Menu Close

Tag: IFB Family

Our Relationship with the Newark Baptist Temple Began and Ended with Acts of Defiance

bruce polly gerencser wedding 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, July 1978, with Bruce’s mom and dad

It is a hot July day in 1978. Soon Bruce Gerencser and Polly Shope will be married at the Newark Baptist Temple — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church pastored by Polly’s uncle Jim Dennis (please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis). Her father, Lee Shope is the church’s assistant pastor.

Bruce and Polly faced much adversity from Polly’s mom leading up to their big day. Polly’s mom didn’t like Bruce, so she had spent the past two years trying to ruin their relationship. She miserably failed, and today was the day when a youthful, immature twenty-one-year-old Bruce and an equally youthful, naive nineteen-year-old Polly would stand before God, family, and friends and pledge their troth.

Bruce and Polly asked Mark Bullock, a fellow student at Midwestern Baptist College, to be their soloist. He agreed. The couple asked Mark to sing two songs: We’ve Only Just Begun by The Carpenters and Wedding Song (There is Love) by Noel Paul Stookey. Both were secular songs.

Little did Bruce and Polly know that secular songs were not permitted at the Baptist Temple. They had a niggling idea that maybe, just maybe they were pushing the envelope with their song choices, but no one asked, so Mark sang the songs Bruce and Polly requested. Afterward, they learned that Polly’s uncle and others in the church were outraged over their use of “worldly” music.

This was their first act of defiance.

Over the next forty-five years, Bruce and Polly faced a plethora of contentious moments with Polly’s mom, Jim Dennis, and the Newark Baptist Temple. Bruce and Polly were Baptist Fundamentalists, but they never seemed to “fit.” For a time, they attended the Baptist Temple. In 1981, they left the church to help Polly’s dad start a new IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. Bruce and Polly would remain there until July,1983, when they moved thirty minutes south to start a new IFB congregation in Somerset. The couple would serve God hand in hand at Somerset Baptist for eleven years. Bruce and Polly moved to Texas in 1994, returning to the Newark area later that same year. As they licked their wounds from a vicious experience as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf (please see I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part One), Bruce and Polly made the decision to not attend the Baptist Temple. Instead, they took their six growing children to Fallsburg Baptist Church, a nearby IFB church pastored by Bruce’s best friend Keith Troyer. Needless to say, this move did not go over well with Polly’s family. Yet another conflict added to the growing pile of conflicts between the couple and Polly’s IFB family. Bruce and Polly were IFB, but it was becoming crystal clear that they intended to march to the beat of their own drum.

Seven months later, Bruce and Polly had their 14’x70′ mobile home moved to Alvordton, Ohio so Bruce could assume the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church. After a short stay at Olive Branch, Bruce and Polly started a new Baptist church five miles south of Alvordton in the rural community of West Unity. The church later dropped its Baptist name, renaming itself Our Father’s House — a non-denominational congregation. They would remain there for seven years.

By now, Bruce was having serious health problems. After a short pastorate at a Southern Baptist church in Clare, Michigan, Bruce and Polly decided to move to Yuma, Arizona in hope that the weather there would help Bruce’s pain and debility, His sister, married to a cardiologist, lived in Yuma at the time. While the couple thoroughly enjoyed their time in Yuma, the pull of family proved to be too much. Once again, Newark came into their lives. The couple moved back to Newark, thinking Polly’s mom and dad needed their help. Unfortunately, Polly’s parents didn’t want their help.

Bruce and Polly spent seven months in Newark, attending various Christian churches, none of which were IFB. Their unwillingness to attend the Baptist Temple caused more conflict with family. One preacher, Art Ball, wrote Bruce and told him, “Bruce, you know there is only one church in town, the Baptist Temple.” Bruce replied that there was a lot of family water under the proverbial bridge that Art knew nothing about, so, no, they would not be attending the Baptist Temple.

Bruce and Polly left Newark in July 2005 and moved back home to rural northwest Ohio so they could be close to their children. In 2007, they bought a home in Ney, Ohio, where they live to this day.

Over the past fifteen years, Bruce and Polly have returned to the Baptist Temple four times for funerals: the death of Jim Dennis (Polly’s uncle); Polly’s dad; Linda Dennis (Polly’s aunt); and several weeks ago, Polly’s mom. Each visit brought memories of family conflict and trauma. Good times too, to be sure, but no amount of good can wipe away the harm done by Polly’s IFB family. It is what it is.

Bruce and Polly knew Mom’s funeral would be a difficult time for them — and it was, and remains so to this day. Much ugliness happened at the end of Mom’s life; ugliness that destroyed what little relationship they had left with their IFB family and the Baptist Temple.

Bruce and Polly, now forty-five years older than when they recited their vows on that hot summer day long ago, were the first people to sit down in the church auditorium. No one from the church, outside of Mom’s best friend and Polly’s cousin and her IFB preacher husband, spoke to them. Sitting all around them were people who had known them for decades. Not one word of sympathy from anyone. Even the church’s pastor, Mark Falls, ignored the grieving couple. Bruce and Polly knew why, but still, why was there no compassion? That’s for the fine Christian folks at the Baptist Temple to answer.

Perhaps Bruce and Polly’s chickens had come home to roost. The funeral was the period at the end of a forty-five-year sentence.

At the appointed time, Pastor Falls mounted the pulpit and began the service — five minutes about Polly’s mom and thirty-five or so minutes about Jesus. Tis what the aged atheists expected. Bruce and Polly had talked about how to handle the IFB sermon they knew was coming. Both figured they could grit their teeth one last time and get through the sermon. Sure enough, Falls preached about Hell, Heaven, salvation, and death. In a sermon riddled with theological errors, Falls turned his attention to the unsaved in the room. Everyone in attendance was Christian, except for the Gerencser children and their spouses, grandchildren, and Grandpa and Nana. It was clear who Falls was preaching at. In the closing moments of his diatribe, Falls fixed his eyes on Bruce, the outspoken atheist and the pain in his ass, and preached at him. In a split second, forty-five years of trauma came bubbling to the surface. Bruce, sitting three rows from the front, said, loud enough for the bully in the pulpit to hear, Bullshit! Preach at someone else! (As of the publishing of this post, the church has removed the video of the funeral from YouTube.)

Defiance. That’s what Bruce and Polly Gerencser will be remembered for by the Newark Baptist Temple, Pastor Falls, and their IFB family. Why couldn’t we just believe in the tribal deity and play by the rules? Why did we have to be so stubborn? Why couldn’t we just submit and obey?

Previous posts about our IFB family and the Newark Baptist Temple

Sometime this year, I plan to write a series titled How the Newark Baptist Temple Affected Our Lives for Sixt Years. Stay tuned.

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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

The End

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

We arrived at the Newark Baptist Temple early, deciding that we would not let the church and its pastor “win.”

Mom died on Tuesday, at the age of eighty-seven. We knew what to expect, having attended (and preached) numerous Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) funerals. Very little of the service would be about Mom. The real guest of honor was Jesus.

We sat in the third row from the front, on the right side, in the same church that Polly and I were married forty-five years ago. We talked to Polly’s aunt from Michigan, several cousins, and Mom’s best friend. The pastor never spoke to Polly, and neither did Mom’s church family. Quite frankly, we were glad they left us alone.

At the ten o’clock hour, the man of God, Mark Falls, mounted the pulpit and read the obituary. He butchered our last name — Gerencser. All he had to do is ask and I would have told him how to pronounce my Hungarian name. I would have also told him that Mom’s daughter’s name is Polly, not Pauline — a name she despises. I would also have told him about Mom’s deceased brothers: Art, Floyd, Chet, Bob, and Everett; loving siblings whose names were omitted from the obituary. No matter what, the real man of the hour, Jesus — his obituary was all that mattered.

Next up was an IFB missionary married to one of Polly’s cousins. He delivered a mini-sermon, interjected with a story or two about Mom. Then a grandson and a son-in-law gave short testimonials about Mom, the highlight of the service. Soon Mom would fade into the background and the man of the hour would take the stage — Jesus.

A couple of hymns were sung, and a duet by our niece and her daughter. We lustily sang the songs — strange, I know — and enjoyed the duet — even though we didn’t believe a word of the lyrics.

Mom’s pastor came to the pulpit, opened his Bible, and after a few perfunctory comments, he started to preach. We knew what was coming: Jesus, Heaven, Hell, and salvation. I thought, Bruce, you can handle this! And I did until the last three minutes of the preacher’s fearmongering harangue.

The preacher decided to make his sermon personal, locking his eyes on me. There’s no doubt in my mind who he was talking to. As someone who preached for thirty-five years, one lesson I learned is that you don’t fix your eyes on someone as the pastor did me.

I knew what was happening. Here was his last chance to preach the gospel to the atheist Bruce Gerencser. (I am the villain in this story. Polly is viewed as misguided or led astray.) Maybe Mom wanted him to make sure the unsaved Gerencsers heard the gospel one last time. Never mind the fact all of us are already saved — once saved, always saved, right? In that moment, “it” happened, the period on the end of the sentence. As the pastor’s eyes locked on mine, I said with a low voice — one he and several rows of people could hear — Bullshit! Preach at someone else! (As of the publishing of this post, the church has removed the video of the funeral from Youtube.)

The pastor did not acknowledge my words, but he heard them. So did others, based on the number of biting glares I received. Outside of the church I briefly confronted him, telling him that he shouldn’t have singled me out. He, of course, denied doing so. I replied, bullshit! and walked to our car.

One final indignity awaited — the graveside service. More of the same, without an invitation. More bad theology about the state of the dead. Not surprising. Most IFB funerals are to some degree or the other heretical.

Polly and I left the cemetery and turned north on Hwy 13, headed for Mount Vernon. As we reached the community of St. Louisville, Polly asked me are you ready? I was. With a defiant, cathartic laugh, both of us raised up our middle fingers and said good riddance.

We lived in central/southeast Ohio for seventeen years. We will never return again. Rural northwest Ohio is our home. Our children and grandchildren live here, and it is here we will die. We have made a life for ourselves in the flatlands of Ohio. Mom chose to make a life for herself too; with a family that was not her daughter’s; with a church that was her “real” family. Family in Central Ohio will object and say that Mom repeatedly said how much she loved us. However, actions speak louder than words, and Mom’s behavior said I was a son-in-law she never wanted and Polly was a disappointment — always a disappointment. Mom will never know how much she hurt her daughter. Her harsh, judgmental words; her rejection of what matters most to Polly: her husband and her family.

Mom made her choices, and we ours.

The End.

Note: Next week, I will start writing a wide-ranging series titled: How the Newark Baptist Temple Affected Our Lives for Sixty Years — Part One. Hopefully, this series will explain the deep mark made on our lives by the Baptist Temple. I will be consulting Polly on this series. Her story begins ten years before mine, in the mid-1960s.

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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Three Questions About the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church Movement

good question

Last week, I received an email from a reader named JT, asking me three questions about the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. My responses are below.

How come many Americans haven’t heard of the Independent Fundamental Baptist church movement?

Most Americans don’t understand that there are flavors of Baptist Christianity, everything from liberal to hardcore Fundamentalist. The IFB church movement is on the far right of the Baptist spectrum. People are often surprised to learn that millions of people attend IFB churches; that at one time, many of the largest churches in the United States were IFB congregations.

The IFB church movement has fallen on hard times. While there are still IFB megachurches, most IFB churches are in numeric decline. IFB colleges are in decline too. Many of them have closed their doors in recent years. Why? As Americans have become more progressive/liberal, IFB churches have dug their heels in, claiming that they are the holders and defenders of old-fashioned Christianity — old-fashioned meaning the 1950s. Racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, and anti-intellectualism plague the movement, as does conspiratorial thinking, Trumpism, and Qanon ideology. Scores of IFB church members participated in the 1/6/21 insurrection. Despite these things, millions of people attend IFB churches (and IFB adjacent sects such as the Bible church movement and the Southern Baptist Convention). Virtually every community in the United States has an IFB church. That people don’t know that these Baptist churches are IFB reflects how indifferent Christians have become to denominationalism (and yes, in the loosest sense of the word, the IFB church movement is a sect/denomination)

Do ex-IFB church members get shunned by church members, pastors, evangelists, and IFB families?

The short answer is yes. IFB churches are exclusionary and anti-culture. While they might grudgingly admit that non-IFB Christians are True Christians, in practice they believe they alone preach the faith once delivered to the saints. That’s why a community can have numerous churches, yet an IFB church planter with come to their town and will start a church. Why, there’s no Bible-believing church in town, the IFB church planter says. I know I believed this when I planted churches in Somerset, Buckeye Lake, and West Unity — all in Ohio. These churches were surrounded by other Bible-believing, Bible-preaching churches, but they weren’t IFB.

Personally, my wife, Polly, and I have been shunned by IFB family members. Polly’s late father was an IFB pastor, as was her late uncle. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) She also has cousins who are IFB preachers, evangelists, and missionaries. Polly’s extended family has largely shunned us. Only one of them is friends with us on Facebook.

Polly’s mom is dying. She has cancer, congestive heart failure, and kidney failure. I would be surprised if she makes it to Christmas. We are planning to drive to Newark, Ohio tomorrow to visit with her and help her, kicking and screaming, get her house in order. We are somewhat estranged from Polly’s mom, but since Polly is the last surviving close relative, it is up to her to make sure everything is taken care of after her mom dies. Of course, there will be a church funeral at the Newark Baptist Temple to contend with. Ugh.

Two years ago, Mom sent us her funeral demands. We gave it a cursory glance, at the time. We know we will have to endure being preached at by her pastor. The funeral service will be all about Jesus, as most IFB funeral services are. Yesterday, I got Mom’s funeral demands out and gave them a careful reading. What stood out was the fact that the Gerencser family — her only living daughter’s family — will have NO part in the funeral service. Mom’s demands were quite detailed. Only IFB family members will have a part in the church and graveside services. It’s hard not to conclude that Mom is punishing her oldest grandchildren for her daughter’s and son-in-law’s unbelief. We will, of course, abide by her wishes, knowing that this will be the last sentence written in our IFB story. I told Polly that when we drive away from Newark some day after her mom’s funeral, I plan to look in the rearview mirror and give a middle-finger salute.

We wish it could be different with Polly’s family. However, their theological beliefs keep them from loving as we are. As long as we are atheists, we will be evangelization targets — not family members, not friends.

Do Independent Fundamentalists Baptists know that they are indoctrinated in a cult?

I was a guest on Clint Heacock’s podcast today and we talked about this very subject. Religious sects, by definition, are cults. (Please see Questions: Bruce, Is the IFB Church Movement a Cult?) However, not all cults are equal. IFB churches cause psychological (and physical) harm. They are not, in any way, benign. That said, IFB church members don’t think they are part of a cult. In their minds, cults are sects such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Charismatics, and others. Why don’t they see that the IFB is a cult too? When you are in the IFB bubble, everything makes perfect, rational sense. The beliefs and practices are “Biblical.” I never thought I was in a cult. I never doubted that my beliefs were right. When you are conditioned and indoctrinated in certain beliefs and practices, it is impossible for you to see your sect’s weaknesses and contradictions. This is especially the case in the IFB church movement. Congregants isolate themselves from “lost” people; from the “world.” Their churches become their families; the hub around which their lives revolve.

I hope I have adequately answered JT’s questions.

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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser