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Tag: IFB Colleges

What My IFB Upbringing Taught Me About Myself

In the early 1960s, my parents began attending Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego (El Cajon), California. There, the Gerencser family was saved, baptized, and introduced to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement — my church home for the next thirty years.

At the age of fifteen, I was saved and baptized at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, a fast-growing IFB church affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship in Springfield, Missouri. In the fall of 1976, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern, an IFB institution founded by Dr. Tom Malone, pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, prided itself on being a “character-building factory.” While at Midwestern, I married Polly, an IFB pastor’s daughter. In the spring of 1979, we left Midwestern and moved to Bryan, Ohio. Not long after, I began working for my first IFB church in Montpelier, Ohio. I would later plant and pastor three IFB churches.

In 1989, The Biblical Evangelist — an IFB newspaper published by Robert Sumner — released a scathing story accusing Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond Indiana, of sexual misconduct, financial impropriety, and doctrinal error. By then, I had become disillusioned with the IFB church movement over its bastardization of the Christian gospel. The Hyles scandal was the last straw for me. Going forward, I self-identified as a Sovereign Grace Baptist, Reformed Baptist, Evangelical, or just Christian.

While I physically distanced myself from the IFB church movement, its teachings and the damage they caused left a deep, lasting impression on my life. Fundamentalism is hard to shake, especially for lifelong IFB adherents. Why is this?

Let me be clear, the IFB church movement is a cult. Some churches are more cultic than others, but all IFB churches have cultic tendencies. One of the hardest things for me to come to terms with was the fact that I was not only a member of a cult, but I was also a cult leader. I was most certainly a victim, but I was a victimizer too.

Indoctrination and conditioning are keys to turning well-meaning, sincere people into cultists. For children born into the IFB church movement, the indoctrination and conditioning begin at birth or soon thereafter. By the time a child graduates from high school, they have attended almost 4,000 church services and listened to almost 4,000 sermons. Many IFB children either attend private Fundamentalist schools or are homeschooled. After graduation, many children attend IFB colleges such Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, Maranatha Baptist College, Crown College, West Coast Baptist College, Hyles-Anderson, Baptist Bible College — Springfield, Trinity Baptist College, Louisiana Baptist University, Golden State Baptist College, Arlington Baptist University, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Ambassador Baptist College, Fairhaven Baptist College, Landmark Baptist College, Massillon Baptist College, and numerous other colleges and church-based Bible institutes.

This means that for many IFB children, they know nothing outside of the IFB bubble. Their parents shelter them from the “world,” and in doing so rob them of the ability to think for themselves. How can rational choices be made if you have never been exposed to any other worldview but that of your IFB parents, pastors, and churches?

The title of this post asks the question, ” What did my IFB upbringing teach me about myself?”

My parents, pastors, youth directors, Sunday school teachers, and professors taught me from my childhood forward:

Bruce, you are a sinner

Bruce, you are broken

Bruce, you are evil

Bruce, you are wicked

Bruce, you are an enemy of God

Bruce, you are at variance with God

Bruce, you can’t do good

Bruce, God is going to torture you in Hell for eternity if you don’t get saved

Bruce, you are going to face endless pain and suffering in Hell if you don’t get saved

Even after I was saved, these same people reminded me that I was still a sinner, and that there was no good in me.

Bruce, if you do __________, God is going to punish you

Bruce, if you do __________, God could kill you

Bruce, if you do __________, God could kill your wife or children

Bruce, if you DON’T do ____________, God will chastise you

Week after week, month after month, and year after year, I was beaten over the head with the sin stick and once I became a pastor, I continued the abuse. No one raised this way can escape harm. Is it any wonder that many people who leave the IFB church movement need professional counseling; that their lives are deeply scarred by decades of indoctrination and conditioning?

Let me be clear, these things are not peculiar to the IFB church movement. Similar indoctrination and conditioning can be found throughout Evangelicalism, including denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, and countless unaffiliated churches.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser