In September of 1971 I began my ninth grade year at Central Junior High School in Findlay, Ohio. At home, my parents argued constantly, and seven months later, in April of 1972, they divorced. A few months after that, Mom married her first cousin and Dad married a 19-year-old who had a little girl.
Needless to say, life at home was anything but love, peace, and harmony. I hated my parents for getting divorced. I hated my Dad for marrying a girl who was only four years older than I.
I stayed away from home as much as I could. Dad was busy with his “new” family, so my siblings and I were left to our own devices. I spent a lot of time at the local YMCA. I didn’t have the money for a membership, so I learned the fine art of sneaking into the Y. The Y became my home away from home.
Dad started G and B Train Shop with Gary Zissler, a fellow deacon at the church. The store mainly sold Lionel, American Flyer, and HO trains. I worked at the store in the evenings. Dad paid me twenty-five cents an hour minus the cost of the pop I drank. Since we rarely had pop at home, I became a pop-a-holic while at the train shop.
Our family attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Trinity was a large Independent Baptist Church pastored by Gene Milioni. Ron Johnson was the assistant pastor and Bruce Turner was the youth pastor.
After Pastor Milioni married my Dad and his second wife, my Dad and my siblings stopped going to church. I, however, immersed myself in the church, attending church every time the doors were opened.
The church became my family. Most of my close friends attended Trinity and the church provided me with everything I found lacking in my home life. Even though I am now an atheist, I will forever be grateful for the support and social connection the church provided for me.
In the fall of 1972, my tenth grade year at Findlay High School, Al Lacy held a revival at Trinity Baptist Church. One night, I came under great conviction and I went down to the altar, confessed my sins, and asked Jesus to save me. A week later I was baptized, and not to long after that I publicly confessed before the church that I believed God was calling me into the ministry. I was fifteen.
My life changed dramatically after I got saved. I started carrying my Bible to school and I witnessed to my non-Christian friends. My non-Christian friends, those I played sports with, thought I had lost my mind, and some of my Christian friends did too.
I have always been an all-in kind of person. I don’t do half-way, so when it came to being a Christian I was 100% committed to Jesus. I took seriously what I heard the pastors preach. In my young mind, I saw the pastors as speaking for God. After all, everything they preached about came straight out of the Bible, God’s inspired, inerrant Word.
Trinity was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. The pastors preached against rock music, premarital sex, mixed swimming, going to movies, short skirts and pants on women, and long hair on men. Remember, it was the early 1970s and mini-skirts and maxi-dresses were popular and men wore their hair long. The pastors at Trinity were anti-counterculture, believing the love and peace generation was destroying America.
Like a good Baptist boy, I tried to follow the rules to the letter. God (or the pastor) said it, I believed it, and that settled it for me. One sin the pastors were against was any kind of dancing. Not just some types of dancing, they were against ALL dancing.
A few years ago, I wrote about how the no-dancing rule affected me:
I vividly remember ninth grade year at Central Jr High. The Phys Ed teacher decided to teach square dancing. I was all for learning to square dance. This would be my only opportunity to touch the cheerleaders. Unfortunately, Pastor Milioni put an end to my carnal desires. He came to school and made a fuss about the square dancing class. Next thing I know, I am being forced to sit with the fags (talking as we did in the 1970’s, I do not use such language today) who refused to take Phys Ed. This was a punishment worse than death. (Pastor Milioni also came to my school to complain about the choir singing Jesus Christ Superstar. I had to quit choir)
The school held regular dances, social events that everyone attended, well everyone but this good Baptist boy. I went through a period of time where I was really upset about all the rules and restrictions, so I would stay overnight with a non-Christian friend and I would go to the dances with him. I did this numerous times. I don’t know if my parents ever caught on. If they did, they never said a word.
I came through the 1970s with my Baptisthood intact. I never smoked cigarettes, drank, or smoked marijuana. I didn’t listen to rock music, kept my hair cut short, and I successfully made it through high school as a virgin. Not the I didn’t want to have sex, I did, but I was afraid of what might happen if I did and I didn’t think any of the church girls I dated were “willing.” I found out a few years ago, after talking to some of the girls I went to church with, that they were more “willing” than this naïve Baptist boy thought they were.
The first time I danced was at the wedding of one of my children. This was the first time for my wife too. My daughters-in-law cajoled us into dancing. Oh, what a sight we were. We may have been years away from our fundamentalist youth, but it was quite evident that we didn’t know anything about dancing.
How about you? If you were raised a fundamentalist and attended a public school, how did that affect your ability to be a normal student? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.
For some insight into this kind of thinking, here’s an excerpt from an article titled All Dancing is Dirty,written by David Stewart, an IFB zealot:
One of the most disgusting and sinful movies ever produced is “Dirty Dancing.” Dirty Dancing (1987) starred Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, and Jerry Orbach. The great evangelist, Billy Sunday, preached uncompromisingly against dancing—would to God that more preachers had the guts to do so today. The Apostle Paul cautions us in 1st Corinthians 7:1 concerning touching the opposite sex (i.e., a person to whom we are not married). Adultery begins with a mere “touch.”
No man should ever touch a woman to whom he is not married. This Scripture also applies to women. If it’s NOT good for a man to touch a woman to whom he is not married, then it is certainly not good for a woman to allow a man to touch her either (unless it’s her husband)…
… In night clubs all across America, dancing is a prelude to fornication, homosexuality, and abortion. People place their hands all over each other, violating God’s warnings against lust, lasciviousness, and unholy thoughts. People have become so hardened nowadays that morality is a joke to them (clearly evidenced by the godless late night shows on hellivision). The Word of God states that “Fools make a mock at sin…” (Proverb 14:9).
Just as the Hawaiians still blame and hates Christianity today for taking away their dirty-dancing centuries ago, so do many people around the world (as witnessed in the preceding quote from an occultist)…
…Dancing is just as sinful at high school proms, ballrooms, town gatherings, etc. Dancing and immodest dress are synonymous. Dancing leads to lasciviousness (i.e., immoral sexual desire). The ONLY place where dancing is acceptable is between a husband and wife in the privacy of their own home, and without observation by others. America has deteriorated into a sexually perverted nation, where sensual and suggestive dancing is commonplace. As a result, millions of unwanted babies continue to be murdered every year through abortion. This is a great evil in America! We have earned the title from Muslims of being THE GREAT SATAN!
Think about it … the average person today can’t help but laugh at the thought that dancing is a sin; yet millions of unplanned pregnancies continue to be terminated through murderous abortions. Is it surprising that a nation that sees no harm in murdering children would also see no harm in premarital sex, petting, dancing, pornography, stealing, divorcing, and filthy conversation? I think not…
…All dancing is of the Devil, whether it be the Tango, the Foxtrot, the Rumba, the Swing, et cetera. It’s because dancing is inherently fleshly. Some dancing schools even advertise “Touch Dancing.” Women who dance, immodestly expose their bodies, luring lustful men to sinfully gaze upon them. According to Jesus’ Words in Matthew 5:28, lust is sinful … But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Dancing has always been dirty and sinful…
…Even bally [ballet] dancing is sinful, VERY SINFUL, because the women dance in their underwear, giving explicit views of their body. Those women who dance while skating are filthy. It is offensive to God. Bally Dancing is sexually arousing and; therefore, extremely sinful. The same people who scoff at my preaching are the same people who have no problem with abortion, divorce, nor fornication…
…The bottom line is that dancing is a worldly entertainment, heathen. Dancing is a very physically activity, which basically gives men a dirty show to watch, and in many cases, touch. The Hawaiian hula is the filthiest dance on earth. I can understand why the Christian missionaries tried to mentor the natives away from it. People today criticize the early missionaries like they were bad people, and perhaps some of them were; but they were justified in trying to change the Hawaiian culture from one of paganism and sexual immorality to one of grace, chastity, belief in Jesus Christ, and decency. Hawaii is a very sinful place today, and the hula is as filthy as ever…
…No normal man can watch a women jumping around in tights without getting aroused. As Christians, we must rise above the filth and immorality of this sinful world. I’ve known people who were actively involved in some sort of dancing. In every case, they were worldly–going to gambling casinos, homosexual-friendly, drinking beer, attending nightclubs, indulging in sexual sins, running from God. I’ve never met one soulwinner who was a dancer. I’ve never met a dedicated, Christ-honoring, sin-hating Christian who went dancing. The unsaved world loves dancing, because it is sexually suggestive and filthy. Jesus didn’t dance…
The thinking demonstrated in Stewart’s article was what was behind the taboos at the churches I attended as a youth. Needless to say, years of this kind of abuse plays havoc with a persons ability to live normally.
The black framed glasses? Welfare glasses. As soon as I saved up enough money to buy wire-rimmed glasses, I ditched the glasses.
Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I have spent a good bit of my life moving, either from town to town or house to house. In 1971 my Dad moved us from Deshler, Ohio to Findlay, Ohio. I lived in Findlay from 1970-1974. I say “I lived”, because my parents divorced in 1972 and my Dad moved us to Tucson, Arizona in the early spring of 1973. I finished my tenth grade year at Rincon High School in Tucson, and once school was out I moved back to Findlay to live with several families in the church I attended. For a few months in the fall of 1973 I attended Riverdale High School in Mount Blanchard, Ohio, and then I transferred back to Findlay High School and finished out eleventh grade.
Got all that? Here’s my point in giving you a Bruce Gerencser geography lesson. From 1970-72, eighth and ninth grade, I attended Central Junior High School (which has since been torn down) in Findlay. Two school years, my longest consecutive years at one school without a move to a new school district. (though we did live in 3 different houses during this time), when I actually had time to make a few friends.
While I am now a 6 foot, 360 pound man, during the two years I spent at Central Junior High, I was 5 foot 2 inches, and weighed a little over 100 pounds. I was a late bloomer, not reaching my current height until the end of eleventh grade. Needless to say, I was quite conscious of my diminutive size.
Even though I was slight of build, I played city league baseball and basketball. I am left-handed, and being left-handed gave me a decided advantage when it came to playing baseball and basketball. Even though I loved playing sports, gym class at Central Junior High was one of my least favorite classes.
As I mentioned above, I wasn’t very big and puberty came quite slowly for me. I enjoyed playing the various sports in gym class, but when games were over, came the dreaded mandatory shower. Here I was, a small boy with little underarm or pubic hair, among, what seemed at the time, giants. When I took off my clothes and glanced at other boys in the class, it was quite evident to everyone that I was in every way on the small side. Needless to say, I became quite self-conscious about my body.
The gym teacher was also a coach. He was a rough-and-tumble, crude man, typical of many of the coaches I played for. One day, he walked into the shower room where all of us were showering and he surveyed the mass of the nakedness before him and said, Well, I can tell who is having sex and who isn’t. His inference was clear; those with bigger penises and testicles were the ones having sex. Since I was one of the smallest boys in the class – and I mean small in every way – I was quite embarrassed. I am sure some of the boys thought, and we know who ISN’T having sex.
I was also the only redhead in the class. At the time, I had bright, flaming orange hair that definitely made me stand out. My gym teacher called me Carrot. This only added to my self-consciousness.
One week for gym class, we square danced. The male and female gym classes were joined together for dance lessons. I thought, this will be my chance to touch one of the cheerleaders. Typical, self-conscious boy’s dream, right? Well, my dream became a nightmare because my pastor, Gene Milioni, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, came to the school and raised a ruckus about the dancing. As a result, my parents would not allow me to square dance. Later in the year, Pastor Milioni would complain about the choir singing Jesus Christ Superstar. I was in the choir, and as a result of his complaint my parents wouldn’t allow me to sing.
I still remember to this day sitting at the top of the gym bleachers watching my classmates square dance. Next to me were two boys who were believed to be homosexuals. The proof of their homosexuality? They refused to take a shower at the end of gym class. Remember, it was the 70s… So there I was with the two weirdo’s who wouldn’t take a shower.
While I eventually grew up to be a physically fit 6-foot man, endowed well enough to father six children, I have been self-conscious about my body my entire life. Once free of junior high gym class, I never took another communal shower. When it comes to using the bathroom, I always try to use a stall. Just the thought of using a urinal is enough to cramp the flow. If I have to use a urinal, I make sure no one is nearby. And if a man uses the urinal next to me? It’s like a vise grip on my urethra. It ain’t gonna happen. I have often wondered if my experiences in junior high gym class play a part in my inability to urinate when someone is standing next to me.
I do know that my religious training resulted in an unhealthy view of the human body and sex. The fundamentalist churches of my youth spent significant time preaching against short skirts, pants on women, long hair on men, and premarital sex. Even masturbation was considered a sin. The body, the flesh was sinful and in need of salvation.
How about you? Were you body self-conscious in school? How did your religious upbringing affect how you viewed your body. Please share your story in the comments section.