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Tag: Church Standards

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, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

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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, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

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.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Is it a Sin for Women to Wear Pants?

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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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Bruce Gerencser