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Tag: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist

Conferences and Fellowship Meetings: Where Evangelical Preachers Go to Gossip and Talk Shop

gossip

Most Evangelical preachers belong to one or more fellowship groups. These groups are usually built around certain doctrinal beliefs — King James Onlyism, Calvinism — or around Evangelical colleges. For example, Midwestern Baptist College men tend to fellowship with Midwestern men; Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF) men tend to associate with BBF men; Bob Jones University men tend to hobnob with Bob Jones men. Preachers who believe the King James Bible is the preserved Word of God for English-speaking people often fellowship with like-minded pastors. Calvinistic preachers often associate with men who are Calvinists or Reformed. The groupings are endless, a reminder of the fractured, exclusionary nature of Evangelicalism. Some preachers will belong to several groups, not wanting to align themselves with any one group.

I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I spent the bulk of my ministerial years in Ohio. During this time, I attended the meetings of the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship and the Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship. I also attended college-associated meetings: Midwestern Baptist College, Massillon Baptist College. I also attended numerous conferences: Sword of the Lord, Bread of Life Camp Meeting (Fellowship Baptist Church, Lebanon, Ohio), Family Camp (Midway Bible Baptist Church, Fishersville, Virginia), and Tri-County Baptist Temple Camp Meeting, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. And then there were Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and Christian Union fellowship meetings. For several years, I drove once a month to Mansfield, Ohio so I could attend a Calvinistic fellowship called the Pastor’s Clinic. As you can see, I did quite a bit of “fellowshipping.”

Most of the aforementioned meetings were geared towards pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. These meetings had four common themes: food, preaching, fellowship, and gossip. The host church would usually provide one or more meals for the preachers (and their wives) in attendance. The focus was always on hearing the preaching of the Word of God. A typical fellowship meeting would feature numerous sermons. Some of these meetings only had big-name preachers preach, while others would allow no-name preachers to strut their wares. Both would deliver what is commonly called “candy stick sermons.” Candy stick sermons are messages preachers have preached before. These are often the sermons preached when a preacher is giving a trial sermon at a prospective new church. Every preacher has an arsenal of sweet-tasting sermons that he knows inside and out. No one wants to preach before his peers and bomb, so candy stick sermons are typical fare at fellowship meetings. It’s all about the show and the approbation of fellow preachers.

During lunch, preachers gather into smaller groups and talk shop. Remember your preacher’s sermons about gossip and speaking poorly of others? Well, while attending fellowship meetings, preachers are exempt from practicing what they preach. Preachers routinely swap war stories — stories about rebellious members, bull-headed deacons, and church business meetings. Preachers also express concern (gossip) over this or that colleague who has left his church, had a split, or found sweet love in the arms of a secretary. Scandals are delectable truffles. Did you hear what happened at Bro. Righteous’ church? whisper, whisper, whisper — I can’t believe Bro. Bombastic is divorcing his wife. I heard he was having an affair with his sister-in-law. whisper, whisper, whisper — I heard Bro. Soulwinner’s church had a split. whisper, whisper, whisper Did you hear ________________? whisper, whisper, whisper — I can’t believe Bro. Doctrine is now a Calvinist/Arminian/Liberal/Southern Baptist, ___________. whisper, whisper, whisper — and on and on the gossip goes. Think what you told your preacher in confidence is safe? Think again. Your pastor might make your “sins” or “problems” a topic of discussion at the next fellowship meeting. The Evangelical version of the Catholic confessional, these lunch discussions are times when preachers can safely share the burdens of their hearts (also known as airing dirty laundry). Their stories are often carried home by other preachers and incorporated into their sermons.

The next time you share your burdens or sins with your preacher, remember that he might make your problems a topic of discussion at the next fellowship meeting. Or he might use you as an unnamed illustration in his candy stick sermon. One thing is for certain . . . preachers will never hear sermons at fellowship meetings on the sin of gossip (or gluttony). Preaching on gossip would ruin lunch, forcing preachers to practice what they preach.

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Is There a Difference Between the IFB and the NIFB?

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In 2017, Steven Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, gathered together a group of like-minded Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers to start a “new” IFB group. At its height, thirty churches were part of this group. Today, rocked by sex scandals, homophobic behavior, and internecine squabbles, the NIFB is no more. Its website is no longer active. Faithful Word’s website makes no mention of the NIFB, and Anderson’s YouTube channel has been terminated for violating YouTube’s terms of service.

Over the years, NIFB pastors Anderson, Donnie Romero, Adam Fannin, Jonathan Shelley, Grayson Fritts, and Logan Robertson, to name a few, have been in the news. Wikipedia states:

A split in the New IFB occurred in January 2019, after Donnie Romero, pastor at Stedfast Baptist Church-Fort Worth (SBC), resigned after it was revealed he had hired prostitutes, smoked marijuana and gambled. Adam Fannin, the lead preacher at SBC’s Jacksonville satellite campus, refused to acknowledge the authority of Jonathan Shelley, another Texas New IFB pastor who took over SBC–Fort Worth following Romero’s resignation. Anderson, Fannin and Shelley traded accusations of financial wrongdoing and running a cult. Fannin was later ejected as the lead preacher of SBC-Jax.

….

New IFB pastors have been the subjects of controversy on numerous occasions. The New IFB is strongly opposed to homosexuality, with several pastors advocating the belief that homosexuals should be executed. Anderson and other New IFB pastors have praised the Orlando gay nightclub shooting. On the weekend of the third anniversary of the shooting, the New IFB held a “Make America Straight Again” conference at an Orlando-area New IFB church. Also in June 2019, Grayson Fritts, pastor at New IFB-affiliated All Scripture Baptist Church and a former detective for the Knox County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s Office, delivered a sermon calling for the execution of gays.

The New IFB considers the modern nation of Israel to be a fraud and it also teaches that Christians rather than Jews are God’s chosen people. Anderson has also produced videos in which he attacks the religion of Judaism and questions the official account of the Holocaust. The New IFB, like older independent Baptist churches, has been accused of being cult-like.

Auckland, New Zealand, New IFB pastor Logan Robertson was deported from Australia in July 2018 after being accused of harassing Muslims at two Brisbane mosques. Robertson had previously attracted media attention after he stated that gay people should be shot and New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern should “go home and get in the kitchen”.

Anderson started the NIFB because he believed the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement was going liberal. This claim was patently untrue. Certainly, some IFB pastors are more “liberal” now than they were years ago. However, their liberalism has more to do with peripheral issues than core theological and social beliefs. I have seen no evidence for the claim that the IFB church movement, in general, is becoming liberal. IFB churches, colleges, and pastors remain ardently and resolutely Fundamentalist. I recently saw a picture of a bluegrass singing group from Bob Jones University — a proudly Fundamentalist institution. I was surprised to see that the women in the photo were wearing blue jeans — a definite departure from their no-pants rule of yesteryear. This is what passes for “liberalism” in IFB circles.

Now to the question at hand: is there a difference between the IFB and the NIFB? The short answer is NO. There’s no difference theologically or socially between the two groups. The NIFB is just a group of churches and preachers who disagreed with other churches and preachers. The NIFB is little more than a squabble among siblings.

I refuse to use the NIFB moniker for Anderson and his gang of Fundamentalists. Using the NIFB label suggests to the uninformed that there’s a difference between them and other IFB churches. It leads to wrong conclusions too. NIFB pastors are hateful, bigoted homophobes. Look at how awful these preachers are, bloggers and reporters say. However, the IFB churches they broke from aren’t any better (generally speaking).

The IFB church movement is known for its infighting, divisions, and church splits. Did you know that you can find the first IFB church in the Old Testament?

Genesis 13 says:

And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south. And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; Unto the place of the altar, which he had make there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the Lord. And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land. And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.

Abraham and his nephew, Lot, got into a squabble. Abraham’s solution was that they separate from one other. Lot agreed. The Bible says: “and they separated themselves the one from the other.” A crusty old preacher said at a pastor’s meeting I was attending years ago that this passage aptly described how IFB churches are started. Those in attendance laughed, knowing that he was right.

From 1983-1994, I pastored Somerset Baptist Church, an IFB congregation in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Much of the church’s adult attendance growth came from people leaving local IFB churches and joining Somerset Baptist (we also gained members from non-IFB churches too). In its heyday, Somerset Baptist was the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County. Scores of people from IFB churches joined with us, and for a time, virtually every service at Somerset Baptist was buzzing with excitement. What was God fixing to do next? we wondered. Two years later, most of the people who came from local IFB churches were gone. Many of them went back to their old churches, while others moved on to other IFB churches. Our attendance went from 200 to 50, and our income dropped by fifty percent. Stories like this in the IFB world are not uncommon.

I see no evidence for the claim that there are differences between the NIFB and IFB church movement. What we have is an Abraham-Lot squabble, not the establishment of a new sect.

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce, the Teenage Bible Thumper

bruce gerencser 1971
Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade, 1971

I attended Central Junior High and Findlay High School, both in Findlay, Ohio from 1970-1974, with brief excursions away from FHS in the spring of my sophomore year (Rincon High School, Tucson, Arizona) and the fall of my junior year (Riverdale High School, Mt. Blanchard, Ohio). All told, I attended Findlay city schools for three and one-half years — my longest enrollment in any school district.

After attending Calvary Baptist Church for several months, our family decided to attend Trinity Baptist Church, then located on Trenton Ave. Trinity was a fast-growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastored by Gene Milioni, a graduate of the inaugural class (1953) of Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Ron Johnson served as the church’s assistant pastor, and Bruce Turner — who came on board several months after we started attending Trinity — was its youth pastor. (Please see Dear Bruce Turner.)

As I reflect on the years I spent at FHS and Trinity Baptist, I see two Bruce Gerencsers, with a born-again experience separating the two. Before I became a Christian, I was an ornery, temperamental teen. While I attended church every time the doors were opened, my behavior, language, and dress reflected a young man who didn’t know the IFB Jesus. It was not uncommon for me to wear a white tee-shirt, frayed Levis, and combat boots to midweek prayer meeting — definitely not IFB approved dress. I wasn’t afraid of using expletives when with my church friends. One time, while attending a youth hayride at the home of Bob and Bonnie Bolander, Bob hollered at me for horsing around. I replied, fuck off. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well. I loved having fun and playing practical jokes, irritating those who expected better behavior from church teens. One Saturday, I was helping paint the walls in the church annex. Pastor Milioni stopped by to “admire” my work, I mean criticize my painting. I stood up, threw my roller in the paint pan, and told Milioni that he could do it himself if he didn’t like my painting. From these incidences and others, my pastors and other church adults concluded that I was an angry, temperamental teenager. It was evident, to them, that I needed Jesus.

In the spring of 1972, after fourteen years of marriage, my parents divorced. Several months later, my mother married her first cousin, a recent parolee from the Texas prison system, and my father married a nineteen-year-old girl with a baby. My parent’s divorce and remarriages upended my life. Making matters worse, Pastor Milioni performed the wedding ceremony for my father and his teenage bride. Both of my parents, along with my two siblings, stopped attending church. I, however, continued to attend church every time the doors were open. Trinity provided me a stable family of sorts. Most of my friends attended the church.

In June of 1972, I celebrated my fifteenth birthday. In September of ’72, I had a life-changing experience. Evangelist Al Lacy held a meeting that fall at Trinity. I attended every night of the week-long revival. One night, as I sat in one of the left side pews with my friends, I came under conviction. At that moment, I knew I was a sinner, and I knew I needed to be saved. So when the time came for the invitation, I stepped out of my pew and went forward. I was met at the church altar by Ray Salisbury, one of the church’s deacons. I told Ray why I had come forward. He led me through what is commonly called in IFB churches the Romans Road, and then I prayed the sinner’s prayer, asking Jesus to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart to save me. At that very moment, I was a changed man. The next Sunday, I was baptized, and several weeks later, I stood before the church and declared that I believed God was calling me to preach. It was not long after that I preached my first sermon.

The changes in my life BC (Before Christ) and AC (After Christ) were instantaneous and dramatic. I started reading my Bible and praying every day. I started dressing up for church, and I no longer used swear words. Every aspect of my life was transformed. I was an on-fire, born-again Christian.

I want to illustrate this transformation with several stories. As you shall see, “Jesus” had transformed my life.

I started carrying my Bible to school every day. I also tried to evangelize my classmates, inviting them to attend church with me. Overnight, I became an insufferable Fundamentalist. I remember writing a paper for one of my classes about Baptists being the true church. I got an A on the paper. My teacher wrote the word “interesting” at the top of my paper and underlined it. I suspect she defined “interesting” differently from the way I did. I would give the correct answers on tests in my biology class and then write the “Biblical” answers below. I do not doubt that I irritated the hell out of my teacher.

I took seriously the interpretations of the Bible preached by my pastors. I was all in. Wanting to be morally pure, I made a list of dating rules for myself. My goal was to remain a virgin until my wedding day. My dad found my dating rules on top of the refrigerator, read them, and then laughed at me. Sure, my rules were funny (and delusional) but him laughing at me only caused me to hate him more.

I loved listening to preaching. In the fall of 1972 or 1973, Trinity hosted the monthly meeting of the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship. I skipped school that day so I could hear the big-name IFB preachers preach. I was enamored by these men of God, thinking I would one day be just like them.

I also learned at this meeting that preachers could be hypocrites. After one of the preaching sessions, I was standing outside with Pastor Turner and several other preachers. I hung on every word these pastors said. I looked up to them. One of these preachers told a joke about lust. He told us that lust was looking at a woman, turning away, and turning back to look again. And then he said, “just make sure your first look is a long one!” Everyone laughed, but as a devout, committed IFB Christian, I was troubled by his “joke.” For the first time, I learned that what preachers said from the pulpit they didn’t necessarily believe. I knew that I didn’t want to be like that pastor.

Bruce, the teenage Bible thumper went on to become Bruce, the IFB college student, and Bruce, the pastor. I preached my first sermon at Trinity in the fall of 1972. Thirty-three years and 4,000+ sermons later, I preached my last sermon (at Hedgesville Baptist Church in Hedgesville, West Virginia).

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Stewardship Month and Faith Promise Missions Giving in the IFB Church

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This is mathematically impossible. 🙂

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers are known for preaching on money, particularly tithing and giving offerings above the tithe. For readers who don’t understand the “Biblical” concept of tithing, let me explain this money-raising scheme to you. The word tithe, in IFB parlance, means 10%. Church members are expected to give 10% of their gross income — God and the government get theirs first — to the church.

I heard countless sermons over the years on the subject of tithing. Preachers, with hands and pockets open wide, told congregants that God demanded at least 10% of their income. Even children were expected to give a tithe to the church from their allowances, yard mowing money, babysitting money, etc. These preachers knew it was important to indoctrinate children. Teach (expect) people to tithe when they are young, they will continue to do so when they are older.

Many IFB preachers threaten congregants with the judgment of God if they don’t tithe. They also tell church members that God will materially “bless” them if they do tithe. Some pastors check the giving records to make sure people are tithing. Those who don’t tithe are considered backslidden, rebellious, or out of the will of God.

Malachi 3:8-10 says:

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

Don’t want to rob God? Please make that check payable to Victory Baptist Church.

Unlike many of my Baptist peers, I rarely preached on tithing. I grew up in churches where my pastors constantly harped on money. Even in college, poor students were expected to give 10% of their gross income to the church affiliated with the college. These negative experiences affected me in such a way that I was hesitant to bug and beg church members for money. I just couldn’t do it. I grew up poor, and we lived at or below the poverty line for the first thirty years of marriage. The most I ever made in the ministry was $26,000 (with a family of eight). I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio for eleven years. The most I ever made in one year at Somerset Baptist was $12,000. I certainly wasn’t in the ministry for the money.

Many of the people I pastored were poor. I found it hard to ask people to tithe when they were barely keeping their heads above water. One year at Somerset Baptist, the highest paid man in the church made $21,000 (an auto mechanic). Appalachian economics applied to the church too.

Not only do IFB preachers preach on tithing, but many of them also preach on stewardship and faith promise missions giving. Polly’s uncle, the late James Dennis (please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis) would spend a month every year preaching on stewardship. The goal? To remind congregants that God expects them to give 10% of their income to the church; to remind congregants that God expects them to contribute to the mission fund, building fund, and any other “fund” the preacher cooks up.

IFB preachers are fond of humble bragging about how many missionaries their churches support. Instead of investing significant amounts of money in one missionary, churches will give fifty missionaries $25 a month. As a result, missionaries have to go to numerous churches on deputation hoping to raise $25 a month from each church. Many missionaries spend years on the fundraising circuit (the better the slide presentation of poor black people, the sooner the missionary makes it to the field). Some give up, never reaching their financial goal. Deputation is a cruel racket. It turns good people (regardless of what I think of mission work now) into beggars.

tithing

Some IFB churches have annual faith promise missions conferences. Missionaries come to the church and present their work (priming the pump for the money ask). Congregants are asked to promise God, by faith, that they will give $xx.xx a month to the church to support the mission program. What if they don’t have the money? Church members are expected to give the money even if they don’t have it. After all, they made a “faith promise.” Remember, congregants are told that God promises to “bless” them materially if they tithe and give offerings above the tithe. I pastored poor church members who gave 20-25% of their income to the church. I was one of those people until I figured out late in my ministerial career that it made no sense for me to do so as long as the church wasn’t paying me. Giving to the church so they can give it back to me was just me paying myself with my own money. Silly, right?

In the mid-1980s, a missionary from Bearing Precious Seed — a KJV Bible publishing ministry of First Baptist Church in Milford, Ohio — came to our church to hustle for money. I told him about the economic status of many church members, warning him that promising congregants a Bible in return for a monthly faith promise missions offering was a bad idea. The missionary ignored me, offering church members a brand new leather-bound KJV Bible if they would give a monthly donation to Bearing Precious Seed. More than a few church members took him up on his offer. The church was expected to collect the money and forward it to Bearing Precious Seed every month. Sure enough, after several months, some of those who promised to make a monthly donation defaulted on their commitment. Not wanting to look bad, I had the church make up the monthly deficit. Guess whose pocket that came out of? Mine.

Do you have a tithing or faith promise missions story to tell? Please share your experiences 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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

The Students God “Led” to Attend Midwestern Baptist College

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

Polly and I were reminiscing the other night about some of the people we attended college with from 1976-1979 at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in 1954 by Tom Malone, pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Both the college and the church were diehard Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institutions. In its heyday in the 70s, Midwestern had 400 or so students. Today, the college has a handful of students, and rumor has it that Midwestern might be closing its doors. At one time, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the United States. Beginning in the 1980s, the church and the college faced precipitous attendance declines, so much so that the church went out of business and sold its campus. While the college remains on life support, its campus was sold to developers, and the dormitory Polly and I called home for two years was converted into efficiency apartments. Currently, Midwestern holds classes at Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. Its website has not been updated since early 2020.

While Midwestern required students to have a high school diploma to enroll, what mattered most was two things:

  • A recommendation from the student’s pastor (often a graduate of Midwestern himself)
  • A testimony of personal salvation

I was a high school dropout. Some day, I will share why I dropped out of high school after the eleventh grade. Midwestern accepted me as a “provisional student.” I had to prove my freshman year that I could do college-level work. My provisional status was never mentioned again. I had a grudging recommendation (another story for another day) from Jack Bennett, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — the church I attended before enrolling at Midwestern. What mattered the most was my personal salvation testimony. Further, I testified to the fact that God had called me to preach at age fifteen as a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio (an IFB congregation affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship).

Outside of the high school diploma requirement, there were no other academic prerequisites. None. No entrance exams, no English proficiency requirements. All a student needed was a good word from his or her pastor and a correctly constructed testimony of faith in Jesus Christ.

The paucity of academic requirements resulted in Midwestern enrolling students that were unable to do college work. What made matters worse was the fact that Midwestern was an unaccredited institution. This meant that students either had to have enough money to pay their tuition and room and board (such students were called “Momma Called, Daddy Sent”) or they had to secure employment to earn enough money to pay their college bills. I did the latter, working full-time jobs during my three years at Midwestern. Polly worked a combination of part-time jobs. We lived — literally — from hand to mouth. While Midwestern had a rudimentary cafeteria, it served one meal a day, lunch. The dorm had what was commonly called the “snack room.” It was here that students “cooked” their meals, not on a stove, but in a microwave. Students were not permitted to have cooking appliances of any kind in their rooms. Cafeteria aside, dorm students had three options: fine dining in the snack room, eating junk food/out of a can in their rooms, or going out to eat at a fast-food restaurant. Most students, if they had the money, chose the latter.

Midwestern enrolled students from IFB churches all across the country. Many of the students came from churches pastored by men who were graduates of Midwestern. Churches within the IFB church movement often congregate along tribal lines — namely what colleges pastors attended. Thus, Bob Jones-trained pastors sent their students to Bob Jones University, Hyles-trained pastors sent their students to Hyles-Anderson College, and Midwestern-trained pastors sent their students to Midwestern Baptist College. (Please see Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps.) Pastors who sent lots of students to their alma mater were often rewarded with honorary doctorates. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor.) Pastor loyalties changed if they had some sort of falling out with the college that trained them. Polly’s uncle, James Dennis, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark, Ohio, was sending students to Midwestern, Hyles-Anderson, Massillon Baptist College, and Tennessee Temple when Polly and I married in 1978. Jim had an honorary doctorate from Midwestern — a candy stick award for supporting the college. He later had a falling out with Tom Malone and stopped sending students to Midwestern. Today, prospective college students from the Baptist Temple typically go to Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, or The Crown College.

As Polly and I reminisced about our fellow college students, we couldn’t help but notice how many students we knew that were not socially or academically qualified to take college classes. Often, such students came from churches where their pastors were pushing people to attend Midwestern. It was not uncommon to hear IFB preachers say that young adults should have a Bible college education. Secular colleges were denigrated, labeled as Satanic institutions of higher learning. IFB pastors believe that men must be “called” by God to be pastors, evangelists, youth directors, or missionaries. If a man said he was called to preach, as I did at age fifteen, his pastor would tell him he needed to attend Bible college. If the pastor was a Midwestern man, he would “suggest” that the young person attend Midwestern. In the IFB church movement, “suggestions” have the force of law.

Sometimes, older single men or married men would feel called to preach and head off to Midwestern to study for the ministry. They would often leave behind well-paying jobs, hoping to find employment after enrolling at Midwestern. Some married students left their families behind, living in the dorm with men who were 20-30 years younger than them. Remember, if God calls, he provides. If God orders, he pays. Or so the thinking went, anyway. As you shall see in a moment, God was a deadbeat dad who didn’t pay his bills.

Several married men lived in the dorm while I was a student at Midwestern. They left their families at home as they chased their dream of becoming a pastor. These men, later labeled failures by Malone and other chapel preachers, washed out after a few months. Loneliness, along with an inability to do college work doomed them from the start. The Holy Spirit was no match for a man’s longing for the embrace of his wife and children. Knowing the Bible was no substitute for actually being able to do college-level work (and Midwestern was NOT a scholastically rigorous institution).

One older student lived with a woman before coming to Midwestern. He had gotten saved and his pastor told him he needed to go to Bible college. Imagine eating ice cream every day at Dairy Queen and then going off to a place where there’s no Dairy Queen. Get my drift? This man had an active sex life, and that allegedly stopped when he started living in the Midwestern dorm. The college had a no-contact rule between couples. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.) I suspect it was difficult for sexually active students to play by the rules. Polly and I were virgins on our wedding day. I know how hard it was for us to stay “pure,” so I can only imagine how hard it was for students who had tasted the sinful fruit of fornication. Some of these “immoral” students quit or were expelled. Others learned how to hide their sin.

One student was developmentally disabled. He was a great kid, but I suspect his IQ was in the 70s. He had suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child. He could barely read or write. He left Midwestern after his first semester. He, too, was labeled a quitter.

Many single and married students worked full-time jobs to pay their way through college. Imagine working forty hours a week, attending church three times a week, going on visitation on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and working a bus route on Sundays. Pray tell, when were students supposed to do their school work? I knew dorm students who were working 60-70 hours a week at one of the local truck/auto plants. Often, overtime was mandatory. Many of these students either washed out or left college and rented an apartment. The money was too good, so they chose their jobs over God’s calling. I know more than a few students who followed this path, spending the next thirty years working for the man before retiring with a good union pension.

Quitters were savaged by Midwestern’s president, Tom Malone, his son Tommy, Jr, school administrators, and pastors who preached during daily chapel services. Quitters were weak, and God didn’t use quitters. Midwestern advertised itself as a “character-building factory.” Most students who enrolled as freshmen never graduated. Is it any wonder why? Sure, I learned “character,” but once Polly became pregnant and I was laid off from my job, all the character in the world wasn’t going to keep a roof over our head or our utilities on. No help was coming from our parents or churches.

I don’t fault these men (and a few women) who failed to navigate the “character” gauntlet. The system was set up to ensure their failure. Of course, those who made it to graduation think otherwise. Unasked is where was God for these students who sincerely wanted to preach and teach others? When they truly needed help, neither God, nor their churches and pastors, was anywhere to be found.

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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