I always find it interesting when two people can have similar experiences yet come to wildly different conclusions about those experiences. Take me, Bruce Gerencser, and Mark Milioni, the president of Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Both of us attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. Trinity was pastored by Gene Milioni, Mark’s father. Ron Johnson was the church’s assistant pastor and Bruce Turner was the youth pastor. (Please see Dear Bruce Turner.)
I am five or six years older than Mark. He was a young boy when I was a teenager at Trinity. I attended Trinity from June of 1970 to May of 1974. Both Mark and I were exposed to the same preaching, the same theology, the same social practices. Yet, Mark’s view of his father’s church is very different from mine.
Earlier this year, Mark did an interview with the Recovering Fundamentalist Podcast. Mark stated:
I came from a Baptist church [that was] conservative to the hilt, but it was not legalistic. It was not militaristic. There was not regular preaching on dress code and on worship or on a strong pastoral demanding, authoritative, dictatorship type of leadership.
As I read this, I thought, “did we attend the same church?” To suggest that Trinity and its pastors weren’t legalistic is ludicrous, as any person (except Mark) who grew up in the church will attest. While there wasn’t “regular” preaching on a dress code or church standards, there certainly were, at times, sermons on these subjects. Long hair on men, short skirts on women were frequently mentioned from the pulpit, in Sunday school, and in youth group meetings. Teens were expected to dress a certain way. “Biblical” morality was outwardly enforced, though, as I learned years later, most church teenagers, except me, were fornicating. There was the facade of Baptist morality, and then there was what really went on behind closed doors.
Granted Pastor Milioni wasn’t an authoritarian like Jack Hyles, but he had authoritarian tendencies — a common character trait for IFB preachers. I had several run-ins with Mark’s father. I can tell you from personal experience that Pastor Milioni could be authoritarian. The same could be said for the other pastors. One pastor had a violent temper. I saw him beat his son on two occasions with a belt for failing to have good grades. These authoritarian tendencies were also expressed by some of the deacons and Sunday school teachers.
I have lots of good and bad experiences I could share from my three-plus years at Trinity Baptist. I am sure Mark does too, having spent his formative years as the son of Trinity’s pastor. I don’t think Mark is lying. I am, however, perplexed about how it is we have wildly different experiences. I wonder if Mark is trying to be honest, yet protective, whereas I have no need to protect the testimonies of others. Granted, our family experiences were very different, he the son of the pastor, me the son of a divorced couple. I would love to sit down with Mark and share a meal or a beer (if he is one of those enlightened IFB preachers) and talk about our shared experiences. Maybe we could find some common ground.
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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