. God will have none of this picking and choosing that American Christians love to do.

So everywhere you look you have Christians in some form of rebellion against God, the pastor, their parents, or their husband. No matter how much they pray, read the Bible, go to the altar, and promise to really obey God this time, they continue to lapse into sin and rebellion.

This is what Jesus told his followers in Matthew 5:48:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

It seems Jesus didn’t lower the standard. God expects and demands perfection. God will have none of this “I am not perfect just forgiven” cheap grace Christianity. Jesus expects his followers to walk in his steps. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they have been given everything they need pertaining to life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)

But, let me say again:

The problem here is that Evangelical Christians are human. Contrary to all their talk about being saved and sanctified, Christians are pretty much just like the rest of us. For all their praying and confessing sin they live and talk just like everyone else. Simply put, like all of us, they do what they want to do.

The difference between the atheist and the Evangelical Christian is guilt. The Christian lives in a constant cycle of living right, rebelling, feeling guilty, repenting, and back to living right. This cycle can go on numerous times a day. The atheist can feel guilty at times, but since they are not encumbered by a long list of laws, commands, rules, regulations, precepts, or standards, they are less likely to feel guilty. With no God hovering over them and no pastor preaching at them, the atheist is pretty much free to enjoy life.  The atheist tired to live by the maxim: don’t hurt other people, and when they fails they are likely to make restitution and ask for forgiveness from the person they hurt. No need for a God, Bible, church, or pastor. As a human, the atheist has all the faculties necessary to be a good person.

What makes it worse for the Christian is that they go to church on Sunday and their pastor reminds them, from the Bible of course, of how rebellious they are. He points out their sin and reminds them that God hates sin. He calls on them to repent. You would think that people would get tired of all this, but each week they dutifully return to church so their pastor can remind them about their sinfulness and need of repentance.

Children, especially teenagers, get this same treatment from their parents. When they don’t obey their parents they are chastised and reminded that God hates rebellion. But kids will be kids, as every parent knows, and in Christian homes it seems that children are either starting into rebellion or coming out of it.

Parents are commanded by God to beat the rebellion out of their children. God provides himself as a good role model to follow.  Hebrews 12:5-10 says:

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

The Bible records how God goes about chastising rebellious Christians. He maims them, makes them sick, kills their family, takes away their possessions, starves them, and, if necessary, kills them. God goes to great lengths to make sure a Christian seeks after the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11)

Here’s how God expects Evangelical Christian parents to respond to the rebellion of their children:

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. (Proverbs 23:13,14)

Let me tie this all together.

An authoritative text from an authoritarian God establishes authority structures for the church, family, and nations. Disobedience to authority is to be punished.

For those of us raised in this kind of Christianity (and all forms of Christianity have some of this, even liberal iterations of Christianity) we well know how this practically works out.The Bible, in the hands of God’s man, the pastor, is used to dominate and control people. Individuality and freedom is discouraged, and, in some cases, severely punished.

Pastors remind the church of pastoral authority. Parents remind children that they are to be obedient and threaten them with punishment if they don’t. Husbands remind their subservient wives that they are the head of the home and their word is f-i-n-a-l. Collectively, Christians warn government officials that Jesus is the Lord of Lords and King of Kings and God demands they submit to the authority of God, the Bible, and his people. (this is the essence of the theocracy movement in this country)

Some readers are likely weeping by now. Their mind goes back twenty or thirty years to a time when they were teenagers. Their parents considered them rebellious. Often their rebellion was things like listening to rock music, smoking, getting pregnant, talking back, having sex, or smoking marijuana.Their parents, needing to show them that they were in charge, sent them off to group homes to get their “rebellion” problem fixed. What really happened is that they were cruelly misused, abused, and debased. Years later, their lives still bear the marks of the Godly “rebellion” treatment they received.

It is hard not to see cultism in all of this. I am sure Bible-believing Christians, people of the book, will scream foul, but the marks of a cult are there for all to see if they dare but open their eyes. Millions of people attend churches that believe the things I have written about in this post. This is what Bible literalism gets you. How could it be otherwise?

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?