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Tag: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist

Why do Evangelicals Flee One Cult, Only to Join Another?

cult of apple
Cartoon by Mike Luckovich

One of the hardest things I had to come to terms with was the fact that my parents raised me in a cult; that I was a member of a cult; that I attended a college operated by a cult; that I married a girl who was also a member of a cult; that I spent twenty-five years evangelizing for a cult and pastoring its churches. Worse yet, as devoted cult members, my wife and I raised our six children in the way of the cult, in the truth of the cult, and in the life of the cult. All religions, to some degree or the other, are cults. The dictionary describes the word “cult” several ways:

  • A system of religious beliefs and rituals
  • A religion or sect that is generally considered to be unorthodox, extreme, or false [who determines what is unorthodox, extreme, or false?]
  • Followers of an unorthodox, extremist, or false religion or sect who often live outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader
  • Followers of an exclusive system of religious beliefs and practices

As you can see from these definitions, Christianity is a cult. In particular, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and Evangelicalism, in general, are cults. I rarely use the word “cult” when describing Evangelical beliefs and practices because the word means something different to Evangelicals. In their minds, sects such as The Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Unification Church, and the Roman Catholic Church are cults. Some Evangelical churches bring in cult specialists to teach congregants about what is and isn’t a cult. Countless Evangelicals have read Walter Martin’s seminal work, The Kingdom of the Cults. Martin’s book was considered the go-to reference work when it came to cults. Martin defined a cult this way: a group of people gathered about a specific person—or person’s misinterpretation of the Bible. In Martin’s mind, any group of people who follow a person’s misinterpretation of the Bible is a cult. Of course, Martin — a Fundamentalist Baptist — was the sole arbiter of what was considered a misinterpretation of the Bible. Written in 1965, The Kingdom of the Cults included sects such as Seventh-day Adventism, Unitarian Universalism, Worldwide Church of God, Buddhism, and Islam. Martin also believed certain heterodox Christian sects had cultic tendencies. I am sure that if Martin were alive today, a revised version of The Kingdom of the Cults would be significantly larger than the 701 pages of the first edition. Martin and his followers, much like Joseph McCarthy, who saw communists under every bed, saw cultism everywhere they looked — except in their own backyards, that is.

Over the years, I have heard from numerous college classmates and former parishioners who wanted me to know that they had left cultic IFB churches and joined up with what they believed were non-cultic Evangelical churches. These letter-writers praised me for my exposure of the IFB church movement, but they were dismayed over my rejection of Christianity in general. In their minds, I threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater; if I would just find a church like theirs I would see and know the “truth.” I concluded, after reading their testimonies, that all they had really done is trade one cult for another.

Take, for example, my college classmates. Most of them were raised in strict IFB homes and churches. Some of them had pastor fathers. Later in life, they came to believe that the IFB church movement, with its attendant legalistic codes of conduct, was a cult. As I mentioned in my post titled, Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? there are two components to religious fundamentalism: theological fundamentalism and social fundamentalism. Most Evangelicals are both theological and social Fundamentalists, even though some of them will deny the latter. My college classmates, in leaving the IFB church movement, distanced themselves from social fundamentalism while retaining their theological fundamentalist beliefs. They wrongly believe that by rejecting the codes of conduct of their former churches, they were no longer members of a cult. However, their theology changed very little, and often they just traded a “legalistic” code of conduct for a “Biblical” one. These “non-legalists” revel in their newfound freedoms — drinking alcohol, going to movies, wearing pants (women), saying curse words, smoking cigars, having long hair (men), listening to secular music, using non-King James Bible translations, and having sex in non-missionary positions, to name a few — thinking that they have finally escaped the cult, when in fact they just moved their church membership from one cult to another. When the core theology of their old church is compared to their new church, few differences are found.

I can’t emphasize this enough: regardless of the name on the door, the style of worship/music, or ecclesiology, Evangelical churches are pretty much all the same. Many Evangelicals consider Westboro Baptist Church to be a cult. However, a close examination of their theology reveals that there is little difference between the theology of the late Fred Phelps and his clan and that of Southern Baptist luminary Al Mohler and his fellow Calvinists. Ask ten local Evangelical churches for copies of their church doctrinal statement and compare them. You will find differences on matters of church government, spiritual gifts, and other peripheral issues Christians perpetually fight over, but when it comes to the core doctrines of Christianity, they are in agreement.

Calvinists and Arminians — who have been bickering with each other for centuries — will vehemently disagree with my assertion that they are one and the same, but when you peel away each group’s peculiar interpretations of the Bible, what you are left with are the historic, orthodox beliefs expressed in the creeds of early Christianity. There may be countless flavors of ice cream, but they all have one thing in common: milk. So it is with Evangelical sects and churches. During what I call our wandering years, Polly and I attended over one hundred Christian churches, looking for a church that took seriously the teachings of Christ. We concluded that Evangelical churches are pretty much all the same, and that the decision on which church to attend is pretty much up to which kind of ice cream you like the best. No matter how “special” some Evangelical churches think they are, close examination reveals that they are not much different from other churches. This means then, that there is little to no difference theologically among Christian cults. Codes of conduct differ from church to church, but at the center of every congregation is the greatest cult leader of all time, Jesus Christ. (See But Our Church is DIFFERENT!)

Go back and read the definitions of the word cult at the top of this post, and then read Walter Martin’s definition of a cult/cult leader. Is not Jesus a cult leader? Is not the Apostle Paul also a cult leader? Is not the sect founded and propagated by Jesus, Peter, James, John, and Paul, and propagated for two thousand years by pastors/priests/evangelists/missionaries a cult? Is not the Judaism of the Old Testament a blood cult, as is its offspring, Christianity? Surely a fair-minded person must conclude that Christianity is a cult. Regardless of denomination, peculiar beliefs, and different codes of conduct, all Christian churches are, in effect, cult temples, no different from the “pagan” temples mentioned in the New Testament.

Disagree? By all means, use the comment section to explain why your Christian/Evangelical/IFB sect/church is not a cult, but other sects and churches are. Why should your beliefs and practices be considered truth and all others false? Hint, the Bible says is not an acceptable answer (nor are worn-out presuppositional tropes). All cultists appeal to their religious texts for proof that their beliefs and practices are “truth.” Why should anyone accept your sect’s book as “truth?” Why should anyone believe that Jesus is the way, truth, and life or that the Christian God is the one true God?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Update: Black Collar Crime: IFB Sunday School Teacher Jonathan Young Guilty of Rape, Sentenced to 87 Years in Prison

jonathan young

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 2018, Jonathan Young, a Sunday school teacher at Firstborn Baptist Church — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation — in Benson, North Carolina was accused of raping several church girls.  WRAL-5 reported that Young had been charged with “six charges of first-degree rape of a child, three charges of statutory rape, two charges of first-degree sexual offense, and two charges of indecent liberties with a child.” The charges against Young covered alleged crimes committed between 2004 and 2014.

Several former church members alleged church leaders knew about Young’s crimes and covered them up. The church denied doing so. Durwood “Kemp” Young, pastor of Firstborn Baptist, had this to say:

I’m heartbroken by it all because it’s unbelievable. I hate if anyone is hurt on either side but the young man is ruined now. I hate it and I don’t know what else to say about it.

What’s unbelievable is that Pastor Young’s first statement is about being concerned for the “young man” whose life has been “ruined.”  The victims aren’t even mentioned outside of Young “hating [the] hurt on either side.” What is this, a sporting event where you have two opposing teams?

Both the pastor and the perpetrator have the same last name. A reader with intimate knowledge of this church and the parties involved has told me that Durwood Young is Jonathan Young’s great-uncle. This reader also told me that other people in the church have, in the past, been accused of sexual improprieties.

In August 2022, a jury found Young guilty. Young was sentenced to a minimum of eighty-seven years in prison.

WITN reported:

WRAL reports that a jury found Jonathan Young, 38, of Benson, guilty on multiple counts of rape, sexual offense, and indecent liberties with children.

According to the district attorney’s office, the crimes involved three children, and most took place at Firstborn Baptist Church in Benson. The incidents occurred between 2003 and 2014, and the youngest victim was 7 years old when she was molested, investigators said.

At Young’s trial, the jury heard testimony from two additional witnesses who were sexually abused as young children.

Girls who grew up at the church alleged years of sexual abuse by Young, misconduct that some former church members say church leaders knew about but did nothing to stop.

Church leaders told WRAL News in 2018 there was no coverup.

“I’m heartbroken by it all because it’s unbelievable,” said Pastor Durwood Young. “I hate it and I don’t know what else to say about it.”

“The investigation was dropped as far as I know,” Durwood Young said. “That’s the way I understand it.”

The church leader described Jonathan Young as a “model employee.”

“I think you could go out here in the community and find people who were absolutely devastated,” Durwood Young said.

Durwood Young said he first heard about the allegations in 2014 from the sheriff’s office, but no charges were filed at that time

WRAL added:

One of his victims, who is now an adult, shared her story. WRAL News usually does not identify sexual assault victims, but Brianna Holland wanted to share her story publicly to help others.

Holland went to Firstborn Baptist Church in Benson every Sunday growing up – and for two years, starting with she was just 9 years old – a man she looked up to was inappropriately touching her. She kept the secret for years.

“I was confused and very scared,” she says.

Church and Sunday School should have been a safe haven for Holland – and two other children who were abused between 2003 and 2014. The youngest victim was just 7 years old when she was molested, investigators said.

“On the Sunday School bus, he would just initially rub my leg on bus,” she says.

The abuse grew worse with time.

“It was kissing, rubbing, grinding, things like that in the basement,” she says. “He had made multiple threats. ‘If you tell anyone, I will hurt you. I will hurt your family.'”

Four years after the abuse occurred, she got the courage to speak up. That was in 2017. One year later, Young was arrested and charged with sex crimes against three girls at the church, including Brianna Holland’s sister.

“It was hard and traumatizing,” she says. “I haven’t seen him since he was first arrested.”

During the trial Holland sat across from Young for two weeks, testifying in the case. His sentence of 87 years is long enough that he should never experience life outside of prison again.

“I was very happy, very content with what he got,” she says.

Please see Is Firstborn Baptist Church a Cult?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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 My Political and Social Beliefs Evolved Over the Years

john birch society

A letter writer asked:

Were you always socially liberal and progressive “on the inside” or did that develop after deconverting? For example, were you always pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, and pro-transgender, and every time you read a bible verse got triggered, or did your social and political beliefs genuinely differ between being a Christian and being an atheist?

These are great questions. I believe the letter writer is asking if I always had liberal/progressive political and social beliefs or did these beliefs develop over time? I believe he is also asking if my political and social beliefs were different as a Christian from the beliefs I now have as an atheist? The best way to answer these questions is to share a condensed version of my life story.

In the early 1960s, my Dad packed up his family and moved from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego, California in search of riches and prosperity. While in California, my parents were saved at Scott Memorial Baptist Church, a Fundamentalist Baptist congregation pastored by Tim LaHaye. As members of Scott Memorial, Mom and Dad joined the right-wing, uber-nationalist John Birch Society. Mom, in particular, immersed herself in right-wing political ideology. She campaigned for Barry Goldwater, and would later actively support the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon and George Wallace.

As was common for people of their generation, my parents were racists. They believed Martin Luther King, Jr. was a despicable man, a Communist. Mom was an avid writer of letters to the editors of the newspapers wherever we happened to be living at the time. She considered Lieutenant William Calley — the man responsible for the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War — to be a war hero. She also thought that the unarmed Kent State students gunned down by Ohio National Guard soldiers got exactly what they deserved.

It should come as no surprise then, that their oldest son — yours truly — embraced their religious and political views. From the time I was in kindergarten until I entered college at age nineteen, I lived in a right-wing, Fundamentalist monoculture. The churches I attended growing up only reinforced the political and social beliefs taught to me by my parents.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution founded in the 1950s by Tom Malone. While I don’t remember any “political” preaching, Biblical moral beliefs were frequently mentioned in classes and during chapel. I heard nothing that would challenge the political and social beliefs taught to me by my parents and pastors. While at Midwestern, I met a beautiful dark-haired woman who would later become my wife. She had similar political and social beliefs, so from that perspective we were a perfect match.

All told, I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. For many of these years, I was a flag-waving, homophobic, theocratic pro-lifer who believed Democrats, liberals, progressives, Catholics, mainline Christians, and a cast of thousands were tools used by Satan to attack and destroy Christian America. Over time, I theologically moved away from the IFB church movement and embraced Fundamentalist Calvinism. While my theology was evolving, my political and social beliefs remained the same — that is, until 1990.

In late 1990, American tanks, aircraft, and soldiers invaded Iraq, causing tens of thousands of civilian deaths. I was appalled by the universal support Evangelicals gave to the Gulf War. I remember asking congregants if it bothered them that thousands of men, women, and children were slaughtered in their name. Not one of my colleagues in the ministry opposed the Gulf War. None of them seemed troubled by the bloodshed and carnage. Try as I might to see the Gulf War through the eyes of the Just War Theory, I couldn’t do so. It was at this point in life that I became a pacifist. I didn’t preach pacifism from the pulpit, but I did challenge church members to think “Biblically” about war and violence — “Biblically” meaning viewing the Gulf War and other wars through the eyes of Jesus and his teachings.

From this point forward, my political beliefs began to evolve. By the time of the Y2K scare, I had distanced myself from groups such as Focus on the Family, the Moral Majority, and the American Family Association. I thought, at the time, that these groups had become political hacks, shills for the Republican Party. In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. He would be the last Republican I voted for. In 2004, I voted for John Kerry; 2008 and 2012 I voted for Barack Obama; 2016 I voted for Hillary Clinton, though I was a big Bernie Sanders supporter. in 2020, I voted for Joe Biden, but only because he wasn’t Trump.

In 2005, I left the ministry, and in 2008 I left Christianity. At that time, my political and social beliefs were far removed from when I entered the ministry decades before. I began as a right-wing Republican and I left the ministry as a progressive. Embracing atheism, humanism, rationalism, and science has allowed me to challenge and rethink my beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, same-sex-marriage, LGBTQ people, sex, marriage, birth control, capital punishment, labor unions, environmentalism, and a host of other hot-button issues. As long as I was in the Evangelical bubble, these things remained unchallenged. Once the Bible lost its authority and control over me, I was then free to change my beliefs.

The Bruce Gerencser of 1983 would not recognize the Bruce Gerencser of today. A man who was a member of one of the churches I pastored in the 1980s and remained a friend of mine until 2009, told me that I had changed teams. And he’s right. My change of beliefs has been so radical that this man told me he could no longer be friends with me. Why? He found my atheism and political beliefs to be too unsettling.

I understand how the trajectory of my life, with its changing religious, political, and social beliefs, troubles people. I try to put myself in their shoes as they attempt to reconcile the Pastor Bruce they once knew with the atheist blogger I am today. How can these things be? former congregants, friends, and colleagues in the ministry want to know. How is it possible that Bruce Gerencser, one of the truest Christians they ever knew, is now an atheist? Some people think there’s some secret I am sitting on, some untold reason for my deconversion. No matter how much time I invest in explaining myself, many people still can’t wrap their minds around my current godlessness and liberal political beliefs. I’ve concluded that there is nothing I can do for them as long as they remain firmly ensconced in the Evangelical bubble.

My political and social beliefs are driven by the humanist ideal; that we humans should work together for the common good; that every person deserves peace, health, happiness, and economic security. I support political and social beliefs that promote these things and oppose those that don’t. I certainly haven’t arrived. My beliefs continue to evolve.

For readers not familiar with humanism, let me conclude this post with the Humanist Manifesto. Atheism doesn’t provide me with a moral foundation. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods. It is humanism that provides me the foundation upon which to build my life:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

My Life as a Street Preacher — Part Two

bruce gerencser street preaching crooksville ohio
Bruce Gerencser, street preaching, Crooksville, Ohio — with his son Jaime.

The First Amendment grants U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike freedom of speech and freedom of religion. These two freedoms are very close to the heart of men who preach on the streets. There is no freer piece of property than a public sidewalk. As long as a street preacher isn’t hindering people walking on the sidewalk or crossing the street, he is free to say pretty much anything to people passing by. Unfortunately, many local business owners and police officers are not well versed in what the law does and does not permit when it comes to street preaching. Many business owners wrongly think that if an obnoxious street preacher – an excessive redundancy if there ever was one — is standing in front of their store preaching or handing out tracts, a quick call to the police will remove the annoyance. However, the street preacher is exercising his First Amendment rights on a public sidewalk, and this means his actions are protected by law.

Sometimes, street preachers get in trouble with the law over evangelizing on private property, or preaching in public places that don’t allow preaching or politicking. For example, street preaching is banned near monuments such as the Lincoln and Washington Memorials. Another forbidden venue is Ohio county fairs. Fairs? Aren’t they public events? No. The various county governments rent/lease the fairgrounds to county agricultural boards. This means, technically, that the fairgrounds become private property for the duration of the fair. The same can be said for many street fairs. Years ago, I entered the Perry County Fairgrounds to preach and hand out tracts to fair-goers. I wasn’t there ten minutes before a fair official and two sheriff deputies told me I had to leave. I told them I wouldn’t be leaving. The fairground is public property, I said. Not wanting to make a scene and arrest me, the officers left me alone. I did what Jesus had “called” me to do and then headed home. Several months later, I received a personal letter from the Ohio Attorney General informing me that the fairgrounds were private, not public property, and that any further preaching or handing out of literature on my part would result in my arrest. The next year, I stood outside the fairground entrance and, with Bible held high, preached the gospel. I was watched closely by fair officials and law enforcement, but we had no further conflict.

In the late 1980s, I would take a group of men from the church to help me evangelize at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church Garden Party in Somerset, Ohio. The Garden Party was an annual fundraiser for Holy Trinity featuring food, beer, and gambling. The beer and gambling, according to the IFB preacher Bruce Gerencser, were sins against God, so what better way to let those hell-bound Catholics know the truth than by loudly preaching at them. I would stand across the street — about sixty feet away — from the venue, and from there everyone at the Garden Party could hear my sermon. The men I brought along with me either held Bible verse signs or walked the sidewalks handing out Fellowship Tract League tracts.

One year, two sheriff deputies came up to me and said, Sheriff Dixon says you have to stop doing this and go home. I replied, tell Dan I plan to keep on preaching. If he wants to arrest me, go ahead. Imagine what that will look like on the front page of the Times-Recorder. The officers left and spent the rest of the evening glaring at me from across the street. Later that night, the church’s priest came over to talk to me, asking if I thought I was accomplishing anything by preaching at people. I gave him my spiel about being a God-called preacher, and that I was following in the steps of Jesus, Paul, and the disciples. He smiled, and then said, have a nice evening. As he turned to walk away, he said, By the way, I want to thank you for your stand against abortion. 

Several days after the Garden Party, I had a sit-down with Sheriff Dixon at his office. I made it very clear to him that I intended to continue preaching on Perry County street corners, and that no matter how much his officers harassed me, I was going to continue doing God’s work. Dan, himself, was quite opinionated and bullheaded, so we came to an agreement about my street preaching, with each of us clearly understanding the parameters of what was legal and illegal behavior. (I visited county prisoners on a weekly basis, so Dan knew me in a larger context than just street preaching.)

Over the decade I spent preaching on the streets of southeast Ohio, I had numerous run-ins with law enforcement. I was resolute about going to jail if necessary. No one was going to stop me from preaching the gospel. One weeknight, as I was preaching in front of the Crooksville, Ohio post office, a police car stopped in front me and the officer told me that I had to IMMEDIATELY stop what I was doing. The business owner across the street, the officer said, called to complain, so you have to stop. I looked at him and replied, “No.” NO? the officer responded. “We’ll see about that!” He hopped back into his car and hauled ass down the street. Ten minutes later, the officer returned, got out of his car, and with bowed head and mumbled words, said, the police chief says I have to let you do this. Just do me a favor, don’t be here after dark. I can’t protect you if you are. I replied I won’t be. I’m not stupid (though my behavior suggested otherwise).

Street preachers are, to the man, arrogant assholes who have no regard for others. But, they have a constitutional right to be Assholes for Jesus®. Don Hardman taught me from the get-go that I had to be prepared to go to jail if need be; that many law enforcement officers were ignorant of the law and might wrongly arrest me for preaching on the street. The good news was that there were Christian lawyers who would make sure I was released from jail as soon as possible; that no one had been successfully prosecuted for street preaching. Much like Paul and Peter, I expected to be arrested one day for preaching the gospel. There’s no greater feather in the cap of a street preacher than to be arrested for preaching or handing out tracts. Want to make a name for yourself in the street preaching fraternity? Get arrested and spend time in jail for proclaiming the gospel.

Being questioned or harassed by law enforcement was a sign, at least to me, that I was doing exactly what God want me to do; that if God wanted me to suffer for his name’s sake, so be it. I was already something of a local celebrity, so getting thrown in the pokey would only have increased my celebrity status. Little did I know at the time that, sure I was a celebrity, but locals thought I was a fool. That’s okay too, right? The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 4:10, We are fools for Christ’s sake. Praise Jesus!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

My Life as a Street Preacher — Part One

bruce-gerencser-street-preaching-september-7-1990
Bruce Gerencser, preaching on a Zanesville, Ohio street corner, September 7, 1990. This photograph was on the front page of the Zanesville Times-Recorder.

I was a street preacher in the 1980s and 1990s. Yes, one of those guys standing on a street corner, Bible raised high, preaching to anyone and everyone who passed by my corner. I often preached on the street several times a week. I preached at Ohio State University, on the Short North in Columbus, and at numerous local festivals, including the Holy Trinity Catholic Church Garden Party in Somerset, Ohio, the Perry County Fair, and the Moonshine Festival in New Straitsville. I preached on the streets of Ohio communities such as Bryan, Crooksville, New Lexington, Zanesville, Lancaster, and Newark. I also preached on street corners in Washington, DC, near the Mall. Sometimes I preached by myself, but most of the time congregants and Christian school children went with me. Their duty was to hold Bible verse signs and hand out gospel tracts. Every week, the students of Somerset Baptist Academy would load into a dilapidated green fifteen-passenger van and go with the man they called Preacher to reach sinners for Jesus. Their appearance on street corners during school hours (once a week) was disconcerting to one school superintendent. He telephoned me and let me know that the kids should be in school, not on street corners hustling for souls. I asked him if the students in his district had extra-curricular activities during school hours. Of course they did! So that put an end to his objection. A short time later, I stopped taking the younger school children with me out of concern that it looked bad. The older students still went along with me, as did several of the teachers.

Don Hardman, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist from Fishersville, Virginia, came to Somerset Baptist Church annually to hold what is called a protracted meeting. The meeting would start on a Sunday and last for fifteen days (18 services in all). The Hardman meetings were the highlight of the year. The congregation loved the Hardmans, as did Polly and I. Our youngest daughter, Laura, is named after Don’s wife. (Please read The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review and Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review.)

Don was a street preacher extraordinaire. I would go with him when he preached on the streets. I didn’t preach at first due to shyness and not wanting to give an inferior performance in front of my friend and mentor. Eventually, the Holy Ghost got a hold of me and I knew I had to start preaching, so I did. Now, the Holy Ghost, of course, didn’t really get a hold of me in any shape, fashion, or form. I did, however, feel a burden for reaching unsaved people and ministering to the homeless. I “felt” a calling to reach the dregs of society for Christ, not only through my preaching, but also through feeding and clothing them. I suspect that my experiences with poverty growing up played a big part in the empathy I had for homeless people.

Some of my readers might want to know what good was accomplished through street preaching. As far as souls being saved, it was a big bust. This didn’t concern me. I saw myself as more of a John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness. In 1739, John Wesley, a street preacher himself, wrote in his journal:

I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.

Much like Wesley, I viewed the world as my parish, and preaching on the streets was just my way of being a faithful witness to people who would likely never darken the doors of Somerset Baptist Church. I also believed, that by preaching on the streets, I would shame and embarrass preachers who contented themselves with being Sunday preachers, hirelings who cared little for the lost around them. I learned, however, that most preachers were either afraid to preach on the streets or didn’t care one bit for the spiritual condition of those outside the doors of their churches. Some preachers would compliment me for my zeal, but then say that they weren’t “called” to be street preachers. I reminded them that Jesus, Paul, John the Baptist, and the disciples were all street preachers. This fact did not sway them. I suspect the real issue was that street preaching would interfere with their golf game or their attendance at fellowships and conferences. Laziness, indolence, and indifference are quite common among pastors. Of course, now that I look back on the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I wish I had spent more time leisurely attending to my own wants and needs and those of my family instead of street preaching. These days, when I see a street preacher I make sure I share the good news with him — that there is no God, so let’s get a beer.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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 Blood Cult: I’m Not Brainwashed, I’m Bloodwashed

blood of jesus

Several years ago, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) man left a comment on a blog post about his pastor and church — Tony Hutson and Middle Tennessee Baptist Church. (I responded to his comments and emails here.) Tony Hutson is the son of the late Curtis Hutson — a popular IFB conference speaker and editor of the Sword of the Lord. In 1990, Tony Hutson, sensing a call from the IFB God, went to the mission field to establish a new church. Where was this mission field, you ask?  Why, in deep, dark, church-less Murfreesboro, Tennessee — the land of more Baptists than you can count and home to IFB publishing house and newspaper, Sword of the LordAccording to Hutson’s church bio page, he is:

Rooted and grounded in the fundamentals of the faith and following the “old paths” in every aspect of his ministry, Bro. Tony has a soul winner’s heart and great vision.

….

He travels around the country preaching most Mondays and Tuesdays but is still available to his people and nearly always in the pulpit for regular services at Middle Tennessee Baptist Church. His preaching has been described as dynamic, exciting and convicting. His larger-than-life personality and tremendous sense of humor, combined with a sincere desire to serve the Lord and preach His Word without compromise, make Bro. Tony Hutson a preacher everyone should hear.

In other words, he is da bomb! He is physically and metaphorically bigger than life!

blood of jesus

The aforementioned commenter said in his comment that the people at Middle Tennessee Baptist were not brainwashed, they were bloodwashed. I would like to take up this cliché in the remainder of this post.

Independent Fundamentalist Baptists love talking about the blood, the precious blood, the miraculous blood, the sin-cleansing blood. Much like the Israelites in the Old Testament with their pagan-esque God-ordered blood sacrifices, Baptists revel in the bloody, violent sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Baptists LOVE Mel Gibson’s family movie, The Passion of the Christ — a porno/ snuff film. More than a few Baptist preachers whispered, the movie is even better than the book! (For the record, I have never seen the movie.)

Years ago, Fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur caused quite a controversy when he said that it was the DEATH of Jesus, not his blood, that provided atonement for human sin. Blood worshipers quickly denounced MacArthur, appealing to M.R. DeHaan’s classic forty-page book, The Chemistry of the Blood, as proof for the necessity of Jesus’s blood sacrifice

In chapter five of the book, DeHaan — a medical doctor and Fundamentalist preacher — had this to say about Jesus’s miraculous, powerful blood:

There is a Second and a more potent reason still. The blood was God’s only purchase price of redemption. When man sinned, something happened to his blood, for “the life . . . is in the blood.” Instead of incorruptible and, therefore, deathless blood, Adam’s blood corrupted through sin and became subject to death. To redeem this DEAD sinner, life must be again imparted. The only remedy for death is LIFE. This life is in the blood and so blood must be furnished which is sinless and incorruptible. Now none of Adam’s race could do this. For in “Adam all died.” “All have sinned and come short.” The angels could not furnish that blood for they are spirit beings and have neither flesh nor blood. There was only one, yes, ONLY ONE, who could furnish that blood, the virgin-born Son of God, with a human body, but sinless supernatural blood, inseminated by the Holy Ghost. In a previous message we showed scientifically that every drop of blood in an infant’s body is the contribution of the male parent, while the mother furnished all the flesh of that little body. Jesus’ body was of Mary; His blood was by the Holy Ghost. This sinless, supernatural blood was the only price of redemption God could accept, without violating the integrity of His holy nature. Death can only be banished by life. A blood transfusion must be performed and provided.

….

This [modern blood banks] is not one millionth as wonderful as what God did nineteen centuries ago. Then there was one Man who gave ALL His sinless blood on the Cross of Calvary. There a BLOOD BANK was opened and into that bank went the blood of the Lord Jesus. It suits every type, avails for everyone and is free to all who submit to its “transfusion” by the Holy Spirit. All you need to do is apply for it by FAITH. We must add chemicals to the blood in our blood banks to preserve it, and then it eventually deteriorates just the same, but no preservatives need be added to His Precious blood, for it is INCORRUPTIBLE and sinless. Not one drop of that blood was lost or wasted. It is INCORRUPTIBLE.

“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with CORRUPTIBLE THINGS, as silver and gold. . . . But with the precious BLOOD of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” —1 Peter 1:18,19  That blood CANNOT PERISH I do not know where that blood is now but I suspect it is in heaven somewhere just as fresh and as potent as when it was shed nineteen hundred years ago. When I get to heaven I shall not be surprised to find a diamond studded, golden basin next to the throne with the very blood, the precious incorruptible blood which was shed at Calvary, and as we gaze upon it we will sing, “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood,” Revelation 1:5

Hallelujah for the Blood! Reader, do you know that blood is as fresh today as it ever was and will be. It cannot perish. There is a hymn which goes something like this, “Upon the Cross His blood was spilt, A ransom for our sins and guilt.”

One of the most oft-sung hymns in IFB churches is the song, Are You Washed in the Blood?

Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing pow’r?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Refrain:
Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
Oh, be washed in the blood of the Lamb!

Another classic from the Best Blood Hymns album is the song, There’s Power in the Blood:

Would you be free from your burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

Chorus:
There is power, power, wonder-working power,
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder-working power,
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide,
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow,
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

Would you do service for Jesus your King?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you live daily His praises to sing?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

there's power in the blood of jesus

In the mid-1970s, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in the 1950s by Tom Malone, the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac. Students were required to attend services at Emmanuel every time the doors were open. As was the church’s custom, a public invitation was given at the end of every service. Most IFB churches use the song Just As I Am for their invitation hymn. Emmanuel, however, used William Cowper’s eighteenth-century hymn, There is a Fountain Filled With Blood:

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away:
Wash all my sins away,
Wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed ones of God
Be saved, to sin no more:
Be saved, to sin no more,
Be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed ones of God,
Be saved to sin no more.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:
And shall be till I die,
And shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save:
I’ll sing Thy power to save,
I’ll sing Thy power to save;
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save.

Depending on the number of people responding to the invitation, the five verses of There is a Fountain Filled with Blood could be sung several times, leading to mass lethargy and sleepiness.

As you can see, the IFB church movement is a blood cult, as are many Christian sects. In their defense, the Bible does say in Hebrews 9:22, 26-28:

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

No blood, no remission of sin. No blood, no eternal life. No blood, no meaning, purpose, and direction in this life. The first church I worked in used the tagline, The Blood, the Book, and the Blessed Hope. Contemporary Christian artist Andre Crouch spoke of this powerful blood in his classic song, The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power:

The blood that Jesus shed for me,
Way back on Calvary;
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day,
It will never lose it’s power.

Chorus:
It reaches to the highest mountain,
It flows to the lowest valley;
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day,
It will never lose it’s power.

It soothes my doubts and calms my fears,
And it dries all my tears;
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day,
It will never lose it’s power.

So, when the aforementioned commenter says that the people at Middle Tennessee Baptist are not brainwashed, they are bloodwashed, my response is this: brainwashing — actually indoctrination and conditioning — is required before someone can accept bloodwashing. Children in IFB churches are taught from preschool forward that they are sinners who deserve God’s judgment and Hell; and that the only way to avoid Hell is to have the blood of Jesus applied to your life; and that the only way to Heaven and life eternal is through the blood of Jesus Christ. These children are frequently taught Bible stories about Old Testament blood sacrifices and the New Testament final blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. This training continues throughout their lives, even into adulthood. Is it any wonder, then, that IFB congregants believe, with nary a brain cell disturbed, that the forgiveness of sin, salvation, and eternal life all require blood sacrifice (and a miraculous raising of a dead person back to life)? This is all they have heard Sunday after Sunday their entire lives. Without the brainwashing, there would be no need for the bloodwashing. Apply rational, critical thinking skills, and the very notion of blood sacrifice fades into pages of history — a reminder of ancient cult beliefs.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Catch-All Bible Verses: I Will Set No Wicked Thing Before My Eyes

calvin and hobbes tv 2

Earlier, I wrote a post titled, Catch-All Bible Verses: Is the Human Body the Temple of the Christian God? Today I want to deal with another catch-all Bible verse, Psalm 101:3:

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Evangelical preachers love this catch-all verse because it allows them to demand of congregants abstinence from seeing and using things or having contact with people, churches, and ministries they deem “wicked.”  Whether something is wicked is determined by the pastor’s personal interpretations of the Bible, social, cultural, and religious experiences, and personal preferences. In other words, something is wicked because the pastor says it is, end of story. Since he is the man of God, the one chosen by Jesus to lead and teach the church, congregants are expected to believe and follow his “Biblical” pronouncements. If he says a certain behavior or inanimate item is wicked, then congregants are expected to nod their heads up and down and say, Amen brother, preach it!

Things labeled “wicked” are considered off-limits — Kryptonite to true Christians. Congregants, wanting to be obedient to God and his man, the pastor, bow — at least outwardly — to the subjective pronouncements of church leaders. Diversity of opinion and freedom are discouraged, if not outright forbidden. Congregants are expected to fall in line, obey, and follow Pastor Pied Piper. People who dare to think for themselves and publicly disagree with the man of God are told to either conform or leave. In some churches, non-conformity is viewed as rebellion against God’s established order. Erring congregants are brought before the church to be critiqued, judged, and disciplined. People are given two choices: excommunication or submission.

In 1994, I found myself, as the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, at odds with my fellow pastor, Pat Horner. (See I Am a Publican and a Heathen.) I disagreed with Horner — the founder of the church — on a number of issues, and due to the increasing hostility of our disagreements, I decided to resign from the church and move back to Ohio. Horner informed me that I couldn’t resign and that since the church decided whether I could be a member, it was up to them to decide whether or not I could resign. I, of course, refused to obey his pronouncements. I packed up my family and our meager belongings and returned to Ohio. As we were leaving, Horner had gathered congregants together for a disciplinary meeting. The subject? What to do about the Bruce Gerencser problem. I was deemed wicked and rebellious by Horner and his sycophants, and after the “facts” were presented, the church excommunicated their co-pastor. In their minds, my refusal to play by Horner’s rules was grounds for ex-communication. To this day, the church continues to consider me a heathen. My current atheistic beliefs and lifestyle are proof to them that excommunicating me was the right thing to do. Polly and our six children were not excommunicated. Horner and the church decided that my family was under my satanic control, and should not be held accountable for my “sins.”

My excommunication is a good example of a pastor determining what is “wicked” and then demanding that congregants not set that wicked thing before their eyes; the wicked thing being a flesh-and-blood human being. This catch-all verse can be used to label people, inanimate objects, and behaviors “wicked.” Pastors, then, are able to bend and mold congregants to their wishes; that is, unless they have a rebellious member such as Bruce Gerencser. Then, church discipline is used to cull the offender from the church and put the fear of God into the hearts of congregants.

The churches I pastored, with one exception, didn’t excommunicate rebellious church members. Instead, I was the gatekeeper. I determined who stayed and who had to go. If I determined through much prayer and fasting — just kidding, my determinations were based on my personal opinions, beliefs, and practices — that someone was no longer a good “fit,” I would encourage them to seek out a new church that would better meet their needs.

Over the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, I ran off a lot of good people whose only crime was that they disagreed with me on a matter of doctrine or practice. Instead of embracing differences of belief and practice, I demanded fealty to my beliefs, interpretations, and practices. For many years, I believed it was sinful to own and watch TV. In my mind, if there was ever a human invention that was wicked, it was the television. I am sure Polly and my children can remember our TV being unplugged and having a piece of paper taped over the screen that said, I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.

Several years ago, I wrote a post titled, The Preacher and His TV. Here’s some of what I had to say:

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it. How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps. What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.

….

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions? you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life: I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.

My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

calvin and hobbes tv

I replayed the aforementioned battle over TV numerous times in my life. The object of my righteous anger changed, but the end result was the same: that which I deemed wicked had to go, and if congregants really, really, really loved Jesus, they would agree with me and excise from their lives that which the man of God labeled sinful. The goal was holiness, so who wouldn’t want to be as pure and holy as possible? Congregants would try to conform to my pronouncements, but for the most part all this did was turn their lives into a game. Church members lived one way at church or in my presence and another way when away from the Holy Spirit — AKA the Preacher or Pastor Bruce. Little did they know that I did the same. Try as I might to live out the teachings of the Bible and to strictly govern my life according to my interpretations of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, I failed too; not because of a lack of desire or commitment; but because I set for myself and others an impossible standard. I was human, as were the people I pastored. Much like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, Evangelicals have wants, needs, and desires. They do what they do because they are human. No matter how much Evangelicals preach, pray, and deny their humanity, in time their “flesh” wins.

And that’s okay. Life is meant to be lived, not denied. Evangelicals love to say, only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. The humanist version, however, goes like this, only one life, twill soon be past, and then you’ll be dead. There’s no God, Jesus, church, or preacher to please. All that really matters is this present life. Love, laugh, and enjoy your brief existence on planet Earth. It’s the only one you’ll ever have. Each of us determines for ourselves how we want to live. As an atheist, I still have certain “wicked” things I won’t set before my eyes; you know, things such as women with size 20 bodies in size 10 spandex, fat men like me parading around in public with no shirt, and Fox News. That’s about it. 🙂 Each to his own, I say.

Did you grow up in a church where Psalm 103:1 was used to label things, people, and behavior wicked? Did your pastor demand congregants live according to his moralistic pronouncements? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Catch-All Bible Verses: Is the Human Body the Temple of the Christian God?

fat preacher

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers love to preach on “sin.” Thanks to their extra-Biblical rules and personal interpretations of the Bible, these preachers often have long lists of behaviors that are deemed “sinful.” No two preachers have the same sin list. Many IFB preachers believe it is a sin for women to wear pants, while other preachers believe it is okay as long as the pants aren’t form-fitting. The same could be said about whether it is a sin for men to have long hair, mustaches, or beards. Here’s one thing I know: take any behavior humans practice and it is likely you will find an IFB preacher somewhere who believes that behavior is a horrific sin against his version of the Christian God. (See An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook.)

IFB preachers are big on having “proof” for their beliefs. I attended and pastored IFB churches well into my late 30s, and I said and heard preachers say countless times, The BIBLE says or GOD says . . . These anti-sin crusaders are adept at molesting the Bible, grooming it so it will comply with their every authoritarian, controlling wish. Being raised in such an abusive environment conditions people in such a way that they believe the abuse is normal; that whatever the preacher says is true, straight from the mouth of God.

Take Ephesians 4:27; six little words that IFB preachers turn into rants against a plethora of behaviors they deem sinful. The verse says, neither give place to the devil. In other words, don’t let the Devil gain access, influence, or control your life. Seems pretty straightforward advice for people who believe there’s a Devil and hosts of demons walking to and fro on the earth, seeking whom they may devour — as the Bible says in I Peter 5:8. Unfortunately, however, many IFB preachers use this verse as a jumping off point, launching themselves into slobbery shouts against behaviors they deem to be “giving place to the devil.” Years ago, I heard a notable preacher at a pastor’s conference in Columbus, Ohio, preach on Ephesians 4:27. He made no attempt to exegete the text, nor did he pay any attention to its context. He had a truckload of axes he needed to grind, so after reading these six little words, he launched into a forty-minute sermon that labeled numerous human behavior sinful, including attending the wrong college, using the wrong Bible, or fellowshipping with the “wrong” preachers. As was the custom at such meetings, the preacher of the hour received countless AMENS and YOU PREACH IT, BROTHER! Never mind the fact that his sermon was thirty seconds of Bible and thirty-nine minutes thirty seconds of bullshit and personal opinion.

Another six-word verse used in the aforementioned way is 1 Thessalonians 5:22. Abstain from all appearance of evil, the inspired, inerrant King James Bible says. These kinds of verses are what I call a catch-all verses, verses meant to cover bad behaviors not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. I played high school basketball. My coaches taught me to avoid doing things during games that looked like fouls. If it looks like a foul, it is a foul, I was told. One of the most irritating moments in a game is to be called for a foul you didn’t commit. I may not have committed the foul, but in the eyes of the official it looked like I did, and that’s all that mattered (I much preferred the no blood, no foul rule of summer playground games). The six words of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 are the IFB version of if it looks like a sin, it is a sin.

For many years — eleven, to be exact — I picked up an older woman at her home and drove her to church. She was legally blind, and was twenty years older than I. She was not in the least attractive — at least to me, anyway. For the five years our church operated a Christian school, I would pick up this woman so she could watch our children while Polly and I taught classes. She was a wonderful, delightful woman who would do anything for us. Tragically, she was tragically killed a few years back in an automobile accident.

One of the resident Pharisees in the church took issue with me picking up this woman for church. She and her husband even floated a rumor that suggested this woman and I were having an affair. The legs of this rumor were 1 Thessalonians 5:22 — abstain from all appearance of evil. In the minds of accusers, the mere fact that a woman who was not my wife was riding in my car was sufficient grounds to accuse me of impropriety. This type of slander happened several times during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I had many faults, but having affairs was not one of them.

I refused to let such people turn my good works into “sins.” I knew that no matter what I did, someone might consider a certain behavior of mine sinful. Some colleagues of mine were so paranoid about giving the appearance of evil that they, for example, wouldn’t go a movie theater to see a G-rated kid’s movie because the theater also played R-rated movies. And if they happened to be seen by a church member coming out of the theater, why, that person might think they were watching one of the R-rated movies. This same logic applied to renting movies. I knew pastors who wouldn’t frequent a video store lest someone see them and think they were renting movies other than Bambi or Five Mile Creek. One former friend of mine, to this day, won’t eat in restaurants that serve alcohol. Why? Abstain from all appearance of evil. This same man would buy groceries at stores that sold booze and buy gasoline at convenience stores that sold beer and Hustler, but he refused to enter a restaurant that served the devil’s brew. This man loved to eat, especially meat, but because he was so worried about giving the appearance of evil that the best steak he ever ate was a gristle-filled, packing-grade, beat-all-to-shit piece of meat at Ponderosa — or as we in our home called the place, a-pound-a-grossa.

Another pertinent passage is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

According to many IFB preachers, 1 Corinthians 6:19,20 teaches that the bodies of Christians are temples in which God, the Holy Ghost lives. Non-Christians, of course, are empty temples in need of filling. This is another one of those verses that is used as a catch-all. Every IFB preacher has his own list of behaviors that he believes pollute the temple of God. The two biggies? Alcohol and tobacco.

There’s a trend in Evangelical circles for believers to trim the sharp edges of their social prohibitions. Drinking alcohol and smoking are two “sins” that have now been, in the eyes of some Evangelicals (especially Calvinists), deemed okay for Christians to do. Over the years, I have received numerous emails from Evangelicals wanting to impress me with their “worldliness.” These sinners want me to know that they are NOT like the Evangelicals I write about, that they have the freedom to drink an occasional glass of wine and smoke a stogie. In their minds, these behaviors only become sin when done to excess — with excess never being clearly defined. Evidently, one man’s excess is another man’s let’s party liberty. Jesse Morrell, an open-air (street preaching) missionary, released a two-minute YouTube video about cigar-smoking Calvinists (which is no longer available). Morrell will have none of this. In his mind, any form of smoking is s-i-n, an affront to his God. Every time someone takes a puff on a cigar, he is polluting God’s temple and aggravating the Holy Spirit’s asthma.

Growing up in the IFB church movement, I heard a lot of sermons about not polluting the temple of God. Believing that God lived inside — oh where, oh where does he live? and surely there’s a sex joke that needs telling about God being inside you — of everyone who was born again, preachers would preach thunderous sermons against drinking alcohol, smoking, or taking illegal drugs. I heard several preachers who even questioned taking prescription drugs, calling on sanctified followers of Jesus to ask themselves, do I really need to take these pills? I knew people who suffered from severe pain because they refused to take doctor-prescribed pain medications. Fearing addiction, polluting the temple of God, or wanting to show that they could valiantly suffer, these Christians chose to have bodies wracked with pain rather than risk God getting high. (Please see Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, Dinosaurs, and the Sin of Smoking.)

What I found ironic is that many IFB preachers are overweight. Some of them were as obese as I now am. These overweight, out-of-shape consumers of way too many fried chicken legs and slices of cherry pie would, using 1 Corinthians 6:19,20, rail against drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes — smoking won’t send you to Hell, but it sure will make you smell like you have already been there — while at the same time never mentioning overeating. My explanation of this fact back in my preaching days was simple: virtually every human behavior was a sin, so overeating was the one sin Baptists could indulge in without feeling guilty. IFB congregations love their chicken dinners, potlucks, fellowship meals, and numerous other food-focused events. Bless God, beer and Marlboros have never touched their lips, but fat-laden, high-calorie food? Bring me another plate, Sister Maybelle. It’s time to feed the Holy Spirit!

All that this shows, of course, is that the Bible can be used to “prove” anything is a “sin,” and once something has been deemed sinful, IFB preachers feel it their duty to regulate and control human behavior, making sure church members toe the line. Never mind the fact that most of the “sins” IFB preachers preach against are not mentioned in the Bible, or that some of the behaviors now deemed sinful were practiced by none other than Jesus himself two thousand years ago. Yes siree, Bob, Jesus drank alcoholic wine. I bet the man, the myth, and the legend even over-indulged a time or two, or fifty. It’s a Biblical and historical fact, yet some IFB preachers will go to great lengths to prove that Jesus drank Welch’s grape juice, and not fermented wine. The Bible speaks of Jesus hanging out with sinners, but he brought a juice box so he didn’t have to drink Boone’s Farm, right? Such is the logic found in many IFB churches.

It is said that Baptist Fundamentalism is no fun and all mental. Sadly, this line accurately describes what goes on in many IFB churches. Imagine being immersed in such a culture your entire life, and then one day waking up and realizing you were in a cult. That describes my wife and me. Polly was in her forties before she ever wore pants. We lived in Yuma, Arizona, at the time. One day, we were at Target and I suggested to Polly that she buy a pair of capri pants. Why, you would have thought I had asked her to strip and run naked through the store! After a bit of mental strong-arming, I convinced Polly to “sin.” No lightning from Heaven, no being struck dead by the Evangelical God. Polly survived, and now it’s to the point where I say, it would sure be nice to see you in a dress every once in a while. 🙂

Polly and I faced many such conflicts once we began moving away from Fundamentalism. The list of things we first started doing in our forties and fifties is long: drinking alcohol, watching R-rated movies, going to the movies, listening to secular music, and expanding our sexual practices, to name a few. Every “sin” abandoned brought first a sense of guilt, and then relief. For Polly and me, we are, in many ways, experiencing for the first time things that normal people experienced as teenagers or young adults. Our only regret is that we waited this long to enjoy life. Well, that and wishing we had young bodies to enjoy the carnal “sins” of our late-in-life teenage years. 🙂

This post has now passed the two-thousand-word mark, so it’s time for me to stop circling the runway and land this plane. Please share in the comment section your own experiences growing up in IFB/Evangelical churches. What were “sins” back in the day that you now heartily and lustily commit?

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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The Official Hymn of the IFB Church Movement: I Shall Not be Moved

ifb

Jesus Is My Saviour, I Shall Not Be Moved;
In His Love And Favour, I Shall Not Be Moved;
Just Like A Tree That’s Planted By The Waters,
I Shall Not Be Moved.

I Shall Not Be, I Shall Not Be Moved,
I Shall Not Be, I Shall Not Be Moved;
Just Like A Tree That’s Planted By The Waters,
I Shall Not Be Moved.

In My Christ Abiding, I Shall Not Be Moved;
In His Love I’m Hiding, I Shall Not Be Moved;
Just Like A Tree That’s Planted By The Waters,
I Shall Not Be Moved.

If I Trust Him Ever, I Shall Not Be Moved:
He Will Fail Me Never, I Shall Not Be Moved;
Just Like A Tree That’s Planted By The Waters,
I Shall Not Be Moved.

On His Word I’m Feeding, I Shall Not Be Moved,
He’s The One That’s Leading, I Shall Not Be Moved,
Just Like A Tree That’s Planted By The Waters,
I Shall Not Be Moved.

Glory Hallelujah, I Shall Not Be Moved;
Anchored In Jehovah, I Shall Not Be Moved;
Just Like A Tree That’s Planted By The Waters,
I Shall Not Be Moved.

In His Love Abiding, I Shall Not Be Moved;
And In Him Confiding, I Shall Not Be Moved:
Just Like A Tree That’s Planted By The Waters,
I Shall Not Be Moved.

Though All Hell Assail Me, I Shall Not Be Moved;
Jesus Will Not Fail Me, I Shall Not Be Moved;
Just Like A Tree That’s Planted By The Waters,
I Shall Not Be Moved.

Though The Tempest Rages, I Shall Not Be Moved,
On The Rock Of Ages, I Shall Not Be Moved;
Just Like A Tree That’s Planted By The Waters,
I Shall Not Be Moved.

Video Link

I Shall Not be Moved is the official hymn of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement. IFB churches, pastors, and colleges believe that they are protectors and defenders of “old fashioned’ Christianity; “old fashioned” meaning the Evangelical Christianity that was common in the 1950s. IFB adherents consider themselves anti-culture, prone to withdrawing from society, taking up residence in bubbles where every aspect of life is strictly and completely controlled. IFB churches are known for being fighting Baptists, willing to fight and divide over even trivial matters. In their world “trivial” doesn’t exist. Much like the song quoted above, IFB Christians put down deep roots, and no matter what comes their way they will not move.

Let me give you a good example of this from Bob Jones University, a fiercely Fundamentalist and separatist school. Some Bob Jones graduates, students, and board members are calling for the head of college president Steve Pettit. Even former president Bob Jones III is alarmed at what Pettit has done:

Over the last year some embarrassing, antithetical things, historically uncharacteristic things, which would have never happened in the past have occurred. From all over the country the Board received pleas from graduates, and others, to look into these matters fearing that the University had veered in its direction, and unique distinctives without which it would become irrelevant. Naturally, the Board was obligated, by reason of its existence, to step in. (Ministry Watch)

What, you ask, did Pettit do? Are you ready? Drum roll, please:

The opposition to Pettit has nothing to do with morality or doctrine, but with “preferences of Christian practice,” according to one alumnus. The alumnus, who talked to board members, said Pettit had been criticized for the style of worship music played at student chapel services, “immodest clothing” worn by female athletes, questionable performances and musical selections from the fine arts program, and even Pettit’s participation in a bluegrass music band. (Ministry Watch)

That’s right; alums, students, board members, and Jones III are outraged over music styles and women’s dress.

BJUgrass

This is a recent photo of BJUgrass, a college-affiliated bluegrass band started by BJU college president Steve Pettit. OMG! Look at these slutty women wearing blue jeans. Why, two of them have naked feet! Run, men, run, your virginity is at risk.

These are the kind of things IFB preachers get their panties in a bunch over. Pettit recognizes that the strict, legalistic standards of the days when the Jones clan rules the college with a rod of iron will no longer work. Despite their claims that they never change their beliefs and practices, IFB adherents do, over time, change. Oh, the change is slow, but it does happen. Pettit knows that the only fix for declining enrollment is to drag Bob Jones kicking and screaming into the 1990s. Pettit’s core theological beliefs are as abominable as they ever were, but he risks losing his job because he ran afoul of the morality police.

It will be interesting to see if Pettit’s contract is renewed. My money is on “no.” Here’s one thing I know about Fundamentalists: they eat their own. They have no room in their worldview for differences of belief, practice, or opinion. Truly, they shall NOT be moved.

For the record, BJUgrass is a talented group. I love bluegrass music, even though I can do without the religious lyrics. 🙂 After watching the video below, I can see why some Bob Jones folks are upset! OMG, uptempo, foot tapping, body moving music. Definitely not the BJU music from yesteryear. Bob Jones music has a style, and this ain’t it.

Video Link

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Bruce Gerencser