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Tag: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Colleges

The Dormitory Years: Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac Michigan

bruce and polly gerencser 1976
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976

From the fall of 1976 to the spring of 1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — was founded in 1953 by Dr. Tom Malone for the purpose of training men and women for the ministry. Dr Malone called Midwestern a character-building factory. Midwestern’s goal was to produce men who would pastor IFB churches and women who would be pastors wives. A small number of graduates would go on to become evangelists, missionaries, and Christian school teachers, but the primary objective was to train God-called men for the ministry.

Dr. Malone was a graduate of Bob Jones College and Wayne State University. While serving as chancellor of the college, he also pastored Emmanuel Baptist Church — one of the largest churches in America during the 1960s and 1970s. Dr. Malone was a native of Alabama and his southern style of preaching appealed to many of the southerners who had migrated to the north to find work in Pontiac/Detroit area automotive plants. Looking for some spiritual home cooking, these southerners flocked to Emmanuel to hear one of their own preach.

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977
Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977, Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet, the only time we were allowed to be closer than six inches apart. This picture was taken days after we got engaged.

Polly, while still a student at nearby Oakland Christian School, enrolled at Midwestern in January of 1976 and began taking classes. I enrolled 8 months later. Polly’s uncle, James Dennis, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, graduated from Midwestern in the 1960s. Her father, Lee “Cecil” Shope — called late in life to be a preacher — graduated from Midwestern in May of 1976. After graduation, Lee moved to Newark to be James Dennis’ assistant. He would later, with my help, start a church in nearby Buckeye Lake — Emmanuel Baptist Church. After Emmanuel closed its doors, Polly’s parents returned to the Baptist Temple. They remain, to this day, faithful members of the church.

The dorm at Midwestern was a two-story building with a finished basement. It was named after IFB giant and editor of the Sword of the Lord John R. Rice, and was home for single students. All single students — unless they lived nearby with their parents — were required to live in the dorm. The men lived on the first floor and the basement. Women lived on the second floor. The north men’s wing was called the party wing and the south men’s wing was called the spiritual wing. The basement was called the pit. I, thankfully, lived on the party wing.

The dorm supervisors were Ralph Bitner and his wife Sophie. A young, inept couple, the Bitners had no idea how normal, heterosexual young adults thought and lived. Their job to make sure we kept the rules, including keeping our rooms clean. Ralph was also responsible for the Sunday night Devotional/Singspiration held in the dorm common area.

Two older single male teachers lived in the dormitory. One was a man who suffered from some sort of mental illness. As long as he took his medications, he was fine. Sadly, thinking that God would help him live a “normal” life, this man would often stop taking his medications. This resulted in bizarre behavior, which at the time seemed quite funny. The other was a gay man who lived on the spiritual wing. He was quite effeminate, which was odd considering that Dr. Malone had zero tolerance for “sissy” men. This man had a student who lived with him.

Midwestern strictly regulated every aspect of dormitory life. Students were required to adhere a puritanical dress code. Midwestern also controlled who students could date, when they could date, and where they could go while on a date. Rule-breaking resulted in infractions being written on a demerit slip and turned into the dean of men. If students were written up, they were required to appear before the disciplinary committee to answer for their crimes. Most infractions were minor ,but other infractions — such as breaking the six-inch rule — could result in students being expelled from the college. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule)

When dorm students left the college campus they were required to put their names and destinations on the sign-out sheet. This sheet was religiously checked by the Bitners. Students quickly learned how to manipulate the sign-out sheet so they would never be in violations of the rules. Dorm students were not permitted to go beyond a ten-mile radius from the college campus (an exception was made for work). Single dating was banned and couples could only date on Saturday and Sunday evening — and only then with permission from school administrators. Weekends were often a scramble as dating couples tried to find another couple to double date with. Dating couples who had problems keeping the six-inch rule would seek couples with a similar rule-breaking mindset. Most of the dorm students broke the no-touch, six-inch rule. Copping a feel for a Midwestern dorm student meant trying to secretly hold a girl’s hand.

Midwestern was an unaccredited college. Students were not eligible for federal or state financial aid. As a result, most students worked one or more jobs. Polly worked at several restaurants, cleaned offices, and did house cleaning for a rabbi and his wife during her college career. I worked numerous jobs, mostly second shift factory jobs. I also worked at several grocery stores, sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners, pumped gas, worked as a mechanic, and drove a truck for a local dry cleaner. I changed jobs so often that I was threatened with expulsion if I changed jobs again. These jobs paid between $3.00 and $5.00 an hour.

One of the teachers — knowing that I worked on automobiles — asked me if I was interested in a mechanic’s job. This teacher worked part-time for Anderson Honda on Telegraph Road, and my job there would be an entry-level position. I would primarily be responsible for prepping new cars, oil changes, and doing minor repairs. My starting wage was $7.00. After working for Anderson Honda for a few weeks, Dr. Malone called me into his office and told me that I would have to quit my job. He told me that I would just have to trust him, and that working at Anderson Honda was not good for me. I later learned that the Andersons used to attend Emmanuel Baptist church and left after having a falling out with Dr. Malone. I would later learn that the teacher — a married man — who offered me the job was having an affair with a woman who worked at Anderson Honda. That woman just so happened to be the wife of Midwestern’s dean of men. Both couples would later divorce.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Shope Gerencser, May 1978

Polly and I started dating a few weeks after I enrolled at Midwestern. We tried our best to keep the six-inch rule, but it soon became impossible for us to keep our hands to ourselves. That said, we did not kiss each other for the first time until we had been dating for four months. Our first kiss took place during my visit to Polly’s Newark, Ohio home during Christmas break. Polly’s Mom asked her to go down to laundry room and check to see if the clothes were dry. I went along with Polly to help her check on the laundry. Amazingly, it took forever to ascertain if the clothes were dry.

Needless to say, when we returned to Midwestern in January of 1977, we had a huge problem on our hands. Let me explain it this way. It was like going to a Dairy Queen the first time for a milkshake. The milkshake was tasty, but after sampling that delight, every time you drove by a Dairy Queen you wanted to stop and get another milkshake. Kissing for Polly and me was like drinking a milkshake at Dairy Queen. Once we started we didn’t and couldn’t stop. For the next 18 months, Polly and I lived in fear of being caught — knowing that such dangerous living would likely result in us being expelled from school if we were caught.

In the spring of 1977 — six months after we started dating — I asked Polly to marry me. She said yes. I bought Polly an “expensive” diamond engagement ring. It had a 1/4 carat diamond and cost $225.00 at Sears and Roebuck. Years later, the diamond fell out of the cheap setting and it was lost. We sold the ring for scrap when gold prices started escalating. Our engagement only served to add fuel to the physical fire. Weekend dates became make-out sessions — times when we were free from the ever-watchful eyes of teachers, dorm supervisors, room monitors, and students who were saving their kisses for their wedding night.

During our sophomore year, Polly and I were caught breaking the six-inch rule. I played on the college basketball team. During practice one day I slapped at a basketball and severely dislocated the middle finger on my left hand. I had to go to the emergency room to get the finger put back in place (an excruciatingly painful procedure). Male students were required to wear a necktie to class, and thanks to my injured finger I was unable to tie mine. Polly and I would meet each weekday morning in the common room so we could walk together to classes. Unable to tie my necktie, I asked Polly to tie it for me. She did so, and we then walked to our classes. Unbeknownst to us, someone saw us break the six-inch rule and turned us in to the disciplinary committee. Ironically, the couple that turned us in were notorious six-inch rule breakers. It was rumored that they had rounded the bases and slid into home. Today, this couple is faithfully serving Jesus as pastor and pastor’s wife at a Southern Baptist church.

Polly and I made our required appearance before the disciplinary committee to answer for our crime. The disciplinary committee consisted of two men — Gary Mayberry, the dean of men and Don Zahurance, a recent Midwestern graduate. These “pious” men told us we had committed a serious breach of the six-inch rule. Zahurance even went so far as to suggest that I got some sort of sexual excitement from Polly tying my necktie. Each of us was given 50 demerits and warned that any future infractions would result in us being campused — not permitted to leave the campus or date — or expelled.

Dr. Tom Malone thought by having puritanical rules — similar to those he experienced at Bob Jones —it would keep students from engaging in more serious sexual behaviors. Dr. Malone was quite naïve, and outside of a few a self-righteous rules-keeping students, dating couples, with passion and fear, broke the six-inch rule. Whether it was in the back seat of a car while on a date or in an out-of-the-way corner of the college campus, dating dorm students found ways to act on their basic need for human connection and touch. I have come to understand that Midwestern, regardless of their intention, taught an aberrant, crippling form of moralism. Instead of quashing passion, it stoked it. Learning nothing from the countless moral failings of the past, Midwestern still enforces a strict moral code of conduct. (Please see The Midwestern Baptist College Handbook)

Midwestern prohibited freshmen students from marrying. Dorm students could not marry until the summer of their sophomore year. Students who broke this rule were required to drop out of school for one year. Needless to say, come the summer of our sophomore year, there were a number of couples who got married — Polly and myself included. Due to the difficulty in arranging housing, the college allowed couples who were planning on being married in the summer to look for housing before school let out in May. One couple rented a house that quickly turned into a place for couples to have sex. While Polly and I never went to this house, the couple who rented it were friends of ours and we knew that they, along with other couples, used the house for secret booty calls. Some of these couples are now in the ministry, and several are luminaries in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I find myself amused when I read their moralizing sermons and websites, remembering the time so many years ago, when they gave in to biology and passion and lost their virginity.

Several years ago, Polly and I drove to Pontiac to see what had become of the Midwestern campus and Emmanuel Baptist Church. We were saddened to see the places that once were a major part of our lives now closed and for sale — testifying to the bankruptcy of the IFB church movement. Midwestern still exists in a much smaller form as a ministry of a nearby IFB church. While Polly and I have many fond memories from our days at Midwestern, we are grateful that the college is but a shell of what it once was. No longer will Midwestern have the opportunity to infect large numbers of young people with its pernicious ideology.

Did you attend an IFB college and live in its dormitory? If so, please share your experiences in the comment section.

 

Breaking News: IFB Preacher Bob Gray, Sr. Admits to Driving Church Members

bob gray driving sheep
IFB sheepdog Bob Gray, Sr. driving church members (sheep) to give, give, give and win souls, win souls, win souls.

It is not often that an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher of the stature of Dr. not-a-real-Dr. Bob Gray, Sr., exposes for all to see the way he really does the work of the ministry. While I appreciate Gray’s “honesty,” something tells me that he won’t appreciate this blog post.

There was a day when the job description for Evangelical pastors included things such as preaching, teaching, visiting the sick and the elderly, marrying the young and burying the old. These days, Evangelicals pastors, especially those who pastor megachurches, inspire and encourage church members. Every Sunday, church members file into the sanctuary hoping to get their weekly fix of Jesus. Pastors, knowing they must rev up congregants to keep them happy and tithing, resort to all sorts of tricks to make sure felt needs are met and every person leaves the sanctuary all jacked up on Mountain Dew, I mean Jesus.  This type of ministry has turned church members into spectators.

Down in Longview, Texas, things are different at the Longview Baptist Temple — a sin-hating, devil-fighting, King-James-Only Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. The Gray clan — Bob Gray, Sr., and Bob Gray II — have little interest in inspiring, motivating or encouraging church members. Death is certain, hell is real, and Jesus is coming soon, preach the Grays, and they have no time to coddle church members. According to Gray, Sr.’s recent blog post, God-called preachers should drive their church members to do what they want them to do. Gray wrote:

The more I think about the subject of driving people the more I realize how we badly have missed the boat regarding this. In every other area of life we taut [sic] and praise the people who are driven and do drive others for a cause.

We celebrate a coach who drives his team to victory, but criticize the pastor who drives his church to reach their city for Christ. We praise the teacher who drives her students to study harder to get good grades, yet slander the pastor who drives his people to fulfill the great commission as they are commanded to do. We rejoice over the parent who drives their child to practice their musical instruments so that they can become accomplished musicians, but we demonize the pastor who drives his people to give more to God.

Let me ask you a question. Is winning the lost less important than winning the national championship? Tell me why Nick Saban can drive his Alabama football team to win and we love it, but we criticize the preacher for driving his people.

It seems that Gray, now 70 years old, has failed to learn that rarely does driving people result in long-term success. When people feel they are constantly being pushed to do, do, do, and do some more, they will, over time, tire of it and seek rest and relaxation somewhere beyond the incessant pushing of their drug-dealer pastor. I wonder if Gray, Sr. has ever thought about the thousands of church members he has driven right off a cliff? Tens of thousands of people have been won to Jesus through the soul-winning efforts of sheepdog Gray and Longview Baptist Temple (LBT) sheep. Shouldn’t the auditorium of LBT be teeming with members by now? Surely, 30 plus years of driving congregants to give, give, give and win souls, win souls, win souls, should result in overflow attendance on Sunday; yet attendance at LBT is a smidgen of what it once was. Longview Baptist Temple used to regularly publish its attendance numbers, bus rider numbers, and number of souls saved. Today? These numbers are no longer shared with the public. If continually driving church members is the way to do the work of the ministry, why does attendance at LBT continue to decline?

Where did preachers such as Bob Gray, Sr. get the notion that church members must be driven to accomplish great things for God? For many years, Jack Hyles — pastor of First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana — held an annual Pastor’s School. Thousands of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers and church members flocked to Hammond to sit at the feet of Hyles. First Baptist — at the time, the largest church in the world — was the crown jewel of the IFB church movement. Numerous preachers — Bob Gray, Sr. included — took to heart Hyles’ preaching and returned home to drive their churches to give, give, give, and win souls, win souls, win souls. The result? In the 1970s and early 1980s most of the Top One Hundred churches in attendance were IFB churches. Today? Only a handful of IFB churches are on the list. None is anywhere near the top of the list, having been displaced by friendlier, generic Evangelical churches.

The blame for the decline of the IFB church movement rests at the feet of Jack Hyles and those who followed in his steps. Hyles taught these so-called men of God to verbally, emotionally, and mentally abuse church members. As one aged IFB preacher said years ago, We hit our people over the head with the sin stick so often that they duck when we begin to preach. For years, Sunday after Sunday, IFB church members filed into churches such as Longview Baptist to hear preachers tell them that they were never doing enough. Souls for Jesus is our battle cry. Souls for Jesus is our battle cry. We never will give in while souls are lost in sin. Souls for Jesus is our battle cry, sang the Midwestern Baptist College student body when I attended there in the 1970s. Today, the school has a handful of students, and the church which students were required to attend — Emmanuel Baptist Church — is no longer in existence; a church, by the way, that once exceeded 5,000 in attendance.

Thousands of souls were saved through the work of Midwestern college students. Required (driven) to evangelize, students fanned out across the Pontiac and Detroit area, knocking on doors and offering the one-two-three- repeat-after-me IFB gospel to those who dared to answer their knock. Freshmen students, filled with zeal and unaware as to how the soul-winning game was played, were those most likely to devote themselves to saving the lost. By the end of their first year, students who had been repeatedly berated at church, college chapel, and Saturday bus meetings over their poor souls-saved numbers, learned how to lie about their soul-winning conquests. Students were required to report each week how much time they spent evangelizing the lost and how many people were saved. Midwestern even held soul winning contests. Won souls were carefully tabulated and the best soul-winners had their names affixed to a chart.

Many IFB churches have moved on from their hyper-soul-winning days. As members began to burn out, attendance numbers declined. These IFB preachers — considered compromisers by men such as Gray — say they are now focused on quality and not quantity. Other IFB preachers, refusing to admit that they have burned through several generations of church members, continue to drive their churches — demanding more and more from fewer people. The numbers are against them, and in time churches built on the Hyles model of sheep-driving will collapse, and the remaining sheep will scatter, finding pastors and churches who treat them like people instead of a commodity. Whatever my feelings are concerning religion, I consider that those who choose to believe should be treated with respect. After all, they are the ones doing the work and paying the freight. Without them, preachers would be forced to sell vacuum cleaners and hamburgers to make ends meet.

Note

Gray, Sr. recently took to his blog to whine about people saying he drives church members. Gray wrote:

Recently it has been brought to my attention that someone who once worked side-by-side with me in my ministry has criticized me to several men for having “driven” my people rather than leading them. Now, normally I would actually consider that to be a compliment. However, it was obvious that it was not said as a compliment but as a criticism.

It is interesting that someone who would claim to be a friend would say what my enemies also have said about me. This is not something new. Nor is it something that concerns me other than for the fact that it came from a source I would have trusted. Plus it confuses people as to what good leadership is.

People who are told they are “hurting” after being so-called “driven” never knew it until they were told so. We are basically lazy by nature and anyone who will feed that will have to be critical of prior leaders who were driven because of a cause. It is an insult to those who gave their lives to a cause to say they were “driven” without a choice in the matter.

….

So, I say to those who accuse me of driving my people, you are right, I did drive my people. I drove them to do what’s right. I drove them to obey the Great Commission. I drove them to sacrifice for the cause of Christ. I drove them to put the Kingdom of God above themselves. I drove them to be the Christians they should be.

 

The Independent Baptist War Against Long Hair on Men

gerencser boys 1989
Nathan, Jaime, and Jason Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1989

Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (I Corinthians 11:14)

According to many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers, 1 Corinthians 11:14 is clear: it is shameful and against nature for a man to have long hair. The late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, made it his life’s mission to rid American men of what he considered effeminate long hair. In a sermon titled, Satan’s Bid for Your Child, Hyles stated:

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.

In the booklet titled Jesus Had Short Hair, Hyles made the connection between male hair length and homosexuality. In Hyles’ eyes, men with longer hair were more likely to be sissified, weak homosexuals. Hyles wrote:

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.

IFB preaching against long hair on men found its impetus as men began to grow their hair longer in the late 1960s and 1970s. Hippies had long hair and were anti-establishment. IFB preachers viewed long hair on men as a sign of rebellion against parental and religious authority. As anyone raised in the IFB church movement knows, rebellion is considered a grave sin, one that is never to be tolerated by parents or churches. This view of rebellion led to the establishment of IFB group homes, places where frustrated parents sent their children to be cured of rebellion. Sadly, children sent to these homes often returned to mom and dad emotionally and mentally broken. In some instances, these rebellious children had been physically and sexually assaulted.

In the IFB church movement of the 1970s, the four big sins were: long hair on men, short skirts on women, pants on women, and rock music. Youth directors waged holy wars against these sins and pastors frequently excoriated church teenagers over their unwillingness to obey the rules. While the days of hippies, Woodstock, and free love have faded into the pages of American history, many IFB preachers still preach against long hair, short skirts, pants, and rock music.

There are numerous unaccredited IFB colleges and Bible institutes in the United States. With few exceptions, these institutions strictly regulate how  men must wear their hair. I attended Midwestern Baptist College from 1976-79. Midwestern had a strict standard concerning hair: short, off the ears, no long bangs, short sideburns, no facial hair, and a tapered neckline. This standard was strictly enforced, and men who let their hair grow too long were told to get a haircut. Ignoring this demand resulted in suspension.

While some IFB preachers, churches, and colleges have adapted to the times, many have not. Midwestern Baptist College is one such institution that still thinks it is 1976. Here is Midwestern’s male hair standard, as published in their 2013-14 student handbook (PDF):

Men are to be neat in appearance and dressed properly at all times. The hair is to be cut over the ears and tapered at the back above the collar. Sideburns are to be no lower than the middle of the ear. Hair must be no longer than the middle of the forehead in front. Men may not have facial hair unless approved by the Dean of Students. Such facial hair must be neatly groomed at all times. Faddish, worldly hairstyles will not be tolerated. The final decision as to the appropriateness of a hairstyle will rest with the Administration.

As a loyal, faithful son of the IFB church movement, from the time I was a child until the late 1990s, I had short hair. As an IFB preacher, I thought it important to model the hairstyle God approved. While I didn’t preach very often on men having long hair, my short hairstyle made it clear to church members where I stood on the matter. Not only was my hair a testimony to the notion that the Bible condemned long hair, but so was the hair of my three oldest sons. Jason, Nathan, and Jaime spent many years looking similar to children who were either being treated for lice or recently released from a Nazi prison camp. Not wanting to spend money on haircuts, we bought a pair of clippers and periodically gave them buzz cuts. No protestations allowed. Sit down, buzz, next. I am sure, at the time, they hated me and I don’t blame them.

charles spurgeon
Charles Spurgeon, a 19th Century English Baptist Preacher

Over time, my views on hair began to change. In the early 1990s, I grew a beard, much to the surprise of my fellow IFB preachers. By then I had distanced myself from the more extreme elements of the IFB church movement, and I began fellowshipping with Calvinistic-oriented Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptist preachers. These men, refugees from IFB churches, didn’t have as many social hangups. While they were still quite Fundamentalist, these preachers spent little time preaching on things such as male hair length and facial hair. Charles Spurgeon was one of this movement’s patron saints and he had long hair and a beard. I thought at the time, if Spurgeon had long hair and a beard, it must be okay for me to do the same.

Last Saturday, Polly and I drove to Newark, Ohio to visit her parents. While there, my IFB mother-in-law asked me about my hair. Since last October, I have let my hair grow. It is longer now than it ever has been. Mom, who attends a church that is anti-long hair on men, asked, So you are growing your hair long? I replied, Yes. She responded, Why? And with nary a thought, I replied, Because I can. I am sure she is disappointed that I am letting myself turn into a hippie. She later asked if I planned to put my hair in a ponytail like my former brother-in-law does I told her I didn’t plan to let my hair grow that long.

As it stands now, my hair has quite a bit of curl on its extreme ends, an unexpected result. I am not sure Polly likes my hair this long, but we have a hard, fast agreement: we don’t criticize each other’s hair styles. While we do, at times, defer to one another, both of us are free to wear our hair as we wish. Now that we have cast off the shackles of Fundamentalism, we are free to do what we want. As I have mentioned before, Polly and I missed out on the freedoms of the 1960s and 1970s. Both of us were members of hardcore IFB churches that strictly regulated dress, hair styles, and conduct. Now that we are no longer emotionally and mentally bound in IFB bondage, we are, to some degree, living, for the first time, the 1960s and 1970s. On the plus side, we are much wiser than we were 40 years ago. On the negative side, we also have bodies that are 40 years older. Oh to be wise and young!

How about you? Did you grow up in a church that strictly regulated dress, hair style, and behavior? Were you compliant or rebellious? If you were rebellious, how did the church and your parents respond to your rebellion? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Note

Previous post on this subject, Is it a Sin for a Man to Have Long Hair?

IFB Pastor B.J. VanAman Has Prayer Cut Off By Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger

pastor bj van aman prayer
Pastor B.J. VanAman

B.J. VanAman is the pastor of the Pickerington Baptist Temple in Pickerington, Ohio. He is a graduate of Crown College of the Bible, an unaccredited, King James Only,  Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college in Powell, Tennessee. As is the custom in Christian Ohio, legislators can have religious dignitaries from their districts come and give an invocation. Last Tuesday, Tim Schaffer (R), representative from the 77th district (Lancaster) invited Pastor VanAman to open the session with prayer.

Van Aman proceeds to pray a five-minute “sermon” (a common ploy by Christian Fundamentalists), complete with King James English. At the five-minute mark House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger cuts VanAman off by saying AMEN and quickly beginning the Pledge of Allegiance. What follows is a video of the VanAman’s introduction and prayer (first eight minutes).

The Columbus Dispatch had this to say about Van Aman’s prayer:

….

Lawmakers are welcome to invite religious leaders from their district to deliver an opening prayer to the House, as Rep. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, did on Tuesday. Most prayers don’t go longer than 60 or 90 seconds, often delivering messages of inspiration and asking for wisdom and guidance.

House guidelines are largely based on a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring opening prayers to be nondenominational, nonsectarian and nonproselytizing.

The prayer on Tuesday mentioned “Though the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and went on to describe Jesus, whose “name is above every name,” and at his name “every knee shall bow.” It also described Jesus as the “author and finisher of our faith.”

Rosenberger first peeked an eye open about three minutes in. At nearly four minutes, he opened his eyes and began looking around, clearly growing anxious about the length and trying to decide the right way to end it.

After just over five minutes, with no clear conclusion on the horizon, Rosenberger blurted out an “amen,” thanked Van Aman for being here and then motioned toward the flag to start the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I am speaker, so whether it’s floor action or the pastor giving the prayer, I feel I make the determination when we need to move it on,” Rosenberger said.

He was not the only one who felt that way. After the Pledge of Allegiance, a hot mic picked up a female voice on the floor: “That was a sermon.”

Rosenberger’s action earned praise from Rep. Mike Curtin, D-Marble Cliff, who called it “entirely appropriate.” Curtin covered the legislature for The Dispatch in the 1980s and did a story on the then-House chaplain, the Rev. Kenneth Grimes, a Catholic who was admired for his counsel and prayers that mixed inspiration and humor.

“He was very careful to acknowledge that the General Assembly is a diverse body,” Curtin said. “The opening prayer should reflect that diversity. It should reflect the Constitutional acknowledgement of there not being a state religion.”

That, Curtin said, means not infusing the name of Jesus Christ into many lines of the prayer.

“I don’t think any members take objection to a Christian clergyman or woman making reference to Jesus Christ. But what we’ve had lately in this chamber for a period of years now is a heavy, almost Christian proselytizing as the opening prayer, which in my view is inappropriate,” Curtin said.

The House has not had a designated chaplain for more than 20 years.

Members, Curtin said, need to school visiting clergy on the protocol. Rosenberger agreed that members may need to do a better job briefing their guests on expectations prior to the prayer.

Over-the-top sermonizing, Curtin said, “doesn’t have a place in the public body.”

….

HT: The Friendly Atheist

The Preacher Boy  and the Pastor’s Daughter

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

It seems like yesterday…

The early days of fall have arrived and the young preacher boy busily loads his possessions into a dilapidated, dented Plymouth. It’s time for me to go, he says to his Mom. I wonder what she thinks, her oldest son headed off to college, the first in their family to do so. They embrace, a rare expression of emotion,  and the preacher boy quickly turns away, not wanting her to see the tears running down his face.

Soon the preacher boy is headed north and then east of Bryan. Several hours later he arrives in Pontiac, Michigan, the community he will call home for the next few years.  Midwestern Baptist College, A Character Building Institution, says the sign along Golf Drive. The preacher boy had planned to attend Prairie Bible Institute, but God had other plans for him.

The preacher boy parks his car in front of the dormitory, John R. Rice Hall, and quickly unloads his meager possessions. Tall and lean, the red-headed preacher boy, wearing a blue shirt with the number 75 and the name Rev. on the back, moves his possessions into room 207. The dormitory has two floors and a basement, with wings on either side of a common meeting room. The top floor houses the women. The first floor has two wings, one to each side of the meeting room. Students call one wing the Spiritual Wing, the other the Party Wing. The basement, for obvious reasons,  is called The Pit.

The preacher boy lives on the Party Wing. There, he soon meets like-minded young men, filled with God, life, and recklessness. The preacher boy settles into the rhythm of dorm life at a fundamentalist college. Rules, lots of rules, and just as many ways to bend the rules to fit the desires of a youthful heart. The preacher boy would live in the dorm for two years, and in that time he would repeatedly run afoul of the rules. Told he is brash and rebellious, a fitting description, those who know him would say, the preacher boy does his best to outwardly conform to the letter of the law.

The blue shirt the preacher boy wore when he arrived at the college was given to him by a girl who hoped he would remember her while he was away. Not long after, the shirt disappeared, as did any thought of its giver. If there is one thing that the preacher boy loves almost as much as God, it is girls. And here he is, enrolled at a college that will provide him ample opportunity to ply his charm. Little does he know that fate has a different plan.

The week before the official start of classes, a young, beautiful 17-year-old girl from Newark, Ohio moves into the dorm. The preacher boy mentions the girl to his roommate. Stay away from her, the roommate replies. Her father is Pastor Lee Shope. Unfazed by the stern warning, the preacher boy decides to introduce himself to the dark-haired beauty. He quickly learns she is quite shy. Not one to be at a loss for words, the preacher boy takes the girl’s backwardness as a challenge, one that he successfully conquers over the course of a few weeks.

Soon, all thoughts of the field fade into the beauty of the pastor’s daughter. The preacher boy quickly finds himself smitten. Come spring, he proposes and she, despite her mother’s disapproval, says yes. Having known each  other for two months short of two years, the preacher boy, now 21, and the pastor’s daughter stand before friends, family and strangers and promise to love one another until death severs their bond.

Thirty-seven years have passed since the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter  pledged their troth. Under the proverbial bridge has flowed a shared life, one that has blessed them with a quiverfull of children and grandchildren. The grand plans of an idyllic pastorate, two children (a boy named Jason, a girl named Bethany), and a parsonage with a white picket fence, perish in the rubble of the hard work necessary to parent six children and pastor churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Twenty-five years of working in God’s vineyard have left the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter with deep, lasting scars. They have learned what it means to do without and suffer loss. Yet, they have endured.

Stoicism now defines them. As life has poured out its cruelties and left them wondering why, the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter continue to hold one another tight, refusing to let adversity win. When their love for God wavered and then died a death of a thousand contradictions, the preacher boy and pastor’s daughter, now aged friends and lovers, joined their hands once more and walked into the dark unknown.

The full moon sits high above his home on this cold winter’s night. The clock on the nightstand clicks as each second passes by, a reminder that life is fleeting. The preacher boy, now a 58-year-old atheist, turns his thoughts to the beautiful, dark-haired girl he met so many years ago. Who would ever have thought we would be where we are today?, he says to himself. Yet…here we are, survivors, taking each and every day as it comes, without a prayer or a God to smooth the way. He wonders what tomorrow will bring, safe in the knowledge that whatever might come their way cannot defeat the enduring love of the preacher boy and the  pastor’s daughter.

Bruce Gerencser