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Tag: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: IFB Pastor John MacFarlane Says Atheists Are Gods

fool says no god

This is April Fool’s Day.

….

When a person believes that there is no God, they become a god unto themselves.  They determine what is right and wrong.  They set the standards for their life.  They live as if they have all the answers for when they die and eternity.  Such a person is going to be very unpleasantly surprised. [MacFarlane reveals he knows very little about atheists. Call me, John. You know where I live.]

“And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:  (17)  And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?  (18)  And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.  (19)  And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.  (20)  But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?  (21)  So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)

This April Fool’s Day, be careful not to cross any Biblical lines as you prank someone.  And remember those who are fools by the Biblical definition.  There’s nothing funny about their day and certainly nothing funny about their future.

— John MacFarlane, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio, Don’t Be a Fool, April 1, 2021

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

David Tee Says I Am Envious and Jealous of Evangelical Churches

dr david tee
From a post titled “Dr.” David Tee

In response to my post, Twenty-One Things You Might Not Know About Evangelical Churches and Pastors, “Dr.” David Tee — not his real name — had this to say about me:

When you read through the list, the first thing that comes to mind is that the atheist is envious or jealous of the Church and its perks. One thing he forgets is that those items are all legal and for the most part, not sought out by the church.

I am “envious or jealous of the Evangelical churches and their perks?” Really? What evidence does Tee have for this claim? None. Why would I be envious or jealous of Evangelical churches and their pastors? If I chose to do so, I could start an Evangelical church today, claim I am a “Dr” (I am still ordained), and start holding services on Sunday. Every dime collected on that Sunday and every Sunday after that would be tax-free. The only reason I don’t do this is that I have integrity.

I see nothing within Evangelicalism to envy. I have no remorse or buyer’s regret over leaving the ministry and leaving Christianity. Neither does my wife, neither do most of my children. Polly and I wouldn’t start attending an Evangelical church even if it PAID us to do so. Once free of prison, why would I ever want to return? No thanks.

Tee continues to use my writing for his blog without mentioning me by name. At least he linked to the aforementioned article. If Tee really wants more people to read his Fundamentalist screeds, he should mention me by name. I am, after all, the name draw, not “Dr.” David Tee. Besides, if you are going to criticize or critique someone publicly, you should mention that person by name. It’s the right thing to do, Mr. T.

Here’s the irony I see in Tee’s comment. My post was simply a list of twenty-one facts about Evangelical churches and pastors. Not my opinions, just facts. Tee did not criticize one word of my post. How could he? Everything I wrote was factual. Instead, Tee decides to attack my character. What is it with Fundamentalists who can’t play well with others, who go after someone’s character instead of engaging their ideas? One need only read what Tee wrote about Ravi Zacharias’ victims to see character assassination put into practice.

Previous articles about David Tee:

NO COMMENT: When Science and the Bible Conflict, Bible Right, Science Wrong

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Secular Scientists are Con Men

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Life in the IFB Church: Polly’s Secret

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977
Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

My wife and I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Polly’s father was an IFB preacher, and both of us attended an IFB college in the 1970s. In 1978, we walked down the aisle of an IFB church pastored by Polly’s uncle and declared our troth one to another. After leaving Midwestern Baptist College in 1979, we spent the next fifteen years pastoring IFB churches. Even after our public break from the IFB church movement, it would be years before we distanced ourselves from that sect’s theological and social Fundamentalism. To say that IFB thinking and beliefs coursed through our veins would be a gross understatement.

IFB churches are known for being anti-culture. IFB churches and their pastors have strict, well-defined theological beliefs and practices. Congregants are expected to adhere to the letter of the law, dotting every i and crossing every t. Deviating from the expected norm brought public judgment from the pulpit, private criticism behind the scenes, and ultimately ex-communication. There is no place in IFB churches for differences of belief and practice. IFB apologists will object to this characterization, saying that not everyone has to believe the same things. However, these differences of opinion are about trivial, peripheral beliefs, not those that make IFB churches stand out from other Evangelical sects.

While IFB churches have stringent core theological beliefs, it is their social Fundamentalism that they are most known for. For readers not familiar with social Fundamentalism: social Fundamentalism focuses on the conduct, lifestyle, and social engagement of the Christian. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) If IFB churches and pastors are known for anything, it’s their rules and regulations, also known as church standards. While every Christian sect believes certain behaviors and practices are “sin,” IFB churches unapologetically believe that listening to rock music, women wearing pants, women having short hair, men having long hair, watching R-rated movies, going to the movie theater, drinking alcohol, masturbating, engaging in premarital sex, touching/kissing before marriage, LGBTQ-anything, going to a secular college, voting Democrat — to name a few — are heinous sins against the thrice-holy God of the King James Bible (and yes, I know not every IFB pastor thinks every behavior listed here is a “sin”).

In 2020, I wrote a post titled, The Official Fundamentalist Baptist Rulebook. I listed the “church standards” that are found in many IFB churches:

  • Thou shalt obey the pastor at all times
  • Thou shalt obey all adults at all times if you are a child or teenager
  • Thou shalt obey your husband at all times if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt obey your parents at all times
  • Thou shalt obey the police and government unless the pastor says it is a sin against God to do so
  • Thou shalt tithe
  • Thou shalt give an offering
  • Thou shalt give a faith promise missionary offering
  • Thou give an offering any time the pastor says God is saying to collect a special offering
  • Thou shalt attend church every time the doors are open
  • Thou shalt read the Bible every day
  • Thou shalt pray every day
  • Thou shalt pray without ceasing
  • Thou shalt pray for every meal, but ice cream at Dairy Queen after church requires no prayer
  • Thou shalt only use the King James Bible — 1611 edition which is really the 1769 revision
  • Thou shalt only use the Scofield King James Bible
  • Thou shalt not have long hair (over your ears, collar) if you are a man
  • Thou shalt not have a block cut hairstyle if you are a man
  • Thou shalt not have facial hair if you are a man, but if you are a woman you can have facial hair
  • Thou shalt not have tattoos unless you have prison tats from your life before Christ
  • Thou shalt not take the hem out of your Levi jeans or alter your clothing in any way so that you look worldly
  • Thou shalt not wear pants (britches) if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt not wear shorts, but a woman can wear Baptist shorts — also known as culottes
  • Thou shalt not expose any flesh if you are a woman, especially your thighs, breasts, or back
  • Thou shalt only wear dresses with hemlines below the knees if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt not have any physical contact with the opposite sex if you are unmarried
  • Thou shalt not masturbate
  • Thou shalt not have more than one hole in each ear if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt not pierce any body part except your ear, and then only if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt not watch TV, but if you are a carnal Christian and must watch TV thou shalt only watch Little House on the Prairie or Bonanza
  • Thou shalt not go to the movie theater, but using streaming services is okay
  • Thou shalt always have tracts in your shirt pocket or purse, ready to evangelize at a moment’s notice
  • Thou shalt drive a car with church advertising stickers, IFB cliches, or Bible verses attached to the bumper
  • Thou shalt park down the street when visiting the local strip club or whore house lest the pastor know you are there and stay away
  • Thou shalt not dance
  • Thou shalt not listen to secular music, especially rock music, which is from the pit of hell
  • Thou shalt not listen to contemporary Christian music (CCM)
  • Thou shalt not smoke tobacco
  • Thou shalt not drink fermented alcohol — after all, Jesus drank Welch’s grape juice
  • Thou shalt not dip snuff
  • Thou shalt not chew tobacco
  • Thou shalt not cuss, but saying darn, shoot, crap, freaking, and fudge are okay
  • Thou shalt not date non-Independent Baptist girls or boys
  • Thou shalt not have any non-Independent Baptist friends
  • Thou shalt home school your children or send them to a Christian school
  • Thou shalt only read pastor-approved Christian books
  • Thou shalt never speak in tongues
  • Thou shalt only believe what the pastor says you are to believe
  • Thou shalt go soulwinning every week
  • Thou shalt say you have victory over sin, even if you are lying
  • Thou shalt adhere to the “perception is reality” rule
  • Thou shalt send your kids to the same Christian college the pastor went to
  • Thou shalt leave the church if you commit adultery, get a divorce, or get pregnant outside of marriage
  • Thou shalt  believe everything the pastor says even when you are certain he is lying, speaking evangelistically, or embellishing his illustrations
  • Thou shalt wear a bra if you are a woman, and it can only be a white, underwire bra
  • Thou shalt not mix bathe (Baptist for swimming with the opposite sex)
  • Thou shalt not go to amusement parks unless the youth group is going
  • Thou shalt not go to the prom
  • Thou shalt not show emotion unless praising Jesus from 10:00 am to noon on Sunday or giving a testimony during Sunday evening service
  • Thou shalt say AMEN during at the appropriate time during the pastor’s sermon, especially when he shouts, pounds the pulpit, or performs gymnastics
  • Thou shalt not be angry even though the pastor is allowed to be angry, but that’s because his anger is righteous anger
  • Thou shalt be for what the pastor is for and against what the pastor is against, because if you don’t, a bear might come out of the woods and eat you
  • Thou shalt never use your brain
  • Thou shalt ignore any science that contradicts the Bible
  • Thou shalt never try to fix your own problems because the pastor is the official fixer of all problems
  • Thou shalt takes notes on the sermon even if the rabbit wanders five miles off the trail or the sermon is incoherent
  • Thou shalt always tell the pastor what a wonderful sermon he preached, even when you have no idea what he was talking about
  • Thou shalt always tell Sister Bertha what a wonderful job she did with her off-key rendition of What a Friend we Have in Jesus
  • Thou shalt not use canned (taped) music for music specials
  • Thou shall not play the guitar or drums

The lists of rules and regulations found in IFB churches — both stated and implied — are endless. Since IFB churches are Independent (please see What is an IFB Church?) governmentally, each church has its own standards. Who the pastor is at the time is the final arbiter of what will be expected (demanded) of congregants.

Having spent the first 35+ years of our lives in IFB churches, both Polly and I were deeply affected psychologically by all the rules and regulations. What made matters worse was that I was a pastor, and Polly was a pastor’s wife. We were not only the gatekeepers and the enforcers of the church’s standards, but we were also expected to perfectly and joyfully obey every jot and tittle of the “law.”

We believed that if we didn’t live according to these rules and regulations — which we believed were taught explicitly or implicitly in the inspired, inerrant, infallible (King James) Word of God — that God would chastise us or withhold his blessing. As devout followers of Jesus, we daily strove to live sinless lives. And as sure as the sun came up in the morning, we failed. No matter how hard we tried to keep the rules, there was never a day when we could say, nailed it!

This brings me to the focus of this post, Polly’s secret. You see, despite striving to be holy in thought, word, and deed, Polly had secret sins in her life. Of course, so did her pastor husband. Our “sins” were very different, but both of us “sinned” because we were told we couldn’t. You see, when you are constantly told this or that behavior is “sin,” it is not surprising that you want what you can’t have.

Most readers will likely find what I share next quite amusing, but I hope you will understand this story in the context of the Fundamentalist Baptist bubble Polly and I lived in for decades. Breaking the rules brought overwhelming fear and guilt. We were in our 40s before we drank alcohol, went to the movie theater, or listened to rock music. Polly was 46 before she wore her first pair of pants. I still remember me pleading with her to buy a pair of pants for the first time. Polly literally thought God was going to strike her dead. He didn’t, but the look that Polly’s Fundamentalist mom had on her face after seeing Polly in pants for the first time suggested that judgment might be coming soon. Polly’s mom’s face had a similar look of displeasure the first time she opened our refrigerator and found a six-pack of beer. We have been disappointing her for years now.

During a recent discussion about how IFB beliefs and practices harmed us psychologically, Polly decided to come clean about a “sin” in her life, circa the 1980s. We laughed over her confession, but I am sure her “sin” caused Polly lots of guilt and consternation back in the day. What, you ask, did Polly do? Have an affair? Steal money from the church? Secretly peruse Playgirl? Nope. Her sin was far more sinister than these things. Polly read books.

Books? Yes, books. In IFB churches, reading was strictly regulated. Pastors and congregants alike knew that only certain subjects and authors were approved for consumption. I still remember stopping at our pianist’s home unannounced, only to find a stack of true-crime novels sitting on her living room table. Congregants knew to give their homes IFB-approved appearances if they knew I was planning a visit, but I caught Rose off guard by stopping by unannounced. Rose, a wonderful, Jesus-loving woman, knew she had been “caught.” She knew what was coming next: a Pastor Bruce lecture about reading such godless trash. Little did I know that she had also bought a TV that she hid from me every time I stopped by.

Rose confessed her “weakness” for true-crime novels, promising that she would stop reading them and only read God-approved Christian chick-lit. I suspect that she did neither. What I didn’t know is that Polly had a similar “weakness.” Come to find out, my mom — a voracious reader — was giving Polly unapproved, “sinful” books to read. Knowing that her holier-than-thou preacher husband would disapprove and likely burn the books to make a point, Polly hid the books under our bed, reading them when I wasn’t home (which was typically 10-12 hours a day). What a sinner, right?

Today, Polly continues to read fictional books, including those that have graphic sexual content. Of course, the difference between now and then is that she no longer fears God or feels guilty over what she has read. While both of us have deep, lasting scars from our IFB years, we relish and enjoy the freedom we have from the rules and regulations of our past. We are free to watch and read whatever we want without fearing judgment or chastisement.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

How Preachers Put the Fear of God into Church Attendees

fearful of god

Fear is a tool used by Evangelical preachers to manipulate and control church attendees. While many Evangelical churches are taking more of a relational approach that focuses on feel-good how-to sermons, hellfire-and-brimstone churches can still be found in virtually every American community. These kinds of churches are known for sin-hating, devil-chasing “hard” preaching. The men — women need not apply — who pastor such churches take pride in the fact that their toe-stomping sermons cause sinners and saints alike to fear God. And in some instances, not only do church attendees fear the Almighty, but they also fear the preacher.

There are two methods commonly used by preachers to cause people to fear God. First, there are various Bible verses that promote fear of God. The book of Hebrews says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon said that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments. The Bible also says that people should fear he who has the keys of life and death, “he” being, of course, God. Then there are also various Bible stories that remind people of what might happen if they disobey God. Preachers remind congregants that disobeying God shows that they have a lack of fear. Church members who are not regular attendees or faithful tithers are told that their disobedience reveals a heart that does not fear God. No matter the sin, according to Evangelical preachers, the root cause is a lack of fear of God. If people feared God they would do all that God commands them to do. Of course, far too many Evangelical preachers confuse their personal convictions and way of life with the laws, commands, and precepts found in the Bible. I have written several posts in the past about the long list of rules and regulations that can be found in many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. (Please see An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) These rules and regulations are little more than personal interpretations of various Bible verses. There are no verses in the Bible that prohibit many of the things that Evangelical preachers preach against, but this does not keep them from conflating personal beliefs with the teachings of the Bible. While many Evangelical churches have softened their stance on many social issues, plenty of churches still preach against “sins” such as alcohol drinking, drug use, gambling, mixed bathing, movie attendance, swearing, immodest clothing, long hair on men, pants on women, rock ‘n roll music, dancing, petting, and premarital sex. Preachers scour their Bibles looking for verses and stories that can be used to prop up their peculiar social and moral codes. Again, the main purpose is to put the fear of God into people so they will not do the things that preachers and churches consider sin.

The second method that Evangelical preachers use to promote the fear of God is the telling of personal stories that are meant to remind people of what happens when people ignore God and live in ways that show a lack of fear. Remember, people show that they rightly fear God by obeying God and the teachings of the Bible. People who attend church, yet ignore God’s commands, are treading on thin ice, and if they do not repent, God could bring judgment down upon their heads. Preachers often tell stories about former church members who ignored their preaching and stern admonitions, only to find themselves being punished or even killed by God. Years ago, I listened to a preaching tape by Calvinistic Southern Baptist evangelist Rolfe Barnard. His sermon was titled, God kills people. Will he have to kill you? The purpose of Barnard’s sermon was to provoke church members to explicitly obey the commands of God. Threatening people with death was certainly a good way to get their attention. Of course, despite all the fear-mongering, most church members remain passive attendees who throw a few shekels in the offering plate and say, great show for a buck.

Evangelists are often the best storytellers. These merchandisers of fear and judgment use unverifiable stories about people in other churches who did not fear God. With thundering voices and apocalyptic pronouncements, these men of God tell stories about people who angered God. This God made them sick, took away their jobs, killed their children, or caused them to suffer any of a number of other reversals of fortune. Instead of seeing such things as shit happens, evangelists see these things as signs of God chastising his children.

I vividly remember a revival meeting with Don Hardman in the late 1980s when the evangelist left the pulpit and came down to where the church teenagers were sitting. With a raised voice, Hardman pointed his finger at each teenager, telling them that GOD sees everything they do. He then recited a list of the typical “sins” committed by rambunctious, hormone-raging young people. By the time he was done, I could see that the teenagers were fearful. I thought, at the time, that God was using Hardman to ferret out sin and rebellion against God. I now know that the church teenagers did not fear God as much as they feared Don Hardman. Or perhaps they feared being found out. Either way, come invitation time, numerous teenagers came to the altar to pray. I suspect very little changed for these teenagers, but by coming to the altar to pray, they showed, outwardly at least, that they had received God’s and Evangelist Hardman’s message.

Many Evangelical preachers save their best fear-mongering stories for unsaved church attendees. This kind of story is used to show unsaved people what could happen to them if they put off getting saved. Every Evangelical preacher knows of people who heard the gospel and had an opportunity to be saved, yet put off their decision to another day. And before they could be saved, some sort of tragic accident happened that led to their death. Once dead, these sinners no longer had an opportunity to make things right with God. They should have feared God and taken him up on his offer of eternal salvation, but because they didn’t, they are now burning in Hell.

I wish I could say that I did not use such manipulative stories and means to get people saved, but I did. I justified it, at the time, by reminding myself that the Apostle Paul became all things to all men so that by all means he could save some. What is the harm of a psychologically manipulative story if the end result is sinners saved from the fiery pit of Hell? I employed all sorts of justifications for my use of heart-wrenching, tear-inducing stories of human tragedy, suffering, and death. Believing that I somehow had to get people’s attention, I used these stories to force people to see the brevity of life and the importance of putting their faith in Jesus Christ. Over the years, hundreds and hundreds of people came forward at invitation time, knelt at the altar, and asked Jesus to save them. Nearby, at the same altar, would be saved church members who were also doing business with God — confessing secret and not-so-secret sins.

Putting the fear of God into people is good for business. Without it, I suspect many people would not bother to attend church. Without fear and threats of judgment, most people would choose to sleep in on Sundays and enjoy a leisurely brunch before they turn on the game. I know I would have. One of the greatest joys that came with becoming an atheist was that I no longer feared God. Since God doesn’t exist, I no longer have a need to quake in my boots at the very mention of his name. Of course, Evangelicals are fond of reminding me that there is coming a day when Bruce Gerencser WILL fear God, but I am confident that when that day comes, the fear-inducing God will be AWOL. This God is little more than a tool used by preachers and churches to keep asses the pews and money in the offering plates. Remove fear from the equation, and I suspect there will be a lot more Baptists at the lake on Sunday morning.

Did you attend a church where the preacher regularly made use of fear-inducing sermon illustrations? Was his fear-mongering successful? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Sermon Illustrations: The Lies Preachers Tell

lying for jesus

From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in 1954 by Dr. Tom Malone, pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Dorm students were required to attend Emmanuel. One Sunday, Dr. Malone made a statement during his sermon that I have never forgotten. Meant to be a joke, Malone said, “I am not preaching now. I’m telling the truth.”

I was twenty-years-old when Malone made this statement. In June, I will turn sixty-four. In the intervening years, I preached thousands of sermons and heard hundreds of other sermons, either in person or on cassette tape. Preaching is an art form meant to convey some sort of spiritual message to hearers. While Evangelicals love to make much of the Bible, preaching is far more than just reading the Scriptures. Following Jesus’ example, many preachers use stories to illustrate their sermons. Story-less sermons are, in my estimation, boring as Heaven. I suspect most churchgoers would agree with me. Imagine going to church on Sunday and hearing a sermon that consists of a droning-fan-on-a-summer-day preacher reading the Bible word for word. B-o-r-i-n-g.

Illustrations help keep parishioners engaged. There’s nothing better than a couple of stories interjected at just the right time. In fact, many parishioners won’t remember anything about their preachers’ sermons except for the fantastical stories they told. Marge, wasn’t that a wonderful story Pastor Billy told today? Yes, it was, Moe. Why, that one story was almost unbelievable. Pastor Billy wouldn’t lie, so I know he is telling us the truth.

Dr. Malone got it right when he said, “I am not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.” Malone knew that preachers love to tell stories, and sometimes their stories are not as factual as they should be. Younger preachers often buy illustration books. These books provide preachers with a ready source of catchy, provocative illustrations sure to get parishioners’ attention. Older preachers often develop a cache of illustrations that can be pulled out of their mental file cabinets and used when needed. These illustrations often come from past experiences, especially for preachers who did a lot of “sinning” before Jesus rescued them. I have heard countless preachers regale parishioners with stories about their lives as drug addicts, drunkards, Satanists, atheists, or hitmen for the mob. These stories often seem larger than life. And they are, because these kinds of stories are often embellished or outright lies.

Several years ago, I posted a video of anti-porn crusader Dawn Hawkins telling a story about seeing a man watching child pornography on an airplane.  Several commenters said that, based on their flying experiences, Hawkins was lying. I believe they are correct. I think the same could be said for many of the stories preachers use in their sermons. Simply put, these men are liars for Jesus.

The late Jack Hyles, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, was a masterful storyteller. I heard Hyles preach in person and on tape. His stories were mesmerizing, especially to a wide-eyed young Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher from Ohio. However, over time, I came to the conclusion that Hyles was a narcissistic, pathological liar.

For many years, Hyles pastored the largest church in the United States. Those raised in the IFB church movement know that for men such as Hyles, it was all about the numbers: church attendance, souls saved, baptisms, and offerings. The ministry was like a bunch of third-grade boys in the restroom playing the who has a bigger penis game. Preachers who had John Holmes- or Ron Jeremy-sized churches were considered men whom God was mightily using. Young preachers and men who pastored smaller churches were expected to sit at the feet of these preachers, learning how they too could have large penises, uh I mean churches.

Due to his church’s number one place on the charts, Hyles was viewed as a demigod by many IFB preachers. Hyles told stories about how many people he counseled, souls he had won to Jesus, and the thousands of miles he traveled to preach at Sword of the Lord conferences and other weeknight meetings. Wow, what a great man of God, I thought at the time. I want to be used by God just like Brother Hyles.

I now know that Hyles’ stories were lies. He simply did not have enough hours in the week to sleep, eat, shit, have an affair, pastor a church, win souls, and fly around the country to preach at conferences. As with all lies, Hyles’ stories had elements of truth. However, when carefully analyzed, Hyles’ sermon illustrations sound too good to be true.  Let me illustrate this with several stories found in Hyles’ book Let’s Go Soulwinning:

So I walked in and said, “Hey! Anybody home?” And there was—thirteen people at home—company all dressed up in suits and fine clothes. There I was. Imagine, Rev. Hyles, a cup in his hand, fishing hat on, split tee shirt, patch in his breeches, and a pair of tennis shoes on his feet! And I said, “Hello.” The lady looked at me, she looked at her company, then announced, “This is my pastor.” I was horrified! I was humiliated! I wanted to evaporate but couldn’t.  Finally I said, “Excuse me; I’m sorry.” Then I got to thinking. Shoot! Just take over the conversation. Just act like you have good sense. So in I walked. “How do you do! How are you? Are you a Christian?” I went around the entire room asking the same question. Then THEY got embarrassed.  (I found out long ago that when a preacher goes to a hospital or gets some place where he feels like a fifth wheel, he should just bluff them and take over the conversation. That will help you, too. It really will. You go to the hospital.  Here is the doctor, the nurse, the family. And everybody says, “That’s the preacher.” You know how you feel, pastors. It’s a terrible feeling. So I walk in, “Hello Doc. How are you?” Make HIM feel bad. Make HIM feel like he’s a fifth wheel.)

So I walked in and asked each person if he or she were a Christian. The last man, a young man, said, “No, I’m not, but I’ve been thinking about it.” Well, I said, “I can help you think about it right here.” We knelt there in that home and opened the Bible. He got converted. He lived at Irving, Texas, forty miles from Garland. I said, “Now, J.D., you need to walk the aisle in the church in Irving tomorrow.” He said, “If you don’t mind, Preacher, I’ll just stay over tonight and come to your church and walk the aisle.” He did, and that night he got baptized in my church. Later he joined the First Baptist Church of Irving, Texas.

You don’t realize how many places you will bump into people. I saw a lady while on vacation just recently. She said, “Hello, Brother Jack. Remember when you won me to the Lord?” I said, “I certainly do.” It happened while I was looking for a Mrs. Marsh. I knocked on Mrs. Marsh’s door—I thought. She came to the door. I said, “Mrs. Marsh?”

“No, I’m Mrs. Tillet.”

I said, “Mrs. Tillet, I thought Mrs. Marsh lived here.”

“No, she lives five houses down the street.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Tillet.” I walked off. Then I said, “Wait a minute, Mrs. Tillet. Are you a Christian?” She began to cry. I led her to Christ right there.

I have won shoeshine boys and fellows on airplanes. I was going to Phoenix to a conference last year. I sat down beside a man seventy-two years old, a wealthy rancher. “Where do you live?” I asked.

He said, “On a ranch between Phoenix and Tucson.”

I said, “Do you and your wife live alone?”

“My wife died a few months ago.”

I asked, “Do you ever think about having anybody else come and live with you?” “Oh,” he said, “If I could find somebody who would come and live with me, a friend to keep me company, I’d give anything in the world.” He had chauffeurs, servants. He owned a big ranch with hundreds of acres, but was as lonely as he could be.

I said, “I know Somebody who would come and live with you.”

“You do? Does He live in Phoenix?”

I said, “He sure does. He lives everywhere.”

He said, “Who is it?”

“Jesus will come.” In fifteen minutes that man had Somebody to go home with him to live.

Oh, if we will just take time to witness. The trouble is, we are ashamed of Jesus. We don’t mind saying, “Isn’t it hot today?” or, “I wonder how the Berlin situation is.” We don’t mind talking about Khrushchev. We’re more eager to talk about him than about Jesus. Isn’t that a shame! Here we are redeemed. He died for us on the cross. We have been made heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. He is building a home in Heaven for us. We’re God’s children and we won’t even tell a stranger that we belong to the Lord Jesus. Be soul-conscious.

Storytelling preachers love to tell stories about people suddenly dying and going to Hell. What better way to drive a point home than to tell hearers about this or that man rejecting God’s plan of salvation and then dropping dead and awaking in Hell. This story can be told in numerous ways with different characters and circumstances. Jesus himself told a similar story in Luke 16. The point is always the same: now is accepted time, now is the day of salvation.

Let me conclude this post with several stories I have heard preachers tell over the years. One preacher told a story about a man God had called to preach. The man ignored God’s call and went on to have a large family and made lots of money. One day, this man’s wife and children were driving down the road when a truck hit them head-on. This man’s entire family was instantly killed. In a quiet moment before the funeral, the man wept over the caskets of his loved ones. And at that moment, God audibly spoke to him, telling him that it was God who had killed his entire family to get his attention. Are you ready to serve me now? God asked the man. The man collapsed on the floor and told God that he would indeed forsake all and follow him.

Another preacher told a story about the people in Hell. One day, a crew that was drilling an oil well began hearing what sounded like people crying and screaming. Where was this noise coming from, they wondered? They soon ascertained that the noise was coming from the oil well casing. One of the workers decided to drop a microphone down the well casing, and sure enough, they heard people screaming about being in the unrelenting, fiery flames of Hell!

Of course, neither of these stories is true. The first story was a legend of sorts – I heard variations of it numerous times. Preacher Bob heard Big Name Preacher John tell the story at a Sword of the Lord Conference. Bob thought, why not use this story in my sermon, impressing on people the importance of immediately obeying the voice of God?

The second story is pure fabrication. But hey, if souls get saved . . . right? The end justifies the means, even if it means telling stories that are more farcical than the miracles of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.

Have you ever heard too-good-to-be-true sermon illustrations?  Please share them in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

IFB Pastor Patrick Holt Thinks I Hate Christians, God, and the Bible

bible baptist church grover hill ohio

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

A local man by the name of Patrick Holt from Grover Hill, Ohio, responded to my May 25, 2016 letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News concerning the transgender bathroom use issue. Holt pastors Bible Baptist Church, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Grover Hill. I featured his church in the On the Road Looking for God’s True Church series. Here’s what Holt had to say (spelling and grammar in the original):

This is a reply to the May 25 letter by Bruce Gerencser.

In his letter he implied that someone, like myself, who objected to a male using the same bathroom that my mother, wife, daughters, and granddaughters were using was hateful. So, basically, if you disagree with someone, then that, according to Bruce, is hateful. Using that same logic, then Bruce Gerencser, must hate Christians, God and the Bible. Would that not be a proper statement?

Patrick Holt, Grover Hill

Holt would like people to think that the transgender bathroom use issue is all about differences of opinion. It’s not. Holt knows that many Evangelicals — himself included — hate LGBTQ people. Many Evangelicals — especially those at the far extreme right of Evangelicalism — want sexual perverts (code for non-heterosexuals) to be punished for their deviance. Some Evangelicals even go so far as to call for the incarceration and execution of such people. I think I am on firm ground then when I say that many Evangelicals HATE, not just the sin, but also the sinner.

Holt, as most people who hold to his version of sexual hysteria, sees the transgender bathroom use issue as one of men using the women’s restroom. He fails to understand that most of the “men” using the women’s restroom are in the process or have completed chemical/surgical gender reassignment. This means that the “men” Holt is so worried about look like women.

Why doesn’t Holt mention “women” using the men’s restroom? I have yet to hear a peep from Holt’s crowd about transgender people using the men’s room. Again, most of the transgender “women” using the men’s restroom look like men. One of the reasons Evangelicals focus on “men” using the women’s restroom is because they view their mothers, wives, daughters, and granddaughters as weaker vessels (1 Peter 3:7) in need of protection. I suspect if a man actually went into the women’s restroom while women were present, well . . . he would likely run screaming from the room, minus his testicles.

Holt’s attempt to paint me as a hater falls flat on its face. People who know me know that I am not inclined to hate anyone. I hate certain ideas and beliefs. I despise Holt’s Evangelical beliefs because I think they lead to intellectual stagnation and can and do cause psychological harm. And in some instances, these beliefs can cause physical harm. Politically, Evangelical beliefs are the theological currency that drives the move towards establishing a Christian theocracy. Denying the separation of church and state, many Evangelicals will not rest until King Jesus is sitting on a throne in the Oval Office. Socially, Evangelical beliefs lead to cultural stagnation and impede progress. Evangelicals, armed with an ancient religious text they believe is inerrant and infallible, have waged war against women, undocumented workers, abortion doctors, atheists, humanists, secularists, Democrats, non-Evangelicals, liberal Christians, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and those who have sex outside of monogamous heterosexual marriages. Scientifically, many Evangelicals are determined to teach young-earth creationism and Noah’s flood in public school classrooms. You see, there are plenty of Evangelical beliefs to hate, but unlike Holt with LGBTQ people, I don’t hate Evangelicals. While I think people such as Ken Ham, Steven Anderson, the Phelps clan, and a cast of thousands, are first-rate cretins, dolts, morons, halfwits, loons, numbskulls, schmucks, or numb nuts, I don’t hate them. If anything, I pity them, knowing that religious ignorance keeps them chained to the Bible with its fables and contradictions.

Holt — like many Evangelicals — thinks atheists hate God — God being, of course, his peculiar version of the Christian deity. If Holt were sitting across the table from me I would ask him if he hated Harry Potter, Santa Claus, or Darth Vader. Holt would surely reply, Of course not. These characters are fictional. I wonder if Holt would see the irony in his response?  Atheists don’t hate the Christian God — or any other deity for that matter — because he is a fictional being. Suppose in 2055, the followers of Harry Potter have turned J.K. Rowling’s books into divine texts read each Monday at Potterite churches. Taken literally, these divine texts lead people to do all sorts of mischief, often leading to physical harm or death. Atheists in 2055 would likely hate the beliefs of the Potterites. Does this mean these atheists think Harry Potter is a real person? Of course not. So it is with the Christian God. I don’t hate God for one simple reason — he doesn’t exist. What I DO hatehowever, is what is done in the Christian God’s name.

As far as hating the Bible, Holt surely knows that the King James Version he holds dear is an inanimate object, right? Hating inanimate objects is a waste of time. What I DO hate is what is done with inanimate objects. Guns are used to wage war and murder. Cars are used by drunks and others to kill and maim. And the Bible is used to indoctrinate and enslave. I hate how the Bible is used in our modern world to promote ignorance, often leading to bloodshed and loss of freedom. So, yes, Patrick Holt, I hate God, Christianity, and the Bible, but NOT in the ways you think I do.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Short Stories: Tar and Feather the Bus Pastor

montpelier baptist church 1979
Montpelier Baptist Church bus, Montpelier, Ohio

In February of 1979, Polly and I moved from Pontiac, Michigan to Bryan, Ohio. Polly was six months pregnant. For a short time, we lived with my sister. Once I found suitable employment, we rented a place of our own. Bryan is the city of my birth. When I moved away in 1976 to study for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College, I planned to never return to Bryan. However, marriage, an unexpected pregnancy, and job loss turned my “never” on its head. Over the years, we have lived in or near Bryan several times, and in 2007 we bought our current home in Ney, a small village five miles south of Bryan. Try as I might to get away from Bryan and the flat lands of rural northwest Ohio, I keep returning home. I have now resigned myself to the fact that this where I will live out my life.

Not long after we first moved to Bryan, Polly and I began attending my sister’s church, Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, a community ten minutes north of Bryan. Jay Stuckey was the pastor, and after a few weeks Jay asked if I would be interested in becoming the church’s assistant pastor (an unpaid position). I quickly told Jay yes! In a post titled, Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One, I detailed our time at Montpelier Baptist Church:

In February of 1979, we moved to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth and the home of my sister Robin. After living with my sister for a short while, we found a house to rent on Hamilton Street. I began working at ARO, a large local manufacturer of pumps and air tools. ARO paid well, but I still desired to be a pastor. As with every job, I viewed secular work as just a means to an end — me pastoring a church. My sister attended the Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. When we first moved to Bryan, we thought that we would attend First Baptist Church, the church I had attended before enrolling at Midwestern. Though I knew everyone at First Baptist, we decided to go to Montpelier Baptist, a young, growing GARBC church pastored by Jay Stuckey. This decision did not sit well with the people at First Baptist. One of the matriarchs of the church told me, “Bruce you know you belong at First Baptist!”  At the time, First Baptist was pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack was married to my uncle’s sister Creta.

I had previously preached at Montpelier Baptist, so I knew a bit about Stuckey and his ministry philosophy. Stuckey was a graduate of Toledo Bible College, which later moved to Newburgh, Indiana and became Trinity Theological Seminary.  After we attended the church for a few weeks, Stuckey asked me to help him at the church by becoming the bus pastor and helping with church visitation.

The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get–it-done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders. I vividly remember arriving at the church with all these kids and the junior church director running out to the bus and frantically asking me what I expected him to do with all the children. I replied, that’s your problem, I just bring them in. Needless to say, this man was never very fond of me.

A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders. On the first Sunday in October, 1979, Montpelier Baptist held its morning service at the Williams County Fairground. A quartet provided special music and Ron English from the Sword of Lord preached the sermon. Five hundred people attended this service and about 150 of them had come in on the buses. Less than two weeks later, I was gone. Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio.

As mentioned in the above excerpt, I quickly went to work building up the church’s bus ministry. Using the skills and gimmicks I had learned while working in the bus ministry as a teenager and at college, I rapidly grew the bus ministry, and bus ridership numbers exploded. Key to increased ridership numbers was a system of regular bus promotions. Every Saturday, bus workers would meet at the church and I would motivate them to, as Luke 14:23 says: go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. Like the Apostle Paul who said, I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some, I was willing to use whatever means necessary to entice children to ride our buses. The goal, of course, was for them to hear the gospel and be saved.

One such promotion was Tar and Feather Pastor Bruce. I told the bus workers that if the total bus attendance was such and such a number, I would let bus riders cover me with Karo syrup and goose feathers. Sure enough, bus workers scoured the area looking for new riders, and in a few weeks, they exceeded the attendance goal.

Here’s what happened the following Sunday after the morning service:

montpelier baptist church 1979

Yep, that is me. Stupid, stupid me. It took me an hour, in a steaming hot shower, to get all the syrup and feathers off my skin. Needless to say, I never did this promotion again!

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Short Stories: Midwestern Baptist College –1978 Yearbook Incident

midwestern baptist college freshman class 1976
1976-1977 Midwestern Baptist College freshman class. Polly is in the first row, the first person on the left. Bruce is in the third row, the eighth person from the left.

From 1976-79, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College (IFB) in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern, an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution, was established in 1954 by the famous IFB pulpiteer Dr. Tom Malone. More than sixty years later, the college campus has been sold, Tom Malone is dead, and the church he once pastored, Emmanuel Baptist Church, is shuttered, with weeds growing around the buildings and through the cracks in the parking lots.

In the spring of our sophomore year, Malone gathered the student body in the chapel so he could “talk” to them. Students were told to bring the recently released 1978 yearbook with them. As the students settled into their seats, Malone stood up and came to the pulpit. It was clear that he was quite upset about something. We quickly learned that Malone was livid about three of the yearbook pictures. Mike Veach, currently the pastor of First Bible Church, a Fundamentalist church in Staten Island, New York, shot the photographs. Mike was (is) an excellent photographer. A few months after what students would later call “The Yearbook Incident,” Polly and I went to nearby Cranbrook Gardens so Mike could take pictures of us. We still have these pictures, reminders of the youngsters we once were some forty years ago.

What was so offensive about these photographs that a noted IFB pastor and college chancellor would deem it necessary to talk to the entire student body about them? See for yourself.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number one was taken during Founder’s Day. Always held on the Friday after Thanksgiving (students were not allowed to go home for Thanksgiving), Founder’s Day was a day set aside for showing off the college to prospective Fundamentalist high school students. Part of the day’s events included a singing talent show. This picture is of a group from a nearby IFB church.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number two is a picture of Julian Lyons, Emmanuel Baptist Church’s bus pastor. Lyons and I did not get along. He considered me a slacker because I didn’t want to work in the bus ministry after my freshman year. (All students were required to work in the bus ministry their freshman year.) I considered Lyons a racist because he stopped running the buses in Detroit. (The overwhelming majority of the kids from Detroit were poor and black.) One day, as I was exiting the school building, he and I ran into each other and had words, each telling the other what we thought about them. We never spoke again. I was surprised that I did not get expelled from school for what was surely viewed as insubordination.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number three was shot during one of the chapel services. Pay close attention to the student in the middle of the picture.

I am sure you are scratching your head right now, trying to figure out what is wrong with these pictures. Can’t you see it? Look closely. Put on your IFB alternate reality glasses®. Still nothing?

In the first picture, the boys (not Midwestern students) have long hair, and in the second picture, it looks like Lyons’ hair is over his collar. Midwestern had/has a strict policy against men having long hair. Male students were required to keep their hair short, with the college even going so far as to legislate that the back of men’s hair had to be tapered and not block cut. Hair on the collar, ears, or long bangs were forbidden. Men caught breaking the hair rule received demerits and were ordered to get a haircut immediately.

And the third photograph? The student “looks” like he has bushy, long hair on the back of his head. What he really had was the student’s hair in front of him, that student being my future wife, Polly. As photographers know, perspective and angles can do strange things to photographs. Sadly, Malone was only concerned with the “appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22).

Malone was furious over these photos, so much so that he took one of the yearbooks and tore it in two right in front of the student body. What a man, right? He then ordered the yearbooks collected. They were later returned, but not before the offending photographs had been marked-out with black, permanent ink felt markers.

So why do I have an unaltered copy of the yearbook? I refused to turn my yearbook in to prison authorities. Even then, as Fundamentalist as I was, I knew that Malone was acting like a crazed wild man over these photographs. It made no sense to me to mar the yearbook just because three of the pictures showed men allegedly with long hair. If Malone was serious about giving “sins” the black permanent marker of death, why not mark out:

  • The photographs of the man who was having an affair with the wife of the dean of men
  • The photographs of the gay teacher who lived in the dorm

These “sins” were well known by students, yet they were pushed to the deep recesses of the Midwestern closet. Instead, very ‘70s-looking hair became the target of Malone’s “righteous” indignation and wrath.

I know this story sounds bat-shit crazy to some readers, but this is an excellent example of the Fundamentalism I was raised in and a part of for many years. To this day, there are IFB pastors and churches who preach against the “sin of men having long hair.” A man with long hair is considered rebellious and effeminate. If you have not read my post, Is it a Sin to Have Long Hair? please do so. I think it will help you understand the kind of thinking that goes into someone concluding that men having long hair is a mortal sin.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.