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Tag: Church Standards

The Stupid and Silly Things Evangelicals Bicker and Fight Over

ifb preacher phil kidd
IFB Preacher Phil Kidd

I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement in the 1960s and 1970s. IFB churches are known for fighting amongst themselves, often over trivial matters. These internecine wars are fueled by pastors who are certain their beliefs and practices are not only right but also straight from the Bible — God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. Prooftexts abound. Every point of contention is justified by one or more King James Bible verses. No issue is insignificant. If it’s in the Bible, IFB preachers say, how dare we trivialize God’s Word! Thus, churches split, pastors resign, and fellowship groups dissolve over issues trivial and insignificant.

I’ve seen or heard of open warfare between followers of the Prince of “Peace” over things such as:

  • Long hair on men
  • Short hair on women
  • Pants on women
  • Wearing blue jeans
  • Wearing jewelry
  • Wearing wire-rimmed glasses
  • Wearing shorts
  • Wearing culottes (Baptist shorts)
  • Playing cards
  • Going to movies
  • Eating at places that sold alcohol
  • Beard and mustaches (on men) 🙂
  • Bible translations
  • Rock music
  • Contemporary Christian music (CCM)
  • Mixed swimming
  • Physical contact between unmarried teens, young adults
  • Sending your child to a secular college
  • Sending your child to the wrong Christian college

These things are just a taste of the conflicts that go on in IFB churches. Sometimes, church members leave and go to another church over points of disagreement. Other times, they stay and work behind the scenes to foment disunity. After all, God cares about these things; shouldn’t they? Or so the thinking goes, anyway. More than a few churches have split over such issues.

From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. This church was a delight to pastor, but we did have conflict one time over a monumental, life-changing matter: using contemporary Christian music in our worship services. 🙂

church split

I started the church as a traditional Independent Baptist church. We sang hymns and choruses. I decided to introduce contemporary Christian music into our worship services using what is called blended worship — a mix of hymns, choruses, and contemporary music. Our three oldest children started taking music lessons. Our oldest played the bass, and the other two played electric/acoustic guitars. We bought an expensive electronic keyboard — a Clavinova. A woman in our church, classically trained, played the piano and led worship, and Polly and another woman sang too. I was quite proud of what we had put together. The music was phenomenal — relevant and inspiring. Every week we sang a mix of classic Baptist hymns, contemporary music, and choruses. Everyone loved the music except for three families, aged 50s to 70s. They demanded change, I said no, and out the door they went, never to be heard from again. (This story is a bit more complicated than this, but I will leave its telling to another day.)

I pastored seven churches over the course of twenty-five years. In every church, I had people get upset, raise a ruckus, and leave. The issues that upset them were almost always trivial in nature, often little more than differences of opinion over how to interpret this or that verse or how to properly live out the teachings of the Bible. And sometimes I was the problem. I remember one dear couple, Terry and Wendy Broceus, leaving the church because I insisted Wendy only wear dresses/skirts. Terry drove one of the church buses and Wendy sang specials during worship services. They were (and still are) devoted followers of Jesus. They regularly attended church, tithed, and participated in various church ministries. Yet, because I had a strict code of conduct for ministry participants, I expected them to play by the rules. So, the Broceuses left. My unwillingness to bend on the pants issue cost the church a good family. Several years ago, I apologized to Wendy for what happened. (Please see A Letter to a Former Parishioner: Dear Wendy.) Such skirmishes and conflicts were/are common in IFB churches. At pastor’s fellowships, preachers would get together and share war stories, gossip, and complain about contrarian church members. Rare was a preacher who didn’t have one or more stories to share. Quite frankly, without conflict, most IFB preachers wouldn’t know what to do.

Other Evangelical sects have similar problems too. Take the recent skirmish over whether men should paint their fingernails. Worship singer Corey Asbury recently said that he didn’t have a problem with men painting their nails. He called opposition to the practice a “social construct” that needs to change:

That is cultural, it has zero to do with the Bible, Jesus, Christianity, moral code at all in general.

Asbury’s pro-colored fingernails stance caused several Evangelicals to get their panties in a twist. Marcus Rogers said that Asbury was promoting something that could lead people astray:

Say it’s just a culture thing that men can’t wear lipstick, you know, or men can wear hoop earrings, men can wear dresses and things like that. You go down that rabbit hole and things don’t stop.

I am a sixty-five-year-old curmudgeon. I don’t get the nail painting thing. One of my sons occasionally paints his nails. My youngest daughter will paint my youngest grandsons’ nails now and again. This practice is quite foreign to my boomer brain, but that’s okay. I don’t have to “get” it. I might laugh, sigh, and go “hmm,” when I see certain things, but I’m not going to get in a fight with people over how they dress, cut their hair, or paint their fingernails. To put it bluntly, who gives a shit? Think for a moment about all the serious issues facing the human race, yet Evangelicals spend time fussing and fighting over non-important, trivial matters. Want to paint your nails? Go ahead. Don’t want to? That’s fine too. This approach could be applied to 99% of the things Evangelicals fight over. Each to their own. Of course, religious Fundamentalism demands conformity. They fight because EVERY issue matters. Diversity of thought is never welcome. One IFB evangelist said, “fellowship is a bunch of people in a boat rowing in the same direction.” God forbid if a church member thinks differently, dresses differently, or paints his or her nails red, white, and blue. Does anyone really believe that when they stand before God (I’m speaking as an Evangelical) that he is going to care about what color they painted their nails? “Only clear coat was approved by Me! You shall be banished to a cheap cabin on Trump Drive for wearing turquoise polish!” Will “This Was Your Life” Judgment Day really be all about the trivial, superficiality of life? I suspect that most of the things IFB preachers spent an inordinate amount of time preaching about will not even be on God’s radar on Judgment Day. If the Bible is true, as Evangelicals say it is, we do know what will actually be on God’s mind when they stand before him:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:  naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.  Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

As an atheist, I don’t think the Bible is true. However, I do support caring for the least of these; those who are sick, hungry, and dying. Jesus and I seem to agree on this matter. 🙂 Haha — an atheist taking the Word of God more seriously than Evangelicals. What’s up with that? 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Horny IFB Men Report “Immodestly” Dressed Women to Their Pastor

modest clothing

Tom Brennan pastors Bible Baptist Church in Dubuque, Iowa. Bible Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. Recently, Brennan wrote a blog post titled Appearance Matters:

First, it is evident in America that we have a declining Christianity paired with a growing paganism. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind (Mark 5.15). When a person individually or a society corporately is operating under the affect [sic] of the devil or the affect [sic] of Christ it is evident in their appearance. What do we find in America today? Undeniably, we find a growing breakdown of any public sense of modesty. Yoga pants, which leave nothing to imagination, rule. Activists increasingly advocate for the right for women to be topless. Local governments routinely look the other way as pride parades violate public decency laws, and no one breathes a word of opposition. And I could go on and on here.

Damn those yoga pants. It seems Brennan is saying that a sure sign of increasing American paganism is women wearing yoga pants and, I assume, leggings. Brennan is using “paganism,” as many IFB preachers do, as a catch-all for “unbelief.” Brennan knows the United States is becoming increasingly secular, with the fastest-growing religious demographic being the “nones” — those who are atheists, agnostics, or indifferent towards religion. In Brennan’s mind, how women, in particular, dress reveals how far or how close our society is to the one true God of the Bible. IFB preachers have been warring against female “immodesty since the late 1960s and 1970s. Back then, it was miniskirts that were the problem. Now, according to Brennan, the biggest problem in our culture is women wearing yoga pants and leggings. In Brennan’s mind, we are only a hop, skip, and jump away from women walking down our streets topless.

Nothing to see here, right? IFB preachers have been pontificating about women’s clothing for decades. I wouldn’t have given Brennan’s post nary a thought if it hadn’t been for what he said next:

Believe it or not, this is a church issue. I have pastored twenty five years. Most of you reading this have no idea how often I have had a man come to me struggling with the way some sister in Christ dresses, even in a conservative church like ours. Which means even more have a problem but will not actually say anything to me about it.

Brennan preaches about “modesty” and maintaining proper attire. He is, after all, an IFB preacher. It’s what they do. What I find sadly interesting is that Brennan has horny male church members who come to him and tattle on church women who are dressed “immodestly.” What kind of church culture encourages this kind of behavior?

“Struggling” is a euphemism for getting a boner or having lustful thoughts when viewing a sister in the Lord who has a skirt above her knees, wears pants that are too tight, or wears a blouse or top that is revealing. These women aren’t strolling down the church aisles on Sunday as a hooker would on a city street on Saturday night, seductively dressed, hoping to catch men’s attention. Yet, because they show too much leg or cleavage or accentuate their feminine shape, they are viewed as seductresses out to lead poor, hapless, weak, pathetic IFB men into sexual sin — either literally, as in the case of adultery, fornication, and masturbation, or psychologically, as in have “lustful” thoughts and immoral desires.

Imagine the discussions between Pastor Brennan and an aroused/offended/outraged male church member:

Preacher, did you Sister Betty today? I can see her cleavage! Brother, all I can think about is motorboating. I want to keep my mind and heart stayed upon Jesus, but Sister Betty is causing me to have unholy, impure thoughts. Make her stop, Daddy, err, I mean Preacher.

Pastor, Sister Maybelle is showing way too much leg. Her skirt is two inches above her knee and it’s so tight I can see that she’s wearing an IFB-approved thong! What should I do? I can’t possibly stay focused on Jesus when all I can think about is Maybelle’s sexy legs and ass. Sorry, pastor, I mean butt.

Preacher, you need to do something about Sister Jezebel. Her tops are too tight, too revealing. My God, she even wears pants to church, revealing the form of her hot, sexy — make it stop — body. Me and Deacon Bob were talking and both of us think that you need to tell Sister Jezebel to dress modestly.

Pastor, have you seen how the church’s teen girls are dressing? They are dressing just like public school girls! I’ve had several church boys come to me complaining about how these girls are dressing; how their “immodesty” is causing them to have lustful thoughts. Little Billy, you know Deacon Bob’s son, came to me and said that all he can think about during church is sex. He’s NOT even listening to your sermons! You need to do something about this before church teens start having sex with each other.

Brennan, of course, is part of the problem. His preaching has facilitated a culture where women are demeaned for how they dress — cuz it’s in the Bible — and men believe they have little to no control over their sexuality. Again, standard IFB fare. Brennan is part of a religious sect that is stridently anti-culture. Try as he might, modern culture still seeps into his church. Several weeks ago, I watched a Youtube video of the Sunday service at Polly’s mom’s IFB church. I was shocked to see several women in the choir/church wearing leggings underneath their dresses. One woman was even wearing tennis shoes. OMG, sure signs of liberalism, moral decay, and the second coming of Hey-Zeus. Try as IFB preachers might, they can’t stop their churches from changing with the times. It is often said, that IFB churches are twenty years behind culturally. Take the church I mentioned above. Forty years ago, men were prohibited from having any facial hair. Today, numerous men have mustaches and beards, including the pastor. Some men even have bald heads, a sure sign years ago that they were, according to their pastor, nazis, white supremacists, or gay. Brennan is fighting a battle that neither he nor Jesus can win.

The solution to Brennan’s problem is quite simple: tell church men to grow up; tell them to embrace and own their sexuality; tell them to mind their own fucking business. Remember, this is not about women strolling down the center church aisle on Sundays in string bikinis. Most of us would agree that doing so would be inappropriate, even though it would be quite entertaining (and much better than the sermon). We’re not talking about scantily clad women. These men are outraged over women who refuse to obey the church’s archaic, misogynistic dress standard; women who dare to show a bit (or a lot) of cleavage or leg; women who feel comfortable in their own skin.

Yoga pants and leggings are not the problem. My wife wears leggings, typically with a long top or short dress that covers her ass. She also owns a pair of yoga pants. I think Polly looks nice (and attractive) when she wears leggings. Not that what I think matters. Her body, her choice, end of discussion. I have certain types and styles of clothing I like to wear. Why should it be any different for my wife? I doubt Brennan has women coming to him, complaining about men who are wearing tight pants or that they can “see” their junk. Why is that?

Many of you were raised in IFB churches. How differently were women treated from men? Did your pastor ever preach about men’s clothing? Please share your stories in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Troubling Aspects of the Ex-IFB Movement

deer
Photo by Charles Lamb on Unsplash

In the mid-2000s, my wife and I drove to Pontiac, Michigan to have lunch with a couple we attended college with at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. We hadn’t talked to each other in almost twenty years. We had a delightful time, but it became clear to me that we were living in very different religious spheres. (Our renewed friendship ended after I became an atheist in 2008.)

By the mid-2000s, my theology had moved from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) to generic Evangelical to Emerging/Emergent church. A few years later, I would deconvert and become an atheist. Our friends had moved leftward from the IFB theology and practice of their college years to garden variety Evangelicalism. In their eyes, they were free of the legalism and extremism of the IFB church movement.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon several websites and podcasts dedicated to helping people free themselves from IFB legalism. I call this the ex-IFB movement. I listened to several podcasts, coming away with troubling thoughts about their objective and goal: freeing people from IFB legalism and extremism while remaining Fundamentalists.

There’s no question about whether the IFB church movement is legalistic and extremist. It is. Any move away from IFB beliefs and practices is a good one. IFB churches and pastors have caused incalculable harm, both psychologically and physically. That said, many of the people fleeing the IFB church movement for kinder, gentler sects and churches are, in fact, still Fundamentalists. One ex-IFB preacher said that many people have been bloodied by IFB churches and pastors. He compared them to a wounded deer running in the woods. According to this Baptist preacher, wounded believers run away from the churches and pastors who have bloodied them, but often keep on running, away from Jesus. The solution, according to him, was for these bloodied Christians to run to Jesus, the man who shed his blood for their sins. I found his sermon (and the church service) to be quite Fundamentalist.

I have long argued that Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist; that Evangelicalism consists of two Fundamentalist components: social and theological Fundamentalism. I talk about this fact more thoroughly in a post titled Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? If you are not familiar with my thinking on this subject, please read the aforementioned post.

Evangelicals (of which the IFB church movement is a subset) have core theological beliefs. To be an Evangelical, you MUST believe these things. While there is theological diversity within Evangelicalism, when it comes to foundational beliefs, Evangelicals pretty much believe the same things. Take inerrancy. All Evangelicals believe the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. What, exactly, these words mean varies among Evangelical sects, churches, colleges, and pastors. Ask a hundred Evangelicals if they believe the Bible they carry to church on Sunday is without error, the overwhelming majority of them will say, Bless God, Yes!

It is social Fundamentalism that often causes people to leave IFB churches for friendlier confines. These disaffected Fundamentalists don’t like all the rules (church standards) so they seek out churches and colleges where social standards are relaxed. What’s troubling is the fact that such people often just trade one form of Fundamentalism for another. Their former churches had lots of rules. Their new churches? Fewer rules, but every bit as legalistic. One can’t be a Bible literalist and an inerrantist without having Fundamentalist beliefs — both theologically and socially.

Those leaving the IFB church movement are seeking out churches where they would have more personal freedoms. I understand their motivations, however, when quizzed about their “freedoms,” they reveal that they still have Fundamentalist tendencies. They may want to drink alcohol, smoke cigars, go to movies, wear pants (women), cuss, and watch R-rated TV programs. However, when asked about abortion, LGBTQ rights, Transgender people, same-sex marriage, premarital and extramarital sex, and a host of other personal freedoms, you quickly find out that they still have narrow Fundamentalist beliefs. (And let’s not forget that more than 80% of white voting Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. I suspect this percentage is even higher among IFB adherents.)

Religion is inherently legalistic. If you want to be part of a Christian church, there will be rules of some sort. Any time humans congregate together or form tribes (even atheists), written and unwritten rules govern the behavior of participants. Even families have social rules family members are expected to adhere to when the family gathers together. To return to the preacher’s wounded deer analogy, wounded, bloodied IFB church members should exit their churches as fast as they possibly can. Run! And keep running until your former IFB church and its pastors are distant in the rearview mirror. However, instead of running to another Evangelical church, take a deep breath and survey the religious landscape. You have been conditioned to view liberal and progressive Christian churches as evil or apostate. They are not. You might find such churches are a breath of fresh air, places free of most (not all) of the legalism found in IFB and Evangelical churches. Better yet, you might ponder whether religion itself is the problem. Maybe atheism or agnosticism is the solution. Maybe attending a Unitarian-Universalist church might give you the sense of community you are seeking. Don’t settle for a less intrusive brand of Fundamentalism.

The wounded deer runs through the woods, hoping to avoid hunters, be they IFB preachers or ex-IFB men of God. The deer recognizes that guns are guns regardless of who is shooting them. To reach a place where he or she can heal, the deer must find a place deep in the woods inaccessible to hunters; a place where healing can take place without sermons, Bible verses, and religious dogma. Ex-IFB preachers still want to mount your head on the wall or put you in a reserve where their brand of Fundamentalism controls your life. Sure, living in a deer reserve is better than being meat in an IFB preacher’s freezer, but living out your days in a fenced-in reserve is a poor substitute for running free in the fields and woods.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

IFB Standards for Staff and Church Workers

ifb

Many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches have what are commonly called staff or worker standards. These rules strictly regulate what church staff and church workers wear, how they look, and how they behave. Some churches even require staff members and workers to sign their names to these rules, thus signifying an agreement between them and the church. Not abiding by these rules usually results in loss of employment or loss of ministry opportunities. All too often the offender is labeled rebellious or a backslider and run out of the church.

In the fall of 1979, I resigned from Montpelier Baptist Church in rural northwest Ohio and moved to the central Ohio community of Newark with my wife and newborn child. Polly’s maternal uncle, the late James (Jim) Dennis, pastored the Newark Baptist Temple — a hardcore IFB institution. Polly’s father, Lee, was the church’s assistant pastor. We planned to join the Baptist Temple and serve the Lord there while waiting on God to direct us to our next ministry opportunity. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.)

The church needed someone to oversee its bus ministry (unpaid). I thought, at the time, that doing this would be a perfect opportunity to put my Bible college training and skills to work. Instead, Pastor Dennis told me that he couldn’t give the position to me because it would like he was playing favorites with family. Later behavior would suggest that his real problem was with me personally. Numerous other family members would work for the Baptist Temple, just not Bruce Gerencser. This initial bit of conflict between us led to four decades of what can best be described as an adversarial relationship. I suspect that the root of the problem traces back to the fact that Pastor Dennis did not want Polly to marry me, and neither did Jim’s wife nor Polly’s mother. Yet, here we are, 42 years later.

Granted, I was a contrarian, not afraid to speak my mind. This put me in the doghouse more than a few times. Let me give you a couple of examples related to church staff and church worker standards. I taught Sunday School, drove a bus on Sunday, and helped do mechanical work on the busses during the week. Polly worked in the nursery, sang in the choir, and worked for the church’s non-licensed daycare. She later taught one year of third grade for the church’s non-accredited school, Licking County Christian Academy. At the time, I was a general manager for Arthur Treacher’s in Reynoldsburg, and later part of a new store management team that opened stores for Long John Silver’s in Zanesville, Heath, and Westerville

As workers at the Baptist Temple, we were required annually to read and sign the church’s standards. Polly quickly signed, but I refused to do so. I thought then, and still do, that it was manipulative (and stupid) to demand people sign the standards; that the only person I was accountable to was God. My “rebellion,” of course, caused quite a stir in the church. “Poor Polly,” people thought. “Bruce needs to get right with God!” The real issue wasn’t my “heart,” as much as it was my refusal to play by Pastor Dennis’ rules.

Pastor Dennis’ church standard regulated everything from length of hair, facial hair, what women and men could wear clothing-wise, and what entertainments people could participate in. The spouses and children of staff and church workers were expected to obey these rules too.

Refusing to sign caused a huge rift between Pastor Dennis and me, one that never healed. Because I refused to sign, I was removed as a Sunday School teacher. Ironically, I was still allowed to drive busses and repair them during the week. Nothing changed for Polly. I suspect this was due to the fact that Polly was so quiet and passive, and I was so outgoing and outspoken, that people saw me as Polly’s overlord Polly as a wife who dutifully followed her husband’s edicts. To this day, some family members refuse to see that Polly has come into her own; that the only “boss” in her life is herself. Some ill-informed Evangelical family and friends think that Polly is an unbeliever only because I am; that once I die, she will come running back to Jesus and the IFB church movement. Boy, are they in for a big surprise.

During our time in Newark, I played recreational basketball at least three times a week. During the winter, I would play basketball at the YMCA or join other church men for games at local school gymnasiums. During the summer, I would, after work, join my fellow manager, Neal Ball, at local playgrounds for pick-up basketball games (I also played softball). One day, I drove over to the Baptist Temple to pick Polly up from work. She was working for the church’s daycare, Temple Tots, at the time. I was wearing gym shorts — remember the short shorts of that era — a ratty tee-shirt, white socks, and Converse tennis shoes. As I walked into the church building, Pastor Dennis saw me. Like a bull charging a red cape, Jim came towards me, letting me know that I couldn’t enter the building dressed as I was. He was livid, and so was I. How dare he respond to me like this. I was just there to pick up my wife. He stomped off, as did I. He later let Polly know that I was not allowed to enter the building again unless I was dressed properly.

One night, we were at Polly’s parents’ home when Pastor Dennis stopped over for some reason. Polly’s dad was still the church’s assistant pastor, though they had cut his pay and forced him to work a factory job to make ends meet. (The Baptist Temple was notorious for paying poor wages, including paying married women less than men.) Polly’s sister was living at home at the time. She worked for a nearby nursing home. Kathy, dressed for work, came down the stairs while Pastor Dennis was standing at the front door. He looked up, and much to his horror, saw that Kathy was wearing pants! OMG, right? The good pastor quickly became angry, and with a loud voice lectured Kathy and her mom and dad over the evils of women wearing pants, and that Kathy, as the daughter of the church’s assistant pastor, was required to obey the church’s standard. According to Jim, this was to be the first and last time Kathy wore pants. It wasn’t.

The standards haven’t changed much at the Newark Baptist Temple. Men can now have hair that is a bit longer and are permitted to have facial hair, but the dress standard for staff and church workers remains as rigid and legalistic as ever.

While the Baptist Temple seems extreme to the uninitiated, such rules are not uncommon in IFB churches and colleges. The standards at the Baptist Temple were similar to the rules at the IFB college Polly and I attended — Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Pastor Dennis was a 1960s graduate of Midwestern and was later given an honorary doctorate by the college. It should come as no surprise that his rigid legalism matched that of Tom Malone and his alma mater. Polly’s father was also a Midwestern alum.

Yesterday, someone posted the male platform standard for the North Platte Baptist Church in North Platte, Nebraska. The church is pastored by William Reeves. (Three of six church staff positions are held by Reeves’ children — nepotism at its best.) I have written about Reeves and his church before:

If a man wants to be on the platform — the dog and pony show stage — at North Platte Baptist, he is required to dress and look a certain way:

platform standard north platte baptist church

I don’t know the context of the Twitter exchange between pastors William Reeves and Andrew Sluder — pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Asheville, North Carolina. Both men are arrogant, self-righteous pastors who are proud that their IFB dicks are bigger than those of other preachers. What I want to bring attention to is not dick size, but the requirements at North Platte Baptist for any man appearing on the church’s stage.

All men must:

  • wear a suit, a tie, and a white shirt
  • wear polished, clean dress shoes
  • be clean-shaven

Men are not permitted to wear necklaces or bracelets, nor are they to have a beard or mustache of any kind.

Sound crazy or bizarre? Trust me, in the IFB church movement, such standards are quite common.

Keep in mind that these are Pastor Reeves’ rules. He is the CEO, king, and potentate of North Platte Baptist. His word is the law, and those who refuse to play by his rules aren’t welcome.

charles spurgeon

I find it interesting that the church’s platform standard says that men who have facial hair are not trustworthy and lacking in personal character. Wow! I wonder if they realize that Jesus, the apostles, and the Apostle Paul all likely had facial hair, and that some of the preachers revered by IFB pastors, say Charles Spurgeon, had facial hair. Even God has a beard. I have seen his picture.

And here’s the thing, North Platte Baptist and other IFB churches have lots and lots of rules and regulations governing congregant/staff dress, appearance, and behavior. Rarely are these standards made known to new attendees. Better to hook them first with fake “love and kindness” before letting unwary attendees know, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

Did you attend an IFB church? Did the church have specific requirements for staff and workers? Did the church have a platform standard? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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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IFB Pastor Bob Gray, Sr. Pines for the 1950s

woman wearing jeans

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In May 2014, Bob Gray Sr., retired pastor of Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Texas, took to his blog pulpit to whine and complain about church women no longer obeying Deuteronomy 22:5:

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.

That’s right, Brother Bob is upset about Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church women wearing pants. Of all the things a pastor could or should be worried about, Gray is concerned about women wearing what he perceives to be men’s clothing. Gray writes:

… Did we somehow become lost and confused as to what the issue was really about? Does it really not matter if men dress differently than women and women than men? Is it really important that there be a distinctiveness between masculinity and femininity? The issue wasn’t as much about pants as it was principle. He was looking at a much bigger picture than most. Perhaps we saw the issue to vaguely. Perhaps we missed the point entirely.

Many men [pastors] who once agreed on the issue of pants have now changed their position. Perhaps the position was too small or too narrow in the first place. Perhaps pants in and of themselves was not the issue. Perhaps the real issue was the matter of the distinctiveness between the attire of men and women. Pants gave us a focal point for the real issue, which was that men ought to dress like men and women like women.

Has that changed? Does it matter? Should we care if boys dress like girls? Should it matter to us if girls dress like boys? Is it really relevant? There has always been a focal issue that rallied us behind a principle. Long hair on men rallied us against rebellion, which was the bigger issue. Pants was the focal point for the principle of women not dressing like men. Yet when it comes to the issue of women wearing pants we seem to have missed the point. What is the point? The point is the Bible principle.

What is the Bible principle? The principle is that men should dress like men and women should dress like women. Has that changed or is the Bible still true? Should men wear clothing that pertains to a woman? Should women wear clothing that pertains to a man?…

… Distinction was brought to a higher level in the New Testament. (I Timothy 2:9) Deuteronomy 22:5 has been elevated to “modest” clothing.  No skinny jeans here! The Bible principle is for today.

So, if the principle is still true why are we criticizing those who took a stand regarding women wearing pants? I for one must allow others to disagree on the issue, but I’m concerned when they ignore the importance of the Bible principle upon which we built that position. If we lose the principle then we lose the purity of the Scripture.

If we begin to criticize those who took a stand then we should be explaining how we then are carrying out that principle. What should women wear that which a man shouldn’t? What should men wear that women shouldn’t? Does it matter? It has to because it is covered in his word…

… What is the distinction? If you tell me my position is wrong then simply explain to me what the distinction is that you are making between the attire of men and the attire of women. I’ll be satisfied with that.

If you’re going to criticize me because I have put some kind of distinction into the principle then tell me what your distinction is based upon that same principle. Whether Deuteronomy 22:5 means pants on women or not it must mean something? What does it mean? Explain it…

…Let’s face it the breaking down between the sexes has taken place. We no longer have the distinctions we once had between men and women including the way they dress. Dr. Hyles and others warned us of this danger more than they warned us of women wearing pants. He warned us of the danger of losing the distinction between the sexes. Pants was a symptom of the issue, but many have turned this against those who warned of the true danger….

…Tell me pastor what should women wear, or does it matter? What should men wear? Does it matter? This is not legalism. This is applying principles to our lives. There’s a legitimate reason that we took the positions we took. I’m saddened by the condition of our country, but I am not surprised. Same sex marriage is a result of the casual way we have dealt with issues in our country and even in many churches…

… So, now I put the responsibility back on your shoulders. Tell us what to do? If there’s no problem then there’s nothing to worry about, but I think we all know there is a problem. Dr. Hyles was right. The unisex movement is a satanic pursuit to blur the lines between the roles and identity of men and women. How do we fix it? What’s the standard going to be? Is there going to be no standard? I think it’s time to give it a second thought.

If the pastor’s wife has no distinction in her dress, then no wonder the pastor has lock-jaw and is like the Ant-Artica [sic] and frozen at the mouth.  This makes it difficult to lead a local church let alone a movement…

That’s right, women wearing pants is a “satanic pursuit to blur the lines between the roles and identity of men and women.” Perhaps these slutty, pants-wearing Baptist women need to channel Flip Wilson and say, The devil made me do it.

Gray considers himself an old-fashioned IFB preacher. Old-fashioned for Brother Bob is the 1950s:

Then I go into some of our churches and find myself wondering who is standing for the Bible principle of distinction in God’s house.  The decline of American morality is reflected in our distinction.  The decline of our churches is also reflected in our dress distinction.  50 years ago it was not so in public and for sure it was not so in our churches.

The Mrs. Cleaver look was in almost every home in 1950’s. Not so in either the home or the house of God, in a lot of cases, in this new Millennium.  If God wanted a distinction in the Old Testament how much more does He desire it in the New Testament.

You see, preachers like Gray pine for the 1950s; the time before the free love and the rock-and-roll generation. He yearns for the days when women were pregnant housewives, homosexuals stayed in the closet, and birth control was illegal. He yearns for the days before the Civil Rights Act, Gun Control Act, and the EPA. He yearns for the racist days of his youth, a time when there was order and everyone knew their place. I can only imagine what Gray thinks about the protests today.

I feel sad for preachers like Gray. They have spent a lifetime preaching on frivolous issues such as pants on women, short skirts, long hair, rock and roll, contemporary Christian music, and premarital sex. (See An Independent Baptist Hate List.)  The narrowness of their preaching makes it impossible for them to back up. To do so would be considered compromise, a sure career killer in the IFB church. So, they remain in their little boxes, unable to join the world that past them by decades ago,

Gray, without realizing it, revealed what the REAL reason is for all the preaching against pants and short skirts on women:

If you are an honest person you will have to admit that females in public have taken the half off sale seriously. Hip hugging skinny jeans revealing mid riffs. I travel every week of the world around this great nation of ours. It is embarrassing for a man who is doing the best he can to keep his heart right with all of the female flesh on display.

Thanks to seven decades of Puritanical preaching and rules, IFB men have been turned into pathetic weaklings unable to handle their own sexuality. They’ve been told their entire lives that women are Jezebels, seductresses out to lure them into bed. They’ve been taught that the reason men give into their weakness and have lustful thoughts is because women refuse to cover up their flesh. If only women would stop wearing pants, short skirts, shorts, and halter tops, and stop wearing clothing that accentuates the female shape, why horn-dog IFB teenagers and men would not have a problem with lust. As any woman who has attended an IFB church knows, women are considered sexual gatekeepers who are tasked with keeping boys and men from masturbating and committing fornication or adultery. If IFB burka-wearing women fail as gatekeepers and men lust after them, it is their fault. Remember, in IFB churches, women are to blame for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

This kind of thinking is as old as Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. When God confronted Adam about eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam replied:

The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

Adam, like countless IFB preachers, blamed the woman.

What Bob Gray and other IFB preachers have done is turn out generations of men unable to handle their own sexuality. The slightest bit of female flesh brings a rise in their pants and soon their thoughts turn to banging Sister Sue in the church pew. When Jack Schaap, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, was arrested and convicted for having sex with a minor in his church, many IFB preachers blamed the girl. (Please see IFB Pastor Jack Schaap Asks for Release from Federal Prison, Says He’s A Good Boy Now.)

In the post titled, The IFB River Called Denial, I wrote about what one IFB-loving woman had to say about the slut that took down Jack Schaap. Here’s what she said:

So…what about the teenage girl? How hot was she? How hard did she pursue him? We all know young girls flaunt everything these days to get what they want. a rise from any man they can. especially one in the limelight (our a uniform!) They don’t care if he’s married our not, or if he’s her best friends dad. it’s really sad.young girls are a whoring in our churches.

You men and women be careful. She is closer than we think. the world is full of young sluts stealing our husbands and sons! Praying for Cindy!

You see, even the women in IFB churches make excuses for the lustful behavior of men and teenage boys. These church-going, Jesus loving sluts are out to steal their husbands and sons. It’s their fault, right? If they just dressed like the women on Little House on the Prairie, all would be well.

It should come as no surprise that the IFB church has a big problem with sexual abuse and misconduct. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.) These poor men can’t help themselves. Instead of learning how to responsibly handle their sexuality, they are taught that lustful, carnal thoughts and behaviors are not their fault. If the pastor ends up having sex with his secretary on his office floor, it is the secretary’s fault. I knew of one pastor who would, for years, send out the bus workers on visitation, and then he and his secretary would use that time to have sex in his office. When the truth came out, you know who was to blame? The secretary.

Every man must be accountable for his own sexuality. Teenage boys should be taught sexual responsibility. They should also be taught that it is okay to have appropriate physical contact with the opposite sex. (See Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.) They need to be taught that desiring a woman is normal, as is sexual arousal.  Exposure to normal sexual feelings and desires will do wonders for the teenage boys of the church. Instead of repressing these feelings and desires, they should learn to how act on them ethically and responsibly. And my God, preachers, teach them to put Ecclesiastes 9:10 into practice: Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might . . .

IFB preachers such as Gray take virile teenage boys and turn them into eunuchs. Don’t look, don’t touch, don’t masturbate, don’t look at scantily clad women on the TV or Internet. These boys are treated like toddlers, who then grow up to be infantile men.

By his own admission, Gray has a problem keeping his thoughts pure. Who’s to blame for this? Women. Instead of accepting responsibility for his lustful thoughts, he blames scantily clad women. Gray’s an old man now; surely he can contain himself when he see an attractive young woman? Evidently not. Once I left Evangelicalism and its Puritanical, oppressive, against-human-nature sexuality, I no longer feared what looking at an attractive woman might do to me. I can now enjoy the beauty without turning into the beast. As my wife has told me more than a few times, you can look, but don’t touch. I am confident that I can handle my sexuality and I know many of the men who read this blog would say the same. Once freed from the infantile, emasculating rules of the IFB church movement, we are now free to be the sexual beings we are meant to be. All praise be to Eros.

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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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Is it a Sin for Women to Wear Pants?

polly-yuma-arizona
Polly wearing her first pair of pants, Yuma, Arizona, 2004

God says:

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God. (Deuteronomy 22:5)

Jack Hyles, the late pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, said in a  December 2, 1973 sermon:

Some of you pants-wearing ladies, I hope God will get you so under conviction tonight that you’ll hit the mourner’s bench before you go home!  Let me tell you something.  You ladies who wear your “britches,” don’t you laugh at me while I’m preaching the Bible to you.  The Bible says a woman should not wear that pertains to a man.  In this heathen generation, you ladies who wear pants have fallen prey to the unisex philosophy.  You are a part of the unisex movement!  I’m going to prove it to you.  You won’t believe it because you want to go ahead and be a part of it.  You don’t want to be different.  You’re not willing to buck the trend, but you’re hearing one preacher tonight who is happy to buck the trends even if he loses his job because of it.  I started 27 or 28 years ago what I believe, and I am preaching the same thing tonight.  If you get my sermons and listen to them, I preach the same things tonight I preached 28 years ago.  I preached against ladies wearing britches 28 years ago, and I’m not going to stop it just because you can’t find a skirt in a department store any more.

It’s time for some of you deacon’s wives to look like ladies instead of men.  It’s time for some of you deacons to yank them up and say, “Put a skirt on and take those ‘britches’ off!” It’s time for some of you who teach Sunday school classes in our church, to look like ladies and not like men.  The Devil is trying to break down the barrier between the sexes.  When you do anything to aid it, you’re a part of his work.

You say, “Brother Hyles, I heard you on the radio. I didn’t expect this!  You come on saying the radio saying, ‘A happy hello to all of our friends in radio land.  It’s a great joy to meet you this morning.  Maybe the burden is heavy and load is light.  We come on the broadcast not with a kick in the pants but with a pat on the back’” That the broadcast, honey.  In the pulpit, it’s a kick in the pants and not a pat on the back!  The back-pattin’ is on Monday morning, but the pants-kickin’ is on Sunday night!  The Devil is using clothing.  Whether you believe it or not, the book of Deuteronomy is in the Bible and Deuteronomy 22:5 says it is wrong for a woman to wear that which pertaineth to a man.  “Well,” you say, “in those days, the men wore long, flowing garments.” I don’t care what they wore, there was a difference between men and women.  I mean it’s up to the man to decide what he wears.  You say, “My husband is not going to do that!”  Well, you Jezebel, I am!

….

I’ll just say it again. It’s time some of you Christians dress like fundamentalists.  In fashion, men’s magazines and clothing trade journals herald men’s mini-skirts- can you feature it?  Can you feature Jim Vineyard in a miniskirt?  That would set burlesque back two generations!  Get this now.  There are harem lounging pajamas.  Did you know that there are lingerie shops for men, where men can buy silk, satin, and lace gowns and pajamas?  You’re horrified, aren’t you?  Yet you wear your “britches” to the store tomorrow!  Men’s magazines and clothing trade journals herald men’s miniskirts, harem lounging pajamas, earrings and necklaces.  One manufacturer is showing men’s shifts- a rather straight-line dress worn by women.  Their colors, psychedelic prints, are soft pinks.  (Can you imagine Sully in a pink shift?)  Fashion designers admit they are using ladies wearing men’s clothing and men wearing ladies’ clothing as a part of the trend to make America one sex.  You haven’t got enough sense to know it! “Now,” you say, “Preacher, what are you saying?”  I’m saying that God wants there to be a difference between the sexes.  I’m saying, in our generation, ladies ought not to wear whatever men have worn, and men ought not to wear whatever ladies have worn.

In 2002, Catholic Marian T. Horvat  wrote:

The three ladies [from a 2002 photo] are wearing pants, which are inappropriate for women for reasons of both immodesty and egalitarianism. As for modesty, according to the sound Catholic teaching of the past, trousers are immodest apparel for a woman because by their nature they emphasize a woman’s form and invite immodest regard. As for egalitarianism, Cardinal Guiseppe Siri made a superb warning in 1960. He noted that the wearing of men’s dress by women is “the visible aid to bring about a mental attitude of being ‘like a man’” since the clothing a person wears “modifies that person’s gestures, attitudes and behavior.

Millions of Americans attend churches that believe it is a sin for women to wear pants (britches, slacks, jeans, trousers, shorts, capris).  Many of these churches refuse to let non-dress wearing women attend their services. The late Jack Hyles, the one-time pastor of the largest church in America, required pants-wearing women to put paper dresses over their clothing before entering the sanctuary. I grew up in churches where pants wearing was grudgingly allowed, but women who did so were considered rebellious hussies. Evangelist John R. Rice speaks for countless Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preachers when he says:

Oh, women, what have you lost when you lost your femininity! When you bobbed your hair, you bobbed your character, too. Your rebellion against God’s authority as exercised by husband and father, has a tendency, at least, to lose you all the things that women value most. If you want reverence and respect from good men, if you want protection and a good home and love and steadfast devotion, then I beg you to take a woman’s place! Dress like a woman, not like a man. Have habits like a woman. And if you want God to especially bless you when you pray, then have on your head a symbol [long hair/head covering] of the meek and quiet spirit which in the sight of God is of such great price.

The message to women was clear: want to be right with God? Stop wearing pants.

In the mid-1970s, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern prided itself in being a character-building factory; an institution that turned out soulwinning, hellfire-and-brimstone preachers and missionaries. While women were permitted to take classes, most of them were there to snag a preacher boy, hoping to graduate with an MRS degree. My wife, Polly, was no exception. She came to Midwestern hoping to find a preacher to marry. She found one. However, I think I can safely say that she sure got more than she bargained for when she married me! I am certain, to this day, that Polly’s mom wishes her daughter had married one of those other preachers. Why, she would still be a preacher’s wife, if she had!

Women were not permitted to wear pants at Midwestern. Dresses had to be knee-length. One weekend, Polly and I went on a double-date with another dorm couple. Dorm students were not permitted to travel more than ten miles from the college campus. Wanting to go to the mall, we decided to break the ten-mile rule. Such daredevils, right? Not long after we arrived at the mall, we noticed the wife of Midwestern’s president walking with her youngest daughter. Imagine our surprise to see Mrs. Malone and her daughter wearing pants!  This was an early example of the hypocrisy that permeated the IFB church movement.

Polly was forty-six years old before she wore a pair of pants for the first time. In 2004, we lived in Yuma, Arizona. We thought of ourselves then as far more progressive and liberal than we were when we married in 1978. And we were, but deep-seated Fundamentalism dies hard. I had concluded that many of the church standards and rules we lived with for forty-plus years were legalistic and unnecessary. Polly, fearing that she would burn in Hell if she broke the rules, was not, at the time, as liberal, especially when it came to clothing. One day, we were shopping at Target, and I noticed that women’s capris were on sale. I picked up a pair, turned to Polly, and said, “why don’t you try on a pair of these.” You would have thought I had asked her to strip naked and run through the store. She had that look on her face, the same one she had when I brought home a Christian rock CD (Petra) and played it in our home. She was certain that God was going to send lightning from Heaven and kills us all. I assured her that God didn’t care about what she wore. Now, I didn’t really know that for sure. I just thought that Polly would look nice in capris. After what seemed like forever, I finally convinced Polly that God was not going to get her if she wore pants.

We returned to Ohio in 2005. By then, Polly was a pants convert. Well, except when her mother was around. Polly’s mom is in her eighties and has never worn a pair of pants. Polly was afraid of what her mom would say or think if she saw her wearing pants. Eventually, Polly decided to show her rebellious streak and donned a pair of pants in her mom’s presence. Polly’s uber-rebellious sister had been wearing pants for years. Not Polly. She was a true-blue believer. I still remember the look on Mom’s face when she saw Polly was wearing pants; a look of sadness and disappointment; a look that has been repeated numerous times over the past decade and a half as we continue to shed the bondage of our Fundamentalist Christian past.

Bruce, this sounds crazy! Sure, from the outside, it does. However, when you are in the Evangelical bubble, believing it is a sin for women to wear pants makes perfect sense. Let me outline for you how my thinking went back in the day.

  • The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God
  • The Bible says in Deuteronomy 22:5 that it is an abomination for women to wear men’s clothing
  • The Bible teaches that there is to be a visible difference between the sexes  — hair and clothing
  • Women are to wear modest apparel, clothing that does not expose their flesh or accentuate their shape
  • Men are visually attracted to women
  • Women shouldn’t dress in ways that cause men to lust after them
  • Refusing to dress properly reveals a rebellious spirit
  • Christians are to dress differently from the “world”

These “truths” governed my thinking, preaching, and conduct until I was in my early forties. Perhaps my deconversion actually began then, as I started to question the rules, standards, and regulations that had governed my life. These days, I tell Polly, “hey, it sure would be nice to see you in a dress once in a while. You know, show a bit of cleavage.” My, oh my! How far we have come . . .

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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Questions: What do Evangelicals Consider “Moral Failing?”

i have a question

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Darcy asked:

I was just reading something about drug addiction being a medical problem, not a morality problem. Then I realized poverty is also often seen as a moral failing. (Which means a failure to be a True Christian®). Are any other problems often seen as a moral failing, as in NOT True Christian®? Mental illness, physical illness, birth defects (used to be seen as a mark of the devil because of immoral parents), being a survivor of abuse, being LGBTQ, not finding your usual parking space, etc.?

Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Sin is transgression of the Law of God (as found within the pages of the Bible). Thus, you would think that Evangelicals would be diligent in keeping the more than 700 laws, commands, precepts, and teachings found in the Old and New Testaments. If the Bible is what Evangelicals say it is, wouldn’t it stand to reason that these followers of Jesus would commit themselves to studying, understanding, and practicing ALL that the Bible teaches — even the hard things? Yet, we know that Evangelicals don’t live differently from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Outside of what they do with their time on Sunday mornings, there’s little difference between saints and sinners.

Every Evangelical is what I call a Buffet Christian®. Evangelicals, clean plate in hand, walk down the Bible buffet line, picking and choosing what to believe and practice, ignoring the rest. No one obeys all the teachings of the Bible. I don’t know of one Christian who even believes and practices the red words in the Bible (words attributed to Jesus) or Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. Years ago, I told the church I was pastoring, that Christianity would be better served if Christians shut their mouths and spent the next five years putting the Sermon on the Mount into practice. Of course, neither I nor the people I pastored listened to what I was saying. We had a culture war to fight. Jesus would just have to wait until we conquered the United States for God.

One peculiarity found in some Evangelical churches — especially Holiness and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations — is the notion of “church standards.” Church standards consist of a written (sometimes unwritten) list of things church members are expected to believe and practice. After I left the ministry in 2005, our family looked for a church to attend. We found a dying Bible church in Butler, Indiana we thought we would be a good fit for us. The pastor, Jim Glasscock, was a wonderful man, as was his wife. When I inquired about joining, Jim was excited. However, his excitement quickly turned to disappointment. You see, the church had certain standards for members, one of which was holding to dispensational theology and pretribulational, premillennial eschatology. I was a non-dispensational amillennialist. This meant that we could NOT join the church.  Crazy, right?

IFB churches, in particular, are known for having church standards. Some churches require new members to agree to their church’s standards. Often, new congregants are required to sign their names, saying they have read the standards and agree to abide by them. Other churches only do this for members who are in leadership capacities. Back in the late 1970s, we attended the Newark Baptist Temple for a short time. Polly’s uncle, the late Jim Dennis, was the pastor. Polly’s father was the assistant pastor. Annually, members in leadership positions were required to sign on the dotted line affirming submission to the church’s standards. I refused to sign the form, causing quite a problem. I continued to teach Sunday school and drive a bus, but my refusal to submit caused a rift between Pastor Dennis and me.

One afternoon, I stopped by the Baptist Temple to pick Polly up from work. She was a teacher at the church’s school. At the time, I was a general manager for Arthur Treacher’s in Reynoldsburg. It was my day off, and a fellow manager and I got together to play some pick-up basketball. Afterward, wearing sweaty gym shorts and a t-shirt, I stopped at the church to pick up Polly. I knew my dress was a violation of the church’s standards, but, hey, I was just running in and running out, no big deal. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, Pastor Dennis saw me and lit into me like he would someone who was standing there stark naked. He took us to his office and dressed us up one side and down the other. Ever the rebel, I didn’t take his abuse lying down. Pastor Dennis’ behavior turned my rift with him into a chasm — one that neither of us ever totally resolved after that.

Another church that comes to mind is Maranatha Bible Church in Glenford, Ohio. One evening, the church’s pastor, Bob Shaw, stopped by a congregant’s home unannounced. Imagine his surprise when the door was opened by a female Sunday school teacher wearing pants! His outrage over her “sin” caused a huge blow-up, leading to the family leaving the church. Of course, at the time, I had a similar belief about women wearing pants. One woman in the church I pastored refused to stop wearing pants. I went over to her home to talk to her about her lack of submission to the church’s standards (Greek for submissions to my personal beliefs and preferences). She was, of course, wearing pants. As we sat there talking, her husband pointed to his wife and said, “do you really believe ________ wearing pants is a sin?” He was sure that, when pressed, I would back down, but I didn’t. It was the 1980s, and I really did believe that women shouldn’t wear pants. (My wife, Polly, wore a pair of pants for the first time in 2004, at the age of forty-six.)  I told him, “yes, your wife is sinning wearing pants!” Our conversations ended on a cordial note, but this family never darkened the doors of the church again. A few years ago, I apologized to the wife for being such an ass. She graciously accepted my apology (though she, to this day, can’t wrap her mind around the fact that I am an atheist).

I have said all this to point out that when it comes to defining “moral failure” (sin), Evangelicals are all over the place. What is considered a moral failing differs from church to church, pastor to pastor, and member to member. Every Evangelical has a list — written or unwritten — of beliefs and practices by which he or she determines what is or isn’t moral. Take receiving government assistance. I never had a problem with congregants receiving government help. Hell, the Gerencser family wouldn’t have survived the 1980s without the Federal government and the State of Ohio lending them a BIG helping hand. We didn’t have medical insurance for 16 years. Five of our six children were birthed thanks to evil Medicaid. That said, I knew pastors who opposed all forms of government assistance. No matter how dire the circumstances, congregants were expected to pray, seek God’s help, and do everything they could do to change their circumstances.

Some churches have strict qualifications for who may or may not be a pastor. Such churches use 1 Timothy 3 as a list of absolute qualities for a pastor. I saw one standard, ruling your own children well, used to boot several men out of the ministry; not due to anything they had done, but because a grown child was out in the “world” sinning against God. Never mind the fact that I don’t know one pastor — including myself at the time — that measured up to the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 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?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

The same goes for the “fruit of the Spirit.” According to Evangelicals, True Christians® are indwelt by the Holy Ghost. In other words, God lives inside every believer, acting as their teacher, guide, and conscience. Galatians 5:22,23 says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Tell me, do you know one Christian who meets this standard? Note, verse 22 says, the fruit of the Spirit IS (present tense), and not some sort of objective for Evangelicals to aspire for. Much like the standard for pastors, Evangelicals are expected to show in their lives “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.” Know any believers who meet this standard? Of course not. Jesus told his disciples, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” How is that working out for God’s chosen ones? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.)

Evangelicals do have lists of beliefs and behaviors they consider “moral failings” However, these lists are dependent on personal interpretation of the Bible, whim, tribal influence, cultural influence, and personal experience. There’s no such thing as an infallible, inviolable, authoritative standard — despite Evangelicals suggesting otherwise. One need only watch current internecine wars being fought among Evangelicals over female preachers, LGBTQ church members, same-sex marriage, and a host of other social hot-button issues. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul writes about Christians having the Holy Spirit as their teacher. Unlike “the natural man [who] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, followers of Jesus have “the mind of Christ.” Tell me, in a nation where most people profess to be Christians, where are the people who “have the mind of Christ?” Where are the people who think and act like Jesus?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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Is It a Sin to Go to the Movie Theater?

mary poppinsBack in the days of my youth, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches I attended banned their members from going to indoor and outdoor movie theaters. Their logic went something like this:

  • By attending movies, you were supporting evil, immoral Hollywood.
  • By attending movies, you might cause other Christians to think poorly of you. What if they saw you leaving a multiplex theater that offered G-rated and R-rated movies? They could wrongly assume that you were watching an R-rated movie and not a God-approved G-rated movie. This would lead to you having a bad testimony in the eyes of other believers.
  • By attending movies, you could cause spiritually weaker Christians to stumble. If these spiritually immature believers saw you attending a movie, they would assume that it was all right for them to watch a movie too. And their spiritual immaturity could result in them watching non-G-rated movies.

This same logic was applied to watching television and eating in restaurants that served the Devil’s brew, alcohol. (Please see Catch-All Bible Verses: I Will Set No Wicked Thing Before My Eyes) Several years ago, I wrote a post titled, The Preacher and His TV. Here’s an excerpt from this post that best explains how IFB churches view things such as movies and television:

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it.  How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps.  What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.

….

In the early 1990s, I would, from time to time, rent a television from a local rent-to-own business. Two times come to mind: the World Series and the 1991 Gulf War. Outside of that, my oldest three children grew up in a television-free home. They were teenagers: 18, 16, and 13, before they watched TV (except for watching Saturday cartoons when they were little). Well, this isn’t entirely true. When they visited their grandparents, they were permitted to watch TV (even though I wasn’t happy about them doing so). Like Amish children, they were mesmerized by Disney movies and cartoons.

After our family attended their first movie, I decided I would buy a television, setting in motion seven years of what any competent psychologist would call bizarre behavior. While what I am about to share will sound hilarious to those who never spent any time in Christian Fundamentalism, at the time, there was nothing humorous about my actions.

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions? you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life: I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.

My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

….

In the late 1990s, I came to the conclusion that it was not a sin to watch a movie as long as it was G or PG-rated. One Saturday evening, Polly and I loaded our children into our car and drove to a nearby drive-in theater. Polly was fearful, thinking that God would judge or kill us for going to the theater. I told her that I was confident that God wouldn’t judge us for watching Air Bud and George of the Jungle. Not that I knew this, of course. I had concluded that some of our Fundamentalist phobias were legalistic nonsense, and the prohibition against movie attendance was one such phobia. Over time, we, however, proved that IFB preachers were “right” about movies; right in the sense that once you start watching movies, you are on a downhill slide that leads to R-rated, NC17-rated, and even X-rated movies. Over the years, our viewing habits did change, especially once we moved away from Evangelicalism. We didn’t, however, turn into vile, evil people who thirsted for the things of the flesh. Today, we watch what we want to watch, regardless of the rating. We generally prefer PG-13 or R-rated movies or M-rated TV programs.

Over the holidays, a monumental event took place with Polly’s parents; one that we NEVER, EVER thought would happen. Polly grew up in a home where movie attendance was verboten. Well, almost verboten. Her family had a dirty little secret. When they went on vacation to Florida, they would go to the movies. Their logic, if you call it that, was that no one from their church would see them. This same logic was played out at the college we attended. Female students were not permitted to wear pants. Students were also not permitted to travel more than ten miles from the school. One Saturday evening, while out on a double-date, Polly and I stopped at a mall that was outside of the ten-mile radius. Imagine our surprise when we saw the college president’s wife and her daughter strolling through the mall wearing pants! They never expected to run into students, so they felt safe wearing sinful, wicked, immoral pants. So it was with Polly’s family and movies while they were on vacation: out of sight, out of mind.

While at home, Polly’s family NEVER attended the movies. Doing so was a sin. But Bruce, weren’t Polly’s parents (and preacher uncle and aunt) being hypocritical; living one way at home and a different way while on vacation? Sure they were, but such inconsistencies were common among IFB preachers and congregants. As the case for almost all Evangelicals, they made it up as they went along. Behaviors that were sins in the 1970s became approved actions in the 1990s. In the late 1970s, the church Polly’s parents attend believed having facial hair was a big, fat s-i-n. Today? It is not uncommon to see male church members sporting mustaches and beards — but no long hair. I have concluded that IFB churches, standard-wise, are about 20 years behind the “world.” Just wait long enough, and things that once were sins will no longer be so.

Back to the monumental event that took place during the holidays. My oldest son and his children visited Polly’s parents over Christmas. While there, he and his cousins and their children got together and went to a movie. While the cousins claim varying degrees of Evangelical Christianity, none of them has a problem with movie attendance. The shocking part of this story is that Polly’s mom and dad went with them! This is the first time in over fifty years that they have attended a movie on their home turf. All told, twenty-two of them went to see a racy, violent movie — Mary Poppins Returns.

Only one family member held to the IFB standard: Polly’s recently widowed aunt. Her husband had been a hardcore IFB preacher for over fifty years. She couldn’t bring herself to violate the standard her husband had preached over all those years. Of course, once the movie comes out on DVD or Netflix, well then it will be okay to watch it. I remember having a “discussion” with her preacher husband back in late 1980s about the inconsistency of his stand on movies. He preached against attending movie theaters, mainly because doing so supported Hollywood and could lead to a bad testimony. However, he had no problem renting movies at the local video store; a store which, by the way, had a special room where they stocked explicit X-rated movies. Hypocritical? Yep, but that’s the norm in Evangelical churches, including IFB congregations. If a preacher or congregants want to do something that violates the law of Medes and Persians, well they will find a way to get around the law. My problem was that I was a perfectionist who demanded strict obedience to the law. If going to a movie theater was a sin, so was renting movies from a video store. In the early 1990s, I tried to live — quite comically — according to the standard of not doing business with any concern that sold alcohol. I found that it was IMPOSSIBLE to do so. Every grocery store and most gas stations sold alcohol, as did upscale restaurants. Thus, I had to — dare I say — compromise my beliefs. Purity of belief was impossible.

Today, things are far different for Polly and me. God and the Bible no longer have any authority over us. We are free to do what we want. Having such freedom makes for living a peaceable life. We no longer worry about God raining fire from Heaven down on our heads or afflicting us with leprosy. We are free to live our lives as we wish. This doesn’t mean we are hedonists, doing as we will without compulsion or fear of consequences. We still live our lives according to personal standards and cultural norms, but we no longer let Christian belief determine how we live.

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.

Living Life Through a Lens of Godliness, a Guest Post by ObstacleChick

godliness

A guest post by ObstacleChick

Growing up in an Evangelical environment, I learned that we are supposed to assess everything through the lens of godliness. That means we should discern whether our thoughts, actions, movies or television shows we watch, songs we listen to, articles of clothing we wear, relationships we have, and articles or books we read glorify God or detract from godliness. This is a large task that requires a lot of attention.

Many Christians I knew at my Southern Baptist church or at my Evangelical school went through the motions of religious practice without taking it to extremes, but some people took it quite seriously. I always found it overwhelming to pay the necessary attention to every single aspect of life to determine whether it met the standards of godliness. My grandmother, who had her own library of Christian concordances, history books, and books by Christian apologists, as well as Christian novels, spent large amounts of time trying to live up to what she considered her God’s standards for godliness. Everything was intently scrutinized to determine whether each was godly enough.

Our family loved watching “The Sound of Music” when it was broadcast on TV each year. We could sing along with all the songs, and we all cheered when the naughty nuns stole car parts from the Nazis’ cars so they could not pursue the Von Trapp family as they fled through the mountains to neutral Switzerland. However, one year, my grandmother determined that one of the songs, “Something Good,” taught an ungodly doctrine. This song was sung by Maria and Captain von Trapp after they declared their love for each other. Here are the main lyrics:

“Something Good” by Richard Rodgers

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth
For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

First, my grandmother said good things in our lives come through the grace and mercy of God, not through anything we do ourselves. Yes, our actions have consequences, but all good things come from Heaven above. The second issue she had with the song was with the line “nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.” In her mind, God created the heavens and earth and all therein from nothing, so therefore everything came from nothing and God made nothing into something. And technically there wasn’t “nothing” because there was God (yeah, I don’t get it either). I must admit, I thought she was nit-picking a fun, wholesome, uplifting movie, but I don’t think she watched it again until she started suffering from dementia.

Grandma believed that God developed hierarchies for us to follow. She believed that wives were under their husbands’ authority; that children were under their parents’ authority; that everyone is under God’s authority. She ran the household this way too, but in a loving way. At one point, we were a four-generation household, with my great-grandmother, my grandparents, my mom, and me. Eventually, my mom married again and moved out, but Grandma adhered to her hierarchy. Grandpa was head of household, so he could do whatever he wanted and was to be catered to at all times. Grandma’s mother was next, as children are commanded to honor their parents, and my great-grandmother’s whims were catered to as well. Technically, I was lowest on the totem pole, but Grandma considered herself God’s servant and put herself in the lowest position, eventually to the detriment of her health.

The hierarchy was amusing with regard to television. My great-grandmother was barely mobile, so using her walker, she would go from her bedroom to the table for breakfast, then to her chair where she watched television all day. (My grandma served my great-grandmother’s meals at her chair on a TV tray.) In the morning was news; then “preaching shows” (typically Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker whom I thought looked like a clown with all the makeup); then “The Price is Right,” followed by noon news and an afternoon of her soap operas; then evening news and a full slate of prime time shows and/or a movie. My great-grandmother controlled what we watched. Grandpa bought another television so he could watch sports or movies in another room. Grandma didn’t approve of a lot of the programming on television, but because she considered herself submissive to Grandpa and to her mother, she rarely said anything. I loved being able to watch movies and shows with the word “damn” or “oh my god” (which Grandma considered blasphemous). Grandpa’s favorite movie was “Patton” with George C. Scott in the lead, and even the edited-for-TV version was unacceptable by Grandma’s standards. The only time Grandma intervened was one day on my great-grandmother’s soap opera there was a male stripper and my great-grandma got a little too excited about it. Grandma said, “That’s it, I’m not having that filth in my house anymore,” whereupon my great-grandmother had a tantrum, hauled herself out of her chair, and took five minutes to go twenty feet down the hall with her walker to her bedroom where she sequestered herself and sulked the rest of the day. About a week later she was allowed to watch television again. Grandma herself didn’t watch much television outside of the news and Billy Graham Crusades, and she only listened to Christian radio talk shows like “The Christian Jew Hour” or shows by pastors such as James Dobson.

Grandma did not believe we should play games with regular playing cards because they were a “tool of gambling.”  She would play Rook because those were not playing cards. She did allow me to play solitaire with a deck of cards, but only because I was not playing with another player and gambling, and because her beloved father had enjoyed solitaire so much when he was alive. We weren’t allowed to play rummy in her house — I had to play it at my mom and stepdad’s house. Grandma wouldn’t allow me to play with dice either, because they were also tools of gambling — so games like Yahtzee and Monopoly were forbidden as well. Grandma never understood that literally ANYTHING could become a tool for gambling.

There were a couple of extremely pious girls who attended my church and school. They could, and often did, judge other people’s words and actions “in love,” “correcting” their peers in their testimony to others. During the 1980s, certain television shows such as “Magnum PI” and “The A-Team” were popular. Mr. T was known for saying, “I pity the fool….” A lot of us kids would quote Mr. T, and the word “fool” became a part of our vocabulary. Of course, one day on the school bus, I said “fool” and one of these lovely girls took it upon herself to let me know that it was ungodly to say “fool” because of this verse:

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)

What I didn’t consider at the time is that it may have been Wednesday. On Wednesdays, one of the pious girls was required by her family to fast at lunchtime and to give the money her lunch would have cost to charity. So she may have just been hungry.

The pious girls determined that the only music they would listen to included “Beach Boys” songs, classical music, and any music played at our church and school. They were suspicious about the music played on the Christian radio station. It was too “worldly” or “liberal” because drums and electrical instruments were used in some of the songs. Their exclamatory word of choice was “fudge.” My Grandma used to say “I’ll Swanee” as her exclamatory word until one day (who knows how) she determined that saying “I’ll Swanee” was ungodly, as it was a replacement swear word. Thereafter, she stifled any response other than “Oh.” Grandma allowed me to listen to classical music or to gospel music and anything by the Bill Gaither Trio, but all other music was considered ungodly. (Please read Christian Swear Words.)

This level of discernment made me anxious and took up a lot of energy while growing up. Honestly, I couldn’t keep up with it all. A lot of it was confusing, and I longed to be free to enjoy life without worrying about every single word, action, or situation being godly enough. When I stayed at my mom and stepdad’s house, there was a lot more freedom of speech and action, but I would have to switch back into high-vigilance mode at my grandparents’ house and at school. It was a relief to let it all go as I moved further away from Evangelical Christianity. Interestingly, as my grandmother succumbed to dementia and no longer remembered all the religious strictures, she became a lot happier, childlike, and fun. There was a lot I missed about her intellectually, but as she became more forgetful, she enjoyed a lot of things again like movies and baseball (we never knew she was an Atlanta Braves fan until she suffered dementia, and I have no idea when or why baseball became ungodly). Don’t get me wrong, my grandmother was a very loving and caring person who did a lot of things to help others (as anonymously as possible), and I loved her dearly, but some of her standards were a lot to handle.

Did the home you grow up in have a code of godliness or what Baptists call “standards”? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser