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Tag: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist

Why I Never Used the Word “Religious” When I Was a Christian

born again or religious

Several years ago, I participated in a two-and-half-hour phone interview on the subject of the labels we use to identify ourselves. The man doing the interview was working on his master’s thesis. One label he asked me about was the label religious. Focusing on my days as an Evangelical pastor, he asked if I ever considered myself religious. I told him, absolutely not. The “religious” label was reserved for Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other mainline groups. THEY were religious, WE were Christians. This was especially true back in my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days.

I viewed most other Christian sects with a good bit of skepticism. Catholics were immediately dismissed as fish-eating, beer-drinking believers in works salvation. Catholics were prime evangelistic targets, even though I found them almost impossible to evangelize. Protestants such as Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians were far easier to lead to saving faith in Christ. I considered such people, as a whole, to be religious, but lost. I found these kinds of people to be ignorant of what the Bible taught concerning salvation. Using the soulwinning (salesmanship) techniques I was taught in college, I would show them what the Bible “really” said about life, sin, God, Jesus, salvation, and life after death. Often astounded by what I showed them in the Bible, these prospects for Heaven would pray the sinner’s prayer and become born-again Christians. These new converts went from being religious to new life in Jesus Christ. Or so I thought, anyway.

Of course, I now know that the only difference between Bruce, the Baptist preacher and those I targeted for evangelization was our religious beliefs. I was every bit as religious as Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. My refusal to use the word “religious” allowed me to view myself as superior to others. I was a True Christian®, a devoted follower of Jesus. Christian people outside of my cult lacked the right beliefs and commitment to God. It took me a number of years to realize how arrogant I was, thinking that my God, my beliefs, and my way of living were the right/only way, truth, and life. When modern-day Bruce Gerencsers stop by this blog to regale us with their infinite and absolute understanding of truth, I am reminded of the fact that I once was just as they are. I remember when “absolute truth” fit within the confines of whatever Baptist church I was pastoring at the time. Like the prophets and apostles of the Bible, I was a man of God who was given a message by God to share with saints and sinners. My goal was to turn religious people into Christians/Baptists/people who thought just as I did.

Over the years, scores of Christian commenters have attempted to show readers of this blog how exalted their reasoning is compared to that of ignorant atheists, agnostics, and, well, anyone who doesn’t think as they do. These men have even self-described themselves as brilliant. These preachers of TRUTH are certain that their interpretations and beliefs are right. As I read their words, I say to myself, Bruce, you said the very same thing years ago. Thinking I was a True Christian®, I considered everyone else outside of my little corner of Christianity to be religious, but lost. I had such a small view of the world, with every person fitting into one of two categories: saved or lost. True Christians® were saved, everyone else, including billions of people who worshiped some other sort of God, was lost. As a younger pastor, thanks to my IFB training, I even viewed many Evangelicals as religious, but lost. Calvinism later did the same for me, allowing me to cast aspersions and doubts upon those dirty Arminians who believed in salvation by works.

I still have moments when I think that I have an exalted intellect and understanding of the world, but tripping over the cat or a misplaced Lego (Goddammit, Ezra!) quickly brings me back to earth. I am not suggesting that all worldviews and beliefs are the same or equally valid. I reject attempts to smooth out the edges of the public space. But, at the end of the day, all of us are feeble, frail people who will soon find ourselves six feet under or the smoke wafting up from a crematorium smokestack. Knowing this should teach us humility, a reminder that none of us is an all-knowing deity.

How about you? Did you consider yourself “religious?” How did you view people who were not a part of your sect?  Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Escaping a Toxic IFB Home

guest post

A Guest Post by V

I was born and raised into an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) family. My Mum went to Bible college in Missouri and Dad was converted by Mum at some point before they married. Shortly after I was born, we moved to Australia from Indonesia in 2000. Once we settled there, we promptly joined a young IFB church. I was their very first creche baby and their first Sunday school kid.

At home, I always remembered being taught with the rod of correction. My parents beat me because they loved me, they said. As a result, I would be beaten with belts and thick wooden rods as punishment for my sins. My peers at school would often question my bruising and I would always lie and say I fell over.

I was coerced into being “saved” at the age of five and baptised at the age of nine. I later doubted my salvation, as I realised how young I was when I was first baptised, so I rededicated my life to Christ as a teen.

I went to a secular primary and high school as my parents couldn’t afford a private Christian school. This was my only window and escape to the real world. As I grew through school, I slowly started to realise just how sheltered I was. No Harry Potter, no boyfriends, no worldly music, no revealing clothes. These were all things my peers were into at my age but I was forbidden to partake. The simple thought of the temptation would send me spiraling in an anxious prayer of forgiveness. I did not know it yet, but I was already mentally broken.

When I reached out for help through my church brothers and sisters, I was often dismissed and was told to just pray more. Read the Bible more. It means you’re not right with God. It is demonic spiritual warfare, etc. They truly forsook me when I had nowhere else to go.

It was not until year eleven (the year before graduation in Australia), when I met a kind Catholic boy and fell in love, that my life really changed. He was the one who showed me the true meaning of love and life. I was honest with my parents, which resulted in me being kicked out of home on the first day of my HSC (SAT equivalent in Australia). My mother told me to never come home again. She had found the birth control I was taking, as I had given my virginity to the Catholic boy. She told me God cannot use a corrupt vessel and that she prays that he will deliver me from my sin.

I never set foot in a church ever again. What did not occur to me was just how much psychological damage was done. I became scared to leave the house; scared to get a job; scared to be in the world because of this intense sense of despair that I had wronged my mother and wronged God.

Long story short, I am still on my road to recovery at age 24. The man I lost my virginity to — I owe him my life. If it were not for him, taking me out of that toxic environment, I probably would not be here today. We have been together for seven years and we are still stronger than ever.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Slut-Shaming Unmarried Pregnant Baptist Women

sexual sin

It is commonly believed by most Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church members that unmarried members are virgins and that they do not masturbate or have lustful thoughts. Listening to preaching multiple times a week, daily reading the Bible, and praying — along with cold showers — are sure antidotes for sexual sin. When the preacher’s daughter someday marries the deacon’s son, everyone will think that both of them are pure as the driven snow, with thoughts of only serving Jesus. This is the myth that is promoted in Baptist sermons, books, blogs, and websites. It has no basis in reality, but people sure do believe it. After all, if getting saved turns sinners into new creations and gives them a desire to love and follow Jesus, why, any thought of hormone-raging Fundamentalist young adults engaging in any sort of “promiscuity” is preposterous. As is often the case, reality paints a far different picture.

In recent years, a plethora of Fundamentalist ministries have begun ministering to those with addiction problems. Based on the number of ministries geared towards helping Christians addicted to porn, one can easily conclude that Evangelicalism has a huge porn problem — easily the size of John Holmes, AKA Johnny Wadd. If Jesus is the cure, the solution, and the answer for what ails the human race, why are there so many Christians committing what Evangelicals consider sexual sins? Why are there so many IFB preachers and church leaders who can’t keep their pants zipped up or have Google search histories that would make Hugh Hefner blush? Why are the biggest hypocrites on Sunday the men standing behind the pulpits of Evangelical and IFB churches?

No matter how many moral scandals rock Evangelicalism and the IFB church movement (please see the Black Collar Crime Series), their pastors, church leaders, Sunday school teachers, evangelists, bloggers, and culture warriors continue to present Christianity as some sort of superior way of living. Never mind studies and anecdotal stories that suggest otherwise, these purveyors of Evangelical “truth” continue to say that Jesus is the only way to keep unmarried young adults from committing fornication. Just say YES to Jesus and NO to physically and emotionally satisfying romps in the hay.

fornication

So what happens when church teenagers and young adults ignore the moral standard or, in a moment of understandable passion, give way to sexual desire and fulfillment? Most of the time, as long as the keepers of the chastity belts do not find out, these fornicators and pleasurers will continue to engage in behaviors that — according to their parents, churches, and pastors — will land them in Hell. As one aged preacher tried to impress on us young preachers: a stiff prick has no conscience. Once aroused, sexual desire usually wins the battle. On those Sundays when pastors rage against immorality, frothing at the mouth and pounding the pulpit as they wage war against normal, healthy sexual behavior, those who have given into their desires will be drowned in seas of guilt, shame, and fear. Sometimes these fornicators will make their way down to the front of the church, and kneeling at an old-fashioned altar, they will promise God that they will never, ever spank the monkey, ring the bell, or engage in any behavior remotely considered sexual. If need be, they will pluck out their eyes. Yet, come Saturday night they will be tempted to break their vow. While some will hold out, most will engage in the very “sins” they confessed the week before. Why? Not because they are in any way morally inferior or weak. Much like drinking and eating, desiring sexual fulfillment is an essential part of what makes us human. It is these preachers of sexual abnormality who are the problem. Instead of teaching sexually aware young adults how to handle their sexuality and how to engage in thoughtful, satisfying sex, these deniers of human nature do everything possible to shame and guilt people into obedience.

Since no one in Evangelical churches is committing fornication and everyone is waiting to have sex until they are married, there is really no need for church young adults to be taught about birth control. As a result, it is not uncommon for church girls to get pregnant or for young adults to come down with sexually-transmitted diseases. How do pastors and churches respond when such things occur? Often, not very well.

I want to conclude this post with several stories that I think will illustrate how some Evangelical churches handle sexual indiscretions.

One of the teenage girls in the first church I worked for, Montpelier Baptist Church, became pregnant. Here is how the pastor, Jay Stuckey, handled it. He told the girl that she must immediately marry the father. She was also told that because she was no longer a virgin, she forfeited her right to a church wedding. Only her family would be permitted to attend the wedding. No announcement would be made to the church about it. And if these prohibitions were not bad enough, the pastor informed the pregnant teen that she would not be permitted to wear a white dress. She had sullied the name of Jesus, and as a result she would be required to wear an off-white dress. Much like wearing a red A, it would be clear to everyone that this girl had violated the holiness of God. Marked forever as one who could not wait, she would carry shame the rest of her adult life. Perhaps, in time, her fellow church members would forget her scandalous behavior, but, for now, she had to bear the weight of her indiscretion. The severity of the punishment was meant to be a deterrent. Church girls, seeing how severely _______ was punished would think twice before letting some boy have his way with them.

One church I know of required exposed fornicators and pregnant unmarrieds to stand before the church and confess their sins. I remember one young woman weeping uncontrollably as she admitted having the sex that led to her pregnancy. Sadly, this kind of slut shaming still goes on today. Described as church discipline, it is really an attempt — through fear, shame, and guilt — to make sure that any other prospective fornicators toe the line. Who wants to stand before the church and have her — it is almost always teen girls and young women — secrets exposed for all to see?

fornication

As many former pregnant out-of-wedlock Evangelical women will attest, some churches subscribe to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind way of handling fornication. Unmarried young women who find themselves in the family way are often shipped off to Christian boarding schools or homes for unwed mothers. Since their pregnancies are viewed as acts of rebellion against God, the Bible, and Evangelical morality, it is hoped that intensive authoritarian indoctrination and control will force slutty Baptist women to see the error of their way and recommit to following the Evangelical moral code. While they can never regain their virginity — unlike salvation, once virginity is lost it can never be regained — these fornicators can have their sexual indiscretions washed in the blood of Jesus. Once washed in his blood, their lives will once again be pure.

While I may have been a card-carrying Evangelical and a subscriber to narrow moral strictures, I never heaped shame, guilt, or fear upon the heads of those who failed to measure up. Part of the reason was that I knew about the moral failings of more than a few Evangelical preachers. I also knew that I was not without sin. I readily admit that my preaching — at times — was quite hypocritical. As many Evangelical preachers do, I sometimes used the pulpit as a way to confess my sins and atone for them. What better way to assuage one’s guilt and shame over a perceived moral failure than to admit before the church — in a generic, nonspecific way — that I understood their moral struggles and failures. More than a few church members were upset by my honesty concerning lust. These faux pillars of moral virtue wanted a preacher who could be inches away from a hot naked woman and not be tempted to touch. They wanted a man who was above the fray, a man so holy and righteous that having a front-row seat for a wet T-shirt contest would not cause arousal or heightened sexual desire. After admitting that I knew what it was like to lust after a woman, the super saints moved on to other churches, oblivious to the fact that their new pastors were no different from me. Now I am in no way suggesting that I cheated on my wife. I didn’t. But I am saying that I always understood what it was to be a normal, healthy heterosexual man. One time, my child-molesting Evangelical grandfather publicly objected to a sermon I preached on the sin of mixed bathing (swimming). He told me that he could go down to the beach and look at women wearing bikinis and never have a lustful thought. I looked at him and told him that I did not believe him and that perhaps he needed to be examined by a doctor. I do not believe for a moment that a man — in particular an Evangelical man — could watch a Sports Illustrated swimsuit photoshoot and not have sexual thoughts. Thinking otherwise is a denial of human nature and abnormal. I knew then, as I do now, that it is normal and healthy to have sexual thoughts, and that having these thoughts does not make someone a bad person.

As an Evangelical pastor, I frequently counseled members who had some sort of moral failing. While I certainly held to the Evangelical interpretation of the Bible’s moral teachings, I understood that no one was perfect. People are going to make mistakes — including having sex before marriage and getting pregnant. When one of the unmarried women of the church found herself pregnant, I did not berate or heap shame upon her head (though I am sure my preaching likely had this effect). Once the deed was done, there is no way to undo it. The only question that mattered was now what? Instead of publicly shaming unmarried women — again, men are almost always given a free pass — I did what I could to help them make the most of a bad situation. What possible good could ever come out of publicly humiliating someone because of some sort of moral failure? Surely it is better to help them pick up the pieces and move on with their lives.

Of course, I now understand that the real solution is to distance oneself from religious moralizing and puritanical sexual beliefs. These Bible-thumping liars help no one. Guilt, shame, and fear only lead to more of the same. The solution is to get away from those whose goal in life is to destroy human nature and self-worth. The 1960s birthed a sexual revolution that continues to this day. There is no going back, and the sooner Evangelical churches and pastors understand this the better.

Having lost the battle against heterosexual immorality, Evangelicals are now focused on LGBTQ people and their “sins” against God. Preaching with all their might about those evil queers, Sodomites, perverts, and reprobates, these keepers of moral purity fail to see that they are driving scores of millennials and thoughtful older people away from their churches. To these preachers of puritanical morality I say, keep up the good work.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Leaving Christianity: Why I Was an Old Man Before I Deconverted

bruce gerencser august 2021
Bruce Gerencser, 2021

I am often asked why it took me so long to deconvert. Some people suggest that I must have really been stupid to have spent most of my life believing in a God that doesn’t exist. People who have always been atheists, in particular, have a hard time understanding how anyone could spend fifty years believing a book of fairy tales — the Bible — is real. Sometimes people can be downright cruel, suggesting that there must have been some sort of ulterior motive that kept me believing all those years. Money? Power? Prestige?

Most Evangelicals-turned-atheists deconvert in their twenties and thirties. Ministers, in particular, tend to deconvert when they are younger. Rare is the pastor who waits until he is in his fifties or sixties before he abandons the ministry and Christianity. Part of the reason for this is because older ministers have economic incentives to keep believing, or at least to give the pretense of believing. I know of several pastors who no longer believe, yet they are still doing through the motions of leading churches, preaching sermons, and ministering to the needs of parishioners. Their reasons for doing so are economic. Quitting the ministry would cause catastrophic economic and marital harm, so these unbelieving pastors continue to play the game.

Now to the question, why was I an old man before I deconverted? First, let me tell you that economics played no part in my commitment to Christianity. The most I ever made as a pastor was $26,000. I spent twenty-five years pastoring churches that paid poverty wages and provided no health insurance or benefits. I always made significantly more money working outside of the church — especially when I was managing restaurants. In retrospect, I wish I had made money more of a priority. I wish I had put my family’s welfare first. But I didn’t. I was quite willing to work for poverty wages. Why? I thought God had called me to the ministry and he alone was in charge of what churches paid me. I learned late in the game that churches are often sitting on large sums of money. These caches of money are often accumulated through paying their pastors welfare wages and providing no benefits.

I grew up in an ardent Fundamentalist home. My parents were hardcore right-wing Christians. They were also supporters of groups such as the John Birch Society. From the time I was a toddler until the age of fifty, I attended church several times a week. After my parents fell in with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, it was normal for me to attend church three times a week — plus Sunday school, youth meetings, revivals, mission conferences, youth rallies, youth events, church league sports, prayer meetings, visitation, soulwinning, preachers’ fellowships, music concerts, conferences, and bus calling. For many years, I attended 200-300 church services and events a year. While I had some social connections outside of the church, my best friends and girlfriends attended the same churches I did. The church was the social hub around which my life revolved.

By time I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College — an unaccredited IFB institution — I had spent my life deeply immersed in IFB beliefs, practices, and methodology. It was impossible, then, for me to turn out any other way. It would take me thirty more years before I admitted that what I once believed was a lie.

I was what people call a true believer®. True believers continue to believe until something catastrophic causes them to doubt. In my case, I became tired of the church grind. Weary of low wages, poverty, seven-day workweeks, endless conflicts, and a lack of personal satisfaction, I decided to leave the ministry and seek out a church where I could be a help without being its pastor. I left the ministry in 2005. Between 2005 and 2008 Polly and I visited churches in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Arizona, and California — seeking to find a church that took seriously the teaching of Christ. All told, we visited more than 125 churches. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We concluded, that regardless of the name on the door, Christian churches were pretty much all the same. Polly and I made a good-faith effort to find a Christianity that mattered. In the end, all we found was pettiness, arrogance, internecine warfare, and indifference. Less than 10% of the churches we visited even bothered to touch base with us after we visited. Half of those who did, came to our home to visit because we asked them to. If I had to sum up this period, I would say this: We found out that churches didn’t give a shit. And then one day, neither did we.

It was these experiences that cracked open the door of my mind. I guess I should thank these Christians for showing me the bankruptcy of modern, Western Christianity. Once I began to doubt whether the church that Jesus built in fact existed, I was then free to examine my beliefs more closely. This examination ultimately led me to renounce Christianity and embrace secularism, atheism, agnosticism, and humanism. I remain a work in progress.

While it certainly would have been better for me if I had deconverted in my twenties or thirties, I didn’t, so it is a waste of time for me to lament the past. One positive of my long, storied experience with Evangelical Christianity is that I know Evangelicalism and the IFB church movement inside and out. This is why many Evangelical pastors think I am a “dangerous” man and warn people to steer clear of my writing. I write not from ignorance, but from a lifetime spent loving and serving Jesus, pastoring churches, and winning souls. I know things, as an informant says on TV. I know where the bodies are buried. I know about what went on behind closed church, bedroom, and motel room doors. This knowledge of mine makes me dangerous. It is also the reason doubters are attracted to my writing. As they read, my words have a ring of truth. Here’s a guy who understands, they say, a man who has been where I am now.

I can’t do anything about the past. It is what it is. If my past experiences can keep people from following a similar path, then I am happy. If I can help those who are trying to extricate themselves from Evangelicalism’s cult-like hold, then I have accomplished what I set out to do. I know I will never reach those who cannot or will not see. But for those who have doubts or questions, I hope to be a small light at the end of a dark tunnel. By helping Evangelicals see the light of reason, I can help break the generational hold of Christian Fundamentalism. Atheism is not the goal; skepticism and reason are. Once people start thinking for themselves, Fundamentalism will lose its power and control. Every person extricated from Evangelicalism is one more nail in Fundamentalism’s coffin. As long as I am numbered among the living, I plan to keep on driving nails.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The IFB War Against Long Hair on Men

gerencser boys 1989
My Three Oldest Sons Sporting Baptist Haircuts, 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 homos. 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 or expulsion.

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:

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. My sons 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.

Several years ago, Polly and I drove to Newark, Ohio to visit her parents. While there, my IFB mother-in-law asked me about my hair. I had let my hair grow, longer than it had ever been. (I know, I know, it’s hard for some of you to believe I actually had hair at one time.) 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 was disappointed that I let 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.

These days, I am bald and Polly wears her hair short (unlike the days when her hair was long in compliance with her husband’s interpretation of the Bible). We have a hard, fast agreement: we don’t criticize each other’s hairstyles. 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. FREEDOM! As I have mentioned before, Polly and I missed out on the wildness of the 1960s and 1970s. Both of us were members of hardcore IFB churches that strictly regulated dress, hairstyles, and conduct. Now that we are no longer psychologically chained to IFB beliefs, 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 forty-five years ago. On the negative side, we also have bodies that are forty years older. Oh, to be wise and young!

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

(Please read my previous post on this subject, Is it a Sin for a Man to Have Long Hair?)

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Q & A Time in the IFB Church

i have a question

As a pastor, I would have occasional Q & A times on Sunday evenings. Congregants could ask me any question and I would try to answer them (regardless of my expertise or lack thereof). There would be times church members would ask me questions for which I had no answer. Instead of saying “I don’t know,” I would bullshit my way through an answer, hoping the questioner would be satisfied. For those raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, you know that pastors were viewed as oracles of sorts, answer machines that could quickly spit out answers to every question. Perception was essential to the work of the ministry. It was important for pastors to be perceived as authoritative and knowledgeable. When asked questions beyond their requisite skillset, IFB pastors would try to give off the air of knowledge and understanding when there was none. Saying “I don’t know” was never an option.

I spent twenty-five years pastoring churches. I fielded countless questions from congregants, and without fail I answered them, even when I shouldn’t have. I thought it important to portray intellectual prowess. I wanted people to come to me for the answers to their questions. After all, I was a God-called, God-ordained, Holy Spirit-filled preacher. Who better to answer their questions than me? I thought to myself. The problem, of course, is that I was lacking knowledge of all sorts of subjects. Want to talk about the Bible? I was your man. Want to talk about computers or photography? I was still your man. However, when it came counseling issues, for which I had all of 2 credit hours of training, I was definitely out of my depth. Sure, I could give my opinion, but I had no training on how to deal with complex psychological problems. I believed for years that the Bible was the answer to every question; Problems were reduced to sin and rebellion, and correction of these problems was only a few Bible verses away.

During my time as a pastor in Southeast Ohio, I was friends with a fellow pastor at a nearby IFB church. One day we were sitting in his office shooting the breeze when a visibly agitated man came into the room. It quickly became clear to both of us that this man was having severe psychological problems. I thought, at the time, that my friend would sit the man down and try to help him by taking him through the Scriptures. The answer to every problem was found within the pages of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Instead of doing this, my pastor friend offered to take the man to the stress center in Zanesville. He asked me if I wanted to go along, I said, “sure.” After we arrived at the hospital, my friend told the man to go inside and they would help him. And he did. And with that, we drove off and found a place to eat lunch.

I asked my friend why he didn’t try to “help” the mentally disturbed man. He replied, “I did. I brought him to a place where trained professionals could help him.” My friend could see that I was quite puzzled by his answer. He turned to me and said, “look, Bruce, it’s not our job to answer every question or fix every problem.” Years later, I came to see that my friend was right. I went from the “answer man” to the preacher who recognized the limitations of his training, knowledge, and expertise.

Years ago, my best friend was a young preacher named Keith Troyer. We got along famously. I encouraged Keith to have Q & A times on Sunday evenings. He did so, and continues to do so to this day. Keith now pastors an IFB church in Pennsylvania. This past Sunday, Keith held a Q & A time during the evening service. Keith’s theology hasn’t matured much over the years. He’s still KJV-only, a Bible literalist, and a right-wing extremist. Just your typical, run of the mill, IFB pastor.

What follows is a video of Keith’s Q & A time. As you shall see, beginning at the 18:10 mark, when presented with a question that requires an answer that puts God in a bad light, Bible literalism went out the window.

Video Link

A young man in the church asked Keith a question about Psalm 137:9: Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

The young man asked, “does it mean literally?”

I am sure my former friend, who thinks I am mentally ill and under the influence of Satan, thought, “oh, shit, how am I going to answer this question?” Instead of holding true to his literalistic hermeneutic, Keith spent the next ten minutes giving a convoluted answer meant to obscure and protect God’s image and name. I chuckled as I listened to Keith’s attempted dodge of what this verse actually means. For those of you who have interacted with IFB Christians, you know they are Bible literalists until they are not. When uncomfortably cornered about the “literal” reading or interpretation of a verse, they will try to obfuscate what the text clearly says or change the focus of the discussion. And if all else fails, IFB Christians will say, “well, brother, we are just going to have to agree to disagree.” Discussion over. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Black Collar Crime: IFB Pastor Kevin Scott Heffner Sentenced to Twenty-Five Years in Prison for Sex Crimes

pastor kevin heffner

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In November 2018, Kevin Scott Heffner, pastor of Victory Baptist Church and former principal of the Victory Academy in Ruffin, North Carolina, was found guilty of two felony B1 counts of statutory sex offense with a child under 15 and 12 counts of felony disseminating obscene material to a minor and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. (Extensive News & Record story about Heffner’s background)

The News & Record reports:

A former Ruffin pastor and private school principal will spend a minimum of 25 years in prison without the chance of parole after pleading guilty to performing inappropriate sex acts and sending a dozen nude pictures to one of his minor female students who was also a member of his congregation.

Kevin Scott Heffner, 48, of Pelham, was sentenced in the aggravated range Thursday in Rockingham County Superior Court by Guilford County Superior Court Judge William Wood.

The judge found Heffner, the former pastor of Victory Baptist Church and former principal of the Victory Academy in Ruffin, guilty of two felony B1 counts of statutory sex offense with a child under 15 and 12 counts of felony disseminating obscene material to a minor.

The victim was 14 and 15 years old during the time Heffner committed the crimes that took place February through August.

Rockingham County Assistant District Attorney Michelle Alcon said there were a dozen nude photographs of Heffner in various poses, many of which reveal his identifying tattoo of a Star of David.

As Wood delivered the sentence, a gaunt Heffner, clad in a tan county jail uniform worn over thermal underwear, clutched his Bible and bowed his head. His mother Connie Heffner, 79, of Greensboro, along with his daughter Whitney Heffner, 21, cried quietly from the second row in the courtroom, while his wife, Angie Heffner, stared straight ahead.

Just before he was sentenced, Heffner told Wood that he accepted full responsibility for his actions and asked the judge for leniency in sentencing. Earlier in the proceeding when asked by Wood if he accepted and understood the plea agreement, Heffner said, shaking his head, “I don’t want (victim’s name) to have to go to trial.”

“What I did is heinous and monstrous, but I didn’t mean to do it,” said Heffner as he read from a handwritten statement. “What I’ve done sickens me. I’m just pleading for mercy.”

Before reading the sentence, Wood told Heffner he found it “baffling” that as a father of children ages 18, 20 and 21, Heffner would have abused another child, knowing “the trauma it would cause.”

The judge concluded, “It’s beyond belief, Mr. Heffner.”

Heffner was arrested by the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 29 after investigators determined the Guilford County native formed a sexual relationship with the student.

Her mother, also a church member, contacted the sheriff’s office earlier that day after learning from the victim’s sibling that the girl had received numerous sexual-themed texts and photographs from Heffner, Alcon said.

The sibling borrowed the phone for a short time and discovered a text thread between the minor and Heffner.

“[The sibling] found more than what she bargained for,” Alcon said during the hearing, adding that detectives used the phone’s history to unravel a road map to obscene material and inappropriate acts.

“Scott Heffner was a wolf in sheep’s clothing who used his position to groom his victim,” said Rockingham County District Attorney Jason Ramey, who commended Sheriff Sam Page, Detective Jonathan Cheek, Detective Ed Smaldone and Alcon for swiftly delivering justice for the victim.

“She looked to him as a spiritual leader and he took advantage of her,” Ramey said. “Throughout this process, (the victim) has demonstrated a tremendous amount of courage and her bravery and cooperation were essential to making sure Heffner will not be able to harm other children.”

Ramey hopes a hefty sentence for Heffner will bring the victim and her family some solace and closure.

“I also understand that, due to the nature of Heffner’s position, his actions caused tremendous harm to many other people as well,” Ramey said. “I pray that the good people in the congregation of Victory Baptist Church will not lose hope or faith in Christ because of Heffner’s betrayal of his sacred position.”

Prosecutors said that some texts to the victim were about oral sex and masturbation.

They included “detailed incidences of an actual physical relationship between the two of them,” Alcon told the court.

Some of the texted photos “show his full body” and a “close up of his penis,” Alcon said.

While Heffner digitally penetrated the young woman, he never engaged in penile intercourse with the minor, Alcon said.

Painting a portrait of an emboldened Heffner, Alcon described how he digitally penetrated the victim while on a crowded church van en route to a retreat, and how he repeated the act while at a Danville movie theater while his daughter sat close by.

The disgraced pastor also engaged in oral sex acts with the victim in his church’s office, church hallway, and kitchen, as well as in the victim’s home, and in his own master bathroom.

Heffner also made a practice of taking the victim on errands in his vehicles and digitally penetrated her while in a Suburban in a retailer’s parking lot and while in his Honda in the victim’s driveway.

While on a church retreat to Bugg’s Island and Kerr Lake near the North Carolina/Virginia border, Heffner “penetrated her (digitally) in the lake and she felt his penis in the water,” Alcon said.

….

The victim told authorities that Heffner made his first advance “by him grabbing her breast and rubbing her vagina in his office,” Alcon said.

Though the victim’s mother was too distraught to speak in court, Alcon told the court that the mother believed Heffner “used his position of authority and trust” to “prey” on her daughter.

Presenting himself as a father figure to a young woman who had lost her own dad, Heffner further won the victim’s trust. He paid extra attention to the student at school, took the student to lunch alone and “he had her convinced he was going to leave his wife for her,” Alcon said. “He took her innocence away from her and he convinced her that a woman should do things to pleasure the men in her life.”

“He’s a good man,” said Angie Heffner, the pastor’s wife of 23 years. “He has a good record. If anybody knows that man, I do. We’ve gone through three kids together, two cancer scares. He’s been good to us. He’s a good person.”

Pledging to write, call and visit Heffner every chance she can, Angie Heffner was without tears during the detailed reading of charges. “This does not define him in my eyes. I love him and nothing can change that,” she said.

Far from a philanderer, Heffner was a good husband and provider, who had early in their marriage worked three jobs at a time, his wife said. His employment included a job with the City of Greensboro as a landscaper, a carpet cleaning gig, and a stint as a youth pastor. He had been a full-time pastor for 15 years at the time of his arrest.

Angie Heffner didn’t excuse her husband’s poor judgment, but suggested that the recent death of his father, stress with transition in the church, and the departure of two children from home may have affected his state of mind.

Alcon questioned Angie Heffner in redirect about her monitored phone calls to her jailed husband made shortly after his August arrest. The prosecutor said that some of Angie Heffner’s comments suggested she had prior knowledge of his involvement with a minor before his arrest.

But Angie Heffner denied the allegation, saying, “He was counseling her (the victim). I told him that if in this ministry… if you let people too close, it can burn you. Satan doesn’t want to see Christianity succeed. He will do anything to break up families.”

….

During Thursday’s plea hearing, Alcon said that Heffner could have been charged with at least seven additional B1 felonies – charges that carry a maximum penalty of life without parole.

Those charges were negated by the swiftness in which Heffner agreed to the plea, Alcon said.

Heffner’s attorney Richard Panosh of Reidsville reminded the court that Heffner had been forthcoming about his crimes and had taken full responsibility for them early on. “The first thing he said was, ‘It’s all my fault. I knew better. I take full responsibility for it. The whole thing is my fault.’”

Heffner called his victim, ‘faultless,’ Panosh told the court. “…There is nothing to justify what he did.” Panosh said. “There is no excuse for it.”

Despite the plea agreement, Heffner could face additional charges in other jurisdictions, officials said.

Alcon, who detailed Heffner’s numerous crimes in the Danville area and on the church retreat, said that the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office has been in contact with Virginia law enforcement officials regarding possible charges.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

How (NOT) to Evangelize Atheists Through Prayer

praying for atheists

Several years ago, Polly and I traveled to Newark, Ohio, to spend the day with Polly’s parents. Physically, the trip was brutal. Three hours down, three hours back, and more potholes than I could count, the trip left me writhing in pain by the time we returned home. For chronic pain sufferers such as myself, this agony is often the price of admission. If I want to venture out among the living, I must endure the bangs and bumps that come my way. On days such as this, pain medications tend to be ineffective, so I grit my teeth and endure. To quote the Bible, he that endureth to the end shall be saved. My salvation came when we arrived home and I went straight to bed. I slept for fourteen hours. (Things have physically deteriorated for me since the writing of this post. A shopping trip to Toledo cost me two days in bed.)

Polly’s late father had his hip replaced in 2015. I previously wrote about Dad’s health problems here: How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain. Sadly, this post proved to be prophetic. Dad ended up in a nursing home, forced to wear a brace to keep his hip in place. Several days after the surgery the new hip dislocated. It was several more days before the rehab staff figured out that there was something wrong with the hip. If there ever was a circumstance that could be labeled a clusterfuck, this was it. I am sure that if Dad had it to do all over again, he would not have had the surgery. Dad was able to come home eventually, but he was never able to walk normally again.

While we were visiting with Dad and Mom at the nursing home, Polly’s preacher uncle, Jim Dennis, stopped by for a visit. He didn’t know we were going to be there, so he was quite surprised to see us. After twenty minutes or so, it was time for Polly’s uncle to leave. Before leaving, Polly’s uncle offered up a prayer. Recently retired from the ministry and in poor health himself, Uncle Jim launched into what can only be described as a sermon prayer. Those raised in Fundamentalist churches likely have heard many such prayers. These prayers are not meant for God as much as they are for those who are listening, In this instance, the prayer was meant for the two atheists in the room, Polly and Bruce.

The prayer started out with a request for healing and strength for Dad but quickly moved into a recitation of the plan of salvation. I thought, why is Uncle Jim praying like this? God knows the plan of salvation, as does Dad, so the soteriological utterance couldn’t have been for their benefit. Mom was nearby, but she was one of God’s chosen ones too. The only unsaved people in the room were Bruce, Polly, and their daughter with Down Syndrome. As Polly’s uncle prayed, I looked at Polly, smirked, and shook my head. Here I was, at the time, fifty-eight years old, having spent fifty years in the Christian church, and I was being treated like someone who had never heard the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) version of the gospel.

If this had happened a few years ago, I likely would have said something. But, as I looked at Polly’s uncle and her Mom and Dad, I thought, soon they will all be dead. Morbid? Sure. But, the truth? Absolutely. I have no desire to fight over religion with Polly’s diehard Fundamentalist Baptist family. I am sure Polly’s preacher uncle thought that putting in a good word for Jesus might somehow, some way, cause us to fall on our knees, repent, and ask Jesus to save us. Regardless of his motivation, it was clear that Uncle Jim did not respect us. (Since the writing of this post in 2016, Dad has died, along with Jim and his wife Linda. Only Mom is still alive.)

Polly and I, along with our children, are huge disappointments to her family. Since I was once considered the patriarch of our tribe, the blame for our fall from grace rests squarely on my shoulders. It has been thirteen years since Polly and I darkened the doors of a church. We have attended numerous family functions, and not one person in her family has attempted to understand why we deconverted — not one. Some of them read this blog, and I am sure this post will make its way in printed form to Polly’s Mom. Will it finally force an honest discussion about the elephant in the room? Probably not. Better to hope Polly and that $*%$ husband of hers are still saved. Backslidden, but still saved. Anything, but having a frank discussion about why we no longer believe in the existence of the Christian God, or any other deity, for that matter.

While I would never expect or demand that Polly’s Fundamentalist family stop living out their faith, it would be nice if they respected us enough to accept us as we are. We are ready and willing to share why we no longer believe. If family members want to know, all they have to do is ask. And if they aren’t interested in knowing, the least they can do is refrain from trying to evangelize us. There are no prayers that can be prayed that could possibly cause us to change our minds about God, Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible. Thousands of prayers have been uttered on our behalf, yet Polly and I remain happy unbelievers. We are living proof of the powerlessness of prayer.

Polly and I have known each other for almost forty-six years. I first met her preacher uncle in December of 1976 at a midweek church service at the Newark Baptist Temple. Uncle Jim let the church know that Polly had a guest with her. As the congregation turned to gawk at the embarrassed redheaded young man, Polly’s uncle said, They have a shirttail relationship. It remains to be seen how long the shirttail is. The next day, I spent my first Christmas with Polly’s family, meeting her cousins, uncle, and grandfather for the first time. Forty-six years have come and gone. Polly and I are now in our sixties. Our middle-aged children have greying hair, and their thirteen children call us Nana and Grandpa. We have spent many wonderful moments with Polly’s family, and more than a few moments we would just as soon forget. I love them dearly, as does Polly. We just wish that they loved us more than they love Jesus.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Rock Music is Evil and Will Land You in Hell

bob gray jacksonville florida preaching against elvis
Baptist pastor Bob Gray preaching against Elvis, 1956. Gray would later be accused of decades-long sexual misconduct. Gray was a serial pedophile. He died before his trial.

Rock music has always been a problem for Evangelicals. Rock music is generally considered worldly, sinful, and Satanic, and parents are told to keep their children away from its influences. Rock music is considered a gateway to a world filled with illicit sex, drugs, and Satanism. Several years ago, a homeschooling mom by the name of Leslie published an article on her blog titled, The Truth About Rock Music. Here is some of what Leslie had to say:

Rock music has always had a satanic influence. It does not really take all that much research to figure that out. Just google the Beatles and Hinduism and you will see it almost immediately. They were very open about their Hindu activity and even secular websites confirm this. But, as wild as the 60s were, the society wasn’t quite ready for outright false religion and songs promoting open sex and drug use and so many of their song lyrics had double meanings and hidden agendas.

Of course, all the changes in the last 50 years have made hidden agendas and double meanings unnecessary. This has happened through a very systematic hardening of our consciences. And so evil and ungodly lyrics have been eagerly accepted by a fan base that doesn’t pay any attention at all to what they are filling their brains with.

….

I then moved on to the artists themselves. Who were these people that were coming into our homes and cars on a regular basis through their music?

With the 80s influences of Madonna and Micheal (sic) Jackson– who were perhaps some of the first openly satanic artists to be played on the radio– the way was paved for many more to come. Recent rock stars such as Beyonce, Kesha, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Jay Z, Eminem, and Nicky (sic) Manaj (sic) (just to name a few), have filled the American culture with an abundance of ungodly, crude, and sexual lyrics and, even worse, very graphic music videos. This, of course, I suspected before I started doing my research. What rather stunned me however was the plethora of satanic symbols and images. As I studied, I found that many of these artists claim to have sold their soul to the devil or to be possessed by demons. This was by their own admission, recorded on video or found in reputable sources.

….

I write it here because I think most of us are absolutely clueless regarding the danger this music presents to our spiritual health. We just allow this music to play in our homes and in our cars and in the ears of our kids–never giving it a second thought. The tunes are catchy and for some reason that seems to be all we need for it to get our seal of approval.

….

But fast forward my life to just a few weeks ago when I found myself up to my eyeballs in the lewd depravity of the rock music industry. I just can’t even begin to describe how awful it all is. And maybe worst of all–how precious and beautiful young girls and boys, many of them Disney stars as youngsters, are morphed into larger-than-life rock musicians that promote everything God abhors and how so many of their fans–usually tweens and teens– just follow them down into the dark pit.

….

If this music is something that beckons you or someone you love, may I encourage you to do your own research? I think you will be more than a little alarmed and shocked at what you will find out. And may we pray for deliverance of ourselves and our families from the evil influence of this demonic music.

Leslie seems shocked to find out that rock music is filled with references to sex, drugs, and darkness. These elements have always been central themes of rock music. Leslie goes on to say that rock music is Satanic and many musicians have sold their souls to the Devil or are possessed by demons. For people such as Leslie, such things are frightening. However, if there is no Devil or demons, then the only thing that matters is the lyrics. While I agree with Leslie about the lyrical content of many rock songs, I think she greatly exaggerates the effect these lyrics have on people. While it is certainly appropriate to regulate what younger children see and hear, by the time children reach their teenage years they should be able to handle the lyrics Leslie finds so objectionable.

Those of us raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement vividly remember sermons about the evils of rock music. Sermons on sex, drugs, and rock and roll were common. Many IFB preachers would recite lyrics from popular songs, showing, in their minds, anyway, the Satanic origin of rock music. Some preachers would warn parishioners of the dangers of the mesmerizing “jungle beat” in rock music. Laden with subtle racist overtones, these preachers told teenagers and parents that rock music had a hypnotizing effect. Once under its influence, people would do horrible, vile things.

bob larson rock music

In the 1960s and 1970s, men such as Bob Larson traveled the country giving seminars on the evils of rock music. Larson purportedly had been a rock musician. He wrote several books about the evils of rock music: Rock and Roll: The Devil’s Diversion, Hippies, Hindus, and Rock & Roll, The Day the Music Died, Larson’s Book of Rock. In his 1972 book, The Day the Music Died, Larson had this to say about rock music and its effect on listeners:

The basic rock rhythm is syncopation. …. this explains the erotic body movements of dancers to the accompaniment of the syncopated or pulsating rock beat. (page 15)

The origin of this Negro influence was, of course Africa.. These innovations were connected with heathen tribal and voodoo rites. The native dances to incessant, pulsating, syncopated rhythms until he enters a state of hypnotic monotony and loses active control over his conscious mind. The throb of the beat from the drums brings his mind to a state when the voodoo, which Christian missionaries know to be a demon, can enter him. This power then takes control of the dancer, usually resulting in sexual atrocities. Is there a legitimate connection between theses religious rites and today’s modern dances? (page 179)

I was aware of the connection between demons and dancing even before my conversion. I speak from experience as to the effect rock rhythms have on the mind. …As a minister, I know what it is like to feel the unction of the Holy Spirit. As a rock musician, I knew what it meant to feel the counterfeit anointing of Satan. I am not alone in my experimental knowledge of the influence of demonic powers present in rock music. (Page 181)

In his 1967 book, Rock and Roll: The Devil’s Diversion, Larson wrote:

There is no difference between the repetitive movements of witch doctors and tribal dancers and the dances of American teenagers. The same coarse bodily motions which lead such dancers into a state of uncontrollable frenzy are present in modern dances. It is only logical, then, that here must also be a correlation in the potentiality of demons gaining possessive control of a person through the medium of the beat. This is not entirely my own theory. It is the message that missionaries have urged me to bring to the American public. (Page 182)

On Friday and Saturday nights across America the devil is gaining demonic control over thousands of teenage lives. It is possible that any person who has danced for substantial lengths of time may have come under the oppressive, obsessive, or possessive influence of demons. Knowing this, churches and clergymen need to shed their cloak of compromise and firmly denounce rock dances. Dancing is no longer an artistic form of expression ( if it ever was) but a subtle instrument of Satan to morally and spiritually destroy youth. (page 184)

Evangelical preachers also began alerting church members about the subliminal messages (backmasking) rock groups were putting on their albums. Supposedly, if rock records were played backward, people would hear Satanic messages. Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven was supposedly one such song. When played forward the song said:

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow
Don’t be alarmed now
It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen
Yes there are two paths you can go by
but in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on

Backwards, the words above were supposedly turned into:

Oh here’s to my sweet Satan.
The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan.
He will give those with him 666.
There was a little toolshed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.

According to Wikipedia:

In a January 1982 television program on the Trinity Broadcasting Network hosted by Paul Crouch, it was claimed that hidden messages were contained in many popular rock songs through a technique called backward masking. One example of such hidden messages that was prominently cited was in “Stairway to Heaven…

Following the claims made in the television program, California assemblyman Phil Wyman proposed a state law that would require warning labels on records containing backward masking. In April 1982, the Consumer Protection and Toxic Materials Committee of the California State Assembly held a hearing on backward masking in popular music, during which “Stairway to Heaven” was played backward. During the hearing, William Yarroll, a self-described “neuroscientific researcher,” claimed that backward messages could be deciphered by the human brain.

As with the Satanic ritual abuse hysteria years later, the backmasking scare quickly faded into the pages of history. The last preacher I remember saying something about backmasking told church members that if you played the theme song of the TV show Mr. Ed backwards it contained a Satanic message.

Leslie, the homeschooling mom I quoted above, will learn, as did the preachers of my youth, that all the preaching in the world won’t keep teenagers from listening to the popular music of the day. While parents might be able to keep them from listening to rock music at home, once they go to school they will be exposed to the music of their non-Evangelical peers. Once teenagers start driving or riding in automobiles with friends, the radio will be tuned to the local rock station. Unless parents are willing to lock their teenagers in their rooms, allow them no internet access, and remove radios from their automobiles, it is impossible to keep teenagers from listening to rock music.

Polly and I grew up in homes where rock music was verboten. Despite these prohibitions, we somehow learned the lyrics of the popular songs of our day. In the mid-1970s, we attended Midwestern Baptist College, a strict Fundamentalist institution that banned students from listening to ANY secular music (except classical). Students were not permitted to play anything other than religious music in their dorm rooms. However, once in the safety of their automobiles, students turned on radios and listened to the rock, pop, and country music of the day.

One spring day, Polly was sitting in the Midwestern parking lot listening to the radio. I walked from the dormitory out to her car to see what she was up to. Playing on the radio was Afternoon Delight, by Starland Vocal Band. Polly was singing away without a care in the world. I laughed and then I asked her if she knew what the song was about. She gave me an innocent (and clueless) interpretation of the lyrics. When I told her what the song was really about, she didn’t believe me. To this day, we joke about this story. Such is life in the IFB bubble. My favorite song, by the way, was December 1963 (Oh What a Night) by the Four Seasons.

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These days, many Evangelicals have taken a different approach to combating the evils of secular rock music. Instead of outright banning rock music — an approach that has proved to be a dismal failure — Evangelicals promote what is called the replacement theory. If church teenagers are drawn to secular bands that have what Evangelicals consider bad, immoral, or Satanic lyrics, churches and parents suggest that they listen to a Christian alternative. This approach has, for the most part, also failed to keep Evangelical teenagers from listening to secular rock music. First, many of the Christian alternatives are cheap rip-offs of secular bands. Bad music is bad music regardless of the lyrics. Second, many Evangelical teenagers quickly embraced what is now called contemporary Christian music (CCM). However, instead of abandoning their secular favorites, teenagers just added the CCM artists to the mix. Some Christian bands, such as P.O.D.Skillet, and Switchfoot, have been huge successes, both in the secular rock market and the CCM market.

Here is a video by Skillet.

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Some Evangelical churches have given up trying to keep church teenagers from listening to rock music. This is understandable, in part, because many Evangelical churches are now using rock music in their worship services. In the 1960s, few churches had drums. But today? Many churches have full-blown bands, complete with percussion sections.

If you are not familiar with what is going on with music in many Evangelical churches, I think the following video clip from a Hillsong New York worship service will prove instructive.

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Evangelicals, to some degree or the other, have been waging war against rock music for over sixty years. Based on the videos above, I think I can safely say that rock music has won the war. Like all battles waged against popular culture, prohibition only makes what has been deemed sinful more enticing and popular. Teenagers will always be drawn to that which parents, pastors, and other authority figures say they can’t have. Teenagers are built to try the forbidden and test boundaries. We all did it, and here is the lesson that adults need to learn: we survived. Instead of treating teenagers like toddlers, how about teaching them to make responsible choices? Surely, by now, we have learned that telling teenagers to Just Say No doesn’t work. It is far better to equip them with the requisite skills necessary to navigate the world. Yes, there are real dangers they will face, but rock music is not one of them. I seriously doubt that there are many teenagers whose lives are destroyed because they listened to songs that have sexual or substance abuse references. I am sure there are some who take the lyrics to heart and make bad decisions, but most teenagers, as sixty years of history shows, can listen to rock music without being adversely affected.

For more articles than you will ever want to read on the evils of rock music, please check out the Jesus is Savior website, operated by a rabid disciple of the late Jack Hyles.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser