Tag Archive: Evangelicalism

Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps

camps

Pastor Snoopy, a big dog in the IFB church and Pastor Woodstock, pastor of a small struggling church

To properly understand the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, you must first understand the IFB concept of camps. In the IFB, a camp is the tribe to which you belong. It is a membership group that is defined by such things as what Bible version is considered the “true” Word of God, what college the pastor attended, approval or disapproval of Calvinism, open or closed communion, or ecclesiastical, personal, and secondary separation. Many IFB camps will have multiple “positions” that define their group, and admission to the group is dependent on fidelity to these positions. Many pastors and churches belong to more than one camp.

IFB churches, colleges, parachurch organizations, evangelists, missionaries, and pastors are quick to state that they are totally independent of any authority or control but God. Like the Church of Christ, the IFB church movement is anti-denomination and any suggestion that they are a denomination brings outrage and denunciation.

The IFB church movement found its footing as a reaction to the perceived liberalism in denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the American Baptist Convention. In the 1970s and early 1980s, I heard IFB luminaries like Jack Hyles go on preaching tirades against the Southern Baptist Convention. Hyles would run down a list of the top 100 churches in America, attendance wise, and proudly remind people that the list contained only a handful of Southern Baptist churches.  Hyles made it clear that the attendance numbers were proof that God was blessing the IFB church movement. Hyles, along with other noted IFB preachers, encouraged young pastors to either infiltrate Southern Baptist churches and pull them out of the Convention or start new churches.

It should come as no surprise then that many local Southern Baptist churches, under the direction of an area missionary, would not accept resumes from men trained in IFB colleges when there was a pulpit vacancy. They rightly feared that if they hired an IFB-trained man he might try to pull the church out of the Convention. This was not paranoid thinking. Almost every IFB pastor who came of age in the 1960s-1980s heard sermons or classes on how to infiltrate a denominational church and change it or take it over. Pastors were schooled in things such as diluting the power base.  They were told that one of the first things they should do as a new pastor is determine who the power brokers were. Could they be brought over to  the pastor’s way of thinking? If so, he should befriend them. If not, he should work to marginalize their power by adding pastor-friendly men to church boards and by flooding the church membership with new converts. The goal was to further cripple denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention and to establish IFB churches in every community in America.

For decades, this plan worked and countless churches abandoned their denominational affiliations and became IFB churches. Thousands of new IFB churches were planted all over America. The IFB church movement, as a collective whole, was a religious force to be reckoned with. Their rape-and-pillage policy left carnage and destruction in its wake, not unlike the Charismatic movement during the same time period.

Despite taking over countless churches, starting new churches, establishing colleges, and sending missionaries across the globe, the IFB church movement could not maintain its meteoric growth. Over time, internal squabbles, scandal, doctrinal extremism, worship of personalities, charges of cultism, and a changing culture, eroded what had been built.

IFB pastors were quite proud of the fact that many of the largest churches in America were King James-loving, old fashioned, fire-and-brimstone preaching IFB churches. Today, there are no IFB churches on the Top 100 list.

Outside of Jerry Falwell’s church, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia — now a Southern Baptist congregation– none of the IFB churches on the Top 100 list in 1972 have as many people attending their churches today as they did in 1972. Some, such as Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan — the church I attended while in college — and the Indianapolis Baptist Temple have closed their doors. Others, such as the Canton Baptist Temple, Akron Baptist Temple, Landmark Baptist Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio, Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida are mere shadows of what they once were.

In 2008, only one IFB church was on the Top 100 Churches listFirst Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. They were listed as the 19th largest church in America, with a weekly attendance of 13,678.  This attendance number is less than their average attendance number in 1976.  Outreach Magazine lists NO IFB churches on their 2013 Top 100 Churches list. This does not necessarily mean that there are no IFB churches that are large enough to make the list. I suspect many of the larger IFB churches have stopped bragging about their attendance numbers or they don’t want to be grouped together with “liberal” churches.

Most of the IFB colleges that saw meteoric growth during the 1960s-1980s, now face static or declining enrollment numbers. Some have even closed their doors. Publications such as the Sword of the Lord, the IFB newspaper started by John R Rice, have lost thousands of subscribers. Everywhere one looks, the signs of decay and death are readily evident.  A movement that once proudly crowed of its numerical significance has, in three generations, become little more than an insignificant footnote in American religious history. While millions of people still attend IFB or IFB-like churches, their numbers continue to decline and there is nothing that suggests this decline will stop.

Many current IFB leaders live in denial about the true state of the IFB church movement. They now convince themselves that the numeric decline is due to their unflinching, uncompromising beliefs and preaching. Upton Sinclair wrote:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

I think this aptly describes what is going on among the leaders of the IFB church movement. Their continued power, control, and economic gain depend on them maintaining the illusion that the IFB church movement is healthy and still blessed by God. However, the facts on the ground clearly show that the IFB church movement is on life support and there is little chance that it will survive. Those who survive will liberalize, change their name, and try to forget their IFB past.

Every IFB church, pastor, and college has what I call a camp identity. While they claim to be Independent, their identity is closely connected to the people, groups, and institutions they associate with.

Some churches and pastors group around a college like Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, Cedarville University, Baptist Bible College, The Crown College, Maranatha Baptist University,Texas Independent Baptist Seminary, West Coast Baptist College, Massillon Baptist College, or Hyles Anderson College. Others group around specific doctrinal beliefs like Sovereign Grace Baptists, Association of Reformed Baptist Churches in America, or the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelical Churches.  Some, such as Missionary Baptists and Landmark Baptists group around certain ecclesiastical beliefs.  Still others, group around missionary endeavors. There are also countless churches that are IFB churches, churches such as John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, but refuse to claim the IFB moniker. The Bible church movement, IFB in every way but the name, has fellowship groups like The Independent Fundamental Churches of America.

Some of these groups will likely object to being considered the same as other IFB groups. Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptists will most certainly resent being talked about in the same discussion as the Sword of the Lord and Jack Hyles. But many Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptist pastors come from an IFB church background. While certain aspects of their theology might have changed, much of the IFB methodology and thinking remains. Some of the most arrogant, mean-spirited pastors I ever met were Sovereign Grace or Reformed Baptist pastors. They may have been five point Calvinists, but they were in every other way an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.

Most people don’t know that groups like the Southern Baptist Convention and the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches are really fellowship groups of like-minded pastors and churches. While they have many of the hallmarks of a denomination, their churches and pastors remain, for the most part, independent, under no authority but the local church.

IFB churches and pastors trumpet their independent nature and, as their history has clearly shown, this independence has resulted in horrible abuse and scandal.  But, despite their claim of independence, IFB churches and pastors are quite denominational and territorial.  They tend to group together in their various camps, only supporting churches, colleges, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries, that are in their respective camps.

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio. I contacted Gene Millioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church — the church where I was saved and called to preach — and asked him about the church supporting us financially. Millioni  asked me if I was going to become a part of the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship. He wanted to know if the church was going to be a BBF church. I told him no, and he told me that I could expect no support from Trinity unless I was willing to be a BBF pastor and church. I ran into similar problems with other pastors who demanded I be part of their camp in order to receive help.

Only one church financially supported me: First Baptist Church in Dresden, Ohio.  First Baptist, pastored by Midwestern Baptist College grad Mark Kruchkow, sent me $50 a month for a year or so. Every other dime of startup money came from my own pocket or the pockets of family members. I learned right away what it meant to be a true Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.

Over the years, I floated in and out of various IFB camps. I attended Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship meetings, Midwestern Baptist College meetings, Massillon Baptist College meetings, Sword of the Lord conferences, Bill Rice Ranch rallies, and the Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship. For a few years, I attended a gathering of Calvinistic Baptist pastors called the Pastor’s Clinic in Mansfield Ohio. When I pastored in Texas, I fellowshipped with like-minded Sovereign Grace Baptist pastors.

Every group demanded something from me, be it money, commitment, or fidelity to certain beliefs. If I were part of the group, I was expected to support the colleges, churches, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries the group approved of. Stepping beyond these approved entities brought disapproval, distance, and censure.

The next time an IFB church member or pastor tries to tell you he is an INDEPENDENT Baptist, I hope you will remember this post. Take a look at the colleges, missionaries, churches, and pastors, the IFB church member or pastor supports. It won’t take you long to figure out what camp they are in, and once you figure out what camp they are in, you will know what they believe and what they consider important. The old adage, birds of a feather flock together, is certainly true when it comes to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement.

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Tony Soprano Would Make a Good Independent Baptist Preacher

tony soprano

(The terms preacher and pastor are used interchangeably in this article)

Several years ago, I binge watched all 86 episodes of  the HBO show The Soprano’s. Once I started watching The Soprano’s, I was hooked. I quickly found out that the HBO version was quite a bit more racy than the sanitized version currently found on various cable TV channels.

The main character in The Soprano’s is New Jersey mafia boss Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini. As I watched episode after episode, it dawned on me that Tony Soprano would make a good Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher.

Now before I detail why Tony Soprano would make a good IFB preacher, I want to make sure every easily offended IFB preacher understands that I am not writing about ALL Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preachers. Yes, there are decent IFB preachers, just like there are non-pedophile Roman Catholic priests. However, the personality and character displayed by Tony Soprano is quite prominent among IFB preachers, so I have no qualms about painting with a broad brush. Especially since little is done in IFB circles to deal with the Tony Soprano’s in their midst.

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is noted for elevating men to a religious version of rock-star status. Every year, conferences are held that showcase the rock-star preachers of the IFB church movement. These men are treated like gods. People sitting in the pew listening to their oration are awed by their preaching and their stories of God’s power and blessing. More than a few young preachers leave such conferences with their mind made up that they are going to pattern their ministry after So and So famous IFB preacher. After all, God gave So and So IFB preacher great success, surely God would do the same for the young  preacher if he just followed in So and So IFB preacher’s footsteps.

Even among IFB preachers who are not on the conference circuit, rock-star status can be gained. I know, for a time, I had such status. From 1983-1994, I pastored the Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio. I started the church from scratch and the church grew quickly. In a few years, I was advertising the church as “Perry County’s Fastest Growing Church” and “The largest Non-Catholic Church in Perry County.”

Pretty soon young and/or struggling preachers wanted to know my recipe for success. I humbly told them…God, and then I went on to list  the five keys to my success:

  • Aggressive evangelism
  • Bus ministry
  • Regularly visiting in the homes of every church member
  • Great preaching
  • Attracting Christians who had the same vision I did
  • Marginalizing or running off church members who did not share my vision

Having rock-star status afforded me the opportunity to preach at other churches, conferences, youth rallies, and revivals. It would be dishonest of me not to say that I was quite enamored with my success. Yes, I believed it was God working through me, but it was me doing it. (I was 26 years old when I started the Somerset Baptist Church)

IFB churches are almost always pastored by one man. Rarely do IFB churches have more than one senior pastor. Things like a plurality of elders or a church board are often preached against and considered unbiblical. Most IFB preachers I knew, including myself, bought into the Lee Roberson philosophy, Everything rises and falls on leadership. This meant that the success and failure of the church depended on me, the preacher.

Sadly, the focus on one man leads to all kinds of problems. In most IFB churches, the preacher has near absolute power and control over the church. Unless he preaches heresy, steals money, screws a deacon’s wife, or gets caught at the local strip club, his power will likely not be challenged.

The longer a preacher is at a church the more power he accumulates. Often, when a church member tries to challenge the preacher’s control, they’ll  be run out of the church. Obedience to the Man of God is expected.

Three Bible verses are used to prop up the preacher’s authoritarian rule. After all, if it is in the Bible, it must be obeyed:

  • Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. (Psalm 105:15)
  • Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17)
  • Rebuke not an elder…(1 Timothy 5:1a)

Never mind that these verses are taken out of context. Countless IFB preachers use these verses to remind church members that they are the man  GOD has put in charge of the church. He is the CEO, bwana, potentate, and king of the church.  Messing with the preacher means you are messing with God.  Church members are reminded about what happens when you mess with God’s man:

And he (Elisha) went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. (2 Kings 2:23,24)

Mess with God’s man, challenge his authority, and you might get eaten by bears or some other judgment might befall you.

In most IFB churches, the preacher is the cog around which everything turns. When church members are asked about where they go to church they often say I go to Pastor So and So’s church. The preacher’s name is prominently displayed on the church sign, church advertising, and printed materials.

Sadly, many IFB churches, due to their preacher-centered structure, suffer serious decline or even closure when the preacher leaves. This is especially true for churches who lose their founding pastor. People are loyal to the man, and when the man leaves so does their loyalty. If the church survives, it often faces attendance and offering decline as members seek out other IFB churches to attend. Many of the big name IFB churches in the 1960’s-1980’s did not survive the founding pastor leaving.  Those that did survive are but a shell of what they once were. This same problem is often seen in privately held corporations when the next generation takes over the company.

Many IFB churches survive the founding pastor’s departure and the resultant attendance and offering decline. A new pastor comes in, states his new vision for the church, and things continue on. In time, the new pastor leaves and the whole process of upheaval and decline continues until the church gets a-n-o-t-h-e-r new pastor. The average church changes its pastor every 30-60 months.  Some churches, after years and years of new pastors coming and going, close their doors.

With the above background in mind, let me now show you why I think Tony Soprano would make a good IFB preacher.

Tony Soprano is a charismatic person. He has a way of getting people to like him. People are drawn to him. He has a way of manipulating people to get what he wants from them. Most every episode of The Soprano’s shows Tony Soprano manipulating women, fellow mobsters, family members, political leaders, business owners, and even his psychiatrist to get what he wants.

In Tony Soprano’s world, it is all about getting what he wants. As the boss on the New Jersey crew, he has absolute life and death power. He ruthlessly uses this power to have sex with women, amass large sums of illicitly gained money, and remove anyone who challenges his control of the New Jersey crew.

Tony Soprano is a textbook narcissist. It is all about him. Tony Soprano is, with rare exception, indifferent to the problems of others. All that matters to him is his continued control of the mob kingdom he and his father John and Uncle Jr. have built.  Anyone who gets in his way ends up in a shallow grave or wearing concrete boots at the bottom of the ocean.

Tony Soprano expects people to be loyal to him. No matter what he wants done, say having his cousin’s fiancé murdered, he expects people to support him.  He expects everyone to follow the Mafia Code of Conduct, (check out Wikipedia article on omertà)  even though he, at times, ignores the code.

In Tony Soprano’s world, it is all about power and control.  This even extends to his wife, children, and extended family. Tony Soprano is THE man and he expects everyone to bow to his wishes. As anyone who has watched The Soprano’s knows, Tony Soprano has on and off problems with getting his wife and children to obey him.

Carmella, played by Edie Falco, Tony Soprano’s wife, throws him out of the house because of his philandering. When Carmella tries to file for divorce, she finds out that no divorce lawyer will take her case. Ultimately, she realizes that getting a divorce is impossible and she makes an uneasy peace with Tony.

Tony Soprano is the cog around which everything revolves. He expects everyone to tell him what is going on. Failing to do this often results in Tony punishing them physically or monetarily, and in some cases Tony punishes them by “whacking” them.

Occasionally, those close to Tony try to talk to him about his excesses or errors in judgment. (people like Jackie, Silvo, Paulie, Chrissy, Johnny Sack, Hesh, and Bobby) In a few instances, Tony changes his ways, but most often Tony ignores those who try to correct him. Often, attempts made to challenge his actions or behavior result in Tony holding a grudge. Sometimes, these grudges end with the person being killed.

At times, Tony Soprano is conflicted over his behavior. He has twinges of guilt over his infidelity and his killing of once loyal soldiers and friends. He often talks to his psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, played by Lorraine Bracco, about his guilt and misgivings over some of the things he has done. Tony is rarely completely honest with Dr. Melfi, and when she challenges him, he often explodes in anger and ends the therapy session.

I see in Tony Soprano the perfect Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher. He is charismatic and friendly. He believes he is right and he is willing to use his power and authority to maintain his rightness. He is a chosen man, rising from the streets to mob boss. His testimony would be quite similar to many an IFB preacher’s testimony of salvation and calling.

Like the IFB preacher’s appeal to the Bible as his sole source of authority, Tony Soprano appeals to the Mafia Code of Conduct to govern his actions. And like more than a few IFB preachers who ignore the Bible when it suits them, Tony ignores the Mafia Code of Conduct when he needs to.

Tony Soprano expects others to pay homage to him. He is, after all, the boss. So it is with many IFB preachers. They are the man of God, they are the de facto power and authority in the church.  IFB preachers are often lavished with gifts, money, all-expense paid trips, new suits, etc. These things are considered proper expressions of the church’s love for their preacher. After all, where would the church be if Pastor So and So was not their preacher?

In many instances, the IFB pastor is regaled like Herod. In Acts 12:21-23 we find:

And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.

While I don’t think there is a god that strikes anyone dead, rock-star preachers go the way of all men. They die and their power and authority dies with them. That is, unless they pass their power and authority on to their son, a common occurrence in IFB churches.

In the final episode of The Soprano’s, Tony is sitting in a café with his wife and son. His daughter is outside parking her car. Into the cafe walk several men who look suspicious. Due to an ongoing bloody war between the New Jersey crew and one of the New York mafia families, Tony is afraid they are going to try to kill him.

The episode ends with the doorbell of the café ringing as the door is opened. Tony Soprano looks up and then the screen goes dark. Viewers are left to wonder what happened. Was it Tony’s daughter coming through the door? Was it a hit-man?

Unlike Tony Soprano’s fate, we know what is happening to the IFB church movement. It is dying. While some IFB churches continue to attract people, countless other churches have closed their doors or changed their affiliation. Thousands of church members have fled IFB churches in hopes of finding a kinder, gentler, less authoritarian Christianity. Sadly, they often find out that there are Tony Sopranos in every denomination.  Many IFB church members end up leaving Christianity altogether. Some embrace other religions or become humanists, agnostics, or atheists.

As I have stated many times before, I am not anti-Christian. I am well aware that there are many fine Christian churches and pastors. While I disagree with their beliefs, I recognize that many people desire and need religion in their lives. My primary beef is with  authoritarian IFB churches and pastors and Evangelicals who use cult-like tactics to control people. My wish for the IFB church movement is a swift and sure death. There are better religious choices for people if they dare look. Why continue to eat steak at Ponderosa (Pound-of-Gristle)  when you can eat a thick-cut steak at Texas Roadhouse?

Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sin

lester roloff

Lester Roloff

In the 1970s, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher Lester Roloff began what later would be called the IFB teen home industry. In 1958, Roloff started The Lighthouse for Boys, a home  for “delinquent boys to be isolated from drugs and liquor until they were delivered.” Marie, Lester Roloff’s wife had this to say about The Lighthouse:

“the Lighthouse has been a haven for boys no one else wanted- boys who were one step from reform school or the penitentiary. … The boys come in all sizes and shapes, but they have one thing in common regardless of their age- they are old in sorrow, sadness, and hostility. … At first the boys cover their inward hurts with belligerence and a bravado that they do not actually possess. These boys are almost without exception bereft of parental love and guidance. Some are actually homeless while others have rebelled against parental authority and have gotten into serious trouble with the law.”

In 1967, “while preaching at a gospel meeting in the Fort Worth, Texas area,… Roloff became aware of a need for a home for unwed pregnant girls.” A short time later, Roloff started the Rebekah Home for Girls near Corpus Christi, Texas. Marie Roloff described the girls at Rebekah Home this way:

“as we began working with these girls, we realized that many of them were unwanted and consequently unloved. Lester said, ‘No wonder children have become embittered and even criminals at an early age. They’ve never seen love in those who gave them birth. The right kind of love would lock and stop the wheels of divorce, delinquency, murder and war and turn this hell on earth into a haven of peace, rest, and joy for these children.”

Countless IFB churches and pastors supported Roloff in his attempt to bring order, discipline, and righteousness into the lives of rebellious teenagers. When parents were frustrated with their “rebellious” teenager and didn’t know what to do, The Lighthouse for Boys and Rebekah Home for Girls became the go-to places to send their children. Their pastor assured them that Brother Roloff knew how to “fix” their offspring.

What many parents, churches, and pastors didn’t understand, was that Roloff and his staff used violence to beat children into submission. After the homes closed for the last time in 2001, The Texas Monthly reported:

…The Rebekah Home took in fallen girls from “jail houses, broken homes, hippie hives, and dope dives” who were “walking through the wilderness of sin,” he told his radio listeners. Roloff remade these “terminal cases” into Scripture-quoting, gospel-singing believers. Girls who had been saved harmonized along with his Honeybee Quartet at revivals and witnessed to the power of the Lord on his radio show. He showed off his Rebekah girls at every turn, and he was amply rewarded: Each day, packages arrived at Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises laden with checks, cash, jewelry, the family silver—whatever the faithful could provide.

Discipline at the Rebekah Home was rooted in a verse from Proverbs: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.” The dictum was liberally applied. Local authorities first investigated possible abuse at the Rebekah Home in 1973, when parents who were visiting their daughter reported seeing a girl being whipped. When welfare workers attempted to inspect the home, Roloff refused them entry on the grounds that it would infringe on the separation between church and state. Attorney General John Hill promptly filed suit against Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises, introducing affidavits from sixteen Rebekah girls who said they had been whipped with leather straps, beaten with paddles, handcuffed to drainpipes, and locked in isolation cells—sometimes for such minor infractions as failing to memorize a Bible passage or forgetting to make a bed. Roloff defended these methods as good old-fashioned discipline, solidly supported by Scripture, and denied that any treatment at Rebekah constituted abuse. During an evidentiary hearing, he made his position clear by declaring, “Better a pink bottom than a black soul.” Attorney General Hill bluntly replied that it wasn’t pink bottoms he objected to, but ones that were blue, black, and bloody…

…The Rebekah Home was bent on driving sin from even the wickedest of girls and making them see the light of God. Jo Ann Edwards was brought to the Rebekah Home in 1982, after running away from home at the age of thirteen. “I was an acolyte at my church before I went there, and God was very close to me in my heart,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Victoria, where she is the mother of five children. “But that place turned me against Him for a while and made me very hard. I thought that even He had left me.” As a new girl, she was scrutinized by “helpers,” the saved girls who handed out demerits for misbehavior. Demerits were given for an endless host of wrongdoings: talking about “worldly” things, singing songs other than gospel songs, speaking too loudly, doodling, nail biting, looking at boys in church, failing to snitch on other sinners. Each demerit earned her a lick, which the Rebekah Home’s housemother administered with a wood paddle. The beatings left her black and blue. “I got twenty licks my first time, and I was hit hard—so hard that I couldn’t sit for days,” Jo Ann said. “I begged [the housemother] to stop. When she was done, she hugged me and said, ‘God loves you.’ She told me to go back to the living room and read Scripture and sing ‘Amazing Grace’ with the other girls.”

Only Rebekah girls who had proven their devotion by repeatedly testifying to God’s grace could avoid Bible discipline. Some girls were genuinely troubled teenagers who had gotten mixed up with drugs or prostitution; others had been caught having sex; many were guilty of nothing more than growing up in abusive homes. Tara Cummings, now 31 and a mortgage consultant in Chicago, was sent there by her father, a preacher, whose beatings had left her badly bruised. Even she was not immune to judgment. “I was told that I was a reprobate, that I was beyond help and was going to hell,” she said. She was treated to the full range of the Rebekah Home’s punishments, which were not limited to lickings. “Confinement” meant spending weeks hanging her head without speaking. “Sitting on the wall” required sitting with her back against a wall and without the support of a chair, even as her legs buckled beneath her. But kneeling was what she most dreaded. Kneeling could last for as long as five hours at a time; she might have to kneel while holding a Bible on each outstretched palm or with pencils wedged beneath her knees. Only girls seen as inveterate sinners received the full brunt of the home’s crueler punishments. “You had to be saved,” Tara said. “It didn’t matter if you didn’t feel moved to do that—you did it to survive.”

The worst form of punishment, the lockup, was reserved for girls who had not yet been saved—who had talked of running away or who had proven to be particularly intractable. The lockup was a dorm room devoid of furniture or natural light where girls spent days, or weeks, alone. Taped Roloff sermons were piped into the room, and the near-constant sound of his voice was the girls’ only companionship. Former Rebekah resident Tamra Sipes, now 34 and working in advertising for a newspaper in Oak Harbor, Washington, remembers one girl who was relegated to the lockup for an entire month. “The smell had become so bad from her not being able to shower or bathe that it reeked in the hallway,” she said. “We could do nothing to help her. I remember standing in roll call one day waiting for my name to be called off, and I was directly across from the door. She was singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to herself in such a pitiful voice that I couldn’t help but cry for her.”…

You can read the entire Texas Monthly article here.

Though Roloff died in a plane crash in November 1982, the Roloff homes remained in operation until Wiley Cameron, Roloff’s right hand man, closed them in 2001. When  asked about charges of abuse, Cameron stated:

We feel it’s a Bible mandate, like the Samaritan, to help people in the ditch. If we have to get down in the ditch to help people, sometimes we get a little dirty doing it. Put another way, We get troubled kids and we use unconventional methods. We have never abused one person—all of these years, there has never been one case of child abuse that’s been proved in court. There have been allegations, but some people construe abuse where there was not abuse.

In IFB circles, Lester Roloff was quite popular. He and the traveling singing groups from the Rebekah Home for Girls made uncounted appearances at IFB preacher’s conferences and churches. As a young pastor, I heard them several times. Through his preaching and the singing of the Honey Bees, Rainbow Quartet, and Rebekah Choir, Roloff appealed to pastors to help support his work. Pastors, thrilled that there was a place where troubled church teenagers could get godly, Christian help, made sure Roloff had a steady stream of teenagers to “help.” This stream would later number 500 or more children under the care of  Roloff’s “ministries.”

(The above video is from 1979,  Piney Heights Baptist Church, now Lakeside Baptist, in Clearwater, South Carolina. Bill Reese pastored the church for over 50 years. Please listen carefully to this video. Look at the girls in the singing group. What do you see? Happiness? Joy? Where are their smiles? Listen as Roloff calls his charges terminal cases and dividends paid out to stockholders. Listen, as Roloff and Reese brag about how God is using them in a mighty way)

My wife and I grew up in the IFB church movement, attended Midwestern Baptist College, an IFB institution operated by Tom Malone, and pastored several IFB churches in the 1970s and 1980s. Lester Roloff and the great work he was doing in Texas and his battle against the evil government were topics of frequent discussion. We never heard one person speak negatively about Roloff. While we heard rumors about the charges of abuse, these rumors were dismissed as government attempts to destroy Roloff’s work or the words of jealous men who weren’t as blessed by God as Brother Roloff was.

Influenced by Roloff, many IFB pastors started up group homes to help rebellious teenagers.  New Bethany Home for Girls was one such enterprise. In 1971, Mack Ford opened New Bethany. Following the Roloff blueprint, administrators used physical violence to break the will of rebellious teen age girls who were incarcerated against their will at New Bethany. Girls were also sexually violated, molested, and raped. As with Wiley Cameron in 2001, Ford denied anything untoward happened at New Bethany. He died February 11, 2015, having never been brought to justice.

It’s time for IFB churches and pastors to atone for their sin. It is now known that IFB teen group homes routinely used violence to break the will of those sent to them. In some instances, sexual violence took place and criminal acts were committed by serial predators. IFB churches and pastors provided these homes with a steady supply of children; children whose lives were often scarred forever. Just as the man who drives the get-away car for a robbery crew are accessories to robbery, IFB preachers are culpable in the abuse that took place at The Lighthouse, Rebekah Home for Girls, New Bethany Home for Girls, Hephzibah House, and other similar homes.

Where are the IFB pastors who are willing to admit their culpability? Where are the preachers who are willing to publicly air the dirty laundry of the IFB church movement? Countless boys and girls had their lives ruined by men like Lester Roloff and Mack Ford. Thanks to the internet, the stories of abuse, rape, and violence are readily accessible. When will a noted IFB pastor, one of the big dogs, decide to publicly and completely expose IFB teen group homes for what they are/were: money-making businesses that abused and molested children in the name of God?

Here and there, often under the radar, IFB teen group homes are still in operation. Exempt from state and federal laws, these homes are free to follow Roloff’s plan for making rebellious teenagers submissive. In some cases, these current Roloffs and Fords, use their homes to take sexual advantage of vulnerable boys and girls. Why is there not an IFB pastor willing to stand up and say ENOUGH? Is their hatred of the government blinding them to what went on in these homes and what continues to go on until this day?

Thankfully, I can say that I never had a part in sending a child to one of the IFB teen group homes. It almost happened once, but the parents decided against it. In the 1980s, Ron Williams and a group from Hephzibah House came to the church I pastored in SE Ohio. By then, I was beginning to have my doubts about the IFB church movement, so nothing came of Williams’ visit to our church.

While my hands are relatively clean, I know a number of pastors who promoted and supported men like Lester Roloff, Mack Ford, Jack Patterson, Olen King, and Ron Williams, and others whose names are lost to me. Just the other day I mentioned in a post that the home church of IFB evangelist Don Hardman supports Ron Williams, Hephzibah House and Olen King, Second Chance Ranch.

Uncounted IFB churches and pastors continue to support unlicensed teen group homes that use violence to break “rebellious” of teenagers. Why do they continue to do so? Why do they lend their support do abuse and violence? Perhaps it is time to publicize the name of the churches and pastors who don’t have a problem with using violence to subdue a teenager or don’t have a problem with sexual assault or rape. If you, dear reader , run across information that clearly connects an IFB church or pastor to one of these homes, please let me know.

For further information on IFB teen group homes (please use the contact form to send me any other links that should be added to this list):

Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls

Jo Wright, Victimized No More

Rebecca Catalanello, The Long Road: To the Gates of New Bethany and Back

Andy Kopsa, History of Violence: Christian Boarding Schools and the Trial of Jack Patterson

Kathryn Joyce, Horror Stories from Tough-Love Teen Homes

HEAL database for New Bethany Home for Girls

HEAL articles on Fraudulent and Abusive Treatment Centers for Children and Young Adults

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Dear Women: Jesus Should be Your Romantic Interest

fallen annie lobert

According to Annie Lobert, founder of the group Hookers for Jesus, women are putting their love, hope, desire, and need in the wrong place. The only person who can give women all they could ever want from a relationship is Jesus.

In a recent Christian Post interview, Lobert had this to say:

“What us women need to understand [is] if a man can’t do what you ideally think he should do, [it is because] God is the only one who can do that for you. Jesus Christ is the only one who can ultimately be your ultimate romantic interest and I’m not talking about sexually. I’m talking about that intimate love bond that we have that heals all wounds, that heals all insecurities, that heals all the things that we think our husbands should do and be…”

“My prince was Jesus Christ. I said that in the book, it was Jesus Christ, that was my knight in shining armor and I didn’t know it.”

We poor men don’t stand a chance.

On second thought, maybe we do. What kind of man was Jesus? Was he a man whom women would love to be in a relationship with? When Jesus walked into a bar or club, did everyone’s eyes turn towards him? Did women think, wonder what Jesus looks like under his tunic? Was Jesus THE man that every woman longed for?

Jesus was a single man born out-of-wedlock. He grew up in a carpenters home in a squalid village. As a 12-year-old, Jesus disrespected his parents and ran off and later in life he publicly disrespected his mother when she asked him to get some wine from the fridge. Jesus spent most of his life traveling with a group of men. Dare we imagine how many fart jokes were told by Jesus or how rarely he took a bath, shaved, or used Giorgio Armani cologne? While there were women who traveled with Jesus from time to time, we don’t know if he ever had sex with one of them. Perhaps, as some suggest, Jesus was gay.

The Bible doesn’t tell us how the adult Jesus made a living. Did he work for a living or did he sponge off the people who traveled with him? He owned no property and had no house he called home. When a man expressed interest in traveling with Jesus but wanted to wait a couple of days so he could bury his father, Jesus told him to forget about the funeral and follow him.

And I could go on…the gospels paint a less than flattering picture of Jesus. Once you strip away the supernatural and fantasy from the story, what you are left with is a very ordinary man whom many women would not view as the ideal catch. Jesus was hardly the man above all men with whom every woman would want to have a relationship.

Lobert fails to realize that she actually makes life more complex for Christian women with her “Jesus Christ is the only one who can ultimately be your ultimate romantic interest” thinking. This fictitious, romanticized Jesus is the gold standard women are told they should measure their relationships by. When compared to the human Jesus, many men fare quite well. But, the fictitious, romantic, gives-me-an-orgasm-every-time-I-pray Jesus? No man can measure up.

The good news for men is that Lobert’s Jesus is a fiction of her imagination. If a woman wants a relationship with a man, we’re it.

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God Gave Me Breast Cancer Because He Loves Me

calvin and hobbes god

Joni Eareckson Tada was severely injured in a diving accident in 1967. For the past forty-eight years she has been a quadriplegic. Tada’s life story was popularized in a best-selling book titled Joni.

In the Friday, June 25, 2010 edition of the Defiance Crescent-News, there was a story about Tada undergoing treatment for breast cancer (behind pay wall).

As I read the article, what astounded me was Tada’s comment about God’s involvement in her breast cancer.

Tada said:

I’ve often said that our afflictions come from the hand of our all-wise and sovereign God, who loves us and wants what’s best for us. So, although cancer is something new, I am content to receive from God, what ever he deems fit for me. Yes, it’s alarming, but rest assured Ken and I are utterly convinced that God is going to use this to stretch our faith, brighten our hope and strengthen of our witness to others.

In other words, God gave Tada breast cancer because he loved her and deemed it best for her. God gave her cancer so that she and her husband would have more faith and be a stronger witness to others.

Tada’s God is best described as a know-it-all deity who afflicts humans with sickness, disease, suffering, and death because he loves them and wants to increase their faith in him. He then wants them to use the afflictions he gave them to tell others what a wonderful God he is.

Crazy, isn’t it? I doubt if Sigmund Freud could even figure this out.

The Christian interpretation of the Bible presents God as a father and the Christian as a child. Good fathers love, protect,  and nurture their children. They don’t beat them, abuse them, or afflict them with suffering. Every right-minded human being knows what qualities make for a good father. We also know what qualities make for a bad father.

A father who has the power to heal and doesn’t is a bad father. A father who causes suffering, sickness, and disease when he could do otherwise is a bad father. A father who afflicts his child with breast cancer is a bad father. A father who gives his child breast cancer so she can tell everyone what a wonderful father he is, is a bad father. From my seat in the pew, this God-the-father, as presented by modern Christianity, is a bad father.

Tada’s argument for a breast cancer-giving God is one of the reasons I left Christianity. I could no longer believe in a loving God that willingly afflicts and kills his children because he has determined that it is best for them. This God demands the Christian bear whatever affliction he brings upon them, and in true narcissistic fashion also demands that they love him while he is afflicting them. I want nothing to do with such a capricious, vindictive, warped God.

Disease, sickness, suffering, and death are all around us. If God could do something about these things and doesn’t, what are we to make of such a God? What are we to make of a God who is seemingly involved in the intimate details of life, yet when things really matter is absent without leave (AWOL)?

Christians sing a song that says “what a mighty God we serve.” A mighty God? In what way is the Christian God mighty? Batman and Superman were mighty gods. They used their powers for good. They were always on call, ready at a moment’s notice, to swoop in and help those in need.  But the Christian God ? It seems the bigger the need the harder he is to find.  As I noted in another post, God seems to involve himself in trivial matters like getting a woman a $200 refund on her plane ticket, but he seemingly can’t be found when an environmentally catastrophic oil leak needs plugging. Perhaps we need to forget about this God and turn on the Bat signal.

I am saddened by Joni Eareckson Tada’s affliction with breast cancer. Being a quadriplegic for over fifty years is enough suffering for one lifetime. But I know just because you have one health problem in life doesn’t mean you won’t be afflicted again. As I have learned in my own life, just because I have Fibromyalgia doesn’t mean I won’t get some other disease. Life isn’t fair. Life can be cruel.  I’ve known Christians whose lives were devastated by one tragedy or sickness after another. If God is the one dumping all this on them, it would seem proper to ask God to move on to someone else. “Please God afflict sister so-and-so. She is in perfect health.”

Christians often quote the verse that says God will never give anyone more than they can bear. In other words, no matter what you face in life, God has determined you can bear it. This verse always leaves God off the hook. God, who is sovereign over all things, determines that you can bear to have cancer, AIDS, Fibromyalgia, ALS, MS, emphysema, or any other dreaded disease, so he afflicts you. You are expected to bear whatever he brings your way. If you don’t, it is your fault. Your failure to bear your burden shows that you lack faith.

Reality paints us a different picture. Many Christians, if not most, do not bear their burdens as the Bible says they should. I have counseled hundreds of Christians over the years who were weighed down by the burdens given to them by God (so they thought). At the time, I encouraged them to have more faith, but rarely did the faith of the afflicted rise to the weight of the burden. Most often, the burden broke their back. Sadly, many of these people continue to walk around, stooped over and crippled, all the while singing “what a mighty God we serve.”

There is a hypocritical vein in this line of thinking. The theory is this: God afflicts his children with suffering for their good because he loves them and wants to increase their faith. I would ask then, why do Christians go to the doctor and take prescription medications? It seems to me that not seeing the doctor and not taking medication would result in a greater increase in faith. Surely a sovereign, omnipotent God is bigger than high blood pressure or diabetes and surely a sovereign, omnipotent God is bigger than any pain a Christian might have, right?

There are Christian sects that do have this kind of faith. They don’t go to doctors and they refuse to take  medication of any kind. And every few years we have the privilege of reading about them in the newspaper when they are charged with manslaughter or child abuse for failing to get proper medical care for one of their children.

For me personally, it is more palatable for there to be no God, or a God that is not involved in his creation, than there is a God that afflicts people because he loves them and wants to increase their faith. Such a God is a monster of vast proportions, a God unworthy of  worship.

I recognize that sickness, suffering, and disease can be instrumental in shaping us and changing us and making us better people. But this is far different from a loving God-the-father afflicting us so that we will love him, have more faith, and be better witnesses. Such thinking is barbaric and best relegated to the ancient past it came from.

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From Evangelicalism to Atheism Part Four

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

In 1995, after two short stints pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas and Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio, I started Grace Baptist Church in West Unity, Ohio. We would later change the church’s name to Our Father’s House to better reflect our inclusiveness.

When I started Grace Baptist Church, I was a five-point Calvinist, not much different theologically from my description  in post number three. I remained a Calvinist until the late 1990s, at which time my theology and political beliefs began lurching leftward. The church changed its name and I began to focus more on inclusivism and good works. During this time, my theological beliefs moved from a Calvinistic/Reformed perspective to more of a Mennonite/Good works perspective. Much of my preaching focused on the good works every Christian should be doing and the church’s responsibility to minister to the sick, poor, and marginalized.

As my preaching moved leftward, so did my politics. By the time I left Our Father’s House in July of 2002, I no longer politically identified as a Republican. The single biggest change in my beliefs came when I embraced  pacifism. The seeds of pacifism were sown years before when the United States attacked Iraq in the first Iraq War. I opposed the war, and as I began reading authors like Thomas Merton, Dorothy DayJohn Howard YoderGandhi, and Eileen Egan, I concluded that all war was immoral.

By the time of the Y2K scare:

  • I was preaching inclusivism, encouraging interaction and work with all who claimed the Christian moniker.
  • I was preaching a works-centered, lifestyle-oriented gospel. Gone was the emphasis on being “born again” or making a public profession of faith. In particular, I focused on the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • I believed the institutional, organized Christian church was hopelessly broken.
  • I was a committed, vocal pacifist, opposing all war.

In 2003, I pastored Victory  Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church, in Clare, Michigan, for seven months. Both Polly and I agree that we never should have moved to Clare.  It was a wasted seven months that ended with me resigning from the church. This was the last church I pastored.

While I was pastor of Victory Baptist, a friend of mine from Ohio came to visit us. From 1991-1994, he had been a member of the church I pastored in Somerset, Ohio.  After listening to me preach, he told me that he was astounded by how much my preaching had changed, how liberal it had become. And he was right. While my preaching was orthodox theologically, my focus had dramatically changed.

In 2004, Polly and I moved to Yuma, Arizona. We lived in Yuma for almost seven months. We then moved to Newark Ohio, where we lived for ten months. In July of 2005, we moved back to the NW Ohio community of Bryan. In May of 2007, we bought a house in Ney, Ohio where we currently live.

As you can see, we did a lot of moving over the course of four years. We were restless seekers. Every place we lived, we diligently, Sunday after Sunday, Wednesday after Wednesday, visited local churches in hopes of finding a spiritual home. Instead of finding a home, we increasingly became dissatisfied and disillusioned. We came to the conclusion, regardless of the name over the door, that churches were all the same. Dysfunctional, incestuous, focused inward, entertainment/program driven, resembling a social club far more than the church Jesus purportedly built. This would prove to be the emotional factor that drove me to investigate thoroughly the theological claims of the Christian church and the teachings of the Bible. This investigation ultimately led to my deconversion.

From 2004-2007, Polly and I visited over a hundred churches of  numerous sects:

  • Baptist (Independent, Southern, American, Conservative, Reformed, Sovereign Grace, Free Will, Primitive, GARBC, Missionary)
  • Lutheran (American, Missouri)
  • Church of Lutheran Brethren
  • Church of Christ (instrumental, non-instrumental)
  • Disciples of Christ
  • Methodist
  • Free Methodist
  • Christian Union
  • Church of Christ in Christian Union
  • United Brethren
  • Christian Missionary and Alliance
  • Roman Catholic
  • Apostolic
  • Vineyard
  • Calvary Chapel
  • Bible Church
  • Pilgrim Holiness
  • Orthodox
  • Episcopalian
  • Church of God
  • Church of God Anderson
  • Pentecostal
  • Charismatic
  • Assembly of God
  • Mennonite
  • Old Order Mennonite
  • Presbyterian Church USA
  • Orthodox Presbyterian Church
  • Christian Reformed
  • Protestant Reformed
  • United Church of Christ
  • Friends
  • And a plethora of independent, unaffiliated churches

You can read the entire list of churches we visited here.

Some Sundays, we attended three different churches. We also attended Wednesday prayer meetings (all poorly attended) and a fair number of special services such as revival meetings during the week.

The most astounding thing that came out of our travels through Christendom is that most pastors don’t care if people visit their churches. Less than 10% of the churches we visited made any contact with us after we visited. Only a handful visited us in our home without us asking them to do so.

In November of 2008, I told Polly that I was no longer a Christian, that I no longer believed the central tenets of the Christian religion. Not long after, Polly came to a similar conclusion. In 2009, I wrote my infamous letter, A Letter to Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter was my official coming out. Later in 2009, a former parishioner, friend and current pastor of a Christian Union church came to see me in hopes of rescuing me. I later wrote him a letter. You can read the letter here.

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From Evangelicalism to Atheism Part Three

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

I am often asked, when did you first begin to doubt? This is not an easy question for me to answer. As I look back over my life, there were many instances where I had doubts about a theological or political belief. If there is one constant about life, it is change. Over time, our understanding, beliefs, and ideologies change. Sometimes, the change is so subtle that we are not really aware of it until we look back on our lives  years later. Anyone who says that he has never changed his beliefs–and I know several pastors who say this about themselves–is either intellectually lazy, a liar, or living in denial.

Every preacher leaves Bible college with a borrowed theology. His theology is the theology that his parents, church, pastor, and college professors taught him. He believes what he believes because of the influence of others. Only when he is free of these influences does he begin to develop his own theological beliefs.

I have always been an avid student and reader. One of the frustrating things about the health problems I have is that I can no longer read as I used to. For many years, it was not uncommon for me to read 500 or more pages a week of theological and biographical books. To his day, I rarely read fiction. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I accumulated a large library of books. These books were my constant companions and friends. When I left the ministry in 2003, I sold off my theological library on eBay.

While I learned many things as a student at Midwestern Baptist College, most of my theological education came from the countless hours I spent reading theological books and studying for my sermons.  It was in the study that I began to come to theological conclusions different from  what I had been taught by my parents, former churches, former pastors and college professors. The most dramatic theological changes took place while I was pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, (later Mt. Perry) Ohio.

I started the Somerset Baptist Church in July of 1983 and pastored the church for eleven years.   At that time, I was a typical Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor and remained so until the Jack Hyles scandal rocked the IFB world in 1986. As I waded through the Hyles scandal, I began to question the gospel preached by many IFB pastors and churches. Noted preachers such as Jack HylesCurtis Hutson, and many of the preachers associated with the Sword of the Lord, believed that repentance was a change of mind. Simply put, the unconverted sinner was against Jesus and now he was for him. Around this time, John MacArthur came out with his book, The Gospel According to Jesus. MacArthur attacked the easy-believism gospel preached in many Evangelical/Baptist churches. MacArthur stated that repentance was not only a change of mind but also a change of conduct. If there was no turning from sin, then there was no true repentance, and without repentance there was no salvation.

The Hyles scandal, my careful assessment of the gospel preached by many in the IFB church movement, and MacArthur’s book, led me to conclude that the gospel I had been preaching was a truncated, shallow gospel. I began preaching a gospel that demanded a repentance that included a turning from sins. I believed that if Jesus was not Lord of all your life then he was not Lord at all. I believed that if  people said they were Christian, then they should act like  it. Unless  they were willing to turn from their sin and fully embrace Jesus, there was no salvation for them.

In the late 1980s, I began to reconsider my eschatological beliefs.  I was taught dispensational, pre-tribulational, and premillennial eschatology (end times) in college and every church I attended growing up  preached the end times scheme. As I restudied the various eschatological positions, my beliefs gradually shifted and matured until I became post-tribulational and amillennial. At this point, I was clearly theologically wandering outside the boundary of my IFB heritage. This shift in eschatology resulted in some people leaving the church; however it also attracted new members who held a similar eschatological view.

It was also in the late 1980s that my theological beliefs dramatically shifted from the  one-point Calvinism (eternal security, once saved always saved) of the IFB church movement to five-point Calvinism. My introduction to Calvinism came through the preaching tapes of Rolfe Barnard, a former Southern Baptist and Sword of the Lord evangelist who died in the late 1960s. Barnard’s sermons were powerful declarations of the gospel according to Calvinism. As I listened to these tapes, it was like a light went on in my head. For a time, I was angry because I thought those who had taught me theology had lied to me. Why had no one ever told me about Calvinism? All they told me at Midwestern is that they were against Calvinism and anyone caught promoting Calvinism would be expelled.

I began devouring books about Calvinism. I opened a book account at Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service and bought countless Calvinistic, Puritan, Sovereign Grace Baptist books. I read the books of Puritan/Calvinist authors from the 17th,18th, and 19th centuries. I discovered that Baptists, at one time, were quite Calvinistic, and some of my heroes in the faith, including Charles Spurgeon, were five-point Calvinists. I even  learned that there were Calvinists, such as the late Bruce Cummons, pastor of the Massillon Baptist Temple, in the IFB church movement.

From the late 1980s until the early 2000s, I was a committed, zealous five-point Calvinist. My preaching style changed from topical sermons to expository sermons. I stopped giving altar calls and I began transforming the Somerset Baptist Church into a Calvinistic church.  This move cost me 99% of my IFB pastor friends, a handful of church members, along with almost all of my Arminian friends.

For several years, I published a newsletter called The Sovereign Grace Reporter. I sent the newsletter to hundreds of IFB pastors and this caused quite a shit-storm. Surprisingly, Polly’s uncle, James Dennis, pastor of the IFB Newark Baptist Temple, was quite supportive. Keith Troyer, then pastor of Fallsburg Baptist Church, was also quite supportive. I would later be accused of leading Keith astray with the pernicious doctrines of John Calvin. (At the time, I considered Keith my best friend.)

Probably by now, some readers are wondering, Why the history lesson, Bruce? I think it is important for me to establish several things:

  • I am an avid reader of books
  • I am an avid student of whatever subject I am reading about
  • I am willing to go where the evidence leads me
  • I am willing to change my beliefs even if it costs me or makes me unpopular
  • Truth matters more to me than being accepted by my peers, friends or family

When I was a pastor, pastor friends and parishioners loved me for these traits. They applauded my willingness to be true to the Word of God, even if they disagreed with me. Now these same people think I read and study too much. I have been told that the reason I am an atheist is because of books (and there is some truth in this statement)! If I would only stop reading all these books and read THE BOOK, all would be well, one former parishioner told me.

Just as the leopard can’t change its spots, I can’t stop reading and studying. Fifty-plus years ago, my mother created an intellectual monster when she taught me to read. She wanted her eldest son to be like her, a devourer of literature, a person who valued truth above the approbation of men. I owe her a great debt of gratitude.

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IFB Preacher Mack Ford is Dead

mack ford new bethany home for girls

Abuser and molester Mack Ford is dead.

Notorious child abuser and molester, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher Mack Ford is dead. Ford, for many years, operated New Bethany Home for Girls in Louisiana, along with group homes for boys in other states.  If you do not know anything about Ford, please read Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls.

I have mixed feelings about the death of Ford. On one hand, I am glad the son of a bitch is dead. Others like him, Olen King, Ron Williams, and Jack Patterson, to name a few, are getting old, and death will soon come calling for them too. Lester Roloff,  the man who taught these abusers everything they know, died in a plane crash in 1982. Death will someday come for all of these abusers and the world will be better off without them.

I feel sorry for the dear friends of mine that were abused by Mack Ford and the staff at New Bethany. Like hound dogs on the trail of a rabbit, they have done all they could do to bring Mack Ford to justice. Now, he is beyond their reach. Like Bob Gray, a lifelong child molester and pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, Ford died before he could know what it was like to be locked up with no hope of escape. I want my friends to know that I appreciate their doggedness, their willingness to continue to go after those who abuse and molest in the name of God.

There is still much work to do. As long as there are unregulated, unlicensed Christian group homes open for business, we must continue to expose their evil work. We MUST convince state and federal legislators and regulators that these type of homes are dangerous and a threat to the safety and welfare of anyone sent to them. While no one would suggest that licensing and regulation is a cure-all, it is the first step in cleansing the land of abusive group homes. We can do better, and we must! (please read Is a 34 Year Old Murder Case Connected to New Bethany Home for Girls?)

Rebecca Catalanello of the Times Picayune had this to say:

The man who founded New Bethany Home for Girls, where some former students said they were victims of abuse, has died.

Mack Ford, 82, was found dead inside his home shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 11) by a relative, Bienville Parish Coroner Don Smith said.

Ford’s death appears to be from natural causes, but Smith said his office will be conducting an autopsy.

Ford, a high school dropout turned Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher, opened New Bethany in 1971 on a former penal farm turned convalescent home off Louisiana Highway 9 in Arcadia, La., about 50 miles east of Shreveport.

Over three decades until it closed its doors in 2001, New Bethany took in sometimes hundreds of girls a year, according to newspaper accounts and court documents. Ford marketed the school as a home for wayward youth — “a mission project to the incorrigible, unwanted rejects,” he told attorneys in 1997. “Destitute, lonely, prostitutes, drug addicts.”

But many of the former residents who found themselves behind the barbed wire gates of the compound have relayed — to police, media, social workers and others — stories of harsh, physical and mental abuse that included beatings, solitary confinement, and, more recently, sexual abuse…

…Simone Jones, 47, one of the women who said Ford molested her when she was a teenager, said that she learned of his death late Wednesday from Michael Epps, the Louisiana State Police investigator who spent a year looking into the sexual abuse allegations that he took to a grand jury.

“I’m angry,” Jones said. “No justice … There are hundreds of people who are never going to see any type of justice be done.”

Ford’s death comes four days after the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office began investigating whether there may be a connection between New Bethany and an unidentified woman who was found on Jan. 28, 1981, in a wooded area stabbed to death.

The woman, now known as “Bossier Doe,” was wearing shoes and socks not unlike those required of New Bethany residents at the time. A name, “D. Davies,” was written inside her shoes with marker, just as former residents say they had to do.

State officials attempted to close the school in 1980 after Ford refused state inspection. They later raided New Bethany in 1988 and again in 1996 following complaints of abuse at the home — efforts that Ford fought in court, maintaining the state was violating his civil rights because it opposed his fundamentalist Christian views.

“The bureaucrats don’t want us to teach them our faith,” he said in a 1988 sermon following the state’s removal of 28 residents from the home.

But neither he nor anyone else at the girls’ home was ever prosecuted for any of the reported abuse, despite numerous confirmed reports documented by state social workers.

In addition to the girls’ home, Ford opened several boys homes, including in Longstreet, La., and Waltersboro, SC. In both of those locations, abuse allegations resulted in criminal charges, though not against Ford.

In 1981, Longstreet school manager L.D. Rapier was arrested and charged with cruelty to children after four boys ran from the home and told authorities they’d been beaten. The charges were eventually dropped.

In 1983, South Carolina authorities closed the Waltersboro home after they found a 14-year-old sleeping in a windowless padlocked cell, where he had been for several days. Two employees there were charged with unlawful neglect of a child and kidnapping, and they eventually pleaded to a lesser charge of false imprisonment.

Ford continued to live at the former New Bethany compound, located at 120 Hiser Road, in Arcadia, until his death…

…Ford’s estranged son-in-law, former Louisiana College vice president Timothy Johnson, said that Ford’s wife, Thelma Ford, resides in a nursing home.

Thelma and Mack Ford would have been married 66 years this year, according to court documents. Together, they had seven daughters, and adopted two more children, a boy and a girl.

Johnson said that Ford’s family members are unlikely to speak publicly about Ford or his legacy largely because of the great backlash they may face by former New Bethany residents and other critics.

“To do so gets you written about as being complicit or protecting a rapist,” Johnson wrote in an email message…

…Teresa Frye, 47, a resident at the home in 1982, said she was still processing news of Ford’s death on Thursday morning.

For years, Frye has been involved in an ongoing effort to help reconnect former New Bethany students and to raise awareness about the conditions so many children faced in similar boarding homes.

“I’m numb,” Frye said. “But I’m starting to get angry.”

Is it a Sin for a Man to Have Long Hair?

charles spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon, 19th Century English Baptist Preacher

God pity you people who call yourselves Christians and wear your long hair, beard and sideburns like a bunch of heathens. God, clean you up! Go to the barber shop tomorrow morning, and I am not kidding. It is time God’s people looked like God’s people. Good night, let folks know you are saved! There are about a dozen of you fellows here tonight who look like you belong to a Communist-front organization. You say, “I do not.” Then look like you do not. You say, “I do not like that kind of preaching.” You can always lump anything you do not like here.

Jack Hyles, sermon Satan’s Bid for Your Child

Where do Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers get the idea that it is a sin for a man to have long hair?

It is in the B-i-b-l-e.

In 1 Corinthians 11:14 the Bible says:

Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

According to this verse:

  • It is a shame for a man to have long hair
  • That nature teaches us that a man having long hair is shameful

Most Evangelicals believe that homosexuality is a sin, a sin against nature. In Romans 1:26, 27 the Bible says:

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

It is clear from Romans 1:26, 27 that when homosexuals engage in homosexual sexual activity they are going against nature. Preachers scream from the pulpit, homosexuality is an abomination. It is unnatural!

The word nature that appears in Romans 1:26,27 is the same Greek word that appears in 1 Corinthians 11:14. According to the Christian Bible, human nature tells us that homosexuality AND a man having long hair is a sin.

Why is it Evangelicals are so focused on homosexuality but rarely say a word about men having long hair? Both are against nature. Surely, the good Bible believers that they are, they would not want to neglect preaching about what the Bible calls s-h-a-m-e-f-u-l.

john wesley

John Wesley, 18th century English preacher

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, a subset of Evangelicalism, is not ashamed to preach against homosexuality AND long hair on men.

IFB pastor, Jack Hyles, wrote a booklet titled, Jesus Had Short Hair. Hyles wrote:

I Corinthians 11:14 says, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” The Greek word for “shame” in this verse is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “dishonor,” “vile,” “disgrace.” In Romans 1:26 the same word is translated “vile”, “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” You will notice that these “vile affections” have to do with homosexuality.

It is very interesting that as the trend toward long hair increases, the acceptance of homosexuality increases. This is not to say that long hair and homosexuality always go together, but it is to note the fact that both are on the rise in our generation. Several of the major denominations have now accepted homosexuals. In some cities there are churches for homosexuals pastored by avowed homosexuals. At least one major denomination has ordained a homosexual preacher and others are considering following suit.

Answering the question, Did Jesus have long hair?, Hyles wrote:

The paintings of Christ are simply artists’ conceptions and have no Scriptural authorization. At least one historian of His day described Him as being a tall man with chestnut-colored hair, parted in the middle, with short hair which turned up at the end. In the book, THE MODERN STUDENT’S LIFE OF CHRIST by Irving Vollmer, published by Fleming H. Revell, the author says, “Archeologists object to the conventional pictures of Christ because they are not true to history.”

A German painter, L. Fahrenkrog, says, “Christ certainly never wore a beard, and His hair was beyond a doubt a closely cut. For this we have historical proof.” The oldest representations going back to the first Christian centuries and found chiefly in the catacombs of Rome all pictured Him without a beard.

All the pictures of Christ down to the beginning of the first century and even later are of this kind. Students of the first century and of Roman history are aware of the fact that the time of Christ was characterized by short hair for men. This author has seen many coins and statues which bear the likenesses of emperors who reigned during and after the time of Christ. Such likenesses reveal that the Caesars and other rulers and emperors had short hair, and of course, the subjects followed the example set by the emperor.

The plain simple truth is that during the life of Christ, short hair was the acceptable style. That Jesus wore the conventional style of His day is proved by the fact that Judas had to kiss Him to point Him out to the soldiers. Had Jesus been somewhat different, as a long-haired freak, Judas could have simply told the soldiers that Jesus was the One with the long hair. This, of course, is not true, as Judas had to place a kiss on Him in order to identify Him.

Answering the question, What should a Christian’s attitude be about long hair?, Hyles wrote:

The only long haired person other than a Nazarite mentioned in the Bible was Absalom, a son of David. It was he who rebelled against his father. It was he who started a revolution. It is worth noting that even in Bible days rebellion, revolution, disobedience to parents, and long hair were associated.

Now what should the Christian’s attitude be concerning male hair styles? First, we men should follow the admonition of the Scripture and have short hair. It should be short enough as to be obviously contradictory to the revolutionary symbol. Many Christians allow their hair to become longer in an effort not to be identified as fundamental believers. Why shouldn’t a Christian be just as proud of his identity with the Word of God as the hippie is to identify himself with the revolution? Men, let us wear our short hair with pride as a symbol of our belief in the Bible and its Christ.

Parents, start your son with haircuts and short hair when he is a baby. With discipline and, if needs be, punishment, see to it that as he grows up he uses his hair as a symbol of patriotism and Christianity, thereby following the admonition of the Scripture that says in Romans 12:2, “And be not conformed (fashioned) to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

hudson taylor

Hudson Taylor, 19th century missionary to China

Hyles’ booklet reflects the standard IFB thinking about long hair on men. As a youth in an IFB church, a student at an IFB college, and an IFB pastor for many years, I heard a lot of preaching against men having long hair. Ironically, I heard very little preaching about short hair on women which the Bible also condemns,

IFB men are taught:

  • Long hair is a sign of rebellion against God
  • Long hair is effeminate
  • Long hair is worldly

What hair styles are considered godly?

  • Hair off the ear
  • Hair off the collar
  • Tapered, and not block cut

The preaching against long hair on men finds its impetus in the rebellion against authority of the 1960’s and 1970’s. IFB preachers were alarmed that church youth were being drawn into the hippie culture. Preachers spent many a Sunday preaching against premarital sex, rock music, mini-skirts, and long hair.

Their preaching did little good.

john bunyan

John Bunyan, 17th century English Baptist preacher

Fast forward to today. Many IFB pastors still preach against premarital sex, rock music, mini-skirts, and long hair. And just like their bellowing fathers in the ministry, they find their preaching largely ignored.

IFB preachers who preach against long hair have a real problem on their hands when it comes to suggesting that long hair is a sign of rebellion against God. While some men still have long hair, many of the rebellious worldlings now have short hair or shave their head. This conundrum is what happens when a preacher determines what is Biblical or “godly” based on the whims and trends of culture.

Besides, how l-o-n-g is long? Where does the Bible state exactly how short or long a man’s hair should be? If long hair on a man is “against nature,” why were Nazarite priests forbidden to cut their hair in the Old Testament? Was their long hair a “shame” against nature? Some of the most revered preachers of the past were men with long hair. Was their long hair a “shame,” against nature?

This whole subject might seem silly to many Christians and most non-Christians, but, let’s not forget, it IS in the B-I-B-L-E.

Note

Lest you think this is a silly issue, every day I see “is long hair a sin”  search (or a variation of it) requests in the logs.

The pictures in this post are of men who are revered in the IFB church. Yet, according to Jack Hyles and others who preach against long hair on men, these men are worldly and in rebellion to God.

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From Evangelicalism to Atheism Part Two

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

One of the questions I am often asked is, Why did you become an Evangelical or Why did you become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?

This is the wrong question. The real question is, how could I NOT have become an Evangelical or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?

Every child born into this world is an atheist. Not one of them knows one thing about god or religion, nor about sin, salvation, or morality. As far as god and religion are concerned, every newborn is a blank slate.

Belief in god must be taught and learned. This teaching is done by parents, extended family, and the culture/society the child grows up in. Children taken to a church, temple, or synagogue, are taught to KNOW god, to know their parents’ religion.

Most children embrace the religion of their parents. Parents who worship the Christian god generally raise children who are Christian. This is especially the case when it comes to Evangelical children. From the toddler years forward, Evangelical children are taught that they are sinners in need of salvation. They are taught that unless they ask Jesus into their hearts, they will end up in hell when they die. Every Sunday at church, at home during the week, and at school, if they attend a Christian school, Evangelical children face an onslaught of manipulative evangelistic methods geared to help them accept Jesus as their Savior.

It should come as no surprise then that most Evangelical children make a salvation decision when they are quite young. This initial salvation experience usually carries them into their teenage years. They are safe and secure in Jesus until they are thirteen or fourteen years old.

During their teenage years, it is not uncommon for Evangelical children to either make another salvation decision or rededicate their lives  to Christ. Why is it that so many Evangelical children make another decision during their teenage years?

Think about it. What happens during the teenage years? Children reach puberty and they begin to discover they have sexual desires. They start wanting to do things that their pastor, church, and parents say are sinful.  Most, Evangelical teens, if not all, give in to sinful desires. They feel guilty for doing so and they conclude that they must not “really” be saved or that they need to rededicate their lives  to Christ.

Many Evangelical teenagers find themselves caught in a constant cycle of sinning, getting saved/rededicating their life to Christ, sinning, getting saved/rededicating their life to Christ, etc. As much as Evangelicals deny it, this cycle becomes the Protestant version of Catholic confession.

In the early 1960s, my Dad moved us from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego on the west coast. California was the land of opportunity in the 1960s and my Dad was certain his pot of gold was in San Diego. He ended up selling patio awnings and driving a truck, and three years later we moved back to Bryan.

While living in San Diego, our family attended Scott Memorial Baptist Church. The pastor at the time was Tim LaHaye. Both of my parents made public professions of faith in Christ at Scott Memorial. I also asked Jesus into my heart in Junior Church. I was five years old.

Politically, my parents were right-wing extremists. They were members of the John Birch Society, hated Martin Luther King Jr, and supported the war effort in Vietnam. Their salvation decision at Scott Memorial fit well with their political ideology.

From this point forward, until my parent’s divorce in April of 1972, the Gerencser family was in church every time the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday night, prayer meeting, and revival meeting, we were there. When I became a teenager, attending youth group after church was added to the schedule, along with regular youth group activities.

In the fall of 1972, Evangelist Al Lacy came to our church, Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio, to hold a revival meeting. On Sunday Morning, during Lacy’s sermon, the spirit of God came over me, telling me that I was a sinner in need of Christ. When it came time for the public invitation, I quickly stepped out of the pew, came down the aisle, and knelt at the altar. There, a church deacon took me through the plan of salvation and I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart. I was fifteen.  I was baptized that night, and a week or so later I went forward during the altar call and let the church know that God was calling me to be a preacher. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon.

As a first grader in San Diego, I told people that when I grew up I was going to be a preacher, and now, as a fifteen year old boy, I was telling the world that God was calling me to be what I wanted to be my entire life. From this point forward, most of the preachers I came in contact with worked with me and steered me towards fulfilling my calling. It came as a shock to no one that I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in 1976 to study for the ministry.

All told, I preached for thirty-two years, spending twenty-five of those years pastoring seven churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I preached over four thousand sermons and taught countless Sunday school classes. For many years, I also preached on the street and at the local nursing home.

So, when someone asks, why did you become an Evangelical or why did you become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, I counter that the real question, based on what I have written here is, how could I have become anything else?

Note

All dates are to the best of my recollection. I have done my best to remember where I was and when. If I am off a bit on a date, it is not because I am deliberately being imprecise or trying to hide something. I am an old man with dying brain cells. Enough said.

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Wash Twice Before Using: Entire Sanctification

sanctification

Ask the average Christian to explain the doctrine of sanctification and you will likely get a deer in the headlights stare. At best, a good Baptist might be able to tell you that sanctification means being set apart, that a Christian has been set apart by God for service and worship. The average Christian has a hard enough time explaining salvation, so they  usually leave doctrines like sanctification, regeneration, justification, etc.  to the experts. They know they’re saved and their ticket to heaven has been punched. Now, what’s for dinner.

Every Christian sect would agree that a person is sanctified when God saves them. Baptists believe that after the initial act of sanctification, God through the work of the Holy Spirit progressively sanctifies the saved person throughout their life. In theory, the saved person should become more and more like Jesus the older they become. As God continues his sanctifying work, sins are revealed and the saved person repents and matures spiritually. The sins that so easily swayed them when they were first saved are no longer  an issue. They have “deeper” sins to deal with, the sins that no one but God knows about. Sanctification then, is a progressive work by God throughout the saved person’s life, a work that is designed to make them spiritually mature.

Nice theory, right? If progressive sanctification is how God sanctifies people, why are there so many people who have been Christians their entire life that are still so sinful, carnal, and worldly? If one looks at the Baptist church, it would be easy to conclude that many Baptist church members are actively resisting the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. No matter how often the preacher threatens them with judgment and chastisement from God, they still continue to be infantile in their faith and worldly in their lifestyle.

Baptist preachers would likely say that their people are worldly and carnal because they are not listening to their preaching and applying it to their lives. (missing the point that Baptist preachers are often just was worldly and carnal as the people they preach to/at) If the Holy Spirit actively, progressively sanctifies the saved person, why do Baptist preachers spend so much time preaching on what I call the “first” works:

  • Attending church regularly
  • Tithing and giving an offering
  • Praying
  • Tithing and giving an offering
  • Reading and studying the Bible on a daily basis
  • Tithing and giving an offering
  • Witnessing
  • Tithing and giving an offering

It is not uncommon to find Baptist church members who have been saved for years still having problems doing these “first” works. In fact, only a very small percentage of the average Baptist church membership ever moves beyond these “first” works. Most church members go to church on Sunday, listen to the sermon, throw some cash in the offering plate, and go home, only to repeat the process again next week. They will “try” to read the Bible and pray during the week, but life often gets in the way, and before you know it, they need to go to Wednesday night prayer meeting, which is rarely a prayer meeting, to get their spiritual battery recharged. This is the typical life of a Baptist church member.

If the Holy Spirit lives inside of the Christian, why is the Christian able to easily thwart the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work? Surely, the Holy Spirit, who is God, should be able to lead/force/demand the Christian to progress in sanctification? Why is it that so many Christians stubbornly refuse to cooperate in the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work?

Perhaps the real issue is that there is no Holy Spirit living inside the Christian, and that Christians are human just like the rest of us unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines. Christians behave like the humans they are. They work all day and come home tired. All they want to do is eat dinner and collapse in the recliner. Pray? Read and study the Bible? Yeah, they know they “need” to, but they are so damned tired that they don’t/can’t “commune” with God.. The Holy Spirit has never been able to successfully overcome sleepiness. As we know from the Bible, the disciples fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus was praying. If Peter, James, and John couldn’t stay awake, what hope is there for normal, run of the mill Christians.

Perhaps the bigger problem is that preachers expect too much out of people. The preacher has the luxury of being paid for praying and reading the Bible. He can schedule his life in such a way that it makes it easy for him to pray, meditate, and study the Bible. That is if he is not too busy playing golf or attending a pastor’s conference. Towards the end of my ministerial career,  I realized I was putting too much pressure on people to perform, to do the “first” works. I realized they had a life, and  they had little time to devote to what I could spend hours and days doing.

Now, on to the real focus of this post, entire sanctification. Many Wesleyan, Holiness, and Pentecostal sects, believe in entire sanctification. While they agree with the Baptist that every saved person is sanctified at the moment God saves them, they reject that post-salvation sanctifying life is progressive.

The proponents of entire sanctification believe in what is commonly called a second definite work of grace. A Christian reaches a certain place in their Christian life where God does a mighty work in their life and they are entirely sanctified. From this point forward, they no longer sin. Yes, that’s right, they no longer sin.

When people who have been entirely sanctified are confronted with behaviors that certainly “look” like sins, they will often say that their behaviors are mistakes not sins. Entirely sanctified Christians think that they are so connected to God and his Spirit that perfect love flows in, through, and out of them, and they lose all desire to sin. Again, all one has to do to disprove this is to look at the lives of those who “say” they are entirely sanctified. Their lives betray the fact that indwelling, original sin remains. They may cover their sins with lofty, flowery religious garb, or redefine them as mistakes, but when the real person is exposed, they are no different from the Baptists I mentioned above.

Years ago, I visited a Holiness church near the church I pastored in Somerset, Ohio. Holiness churches were quite common in the area, so I decided to attend a service to see for myself what they did. The church was holding a revival meeting, held by a Holiness pastor from another church.

Before the preacher started preaching, various church members stood up and gave testimonies. One lady was quite emotional, and as she wept she told the congregation that at such and such a time she had finally gotten victory over sin and was entirely sanctified. The church voiced their approval. Another member had received the second blessing.

The evangelist began his sermon with an illustration. He told a story about buying a teapot. Inside the teapot was small tag that said: Wash twice before using. He thought this was a perfect illustration of entire sanctification. For a person to truly be used by God, they had to be washed twice, sanctified at the moment of salvation and entirely sanctified at a point later in life.

The evangelist’s wife stood off to the side as he preached. Every time he needed a verse from the Bible, he had his wife read it. It finally dawned on me halfway through his sermon that the evangelist couldn’t read. Lest you mock and ridicule such an uneducated man, many sects believe a lack of education is a plus. In their minds, it is better to be known as a man who has been with Jesus:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4;13)

An elderly man, who I assumed was a leader in the church, was quite vocal during the testimony time and the evangelist’s sermon on entire sanctification. At the close of the service, the evangelist had an altar call and a young man came forward to get saved. This church believed that a person had to keep praying (praying through) until God saved them. Numerous church members knelt around the young man encouraging him and helping him to pray through. The elderly man I mentioned? He went home. After watching the praying through spectacle for a few minutes, I decided to take my decidedly not entirely sanctified body home. I do not know if the young man successfully prayed though.

As I mentioned before, I met secular university evangelist Jed Smock in the late 1980’s. Jed was a big proponent of Charles Finney’s teaching of perfect love. (entire sanctification) According to Jed, he and his wife Cindy hadn’t sinned in years. One could argue that Jed is deluded, since every time he opens his mouth to preach hate and judgment on a university campus he sins.

Jed was the first sinless Christian I met, but he wasn’t the last. In every instance, the sinless person called their “sins” mistakes. When they lost their temper it was a mistake not a sin, even though the Bible calls anger a sin. I had one sinless man get so angry with me that he threw me out of his house. We were good friends and we had gotten into an argument about eternal security. He was an Arminian and I was a Calvinist. I thought we were going to get into a fist fight. At that moment, I was definitely not very sanctified and neither was my friend.

Sanctification allows Christians to hide their true nature. The believer in progressive sanctification says when they sin, “well God isn’t finished with me yet.” They see themselves as a work in progress. The believer in entire sanctification still sins like the Baptist does, they just find a way to explain away their sin. Both think that God, through the Holy Spirit, is working in, through, and out of them. Why then, do sanctified Christians behave, for the most part, just like everyone else? It’s not enough to aspire to spiritual greatness. Surely, if God lives inside a person, they should act and live like God would, right? Why is there such a disconnect with the doctrine professed and the life lived?

I think Greek dualism and Gnosticism have left a huge mark on American Christianity. As a result, many Christians have a warped view of their humanity and this results in them living frustrated, contradictory lives. While all of us should desire to live a better life, we remain human, and as long as we are human we will be prone to live like humans live. I have met a number of “sinless” Christians who were quite fat. Surely, an entirely sanctified person wouldn’t  be overweight, especially since the Bible calls gluttony a sin.

I want to invite Christians back into to the dirty water of humanity. We need you. We don’t need your sanctimony or your superior airs. We know who and what you are. You may be able to play the sanctified game while you are among your fellow Christians, but eventually you must venture out into the world where the rest of us live. We see you at work, at the store, at the doctor’s office, and at the ballgame. We see your humanity and we smile. We know that you are just like the rest of us.

 

Why I Stopped Believing

why

Jason, an Evangelical Christian, asked:

What would cause someone with your Biblical education and years of preaching the Word of God not just claiming to be a Christian but also living it one day decide to not believe and do a 180 and turn your back on it?

While I deal with this question at length in the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series, today I want to give a short, condensed answer to this question.

People like Jason are often perplexed by how it possible for someone with my background and training to one day walk away from the ministry and Christianity. Most of the clergy who deconvert do so at a much younger age, often in their 20s and 30s. In my case, I spent fifty years in the Christian church and I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years before I deconverted. When I started going to counseling, my counselor told me that it was quite rare for someone my age and with my experience to walk away from a lifetime of belief and work. It happens, just not very often.

Jason is not alone. A number of my ex-friends, family members, and former parishioners can’t understand how it is possible that the man they called Preacher or Pastor is now an atheist. Often they can not or will not believe the reasons I give for my deconversion. Instead, they try to find some other reason to explain why Bruce Gerencser, the man of God, the pastor, the preacher, their fellow colleague in the ministry, is now an apostate, an enemy of God.  Is there some secret past I am hiding, some secret sin? they ask themselves. They wonder if I have mental problems, or if I am unstable.  They rack their brains trying to come up with a plausible explanation, anything but accepting the reasons I give for my deconversion.

Christian fundamentalism taught me to stand firm on my beliefs and convictions. When I was a pastor, people appreciated and applauded my willingness to resolutely defend my beliefs and convictions, But now that I do the same with atheism and liberal politics, they think there must be some other reason I drastically changed my mind and life. I am the same man, a man who thinks that beliefs matter.

My mother taught me, from my youth onward, that it was important to stand up for what I believe. Now, this does not mean that I am not now tolerant of the beliefs of others, because I am. As I get older, I realize that tolerance is an important virtue. Stepping outside of the box I spent most of my life in, I found a rich, diverse, and contradictory world that forced me to be more accepting and tolerant.

When I entered kindergarten I could already read. My mother taught me to read and she developed in me an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This may seem counterintuitive at first, since I was raised in a fundamentalist environment that is not known for promoting a thirst for knowledge. But, by becoming a proficient and avid reader, I had at my disposal countless opportunities to expand my knowledge. Sadly, my quest for knowledge became quite stunted as a pastor because I rarely read books that would conflict with my Christian beliefs.  However, when I began to have doubts about Christianity and its teachings, my thirst for knowledge kicked into high gear and I began reading books that I once would have considered heretical.

I never made a lot of money pastoring churches. I never had church-provided health insurance or a retirement plan. The only benefits I received were a check I got once a week IF the offerings were enough.  Outside of the time I spent pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, every other church I pastored paid a part-time or poverty-level wage for the full-time work I gave the church. I often worked outside of the church, as did Polly when I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I am not pointing a judgmental finger at the churches I pastored. Most of the churches were either small or in poverty-ridden areas. Over the years, I was privileged to pastor many gracious, giving poor people. They gave what they could.

About now you are thinking, what in the world are you talking about, Bruce? I thought this post was about WHY you stopped believing! It is, and what I have written above can be distilled down to these three important statements:

  • I was taught to stand firm on my convictions and beliefs
  • I was taught to read at an early age and I developed a thirst for knowledge
  • I never made much money in the ministry

Since I never made much money in the ministry, there was no economic reason for me to stay in the ministry. I always made more money working outside of the church, so when I decided to leave the ministry, which I did five years before I deconverted, I suffered no economic consequences.

Freed from the ministry, my wife and I spent five years visiting more than a hundred Christian churches. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered, a Christianity that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. During this five year period, I read countless books written by authors from a broad spectrum of Christendom. I read books by authors such as Thomas MertonRobert Farrar CaponHenri Nouwen, Wendell BerryBrian McLarenRob BellJohn Shelby SpongSoren Kierkegaard, and NT Wright.  These authors challenged my Evangelical understanding of Christianity and its teachings.

I decided I would go back to the Bible, study it again, and determine what it was I REALLY believed. During this time, I began reading books by authors such as Robert Wright Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, These three authors, along with several others,  attacked the foundation of my Evangelical belief in the inerrant, inspired word of God. Their assault on this foundation brought my Evangelical house tumbling down. I desperately tried to find some semblance of the Christianity I once believed, but I came to realize that my faith was gone.

I tried, for a time, to convince myself that I could find some sort of Christianity that would work for me. Polly and I visited numerous liberal or progressive Christian churches, but I found that these expressions of faith would not do for me. My faith was gone. Later, Polly would come to the same conclusion.

I turned to the internet to find help. I came upon sites like exchristian.net and Debunking Christianity. I found these sites to be quite helpful as I tried to make sense of what was going on in my life. I began reading the books of authors like John LoftusHector AvalosRobert M. PriceDaniel DennettChristopher HitchensSam HarrisJerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins.

The five books that made the biggest impression on me were:

(I make a few shekels if you click on the above links and buy the books)

I read many authors and books besides the ones listed here. I say this to keep someone  from saying, but you didn’t read so and so or you didn’t read _______,  So, if I had to give one reason WHY I am no longer a Christian today it would be BOOKS.  My thirst for knowledge – a thirst I still have today, – even though it is greatly hindered by chronic illness and pain – is what drove me to re-investigate the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible. This investigation led me to conclude that the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible could not rationally and intellectually be sustained. Try as I might to hang on to some sort of Christian faith, the slippery slope I found myself on would not let me stand still. Eventually, I found myself saying, I no longer believe in the Christian God. For a time I was an agnostic, but I got tired of explaining myself, so I took on the atheist moniker, and now no one misunderstands what I believe (see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and Dear Friend).

The hardest decision I ever made in my life was that day in late November of 2008  when I finally admitted to myself, I am no longer a Christian, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God. At that moment, everything I had spent my life believing and doing was gone. In a sense, I had an atheist version of a born-again experience. For the past six years, I have continued to read, study, and write. I am still very much a work in progress. My understanding of religion and its cultural and sociological implications continues to grow. Now that I am unshackled from the constraints of religion, I am free to wander the path of life wherever it may lead. Now that I am free to read what I want, I have focused my attention on history and science. While I continue to read books that are of a religious or atheist nature, I spend less and less time reading these kind of books. I still read every new book Bart Ehrman publishes, along with various Christian/atheist/humanist blogs and publications, and this is enough to keep me up to date with American Christianity and American atheism/humanism.

I hope this post adequately answers the WHY I stopped believing question.

Notes

  1. This is a brief answer to the question WHY? I will fully develop this answer in the series From Evangelicalism to Atheism.
  2. I also spent some time investigating other religions and gods that humans have created (a study I still find quite fascinating).
  3. There is also a political aspect to my deconversion. I will talk about this in the aforementioned series.
  4. Jason asked if I believed in evolution. The answer is yes. I am no expert when it comes to science, but I have done enough reading to be comfortable with saying that I believe evolution/natural selection best explains the natural world.

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