Menu Close

Tag: COVID-19

No Need to Wear a Face Mask: When it’s My Time to Die, I’m Ready to Go

chick tract death

Like clockwork, my wife calls her mother every Sunday evening at 10:00 PM. They typically talk for an hour. Last Sunday, Polly asked her mom whether she was wearing a face mask when she went out in public. Mom replied, “no, I don’t need to wear a mask.” When Polly, out of concern for her eighty-four-year-old mother’s health and that of her father, told her mom, “look, you need to get a mask and wear it whenever you go out of the house.” Mom replied, “when it’s my time to die, I’m ready to go.” Polly angrily retorted, “and no one will be able to come to your funeral.” Mom smugly replied, “oh well, I won’t care. I’ll be dead.” And that was that . . .

It would be easy to dismiss Mom’s careless, reckless, stupid behavior as that of an old woman in poor health. However, there’s a deeper issue that I believe is driving her dismissal of common sense: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology and practice. Mom is the wife of a retired IFB pastor. She and Dad have attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, on and off, since May 1976. You might remember me writing about their church several weeks ago. (Please see IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic and Understanding the Pastors Who Refuse to Close Their Churches During the Coronavirus Pandemic.) As of today, the Newark Baptist Temple is still holding in-person worship services on Sunday mornings! One person intimately connected to the Baptist Temple told me, “Mark Falls is an idiot.” To that I say, amen. Pastor Falls continues to put theology and politics before the health and welfare of his congregation and that of the local community. Here’s a Facebook video of the Easter service at the Baptist Temple:

Here’s a Facebook video of their most recent Sunday service.

As you can see, the pastor and his congregation seem unconcerned about COVID-19. No social distancing to speak of, no masks, or gloves. The good news is that Mom and Dad haven’t been back to church since I publicly called attention to their pastor’s abhorrent behavior. It’s also evident, based on building acoustics, that attendance is a fraction of what it typically is. (I find it interesting the cameraman never pans the crowd.) Fortunately, some church members have more common sense than their pastor and other church leaders.

Setting Falls’ anti-government ideology and IFB theology aside, why does he insist on putting his parishioners at risk?

As Pastor Falls was preparing to pray at the start of last Sunday’s service, he stated:

Amen. What a privilege to be at the Newark Baptist Temple this morning. We’re so glad to see each of you here, and we are thrilled to know that many are watching us at home as well. Isn’t it great to be able to sing I’m Saved, I’m Delivered? The greatest crisis in your entire life was your sin crisis. Because you are going to have to stand before God someday. And if the Lord can save us from that he can save us from anything.

And there is it is: “if the Lord can save us from that [sin], the Lord can save us from anything.” No need to concern yourself with the Coronavirus. The Lord, if he so wills, can and will deliver you from the virus. Jesus can do what doctors and scientists can’t do. He’s the great physician! No worries. . . . Hardened into this thinking is nascent fatalism. Oh, Falls and other Fundamentalists will deny that they are preaching fatalism, but it’s clear from their sermons, prayers, and actions, fatalism is exactly what they are preaching. In this instance, they are no different from Islamic imams who say, “Allah’s will be done.”

Now let me bring this post back around to what Polly’s mom said about not wearing a mask: “No, I don’t need to wear a mask. When it’s my time to die, I’m ready to go.” Her comment drips with the fatalism taught to her by the pastors of the Baptist Temple, both the late Jim Dennis and now Mark Falls.

Where does this fatalism come from? As with most beliefs within the IFB church movement, their fatalism rests on their peculiar interpretation of the Protestant Bible. An overarching teaching that infuses fatalism into everything IFB churches say and do is the belief that the Christian God is the sovereign Lord of all creation; that he holds the world in the palm of his hand; that nothing happens apart from God’s purpose, plan, and will. Thus, no need to worry. Jesus is on the job! Amen? Amen!

death

What is it that causes Polly’s mom to be so fatalistic about dying; so much so that she is willing to put not only her own health at risk, but that of her husband? I suspect that her fatalism can be traced back to Hebrews 9:27:

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment

Here’s how this verse is typically interpreted in IFB circles. God is the giver and taker of life. When we are born, we come into the world with an expiration date; a death date. This date is fixed by God, and known only to him. No one dies before their appointed time. God knows the exact moment each of us is going to die. Not only that, he knows exactly how we are going to die. Thus, in Mom’s eyes, Jesus is on the job, and COVID-19 ain’t going to kill her unless God says so. And if God says so, there’s nothing she or anyone else can do about it.

Because of Mom’s intransigent fatalism, it is unlikely that we will ever see Polly’s parents again face to face. We are not willing to risk infection, all because of her stubborn unwillingness to take basic health and safety precautions. We expect to one day hear the phone ring, and at the other end someone will be telling us one or both of them are dead. Will it be COVID-19 that kills them? I don’t know. Both of them have serious health problems. A virus such as COVID-19 would make easy work of them. We wish they would at least take basic safety precautions, but they won’t. I suspect that a month from now they will join their church family after church down at the local Olive Garden for lunch. “See, we all survived! Glory and praise to Jesus!” And three or four weeks later? Some of them may learn that their God is not in control; that their God is no match for COVID-19, influenza, or any of the other countless bacteria and viruses trying to kill us. Biology and science trump religion every time. Too bad the people who most need to hear this will be dead.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic

newark baptist temple heath ohio

Mark Falls is the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. The Baptist Temple, as it is commonly called, is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. The church also operates the Licking County Christian Academy. My wife’s uncle, the late James Dennis, pastored the Baptist Temple for over forty years. Polly and I attended the church for a short time in the 1980s. Polly’s dad moved his wife and two teen daughters to Newark in 1976 so he could become the church’s assistant pastor. Dad left the Baptist Temple in 1981 to start a new IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. Polly and I joined him there, helping to build the church until we left in 1983 and moved to Somerset, Ohio to start a new church.

Polly’s parents have lived in Newark for forty-five years. Both are in their 80s, in poor health, and depending on the day, knocking on death’s door. After closing the church in Buckeye Lake, Polly’s parents returned to the Baptist Temple, and remain faithful tithing members to this day.

By way of a disclaimer, readers should know that my wife and I have an adversarial and complicated relationship with the Baptist Temple. While we have many fond memories of our time at the church, we also bad memories that have left deep, lasting scars. That’s why when we briefly returned to the Newark area in 2005, we joined the Fallsburg Baptist Church, pastored by my best friend at the time Keith Troyer, and not the Baptist Temple. Art Ball, a missionary associated with the Baptist Temple, emailed me at the time, wondering why we weren’t planning to attend the Baptist Temple. Art made it clear that from his perspective the Baptist Temple was the only church in town! I refrained from sharing our backstory with him. I told Art that family history is complicated and there were a lot of things he didn’t know. He did not inquire further.

After James “Jim” Dennis retired, Mark Falls, a graduate of uber-fundamentalist Pensacola Christian College and Seminary, became pastor. While I appreciate many of the peripheral changes Falls has made to the church, he is, at heart, a Christian Fundamentalist. I have not met Falls personally, nor do I intend to do so. The only time Polly and I plan to darken to doors of the Baptist Temple is for funerals and weddings. Polly was last at the Baptist Temple for her uncle’s funeral (I was too sick to attend). I have not attended anything at the Baptist Temple since the 1990s. Along with Polly’s parents, we have a number of other relatives who either attend the Baptist Temple or are closely affiliated with the church. While we are, thus, symbiotically connected to the church, we certainly do not consider the Baptist Temple and its pastor our friends. I plan this year, health willing, to write a series of posts about our experiences at the Baptist Temple and with its former pastor, James Dennis. It’s a story that needs to be told, but for obvious reasons, I have been hesitant to tell it. As long as COVID-19 doesn’t get me, you can count on reading “The Baptist Temple” series in the coming months.

Polly calls her mother every Sunday at 10:00 PM. It is a ritual Polly’s mom looks forward too, and one that I remind Polly is very important, even if she doesn’t see that importance now. My mom committed suicide at age 54. Dad died of a stroke at age 49. Whatever my relationship may have been with my parents, I sure wish I could pick the phone up and call them, just to hear their voice and to tell them that I love them. There will come a day, sooner rather than later, that next call we get from Newark will be from one of our nephews telling us mom or dad is dead. We are prepared for such an eventuality, but I am of the opinion that it is important to keep in contact with our elderly parents. I don’t want Polly to regret not talking to her parents. I don’t want her sitting home on a Sunday evening wishing she could hear their voices one more time. The past fifteen years have certainly strained the relationship we have with Polly’s parents. Our leaving the ministry and Christianity is something Polly’s parents can not/will not understand. How is it possible that we are now unbelievers; atheists who have no interest in God, Jesus, the Bible, or church? While mom reminds us that she prays for our family every day, we have yet to have an honest discussion with Polly’s parents about why we no longer believe. And frankly, I doubt we will ever have this discussion. We are fine with that. Our concern is for their quality of life, and it is this issue that brings me to the subject of this post.

pastor mark falls
Mark Falls and his wife, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple

Last Saturday, March 14, Pastor Falls posted a live video to the Baptist Temple’s Facebook page detailing how he and the church would be handling the Coronavirus pandemic. I made an audio copy of the video which is posted below. Please forgive the lack of technical quality, but you should be able to hear my introduction and Falls’ words just fine. The audio clip is a little over six minutes long. I hope you will listen to it.

Audio recording of Mark Falls, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple, explaining the church’s plan for the Coronavirus pandemic

I have been listening to IFB preachers speak for most of my life. From the 1960s, when Tim LaHaye was my pastor, until today, I have heard countless sermons and preached thousands of sermons myself. I know firsthand the lingo, what I call preacher-speak. I also know how IFB preachers manipulate congregants with their words to achieve a desired objective. That psychological manipulation was on showroom display in Pastor Falls’ Facebook video. While I have no doubt that Falls will vehemently object to me characterizing his words as manipulative, the fact remains, through the use of Bible verses, appeals to distrust of government, and challenges to the depth of the faith of people who might stay home, Falls makes it clear that he expects people to be presented and accounted for the next day.

Falls begins his video by appealing to the distrust congregants have of government. While Falls praises Ohio governor Mike DeWine for exempting houses of worship from his “no social gathering” order, he also makes it clear that if DeWine ordered churches to close their doors that he would view this order as the state ordering churches to not obey God.

In Acts 5:29, Peter and the other Apostles said: We ought to obey God rather than men. Over the years I heard countless sermons and preached sermons on Acts 5:29. Christians are duty-bound to obey God, and not men (government), IFB preachers say. If the government asks churches/Christians to do anything that runs contrary to their interpretation of the Protestant Bible, they are expected to disobey. This thinking runs deep in the lifeblood of the Baptist Temple. Years ago, the Baptist Temple operated an unlicensed daycare called Temple Tots. Polly worked there for several years until she was summarily fired for not being a member of the church (we were living in Buckeye Lake at the time, helping Polly’s father start a church). The State of Ohio determined that ALL daycares had to be licensed by the state. The Baptist Temple appealed to Acts 5:29, and refused to be licensed. This, of course, put them in breach of the law, creating several years of back-and-forth litigation. The State finally won the battle, and rather than accept state licensure, the Baptist Temple closed its daycare. The Baptist Temple has other conflicts with government over the years, fueled by their insistence that the State had no to right to meddle in their business.

Falls then appeals to the mother of all guilt-inducing verses in the Bible, Hebrews 10:25:

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

This verse is used to remind congregants that GOD expects them to be in church every time the doors are open. And if you aren’t at the church’s Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night services, you’d better be so sick you can’t drag your sorry, backslidden ass to church. Real Christians cough, man up, and go to church. God will bless you if you do! Or so the thinking goes, anyway. I preached countless sermons so sick that I could have passed out at any moment. It took mononucleosis to knock me out of the pulpit for the first time (1991). Bless God, I was going to be there every time the doors where open. I planned to die with my boots on.

Of course, I passed this mentality on to the people I pastored. They genuinely feared God (or Pastor Bruce) would get them if they didn’t show up for churches. I routinely excoriated people who skipped church services. Lazy. Backslidden. Why, they might not even be saved! What kind of person chooses the lake, reunion, or their wedding anniversary over attending church and listening to my wonderful, Bible-based, Spirit-filled sermons?

It is clear, at least to me, that Falls expected church members to be at church unless they were really, really, really, I mean r-e-a-l-l-y sick. Falls did say that if people had Coronavirus symptoms that it was okay for them to miss church. Thanks, preacher. I wonder if the good pastor realized that this virus can be and is passed on by people not exhibiting ANY symptoms; that there could be Coronavirus Marys and Marks walking in the midst of the congregation infecting everyone they come in contact with?

Falls plants in the mind of congregants that he has serious doubts about what government is telling us about the Coronavirus. I didn’t realize Falls was a scientist, an epidemiologist, or an infectious disease expert. He is, however, an avid supporter of President Donald Trump, so that might help to explain things a bit. While Trump has now had a come to Jesus moment when it comes to COVID-19, I am sure he still believes that a lot of what experts are saying is “fake” news, attempts by the media, liberals, China, and non-Christians to destroy his presidency and foil his reelection. I doubt that Pastor Falls believes the media is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the Coronavirus Pandemic. By planting that seed in the minds of church members, he is affirming their conspiratorial doubts too.

Finally, Falls reminds church members that their God is still on the throne. This is his way of saying, “Look, Jesus, the Great Physician, has everything under control. There’s no need to fear a silly little virus. God will protect us, and if some us come down with COVID-19, well, that means it was God’s will. Live or die, it’s all in God’s hand. Now, get your ass down to 81 Licking View Drive and listen to some old-fashioned IFB preaching and singing!

Here’s why all this matters to me, and matters to my wife. Polly’s parents were in attendance Sunday night. Both of them have serious health problems. Mom has congestive heart failure. Her cardiologist told her to prepare to meet her maker. She is quite proud, however, of the fact that she has beaten the doctor’s time-of-death estimations. We are glad that she is still among the living too. That said, we hope that she doesn’t check out any time soon. We have our own health concerns to worry about, so we would like to think that everyone at their church, especially their pastor, has their best interests at heart. Unfortunately, as the story I am about to share with you will show, Pastor Falls does not care about what is best for them.

I told Polly that perhaps Falls should call each elderly/sick congregant and encourage them to stay home. Let them know that God understands. In IFB churches, pastors wield a tremendous amount of control and power. Falls could use these things for good, but, instead, he’s more concerned with making a stand against intrusive government intervention. He’s more concerned with preaching up faith and making sure people obey the Bible than he is caring for their physical welfare.

After the service, Falls greeted Polly’s mom and, I kid you not, shook her hand. He did question the wisdom of doing so, but likely at my mother-in-law’s insistence, Falls went ahead and shook her hand. As I listened to Mom recounting this story to Polly, I wanted to scream. How can you be so stupid? How can you be so reckless? How can you be so indifferent to the health and welfare of others? That goes for Pastor Falls AND my mother-in-law.

It remains to be seen how the Coronavirus pandemic shakes out. I do know this. If we all follow the example of Pastor Falls and the Newark Baptist Temple, there will be no controlling or mitigating this pandemic. Falls has a duty and obligation to care for his flock. He has failed to do so. He cannot know whether he himself has been exposed to the virus, or anyone else in attendance, for that matter. Instead, he has let his theology and politics dictate what he deems proper care. He’s young, so he has little risk of dying from COVID-19. Polly’s parents? They are at the front of the death line, and it’s a shame that their pastor is indifferent towards their frail condition. They have given more than half of their lives to the Baptist Temple. They deserve better.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.