Did you know today is “Bring Your Bible to School” day? Sponsored by Focus on the Family and Alliance Defending Freedom, BYBTSD is a day when students are encouraged to blow the dust off their Bibles or retrieve them from the back window of the car and proudly carry them to school. The BYBTSD website explains the event this way:
On Bring Your Bible to School Day— this year’s event is on Oct. 4, 2018 — students across the nation will celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. It’s an annual event for students sponsored by Focus on the Family. The event is designed to empower you as a student to express your belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.
Participation is voluntary and student-directed—meaning it’s completely up to students, Christian clubs and youth groups to sign up online and then lead the activities in their school.
The goal, of course, is to evangelize public school students. That and letting local communities know that Fundamentalist Christians are still among the living; still pushing their anti-science, anti-women, anti-progress, anti-human worldview. What better way to promote your beliefs than by using children?
According BYBTSD founder and Focus on the Family director of education issues Candi Cushman:
We’ll definitely exceed half a million participants, but it’s hard to measure and predict exact numbers because lots of kids wait until the last moment to sign up and join the movement. In addition to public school students in every state in the nation, we also have involvement from many kids in private schools and homeschooling communities who choose to do special events or distribute Bibles in their communities as a way of showing support. We welcome all of them.
Focus on the Family and Candi Cushman erroneously suggest that BYBTSD is some newfangled way for children to evangelize their fellow classmates and exercise their First Amendment rights. Back in the late 1960s and 1970s, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers were encouraging church teenagers to carry their Bibles to school; not just for one day, but every day. I heard numerous preachers and evangelists encourage high schoolers to put their King James bibles on top of their school books and carry them to school. Students were also encouraged to make sure “unsaved” students saw them reading their Bibles and praying over their lunches. The goal was to turn IFB students into lighthouses in the midst of darkness.
I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio in the 1970s. I was active in the church’s high school youth group. (Please read Dear Bruce Turner.) Youth pastor Bruce Turner, along with pastor Gene Millioni, encouraged church teenagers to daily carry their Bibles to school. Don’t be ashamed of Christ, we were told. Most youth group members ignored their pastors, choosing being ashamed of Christ over being publicly ridiculed by their peers for carrying their Bibles to school.
One student, an eleventh grader at Findlay High School (1973-1974), took seriously the call to let his light shine by carrying his Bible to school. Not only did he daily carry his Bible to school, he also injected his beliefs into his classwork — writing an English paper on why the Baptist church was the true church and giving Bible answers on biology tests — and handed out tracts to his fellow students. The student, of course, was yours truly.
At the time, I believed God was calling me into the ministry. I saw evangelizing my classmates as training for future evangelistic efforts. I wish I could report that my zealotry led to the salvation of sinners, but all I accomplished was getting myself labeled as a religious nut. Let me conclude this post with several stories that I think will illustrate how things went for me.
One day — I can’t remember which class — I carried my school books with my black King James Bible on top into a classroom and set them on my desk. I turned to talk to one of my friends, only to have a classmate grab my Bible and throw it to another student. For what seemed like forever, a group of students played hot potato with my Bible. I tried to retrieve the Bible, but was not able to do so. I found myself becoming quite angry over their behavior, which I am sure everyone saw as hypocritical. Students who I thought were close friends because we attended youth group together, pretended not to know me. Much like the Apostle Paul or Elijah, I was all alone on this one. Fortunately, the offending students got tired of taunting me and gave the Bible back to me. Their treatment of me, of course, was proof to me that True Christians® would be persecuted by the “world.” As you can see, my persecution complex started early.
I worked as a busboy at Bill Knapp’s on West Main Cross St. I crammed all of my classes into the morning hours so I could get early release from school. At the time, I was a ward of the court, living with Gladys Canterbury, a godly divorced older woman who attended Trinity Baptist Church. Every day, I got out of school around 11:30 AM and walked or rode my bike to Bill Knapp’s so I could work the lunch hour shift. After my shift, I would often take a long break, eat lunch — I still relish a Bill Knapp’s burger basket — and then work the evening shift. Several busboys were classmates of mine at Findlay High. I also played baseball/basketball with/against several of them. They primarily knew me in a sports context. They knew I carried my Bible to school, and they also knew I carried my Bible to work and read it between shifts. Seeing a big difference between tenth grade Bruce and eleventh grade Bruce, they had a hard time figuring out what happened to me. I took to leaving tracts in their pockets and bags, thinking that this would be a great way to evangelize them. Instead, I angered my workmates, with one boy taking a tract, crumpling it up and throwing it at me. I don’t want any of this shit from you, he said. Persecuted once again for my faith, I thought at the time.
One of my fellow busboys was a boy by the name of Deke. Deke’s father was an executive with Findlay-located Marathon Oil Company. Deke was quite “worldly,” so I took it upon myself to try to evangelize him. One Wednesday, I invited Deke to church. I had invited him and the other busboys numerous times before, and they always said no. This time, however, Deke said yes. I can remember Deke’s visit to Trinity Baptist like it was yesterday. We sat in the back middle pew of the church, as teenagers often did. It was prayer meeting night, but at Trinity Baptist Church, every service was the same, geared towards evangelizing the lost. Deke, of course, had never asked Jesus to save him, so he was most certainly “lost.” Come invitation time, I asked Deke if he would like to go forward and get saved. He told me no, so I didn’t bother him further.
Trinity Baptist had an army of altar workers who would, if “led” by God, go to people perceived to be lost and try to cajole them into getting saved. Deke, being fresh meat, was quickly descended upon by two women noted for their soulwinning zeal. After a few minutes of badgering, Deke agreed to walk the aisle and put his faith and trust in Jesus. I was thrilled! Finally, fruit from my evangelistic efforts, I thought at the time.
After the service, I excitedly talked to Deke about how happy I was that he had asked Jesus to save him. He sneeringly laughed and said, I didn’t get saved. I just did what those ladies wanted so I could get away from them. The only salvation Deke found on that day was deliverance from two over-zealous Fundamentalist women. (Deke, by the way, is actively involved in a liberal mainline Christian church today.) Deke would be the one and only “convert” from my eleventh-grade evangelistic efforts. I expressed my disappointment to my youth pastor over the lack of “fruit’ from my efforts. He quoted to me Isaiah 55:11:
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
I would quote this verse many times over the years when pondering why it was many of my evangelistic efforts failed to win the lost. It’s up to God to save sinners, I thought at the time. My responsibility was to keep preaching the Bible and verbalizing the gospel to sinners. While I had six hundred people walk the aisle in the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist Church, few of them turned into faithful, church-going Christians. What they were looking for was fire insurance and deliverance from guilt and shame over their sinful behavior. That I provided in spades, but despite my efforts to turn them into zealots, they remained nominal Christians or stopped attending church after a few weeks or months. Some people even got saved and never darkened the doors of the church again. For these people, getting saved was something they needed to check off their bucket list: Got saved, sins forgiven, headed for Heaven. Next!
From the age of sixteen to well into my adult life, I publicly wore my Christianity everywhere I went. Whether it was carrying a Bible to school or standing on a street corner with Bible held high preaching to passersby, I lusted after the souls of men. Despite my passion, my actions and words, for the most part, fell on deaf ears. I saw myself as an estranged prophet preaching in the wilderness, imploring sinners to come to Christ. I now know that I really was just a colossal pain in the ass. Well-intentioned? Sure. But having good intentions doesn’t change the fact that my evangelistic attempts were coercive and belligerent.
Were you encouraged to carry your Bible to school? Did you do so? Please share your experiences in the comment section.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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