Menu Close

Tag: Midwestern Baptist College

Dear Bruce Turner

bruce turner
Bruce Turner

Bruce Turner was my youth pastor in the early 1970s. Bruce played a very influential part in my life, from my profession of faith in Christ to my call to the ministry. I originally published this letter in 2014. As with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

Dear Bruce,

I see you found my blog. I am sure the current state of my “soul” troubles you. My “spiritual” condition troubles many as they try to wrap their theological minds around my twenty-five years in the ministry and my present atheistic views.

I plan to address the comment you left at the end of the letter, but before I do so I want to talk about the relationship you and I had and the influence you had on my life.

You came to Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, fresh out of Baptist Bible College. Trinity was looking to hire a full-time youth pastor and you were the one they hired. You joined the staff of a busy, growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church.

You were there when I put my faith and trust in Jesus. You were there when I was called to preach. You helped me prepare my first sermon (2 Corinthians 5:20). You and I worked a bus route together and went out on visitation.

My parents had recently divorced and you became a surrogate father to me. When my Dad remarried and moved us to Arizona I was devastated. In a few months, I returned to Ohio, and in the late summer of 1973, I moved from Bryan to Findlay.

You helped me find a place to live, first with Bob and Bonnie Bolander, and then with Gladys Canterbury. For almost a year I went to school, worked a job at Bill Knapp’s, and immersed myself in the ministry of Trinity Baptist Church.  You were there to guide me every step of the way.

When I first moved to Findlay, a divorcee and her young daughter wanted to take me in. You wisely made sure that didn’t happen, knowing such a home would not be healthy for me.

When I became enamored with Bob Harrington (I loved his “It’s Fun Being Saved” record) you warned me about worshiping big-name preachers. You told me to pay attention not only to what they preached but what they didn’t.

You even catered to my personal desires. In the summer of 1973, I had a whirlwind romance with Charlotte Brandenburg. Charlotte was the daughter of the couple who came to hold a Super Summer Bible Rally (VBS) at Trinity. For one solid week, we spent every day with each other. I was smitten with Charlotte.

Later that same year you planned a youth outing to the Troy Baptist Temple, the church Charlotte attended. We went to see the movie, A Thief in the Night, but my real reason for going was to see Charlotte.

bruce gerencser 1971
Bruce Gerencser, 1971, Ninth Grade

When it came time to leave, I lingered as long as possible — I didn’t want to leave Charlotte. Finally, I heard a voice that said, Gerencser, get on the bus (for some reason you liked to call me by my last name). As I came hand-in-hand with Charlotte to the bus you turned away for a moment and told me to get it over with. I quickly kissed Charlotte goodbye and that was the last time I saw her. We wrote back and forth for a few months but, like all such relationships, ours died due to a lack of proximity.

You were my basketball coach. Trinity sponsored a team in the ultra-competitive high school Church Basketball League. One game I had a terrible night shooting the ball. I was frustrated and I told you I wanted out of the game. You refused and made me play the whole game. My shooting didn’t get any better but I learned a life lesson that I passed on to all my children years later.

I remember when this or that person in the youth group got in trouble. You and Reva were there to help them pick up the pieces of their lives. You were a kind, compassionate man.

I remember you helping us get a singing group started. I still remember singing the song Yesterday during a church service (YouTube video of Cathedral Quartet singing this song). I also remember you singing Fill My Cup Lord. Polly and I sang this same song for many years in most every church I pastored.

Who can ever forget your Youth Group survey? You anonymously surveyed our attitudes about alcohol, drugs, music, and sex and then you dared to use your findings in a sermon. I remember what a stir your sermon caused. You peeled back the façade and revealed that many of the church’s youth were not unlike their non-Christian peers.

I saw your bad side too. I remember the youth canoe outing where Reva lost her teeth. Boy were you angry. I felt bad for Reva, but in a strange way, I loved you even more. I saw that you were h-u-m-a-n. I already knew Gene Milioni and Ron Johnson, the other pastors, were human, having seen their angry outbursts, and now you were mortal too. (Remember I am writing this from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old boy.)

In May of 1974, I abruptly left Findlay, one week away from the end of school (a move that resulted in Findlay High School denying me credit for my entire 11th-grade year). Subsequently, I dropped out of high school. My Mom was in a world of hurt mentally and she needed me (and I needed her). In the fall of 1974, she would be admitted to the state mental hospital and my Dad would come to Ohio and move my siblings and me back to Arizona.

In 1976 I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I met my wife at Midwestern, and after leaving there in the Spring of 1979, we embarked on a twenty-five-year journey in the pastorate, a journey that took us to seven churches.

bill beard bruce turner 1986
Bill Beard and Bruce Turner, 1986

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. I put to use the things I learned from you, Dr. Tom Malone, and my professors at Midwestern. I put soul-winning first. I committed myself to being a faithful preacher of the truths found in the King James Bible. And “God” blessed the work I did. Somerset Baptist Church grew from a handful of people to over two hundred. We were the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County.

You and I reconnected and I had you come and preach for us. I believe it was a special service and the church was packed with people. The people loved you and I was thrilled to show off my mentor to them. I suppose, deep down, I needed your approbation.

You invited me to come and preach at your church, Braintree Baptist Temple in Braintree, Massachusetts. I now know that the real reason you had me come and preach was that you saw some things that concerned you. My workaholic, Type-A personality was good for growing a church but not so good for me or my family. Sadly, it took me many more years before I realized this.

We stayed in your home in Massachusetts and spent a few days traveling around the area. This was the first “vacation” our family had ever taken and it would be the last one for many years. I was too busy and thought I was too important to take any time off.  Even when I later took vacations, I never took them just to be taking one. I always had a church or conference to preach at while we were on “vacation.”

bruce turner 1986
Bruce Turner with our three oldest children, 1986

You and your dear wife treated us well. You gave us some “run-around” money and we went out to the Cape. My oldest children still remember dipping their feet in the cold waters of the Atlantic.

We parted, promising to keep in touch, but as with Charlotte and me years ago, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity. I suspect my later adoption of Calvinism ended any chance of a continued relationship.

I did write you several times in the 1990s. I read somewhere that you had Fibromyalgia, and when I was diagnosed with the same, I wrote you. You never responded. I was disappointed that you never wrote back, but I chalked it up to you being busy.

Bruce, I wrote all of this to say that you had a profound effect on my life. I will always appreciate what you did for me.

Now to your comment.

You wrote:

Sorry to see your blog and obvious bitterness toward Baptists. Not all of us preached an easy believing Gospel and certainly not all of us lived a perverted life. These King makers you blog about have never had my respect.

Reva and I have been happily married for 44 years. I am sorry your health is so bad and though you apparently have rejected what you once professed, I am praying for you to the God (not preachers) that I trust.

I sincerely hope your health improves and remember some good times in the old days. Stay healthy friend.

Bruce Turner

I am often accused of being bitter, angry, or some other negative emotion. On one hand, I have every reason to be bitter and angry, but my rejection of Christianity is not ultimately defined by anger or bitterness.

I rejected Christianity because I no longer believe the claims made about the Bible and its teachings. I came to see that the Bible was not inerrant or infallible. I came to see that belief in the God of the Bible could not be rationally sustained (this is why faith is necessary), and even if it could be, I wanted nothing to do with such a capricious, vengeful, homicidal God. I later came to see that the supernatural claims for Jesus could not be sustained either. While I certainly think a man named Jesus roamed the Judean hillside during the time period recorded in the Bible, the miracle-working Jesus of the Bible is a myth. At best he was a revolutionary, a prophet who was executed for his political and religious beliefs (and I still, to this day, have a real appreciation for the sermon on the Mount and a few other sayings attributed to Jesus).

My journey away from Christianity and the ministry took many anguish-filled years.  I didn’t arrive where I am today overnight. I looked at progressive Christianity, the Emergent church, liberal Christianity, and even universalism. None of these met my intellectual needs. None of them rang true to me. I made many stops along the slippery slope until I came to the place where I had to admit that I was an atheist (and I still think saying I am a Christian means something).

I am not a hater of Christianity. I have no desire to stop people from worshiping the Christian God. I am well aware of the need many people have for certainty. They want to know their life matters and they want to know that there is life beyond the grave. Christianity meets their need.  Who am I to stand in the way of what helps people get through life? It matters not if it is true. They think it is true and that is fine by me.

The Christianity I oppose is the Evangelical form of Christianity that demands everyone worship their God, believe what they believe, and damns to Hell all those who disagree with them. I oppose their attempts to turn America into a theocracy. I oppose their hijacking of the Republican Party. I oppose their incessant whining about persecution and their demands for special status. I oppose their attempts to deny some Americans of the civil and legal rights others have. (What happened to Baptists believing in a strict separation of church and state?) I oppose their attempt to infiltrate our public schools and teach Creationism or its kissing cousin, Intelligent Design, as science (this is what Christian schools are for). I oppose their attempt to make the Ten Commandments the law of the Land.

The kind of Christianity I mentioned above hurts people and hurts our country politically and socially. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has harmed countless people, sometimes scarring their lives so severely that recovery is almost impossible (and telling people to get over it is not the answer). I weep often as I read emails from people whose lives have been destroyed by the extremes found in the IFB church movement. My blog exists because I want to help people like this. I want them to have a safe place to work through the wreckage of their lives, lives ruined by their involvement in Evangelical and IFB churches.

In many ways, I am still a pastor. I want to help other people. The difference now, of course, is that I don’t have an agenda. I don’t have a list “truths” that must be believed. If I can help people walk the journey they are on with openness, honesty, and integrity, I am happy. I am concerned with their journey, not their destination (since I think we are all headed for the same final destination, death).

I too, Bruce, have prayed thousands of times to the Christian God, and yet, like the universe itself, he yawns and remains silent. Instead of hoping for a God to fix what ails me, I have chosen to embrace my life as it is. I have chosen to try to change what I can and accept what I can’t. Above all, I have learned that it is what it is.

Through this blog, I try to flesh out my understanding of the past and examine the path I am now on. I try to be open and honest. I don’t have all the answers and, for that matter, I don’t even know all the questions. All I know to do is continue to walk forward, however halting my gait may be.

I shall always remember our days in Findlay and I will always appreciate what you did for me. When I write my autobiography someday, there will be a chapter titled Bruce Turner.

Thank you.

Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Turner’s website

Good Baptist Boys Don’t Masturbate — Oh Yes, They Do!

trading eternal life for an orgasm

People raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches have heard countless sermons on what the Bible says about sex. Teenagers are warned about the dangers of petting, and many IFB churches forbid unmarrieds from having any physical contact with each other. Young men are characterized as weak horn-dogs and young women are viewed as gatekeepers who are responsible for any untoward sexual advances made by sexually aware men. Young women are given strict orders concerning how to dress and behave to ward off young men from having sex with them. One thing is certain: if a young IFB woman has sex with a man, it is almost always her fault.

IFB churches often have lengthy and complex rules that are used to keep unmarrieds from having sex. These rules follow young adults to the IFB colleges they attend. Here we have institutions filled with eighteen- to twenty-five-year-old men and women who, with hormones raging, are expected to refrain from physical contact with the opposite sex. This includes: no holding hands, no kissing, no hugging, no putting one’s arm around another, or sitting too closely to someone of the opposite sex. My wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. We were expected to maintain a six-inch distance from each other at all times. Even after we married, we were expected to refrain from public displays of affection lest we cause unmarried dorm students to “sin.” (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.)

One would think that IFB pastors and college leaders would approve of masturbation as a way of dealing with pent-up sexual frustration. Unfortunately, masturbation is also a sin. As an IFB teenager, I heard pastors who warned church teens about the dangers of masturbation, including, — oh yes they did! — warning that masturbation will make you blind. Now lest you think it’s just crazy IFB preachers who have a problem with masturbation, consider this quote by Evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll:

First, masturbation can be a form of homosexuality because it is a sexual act that does not involve a woman. If a man were to masturbate while engaged in other forms of sexual intimacy with his wife then he would not be doing so in a homosexual way. However, any man who does so without his wife in the room is bordering on homosexuality activity, particularly if he’s watching himself in a mirror and being turned on by his own male body.

And then there’s this excerpt from The Village Church’s website:

If one was [sic] to scan the horizon of current evangelical thought he or she would find a number of conclusions on the matter of masturbation. There are some who would claim that it is inherently neutral or even innately good and thus would teach that it is an appropriate way to express gratitude for sexual desire. Others would say that it is a veiled form of homosexuality, or that it is a clear violation of God’s law and thus always sinful. The spectrum is wide and the positions are quite varied.

Scripture never overtly addresses the issue of masturbation and thus any non-careful treatment of this topic must be avoided. If we define sin merely as transgression of God’s law then we might conclude that since Scripture does not explicitly prohibit the particular act of masturbation, it must therefore be non-sinful. However, sin is not merely transgression of the Scriptures, but also a transgression of the character and intent of God. As marriage is the only God-ordained means of expressing sexual intimacy, it would seem perfectly acceptable to declare masturbation a sinful act. This paper will seek to specify some common wisdom regarding masturbation and then commend a few questions which must be considered to faithfully examine the act.

  • Sexual immorality is specifically declared to be sinful.
  • Lust is specifically declared to be sinful.
  • Masturbation does not typically quench sexual desire, rather it intensifies it. As with most things, the more you feed it, the more it grows. In general, masturbation becomes habit forming and enslaves us to desires for greater sexual relief through greater self-indulgence rather than greater self-control. While the Spirit produces in us the fruit of self-control, the flesh desires indulgence and release. Self-control is not ascetic discipline, but is instead the response of a proper understanding of God’s creative design for our bodies.
  • Masturbation is outside of God’s intended design for sexual relations. Sex was created to be experienced between a man and woman who are joined together into the one flesh relationship of marriage; masturbation is taking the sexual desire reserved for this relationship and seeking to fulfill it through our own means. Masturbation sets a very destructive pattern for marriage. It places the emphasis on self pleasure rather than the desire for two to experience the fulfillment of sexual union together.
  • Masturbation is typically lustful – whether that be overt lust direct toward another or a lustful desire for relief.
  • Masturbation does not typically stir our affections for the Lord, rather it robs them.

….

It seems to the pastors and elders of The Village Church that masturbation is prohibited for a couple of reasons. First, we would prohibit the act based upon the provision of marriage as the only appropriate institution in which to express sexual intimacy. If you burn with lust or desire sexual intimacy, get married (1 Corinthians 7:9). Such is the gracious and holy prescription for sexual desire, the only prescription afforded by the Creator of all good desire. Second, we would counsel abstinence due to the overwhelming and innate relationship between masturbation and lust. Lust is extremely serious and not to be taken lightly, dismissed, or played with.

The Village Church is a Southern Baptist megachurch pastored by Matt Chandler. Chandler is also part of The Gospel Coalition — a Fundamentalist group with Calvinistic leanings. Men such as Danny Akin, Alistair Begg, Bryan Chapell, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Kent Hughes, Erwin Lutzer, Albert Mohler, Russell D. Moore, David Platt, John Piper, Philip G. Ryken, and Sam Storms are/were members, as were the infamous Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney. I can safely say that all of these men likely approve of Chandler’s anti-masturbation message. Ironically, Chandler is currently on “leave” from his church for having an inappropriate online relationship with a woman.

Jason DeRouchie, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, also believes masturbation is sinful. DeRouchie, writing for the Desiring God website, says:

Many medical professionals treat masturbation as a natural part of human development, and some church leaders have attempted to supply practical and theological reasons to masturbate. From a biblical perspective, however, I do not believe this approach pleases God, and I have seen the devastation that such a practice brings to both singles and marrieds alike.

….

When people reach orgasm outside the covenant-confirming act of lovemaking in marriage, the act becomes solely self-seeking, divorced from its purpose of creating intimacy. Sexual expression through orgasm should be an overflow of a desire for a spouse, not merely for a feeling or experience.

….

As noted, orgasm outside the marriage bed removes the relational, intimate nature of sexual expression, which is at the core of its purpose (1 Corinthians 7:2–3, 5). Refraining from masturbation helps to purify one’s appetites (1 Corinthians 9:27). It helps to ensure that a person’s desire to make love with his or her spouse is for nurturing covenantal intimacy through service and honor, and through receiving love from him or her (Matthew 20:28; John 13:14–16). It reminds couples that their spouse is not given as an object to be exploited, but rather as a covenant partner to be provided for, protected, and respected (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 33; see also Genesis 2:24).

….

Masturbation outside the marriage bed does not glorify God because evil desire always fuels it.

Whatever we do — including all forms of sexual expression — we are to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whether tagged as covetousness, lust, or sensuality, misplaced and mistimed desires do not glorify God, and failure to glorify God is always sin (Romans 3:23; 14:23). Paul thus charges, “Glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

In God’s good design, marital love is the only justified context for one to enjoy a sexual craving for orgasm, for only in this sphere does one glorify God by pointing to the beautiful union of Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:31–32). From this perspective, evil desire fuels all sexual expression outside the marriage bed, including masturbation, so we must treat all such acts as sinful and as deserving of hell (Matthew 5:29–30; Mark 7:20–23; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Galatians 5:17, 19–21; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5–6).

….

Jesus urged his followers to guard themselves from lustful masturbation, and Paul called Christians to control their sexual parts in holiness and honor.

Only “the pure in heart . . . shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Jesus appears to link masturbation with lust when he declares that looking at a woman with lustful intent is sin, and then charges his disciples to take extreme measures with their eyes and hands, so that they will preserve themselves unto life (Matthew 5:27–30). Similarly, Paul stressed that holiness seen in sexual purity was God’s will for every person, and then he urged believers to control their sexual parts in holiness and honor rather than in lust.

Masturbation outside the marriage bed witnesses a lack of self-control and is therefore sin.

Self-control is a new-covenant fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), a discipline that pleases God, nurtures hope for eternal life, and frees one from fear of future punishment (Romans 8:6–9, 13; 2 Timothy 1:7). Lack of self-control is sin and enables greater influence by the evil one (Proverbs 25:28; 1 Corinthians 7:5). Intentional orgasm outside the marriage bed through masturbation witnesses a lack of self-control and is therefore sin.

….

In light of these realities, I believe that anyone who masturbates outside the marriage bed sins and insults God’s glory in Christ. As men and women of God, therefore, may we not engage in it. Instead, may we look to our Lord for help and seek to honor him with our bodies by allowing our only outlet for sexual desire to be the covenant-nurturing intimacy of marital lovemaking (Job 31:1). May we also intentionally lead our children in such paths of righteousness for Christ’s name’s sake.

….

Please look up all the Bible verses given by De Rouchie. I’m sure you’ll want to immediately refrain from masturbating lest God tosses you in Hell for doing so.

ted cruz masturbation

And finally, here’s what Focus on the Family has to say about masturbation:

The point, as we see it, is the larger meaning and purpose of human sexuality. The Bible has two important things to say about this: first, sex is central to the process by which husband and wife become one flesh (Genesis 2:24); and second, sex and marriage are intended to serve as a picture or symbol of the union between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:31, 32). Sex, then, isn’t intended to be “all about me.” Rather, it’s designed to function as part of the give-and-take of an interpersonal relationship.

These theological perspectives should inform and shape our approach to the practical problem of masturbation. It’s important that we avoid heaping guilt on teenagers who find the urge to masturbate almost uncontrollable, and who might be driven to spiritual despair as a result. At the same time, we should do everything we can to help adolescents, young adults and married couples see that self-gratification is inconsistent with the purpose, goal and basic nature of sex. We shouldn’t condemn anyone for masturbating, but neither should we encourage them to continue in the habit. Why not? Because God has created men and women to experience sexual fulfillment on a much higher level – within the context of a marital relationship – and we don’t want anything to jeopardize their chances of knowing that joy to the fullest extent.

In connection with this last thought, it’s important to add that masturbation, due to the powerful hormonal and psychological components of human sexual behavior, can often become extremely addictive. Individuals who fall prey to this addiction may end up carrying it with them into adult married life, where it can become a serious obstacle to healthy marital intimacy. Further, masturbation is frequently involves indulging in sexual fantasy; and fantasy, if we are to believe the words of Jesus (Matthew 5:28), does represent a very serious breach of a person’s mental and spiritual purity.

What can be done to break this pattern? In many cases, masturbation originates as a self-soothing behavior. In other words, it’s a way of coping with pressures and seeking to meet the basic human need for peace, security, comfort and reassurance. If you have a problem with masturbation, you may want to keep this in mind and ask yourself whether it might be possible to replace this negative behavior with a more legitimate method of addressing the underlying need. For example, by talking things over with a friend, reading an engaging book, listening to music, pouring yourself into a constructive project or serving other people. Ultimately, the pain a person is trying to anesthetize through the practice of masturbation is just another manifestation of the “God-shaped vacuum” that exists at the center of every human heart. Only a relationship with the Lord can fill that empty space in a deep, lasting and satisfying way.

….

sin of masturbation

Yet, for all their preaching against the sin of Onanism, virtually all Evangelical teens, young men, and even married men, masturbate. I can’t speak to the level of masturbation among Evangelical women, but I suspect there is a lot more ringing of the devil’s doorbell going on than church leaders think there is.

Being raised in an anti-masturbation church environment caused quite a bit of problem for me as a teen and unmarried adult. Despite all the preaching against touching the opposite sex, when given the opportunity to make out with my girlfriend (or fiancée), I did so lustily. While I was a virgin when my wife and I married, I found myself rounding third and heading for home not only with Polly, but also with a girl named Anita. (The rest of my dating relationships were casual and of short duration.)

I was eighteen years old when I started dating Anita. She was twenty, a college student at a Conservative Baptist college in Phoenix, Arizona. Anita and I, for five short months, had a torrid relationship. She was much more experienced sexually than I was. On more nights than I can remember, we would park along a dark, rarely-travel back road and watch the night sky. Of course, we also did a lot of necking. Our intimacy stirred my sexual passions to such a degree that I would go home after dates and spend time praying to God for forgiveness, thanking him for not allowing us to give into our sexual desires. For me, not giving in included not masturbating. Anita and I later went our separate ways, but I’ll never forget the time we spent together.

Polly and I met as freshmen at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I was nineteen, she was seventeen. I planned on playing the field at college, but meeting Polly changed everything. I was quickly smitten by her beauty and quiet demeanor, and thus began our two-year battle with Midwestern’s Puritanical dating and physical contact rules. We refrained from breaking the rules for a time, that is until I went to visit Polly at her parent’s home in Newark, Ohio over Christmas break (1976). It was there, in Polly’s parent’s apartment complex laundry room, that we had our first kiss. Dating students were expected to keep the rules even during Christmas and summer break. No one, and I mean no one, did so.

Once back at Midwestern, Polly and I were faced with a dilemma. We wanted to continue touching and kissing each other; you know, as dating teens and young adults are wont to do. This meant we would have to secretly break the rules. We sought out couples to double-date with who were not averse to physical contact on dates. The vast majority of dating students — with but a handful of exceptions — broke the rules. Some students even slid into home and had sexual intercourse.

The Midwestern dorm was a den of raging hormones. With masturbation forbidden and touching the opposite sex grounds for expulsion, what were dating students to do? Why, they broke the rules with impunity, causing a repeating cycle of “sin,” guilt, repentance, and promises to God. I don’t know of anyone who successfully stopped breaking the rules once they started. IFB young adults were very much like their counterparts in the world — 1960s-1970s world. We, like our peers, wanted sexual intimacy without fear and guilt.

Masturbation, then, was common among male students in the Midwestern dorm. Each dorm room had two or three students, so “secretly” masturbating was out of the question (and there were enough dysfunctional Pharisees around that doing so would have been reported to the dean of men). With masturbating in their rooms out of the question, many male dorm residents used the privacy of the men’s showers to get sexual relief. More than one IFB luminary suggested quick, cold showers to ward off masturbatory temptations. Each dorm room had a periodic responsibility to clean the dorm bathrooms, including the showers. We used to joke about the sticky, slimy “stuff” in the showers. Yuck, I know, but have you ever been in a male dormitory shower room? You don’t want to go there!

IFB preachers and their Evangelical counterparts continue to preach against the sin of masturbation. Despite all their preaching, masturbation remains widely practiced. Why? Masturbation is a harmless, effective way to find sexual release. Wanting to obey God (and their preachers), Evangelical unmarrieds do their best to refrain from sexual intercourse before marriage. It’s cruel to say no sex before marriage and, at the same time, say masturbating is a sin.

how to stop masturbating

What really should happen, of course, is for Evangelical churches and colleges to begin endorsing safe, responsible sexual intimacy among unmarrieds. With the average age for young people marrying reaching twenty-seven, it is absurd to expect them to refrain from sex for ten to fifteen years before they tie the knot. Bruce, that’s FORN-I-CAT-ION, a horrible sin in the eyes of the thrice holy God.  Whatever “it” is or isn’t, preaching abstinence doesn’t work. Much like non-believing young adults, Evangelical unmarrieds, more often than not, have had sex before marriage. Instead of heaping guilt upon their heads, preachers, how about teaching young adults to embrace their, as you say, “God-given” sexuality? Maybe then, young adults might be less likely to flee the confines of Evangelical Christianity. I know, I know, the Bible says. Perhaps, it is time to rewrite or update the Good Book, striking from its pages all the sexually repressive rules and regulations. Imagine how much more attentive young adults might be on Sundays if they were able to have guilt-free sex the night before. And you too, Preacher Man. Think of how much easier your job will be if you don’t have to spend time railing against normal human sexual behavior — you know the behavior you engaged in back when you were a virile young man.

Were you raised in the IFB or Evangelical church? How did your church/college handle the subject of masturbation? Please leave 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.

Did My Philosophy of Ministry Change Over the Years I Spent in the Ministry?

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

Several years ago, my editor, Carolyn, asked me a question about how my philosophy of ministry had changed from when I first began preaching in 1976 until I left the ministry in 2005. I thought her question would make for an excellent blog post.

I typically date my entrance into the ministry from when I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in the fall of 1976. I actually preached my first sermon at age 15, not long after I went forward during an evening service at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, and publicly declared to my church family that God was calling me into the ministry. My public affirmation of God’s call was the fulfillment of the desire I expressed as a five-year-old boy when someone asked me: what do you want to be when you grow up? My response was, I want to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never had any doubts about what I wanted to do with my life. While I’m unsure as to why this is so, all I know is this: I always wanted to be a preacher.

Trinity Baptist Church was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). From my preschool years forward, every church I attended was either an IFB church or a generic Evangelical congregation. When I entered Midwestern in 1976, all that I knew about the Bible, the ministry, and life itself was a result of the preaching, teaching, and experiences I had at the churches I had been part of. These churches, along with my training at Midwestern, profoundly affected my life, filling my mind with theological, political, and social beliefs that shaped my worldview. These things, then, became the foundation of my philosophy of ministry.

The fact that I grew up in a dysfunctional home also played a big part in the development of my ministerial philosophy. During my elementary and high school years, I attended numerous schools. The longest spell at one school was the two-and-a-half years I spent at Central Junior High School and Findlay High School in Findlay Ohio. All told, I attended four high schools, two junior high schools, and five elementary schools. Someone asked me years ago if I went to so many different schools because my dad got transferred a lot. I laughed, and replied, no, dad just never paid the rent. While my father was always gainfully employed, the Gerencser family was never far from the poor house, thanks to nefarious financial deals and money mismanagement. I quickly figured out that if I wanted clothing, spending money, and, at times, lunch money, it was up to me to find a way to get the money to pay for these things. There were times that I sneaked into my dad’s bedroom and stole money from his wallet so I could pay for my school lunches. Dad thought that the local Rink’s Bargain City — which I called Bargain Shitty — was the place to buy clothing for his children. I learned that if I wanted to look like my peers that I was going to have to find a way to get enough money to pay for things such as Converse tennis shoes, platform shoes, and Levi jeans. In my early junior high years, I turned to shoplifting for my clothing needs. From ninth grade forward, I had a job, whether it was mowing grass, raking leaves, shoveling snow, or holding down a job at the local Bill Knapp’s restaurant. I also worked at my dad’s hobby shop, for which he paid me twenty-five cents an hour, minus whatever I spent for soda from the pop machine. (Please see Questions: Bruce, How Was Your Relationship with Your Father? and Questions: Bruce Did Your Bad Relationship with Your Father Lead to You Leaving Christianity?)

My mother, sexually molested by her father as a child and later raped by her brother-in-law, spent most of her adult life battling mental illness. Mom was incarcerated against her will several times at the Toledo State Mental Hospital. She attempted suicide numerous times, using everything from automobiles, to pills, to razor blades to bring about her demise. One such attempt when I was in fifth grade left an indelible mark, one that I can still, to this day, vividly remember. I rode the bus to school. One day, after arriving home, I entered the house and found my mom lying in a pool blood on the kitchen floor. She had slit her wrists. Fortunately, she survived, but suicide was never far from her mind. At the age of fifty-four, Mom turned a .357 Magnum Ruger revolver towards her heart and pulled the trigger. She bled out on the bathroom floor. (Please see Barbara.)

It is fair to say that we humans are the sum of our experiences, and that our beliefs are molded and shaped by the things we experience in life. I know my life certainly was. As I reflect on my philosophy of ministry, I can see how these things affected how I ministered to others. The remainder of this post will detail that philosophy and how it changed over the course of my life.

When I entered the ministry, my philosophy was quite simple: preach the gospel and win souls to Christ. Jesus was the solution to every problem, and if people would just get saved, all would be well. I find it interesting that this Jesus-centric/gospel-centric philosophy was pretty much a denial of what I had, up until that point, experienced in life. While the churches I attended certainly preached this philosophy, my real-life experiences told me that Jesus and salvation, while great, did not change people as much as preachers said they did. But, that’s the philosophy I was taught, so I entered the ministry with a burning desire to win as many souls as possible, believing that if I did so it would have a profound effect on the people I ministered to.

I also believed that poor people (and blacks) were lazy, and if they would just get jobs and work really, really hard, they would have successful lives. Lost on me was the fact that I worked really, really hard, yet I was still poor. There’s that cognitive dissonance. I would quickly learn as a young married man that life was more complex than I first thought, and that countless Americans went to work every day, worked hard, did all they could to become part of the American middle class, yet they never experienced the American dream. I also learned that two people can be given the same opportunities in life and end up with vastly different lives. In other words, I learned that we humans are complex beings, and there’s nothing simple about life on planet earth. I learned further that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. I would much later in life conclude that life is pretty much a crapshoot.

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. Somerset Baptist was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. I pastored this church for almost twelve years. During this time, the church grew from a first-service attendance of sixteen to an average attendance of over two hundred. The church also experienced a decline in membership over time, with fifty or so people attending the last service of the church. Somerset Baptist was located in Perry County, the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. Coal mines and stripper oil wells dotted the landscape. Unemployment was high. In the 1980s, unemployment exceeded twenty percent. It should come as no surprise then, that most of the members of Somerset Baptist were poor. Thanks in part to my preaching of the Calvinistic work ethic (also known as the shaming of people who don’t have jobs), all the men of the church were gainfully employed, albeit most families were receiving food stamps and other government assistance. During the years I spent at this church, I received a world-class education concerning systemic poverty. I learned that people can work hard and still not get ahead. I also learned that family dysfunction, which included everything from drug/alcohol addiction, domestic violence, child abuse, and even incest, often was generational; that people were the way they were, with or without Jesus, because that’s all they knew. I pastored families that had never been more than fifty miles from their homes. At one point, some members of our church took a church auto trip to Virginia, and I recall how emotional some members were when they crossed the bridge from Ohio into West Virginia. It was the years I spent in Somerset Ohio that dramatically changed how I viewed the world. This, of course, led to an evolving philosophy of ministry.

bruce gerencser 1990's
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s

While I never lost my zeal to win souls for Christ, my preaching, over time, took on a more comprehensive, holistic approach. Instead of preaching, get right with God and all would be well, I began to teach congregants how to apply the Bible to every aspect of their lives. I stop preaching textual and topical sermons, choosing instead to preach expositionally through various books of the Bible. I also realized that one way I could help the children of the church was to provide a quality education for them. Sure, religious indoctrination was a part of the plan, but I realized that if the children of the church were ever going to rise above their parents, they were going to have to be better educated. For my last five years at Somerset Baptist, I was the administrator and a teacher at Somerset Baptist Academy — a private, tuition-free school for church children. My wife and I, along with several other adults in the church, were the primary teachers. Our focus was on the basics: reading, English, writing, and arithmetic. Some of the students were years behind in their education. We used a one-room schoolhouse approach, and there were several instances of high school students doing math with third-grade students. We educated children where they were, regardless of their grade level. Polly taught the younger students, and was instrumental in many of them learning to read. Most of the students, who are now in their thirties and forties, have fond memories of Polly teaching them reading and English. Their memories are not as fond of Preacher, the stern taskmaster.

During the five years we operated the school, I spent hours every day with the church’s children. I learned much about their home lives and how poverty and dysfunction affected them. Their experiences seem so similar to my own, and over time I began to realize that part of my ministerial responsibility was to minister to the temporal social needs of the people I came in contact with. This change of ministry philosophy would, over time, be shaped and strengthened by changing political and theological beliefs.

In 1995, I started a new church in West Unity, Ohio called Grace Baptist Church. The church would later change its name to Our Father’s House — reflecting my increasing ecumenicalism. During the seven years I spent in West Unity, my preaching moved leftward, so much so that a man who had known me in my younger years told me I was preaching another gospel — the social gospel. My theology moved from Fundamentalist Calvinism to theological beliefs focused on good works. I came to believe that true Christian faith rested not on right beliefs, but good works; that faith without works was dead; that someday Jesus would judge us, not according to our beliefs, but by our works. While at Our Father’s House, I started a number of ministries that were no-strings-attached social outreaches to the poor. The church never grew to more than fifty or sixty people, but if I had to pick one church that was my favorite it would be this one. Outside of one kerfuffle where a handful of families left the church, my time at Our Father’s House was peaceful. For the most part, I pastored a great bunch of people who sincerely loved others and wanted to help them in any way they could.

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000

In 2000, I voted Democrat for the first time. As my theology became more liberal, so did my politics, and by the time I left the ministry in 2005, I was politically far from the right-wing Republicanism of my early years in the ministry. Today, I am as liberal as they come. Politically, I am a Democratic Socialist. To some people, depending on where they met me in life, my liberal beliefs are shocking. One man was so bothered by not only my politics, but my loss of faith, that he told me he could no longer be friends with me; that he found my changing beliefs and practices too psychologically unsettling.

I’m now sixty-five years old, and come next July, I will be married to my beautiful bride for forty-five years. Much has changed in my life, particularly in the last decade, but one constant remains: I genuinely love people and want to help them. This is why some people think I am still a pastor, albeit an atheist one. I suspect had I been born into a liberal Christian home I might have become a professor or a social worker, and if I had to do it all over again I probably would have pursued these types of careers, choosing to be a bi-vocational pastor instead of a full-time one. But, I didn’t, and my life story is what it is. Perhaps when I am reincarnated, I will get an opportunity to walk a different path. But, then again, who knows where that path might take me. As I stated previously, we humans are complex beings, and our lives are the sum of our experiences. Change the experiences, change the man.

I hope that I’ve adequately answered my editor’s question. This post turned out to be much longer than I thought it would be, much like my sermons years ago.

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.

Why Many IFB Preachers Don’t Have Peaceful, Contented Lives

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac
For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a subset under the broad banner of Evangelicalism. IFB pastors and congregants tend to be theological, political, and social extremists. While their theological beliefs differ little from garden variety Evangelicals, how they engage and interact with the broader religious and secular cultures sets them apart from other Evangelicals.

Millions of Americans attend IFB churches. Millions more attend IFB-like churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. In the late 1960s through the early 1980s, many of the largest American churches were IFB congregations. As our society moved leftward socially and morally, IFB pastors and institutions dug in their heels and refused to adapt or change. Thinking the methods they used were timeless truths that must be religiously practiced, IFB churches hemorrhaged members, losing them to churches that were not as intolerant or extreme. By the 1990s, once-filled megachurch auditoriums were empty, resulting in more than a few IFB churches filing for bankruptcy or closing their doors.

In the mid-1970s, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in the 1950s by Alabamian pulpiteer Tom Malone. Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, which at the time was one of the largest churches in America, boasting thousands each week in attendance. Midwestern was never a large college, but the institution was noted for turning out preachers and church planters. By the late 1980s, Midwestern and Emmanuel Baptist were in serious numerical and financial free fall. Eventually, Emmanuel closed its doors and Midwestern became a ministry of an IFB church in Orion, Michigan.

What happened to Emmanuel Baptist continues to happen to IFB churches today. IFB pastors, with few exceptions, are Biblical literalists who refuse to believe anything that contradicts their Fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. IFB pastors, to the man, believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Some pastors even go far as to say that only the King James Version of the Bible is the Word of God; that other translations are the works of Satan. Literalism and inerrancy are considered cardinal doctrines of the faith. This has resulted in IFB pastors and churches believing in all sorts of absurdities. IFB pastors are, without exception, creationists. Most of them are young earth creationists, believing that God created the universe in six twenty-four-hour days, 6,025 years ago. Bible stories meant to illustrate greater spiritual truths are often taken literally, resulting in IFB adherents believing, among a host of absurdities, that the earth was destroyed by a universal flood 4,000 or so years ago, the sun and moon stood still (Joshua 10:13), and all humans trace their lineage back to two people — Adam and Eve.  Their commitment to literalism forces IFB pastors to defend fantastical things. If the Bible says it, it’s true. End of discussion!

While there is some eschatological diversity within the IFB church movement, literalism demands that pastors believe and teach that the events recorded in the book of Revelation will one day literally take place. Most IFB church members believe that the return of Jesus to earth is imminent. A wide, deep apocalyptic river runs through the IFB church movement, leading to extreme love and devotion to God’s chosen people, Israel. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital excited IFB preachers — yet another “sign” that the return of Jesus is nigh. That this move could ignite the entire region and lead to war, is of little concern to IFB preachers. They believe that things must continue to get worse; that Jesus won’t come back to earth until the world stage is set for his triumphal return. This means that a war of epic proportions must occur, ending in Armageddon. While IFB preachers might not admit it out loud, I am certain many of them would welcome nuclear war, believing that such a war will make the world ready to embrace first the anti-Christ and then later Jesus when he returns to earth on a literal white horse to defeat the anti-Christ and Satan.

IFB pastors and churches are politically right-wing. If a survey were conducted with IFB adherents, I suspect surveyors would find that church members overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, and are anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-same-sex marriage, and very much in favor of returning prayer and Bible reading to public school classrooms (even though many of them either home school or have their children enrolled in Christian schools). In earlier years, the IFB church movement believed there was a strict separation of church and state. Today, many IFB pastors and churches no longer believe the wall of separation exists, and that the United States is a Christian nation — a country chosen by God. This thinking can be traced back to the late 1970s when IFB megachurch pastor Jerry Falwell, along with Paul Weyrich, started the Moral Majority. Since then, scores of IFB pastors have used their pulpits to advance certain (almost always Republican) political policies and candidates.

Bruce, I thought this post was about why IFB preachers (and many within their congregations) don’t have peaceful, contented lives. It is, but I felt it necessary to show how IFB pastors think and view the world before explaining why so many lack peace and contentment in their lives. If the IFB church movement is anything, it is anti-culture. IFB pastors see themselves as prophets or watchmen on the walls, warning all who will listen that God is real, the Bible is true, and Hell awaits all those who reject the IFB way, truth, and life. IFB preachers think it is their duty to wage war against Satan and the enemies of God. I can only imagine how hysterical IFB preachers are over LGBTQ acceptance, same-sex marriage, and the increasing prominence of atheism. Anything that challenges their beliefs must be refuted and turned back. Add to this the internecine warfare IFB churches are famous for, and it should come as no surprise that pastors find themselves constantly battling the “world”; the “forces of darkness and evil.”  Every dawn brings a new day with new battles that must be fought. Not only must IFB preachers wage war against Satan, cults, false Christianity, liberalism, and secularism, but they must also fight against those in their own movement who want to make IFB churches more “worldly.”

The battles, then, never end. Day in and day out, IFB pastors are in fight mode. And those who are not? They are labeled compromisers and hirelings only concerned with money and prestige. Is it any wonder then that IFB preachers rarely have peaceful, contented lives? Their lives are in a constant state of turmoil. Satan and the world are pushing against their beliefs and values at every turn. Not fighting back is considered cowardly, a betrayal of everything IFB believers hold dear. Go to any town in America with an IFB church and ask mainline pastors how they view the local IFB pastor and church. In most instances, mainline pastors will say that local IFB churches have extreme beliefs and seem to thrive on controversy. IFB pastors are viewed as outliers on the fringe of Christianity — haters and dissemblers who have no tolerance for anyone but those who adhere to their narrow beliefs and practices.

Separation from the world and separation from erring Christians is a fundamental doctrine within IFB churches. This too leads to never-ending angst and stress. Concerned over encroaching “worldliness,” IFB pastors often have long lists of rules (church standards) congregants are expected to follow. (Please read The Official Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Rulebook.) While the rules vary from church to church, they are meant to inoculate church members from becoming infected with “worldly” ideas.  The Apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Corinth, said:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)

1 John 2:15-17 states:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Verses such as these fuel IFB separatist beliefs and practices. The world is evil and must be, with few exceptions, avoided at all costs. This is why IFB pastors and institutions are at the forefront of the Christian school and home school movements. What better way to avoid worldliness than to wall off families and children from the influence of “worldly” schools?

I am sure that many, if not most, IFB preachers would disagree with me when I say they don’t have peaceful contented lives. However, I would ask them to consider whether their constant battles against sin, worldliness, liberalism, and compromise have robbed them of the goodness, peace, and contentment life has to offer; that constantly being at odds with not only the “world,” but also fellow Christians, is bound to exact an emotional toll. Thinking you alone stand for God, truth, and righteousness requires constant diligence lest compromise and “worldliness” creep in. Aren’t you tired, preacher, of being constantly at war with everyone and everything around you? Maybe it is time for you lay down your weapons of war and rejoin the human race. Countless former IFB pastors and church members have done just that. Tired of the constant turmoil and unrest, they finally said ENOUGH! and walked away. Most of them found kinder, gentler forms of faith, and a handful of ex-IFB believers have embraced agnosticism or atheism. Scary, I know, but not having to constantly be on guard lest Satan gain the advantage is worth the risk of judgment and Hell. I am sure God will understand. A wild, wonderful world awaits those who dare to lay down their Fundamentalist beliefs and walk away. If you are ready to say ENOUGH! and want help plotting a life of peace and contentment, I would love to help you do so.

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.

Just Remember Girls, No One Ever Got Pregnant Who Didn’t Hold Hands with a Boy First

angry preacher

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (I Corinthians 7:1-2)

The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth that unmarried men should not touch women. Touch not, want not, right? If men couldn’t contain their sexual desires, then to avoid fornication, they were to marry. In other words, marriage was a considered a cure for horniness. Countless Evangelicals have been taught that if they cannot contain their sexual desires — remember masturbation is a sin — then they should seek out someone of the opposite sex to marry. Hey Betty, I am horny. Will you marry me? 

Many Evangelical preachers use I Corinthians 7:1-2 as justification for the Puritanical rules they use to regulate physical contact between unmarried teenagers and young adults. I came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s. I was a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF), and First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio, also an IFB congregation. Public displays of affection were forbidden. This prohibition forced church teens to turn to secretive means to show their “love” to their boyfriend or girlfriend. We learned how to hold hands in church or on the church bus so no one could see us. There was something exciting about flaunting the rules, even more so when we spent time necking in out-of-the-way church hallways or in the shadows of the parking lot. My favorite necking time was Wednesday evenings when the adults were having choir practice. Church teens were left to their own devices, and many of us used the time for fornication-lite. One girl I dated for a short time told me recently that I was the first boy who kissed her — in the back of the church while the adult choir was practicing Bill Gaither’s song, He Touched Me. 🙂

I had many such dalliances, but that is as far as they went. I was a true believer, so I limited my physical intimacy with the opposite sex to hand-holding and kissing. I was one of the few summer-of-love children who didn’t get laid before marriage. Conversations in recent years with people who were in the youth group with me have revealed that there was a lot of fucking and sucking going on, but none involving preacher boy Bruce Gerencser. I assumed, at the time, that everyone was on the straight and narrow as I was. I now know that their spirits were willing, but their flesh was weak. 🙂

In the fall of 1976, I entered Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. A dark-haired beauty by the name of Polly also enrolled for classes. Polly’s goal was to find herself a preacher boy to marry. I thought of college as being a place of plentiful dating opportunities, and I planned to play the field. I dated a girl by the name of Peggy for several weeks and then turned my romantic interest towards Polly. We quickly hit it off, even though we had little in common. She was a quiet, shy preacher’s daughter. I was a motormouth with a bit of a rebellious streak. Polly would tell me later that she thought of me as her “bad boy.” Polly’s parents saw me as a bad boy too; bad as in not good for their innocent daughter. They spent the next eighteen months trying to discourage our relationship, even going so far as to tell Polly that she couldn’t marry me. A short time after this papal edict, Polly informed her parents that we were going to get married with or without their blessing. This was the first time Polly stood up to her parents. If my mother-in-law had to sum up her son-in-law in one sentence, I suspect she would say, Bruce is “different” and he ruined our daughter.

Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist institution. Established by Dr. Tom Malone in the 1950s, Midwestern had a strict code of student conduct. Single students were required to live in the dormitory, and every aspect of dorm life was strictly regulated. Students could only date on the weekends and had to double-date. Dating couples were not permitted to touch each other — no hand-holding, kissing, snuggling, or other displays of affection. Keep in mind, most of the dorm students were ages 18-30 — the raging hormones years. And it was the 1970s, the freaking 1970s!

i would rather be fornicating

Single students were expected to keep at least six inches distance from the opposite sex — six inches being the width of a church hymnbook. (Please read Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule.) Breaking the six-inch rule brought severe punishment. Repeated infractions resulted in expulsion. While there were a handful of couples who self-righteously obeyed the letter of the law, most students quickly learned who they could double-date with without getting in trouble for holding hands with or kissing their date. More than a few students rounded third and slid into home, with several girls becoming pregnant — or so it was rumored anyway. Students caught fornicating were immediately expelled from school.

Polly and I married after our sophomore year. A year later, we left Midwestern and moved to Bryan, Ohio — the place of my birth. A few weeks after our move, I became the assistant pastor at Montpelier Baptist Church — a young, growing IFB church. After spending seven months at Montpelier Baptist, I resigned and we moved to the Central Ohio community of Newark. Polly’s dad was the assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. Her uncle, the late James Dennis, was the pastor. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) We joined the Baptist Temple, and when Polly’s father decided to start a new church in nearby Buckeye Lake in 1981, we joined him. I became his pastoral assistant (primarily working with the youth of the church), a position I held until June of 1983.

In July of 1983, I started a new IFB church in Somerset, Ohio — thirty miles south of Newark. I would pastor Somerset Baptist Church until March of 1994. At every stop during my young ministerial career, I was exposed to and worked with men who believed it was a grave sin for unmarried teens and young adults of the opposite sex to touch each other. I carried this belief into my first full-time pastorate. Church teens likely remember Pastor Bruce preaching against all forms of physical/sexual intimacy between unmarried people. I am sure they remember me famously saying — oh how I wish I could forget — “no girl ever got pregnant who didn’t hold hands with a boy first!” (Yes, I really did say this, and I did so many times!)

I viewed hand-holding as a sexual gateway drug. I thought that if I could shame teens and young adults into not touching one another (or not touching themselves), then there would be no fornicating going on and no teen pregnancies. I pastored Somerset Baptist for eleven years. During that time, no unmarried church female became pregnant. Does this mean that none of the church unmarrieds was having sex? Of course not. Having talked with a handful of church teens who are now in their 30s and early 40s, I now know that they were lustily ignoring my preaching. I am grateful that there were no unwanted pregnancies that I knew of, though I suspect several girls might have gotten pregnant and secretly had abortions.

Is it any wonder that so many IFB married couples have sexual dysfunction? What in my preaching taught these couples a healthy, scientific, rational view of sex? Nothing that I can think of. Instead, I used guilt and shame in my attempts to get them to conform to an anti-human, irrational view of human sexuality. Thousands of Evangelical preachers continue to preach the Thou Shalt Not Touch gospel to church teenagers. Ironically, these preachers didn’t heed this gospel when they were teens, and they surely have to know that neither will their church teenagers. Hormones, need, and desire win every time. Wouldn’t it be far better to teach unmarrieds how to own their sexuality, preparing them for the day when they engage in sex for the first time? I know, the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says, but Christians have been trying to live by Puritanical beliefs about sex for centuries. How is that working out? Perhaps it is time to shelve the Bible with its archaic sexual prohibitions and embrace a healthy, natural view of sex. Sorry preachers, but everyone IS doing it. You can live in denial all you want, but the fact remains that by age twenty-one, eight out of ten teenagers have had sex, including teens in your congregation. And now that people are waiting until their mid-twenties to marry, I can safely say that most of the singles listening to your antiquated sermons have likely engaged in some form of sexual activity.

Were you raised in an Evangelical/IFB church? How did your pastor handle I Corinthians 7:1-2? What do you remember your pastor saying about necking and premarital sex? Did you feel shame and guilt when your pastor preached about sex? Please share your experiences 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.

Short Stories: The Most Shocking Thing I Ever Learned About My Wife!

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

Note: My wife gave me permission to publish this article.

Polly and I met at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the fall of 1976. She was seventeen and I was nineteen. Both of us came from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) backgrounds. While I came from a dysfunctional home, Polly grew up in a stable, solidly middle-class home: home ownership, vacations every year, and new cars every few years. Polly’s dad worked for the railroad. In 1972, at the age of thirty-five, he believed God was telling him to go to Midwestern and study for the ministry. In fact, he believed God was going to kill him if he didn’t. So the Shope family left Bay City and moved to Pontiac. Polly started high school at Oakland Christian School, graduating second in her class. Polly’s dad graduated in May 1976 and moved to Newark, Ohio to become the assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple (pastored by Polly’s uncle, Jim Dennis). Polly went home for the summer and returned to Pontiac in August to enroll in classes.

Both of us briefly dated someone else before acting on the mutual infatuation we had with each other. We quickly fell in love, and on Valentine’s Day, 1977, I proposed and Polly said yes. Two years later, we stood before God and man at the Baptist Temple and said our vows. Forty-four years later we are still (mostly) happily married.

Polly and I are best friends. I genuinely enjoy spending time with her. As most senior couples can attest, we know each other quite well. We’ve spent countless hours talking about our lives before and after marriage. You would think by now that we would know everything about each other. Yet, several weeks ago, I was reminded of the fact that Polly is still holding on to a few secrets.

One weekend evening we were talking about living in the Midwestern dorm. Somehow, we got on the subject of masturbation. I told Polly that masturbation was common among men living on the three dormitory wings. Least favorite job? Cleaning the showers. 🙂 Yuck.

I asked Polly if any of the girls on the women’s floor masturbated. She replied, uh huh. I then asked, did you ever masturbate? thinking my shy, backward, pure-as-the-driven snow Polly would say no. Imagine my surprise when she said yes! At that moment, I gained a fresh appreciation for my wife. First, even admitting that out loud was a big deal, and second, her willingness to do so shows we are finally free from the Puritanical shackles of our Fundamentalist past. What’s next, finally admitting that she really wanted to taste the champagne I dumped down the drain during our honeymoon at the French Lick Hotel — a “sin” she denies to this day, one we playfully “argue” about. 🙂

For all their moralizing, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christians are quite normal, and that includes sexual self-gratification. Too bad most of them won’t admit it.

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, What Happened to Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan?

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac
For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

I recently received the following email from a reader named Dan:

I wrote before but never received any response. I just had some curious questions and have had them for a while so thought you might know. I am from originally Downriver and former IFB. Whatever happened to Dr. Tom Malone Jr ? I could be wrong but it seems like in the early 80’s he vanished and Emmanuel Baptist seemed to sort of brush him under a rug.

Another question why do you think Emmanuel [Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan] fell apart so rapidly? I know we are aware of the “personality cult” etc. but is there a more unique reason why it just collapsed? It was collapsing while Dr. Malone was still alive, yet First Baptist Church of Hammond and some other IFB [churches] didn’t collapse. (Yes many did) I am just sort of mystified about Emmanuel. I know Temple [Baptist Church] moved out of Detroit and was successful in Plymouth not being IFB. I was just curious about your opinion on the unique collapse of Emmanuel.

Dr. Tom Malone was the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan. Malone started Emmanuel in 1942, and by the late 1960s, the church was one of the largest congregations in the United States. Malone, a graduate of Bob Jones College started his ministerial career as an evangelist. His travels later brought him to Pontiac where he pastored several churches. In 1942, according to his biographer Joyce Malone Vick, Malone resigned from Marimont Baptist Church due to “denominationalism, doctrinal heresy, and liberalism.” From this point forward until his death on January 7, 2007, Malone was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, evangelist, and conference speaker. One month later, his son Tommy, Jr., also an IFB preacher, died.

Malone started Midwestern Baptist College in 1954. Advertising itself as a “character-building factory,” Midwestern was primarily a training school for preachers. Not a large school, perhaps 400 or so students in its heyday, Midwestern trained hundreds of men, sending them across the country and to foreign countries to start IFB churches. My wife, Polly, and I attended Midwestern from 1976-1979. While we left Midwestern before our senior year due to Polly being pregnant and me being out of work, the college and Malone made a deep impression on our lives. Polly’s father, the late Lee Shope, attended Midwestern from 1972-1976, and her uncle, the late James Dennis, the former pastor of Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, attended the college from 1961-1965.

Midwestern students were required to attend Emmanuel and work in its ministries. Without the college’s students, the church’s ministries would have collapsed overnight. I worked in the bus ministry, taught Sunday school, worked in the youth department, and held afternoon services at SHAR House, a drug rehabilitation facility in Detroit. Polly worked in the bus ministry her freshman year and sang in the choir. She also was part of a traveling handbell group for two years. All students were required to attend church every time the doors were open, tithe and give offerings, and go on visitation one or more times per week. Students were required to account for in writing their “works” over the past week.

By the time, Polly and I arrived at Midwestern, Emmanuel was already in decline numerically and financially. By 1980, Emmanuel was no longer listed on Elmer Towns’ list of the largest churches/Sunday schools in America. Other IFB churches topped the list, with First Baptist Church of Hammond, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, and Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, coming in one, two, and three. Most of the churches on the 1980 list were IFB and Southern Baptist congregations. Today, only First Baptist of Hammond remains on the list. Hundreds of IFB megachurches have either drastically declined in attendance or closed their doors. Emmanuel was one such church.

By the late 1980s, Emmanuel was in steep decline. Sometime in the 1990s (I can’t find the actual date), Malone left the church, leading to wholesale attendance loss. Several years later, Malone would return, hoping to save his baby, but it was too late. Emmanuel eventually closed its doors. The church’s and college’s properties were sold off. Who received the proceeds from these sales is unknown. Midwestern, as an institution, moved classes to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. While Midwestern technically “exists,” it only has a handful of students (and may be defunct) and its website has not been updated in two years.

Dan wants to know what, exactly, happened that led to Emmanuel’s decline and closure. What follows is my educated opinion on the matter.

Tom Malone was a southerner. His preaching style reflected the style found in southern churches. Malone was a powerful preacher, an orator, and a pulpiteer. In the 1940s-1960s, southerners who had come north to Pontiac and Detroit to work in the auto plants found their way to Emmanuel — a church that felt and sounded like home. These well-paid workers helped fund Emmanuel, as did students who worked at the various auto plants. (Students could get a job at Truck and Coach by going to the admission office and putting their name on a list. Polly’s dad worked at Truck and Coach for four years. More than a few students, after graduating from Midwestern, stayed in Pontiac, unwilling to leave their good wages for the paltry wages of the ministry.) By the 1980s, the auto industry was in decline. One need only visit Detroit to see the ravages of this decline. Job losses caused numeric and economic problems for churches, including Emmanuel. Fewer people meant fewer workers. Less money meant less building maintenance and staff. During the three years Polly and I attended Emmanuel and Midwestern, pleas for money were common. By 1980, buildings and buses needed major repairs. The bus fleet, in particular, was a rolling junkyard. Emmanuel ran 60-80 busses in the 1970s, though the fleet reduction was already underway by 1979, starting with the routes operated in Detroit. The church and college continued to hemorrhage people and money throughout the 1990s, leading to their eventual closure.

As student attendance at Midwestern declined, Emmanuel had problems staffing their various ministries. Increasing pressure was put on students to do more. While Polly and I attended Midwestern, we were expected to find non-student church members to fill in for us when we went home for Christmas. Good luck with that. Non-student church members were largely uninvolved in Emmanuel’s ministries. Without Midwestern students, the Sunday school and bus ministry would have collapsed overnight.

Fewer students meant less money and fewer workers. Students gave thousands of dollars to the church, and funded college fundraising campaigns. Without student money and work, Emmanuel had a big problem on their hands. Non-student members had become passive members, expecting students to do most of the work. Now that college enrollment was in precipitous decline, members were expected to pull their weight. This did not go over well. As offerings declined due to attendance loss, Malone cut ministries, hoping to stave off serious financial problems. By this time, I suspect the big money givers that helped fund Emmanuel’s rise to megachurch status were gone. In the Detroit metro area, there are IFB churches on virtually every street corner. Get pissed off at one church? Move on to another. Church hopping is common.

While Malone was a charismatic preacher, he could also be a bully, as could many church and college staff members. This kind of behavior is common in IFB churches and institutions. The IFB church movement revolves around men. These men can be quite demanding and controlling (generally speaking). Abuse and trauma are common — just ask former IFB church members. I suspect that over time, church members were less willing to put up with Malone’s authoritarianism. Rumors abound, but what actually went on behind closed doors remains unknown. Malone’s devotees continue to paint him as a saint, but Doc was a flawed, sinful man, a product of his time. I wish the people who knew him the best would be honest about the past. I have in my possession the book, Tom Malone: The Preacher From Pontiac. Written by his daughter Joyce Vick, the book glosses over Malone’s character flaws, foibles, and church problems. Such books are common in IFB circles. Man is deified, lest people think IFB preachers have feet of clay.

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

IFB churches and their pastors are known for being unmovable and unchangeable. Malone was no different. As the culture around him changed socially, religiously, politically, and economically, Malone dug his feet in, vowing to defend “old-fashioned” Christianity — “old-fashioned” meaning 1950s. I suspect his immovability caused some members to seek out churches that weren’t as ardently Fundamentalist.

Take the things mentioned in this post and combine them, you have a recipe for a church’s decline and death. Scores of IFB churches that once ran thousands in attendance are now closed. Other IFB churches are shells of what they once were. In time, unless it changes, the IFB church movement will decline to such a degree that it will become a footnote in history. Every IFB church and institution I was associated with is in numerical and economic decline. Gone are the days of burgeoning attendances and overflowing offering plates. Now, it seems, IFB churches are focused on “quality, not quantity,” a philosophy they roundly decried 30-40 years ago.

Tom “Tommy” Malone, Jr. was a graduate of Midwestern, its vice president, and the church’s assistant pastor. While Malone, Sr. has an earned doctorate from Wayne State University — a rarity in IFB circles — Malone, Jr, had an honorary doctorate granted to him by his father. (Malone, Jr. did have an earned master’s degree from the University of Detroit. Midwestern gave numerous supporters of the college honorary doctorates. If you happen to come across a Midwestern grad parroting the fact he has a doctorate, it is most likely an honorary degree or a doctorate from an unaccredited diploma mill. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor.)

I know very little about what happened to Malone, Jr. I know he and his wife divorced. Malone, Jr. according to rumors, wandered away from the Lord, later returning to the fold. Malone, Jr, died one month after his father, in February 2007.

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 IFB Lineage

ifb

Dear Lord,

I know that I am a sinner.

I know that you died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead three days later.

I am sorry for my sin.

Please forgive me of my sin and come into my heart to save me.

In Jesus’s name,

Amen

And so it began.

In 1962, the Gerencser family started attending Scott Memorial Baptist Church in El Cajon, California. My parents soon made public professions of faith, becoming born again. It was not long after that I also was saved. One Sunday, a junior church leader asked if there was anyone who wanted to ask Jesus into their heart. With my black and white saddle shoes tucked under my seat so no one could see I was wearing “girls” shoes, I timidly raised my hand. A worker came to where I was seated and shared the plan of salvation with me. After the worker was finished, she asked me if I wanted to get saved. I said “yes.” I prayed a prayer similar to the one above, and sixty seconds later, I went from a child of Satan to a child of God. I was five. Forty-five years later, I walked out of the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, never to return to a Christian church for anything other than weddings and funerals. After several months of pondering what it was I had become, I publicly admitted I was an atheist.

It is not uncommon for Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) children to make several salvation decisions. At the age of fifteen, during a revival meeting at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, the “Holy Spirit,” also known as Evangelist Al Lacy, brought conviction of sin and need of salvation into my heart, leading me to step out of my pew during the invitation and come forward to get saved. Ray Salisbury, a deacon, knelt with me at the altar, sharing with me the Romans Road. He asked me if I would like to ask Jesus to save me, and I said yes. And just like I did a decade before, I prayed a simple prayer, asking Jesus to forgive me, save me, and come into my life. From that moment forward, I knew I was a born-again Christian. Two weeks later, I went forward again and professed to the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. Four years later, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. While at Midwestern, I married an IFB pastor’s daughter. In 1979, we left Midwestern, moving to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth. Two weeks later, I started working for Montpelier Baptist Church, an IFB church affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC).

I am a product of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. That said, there came a time when I left the IFB church movement. One of the biggest problems I have as a writer is with people pigeonholing me. They will read a few posts and then make sweeping judgments about my life. Recently, I had a mainline Christian dismiss something I said because of my IFB past. In his mind, once a Fundamentalist, always a Fundamentalist. I reminded him that my comment was Bruce speaking NOW, not Bruce from forty years ago. My thinking and understanding have greatly changed over the years, but some people refuse to see this, instead dismissing me with a wave of their hands, saying, “Once a Fundy, Always a Fundy.” Instead of granting me the space to grow and mature, they pick out a particular moment on my timeline and say, “whatever Bruce believed in _______ (put in a year), he still believes today.” This is patently untrue and reveals that my interlocutor has not invested the requisite time necessary to understand my story and evolving beliefs. There’s not much I can do about this. We live in a day of quick takes and sound bites. This, of course, leads to erroneous conclusions about my life. In this post, I want to talk about my IFB lineage and at what point in my life I stopped being an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. My IFB beginning is easy to pin down: Scott Memorial Baptist Church and its pastor Tim LaHaye. However, pinning down when I was no longer IFB provides a greater challenge. At what point did I completely abandon IFB beliefs and practices? Or did I ever completely repudiate the IFB? Answering these questions requires more work than just pointing to a pin on my timeline.

As a child, I regularly attended IFB churches with my parents and siblings. Two of the churches we attended were Bible churches — IFB churches without the label. We also attended a Southern Baptist church plant, Eastland Baptist Church, in Bryan. There’s no material difference between an IFB church and an SBC church. In fact, many of the early leaders of the IFB church movement were Southern Baptist and American Baptist pastors who left their respective conventions because of perceived liberalism.

In the summer of 1970, we moved to Findlay, Ohio. I was thirteen. We started attending Calvary Baptist Church (a GARBC congregation), but after a couple of months, we moved toTrinity Baptist Church on Trenton Ave. Trinity was affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF), one of the many IFB fellowship groups. It was at Trinity that I immersed myself in all things IFB, especially after I got saved in the fall of 1972. My parents divorced in April 1972, leaving the church, never to return. I, on the other hand, embraced Trinity as my family. To their credit, they gave me the love and support my parents were unable or unwilling to provide.

In the spring of my tenth-grade year, my dad moved us to Tucson, Arizona. As I had been taught to do by my pastors, I quickly sought out a new church to attend, the Tucson Baptist Temple, pastored by Louis Johnson. Tucson Baptist was affiliated with the BBF.

Over the next three years, I moved back and forth between my dad’s home and my mom’s. Every time I moved, I found a new IFB church to attend. I was attending First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio in the fall of 1976 when I moved to Pontiac to attend Midwestern.

Midwestern was a small, but well-respected IFB college. Dr. Tom Malone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church (one of the largest churches in the country at the time) started Midwestern in 1954. The college advertised itself as a “character-building factory.” Midwestern was IFB through and through, so it should come as no surprise that when I left Midwestern in the spring of 1979, I was a hardcore, King James-only, Fundamentalist Baptist preacher.

As I mentioned above, the first church I worked for was Montpelier Baptist Church. After seven months, we moved to Newark, Ohio, the home of Polly’s parents. For a while, we attended the Newark Baptist Temple, pastored by Polly’s uncle, James Dennis. (The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis. In the early 1980s, Polly’s father, who was an assistant pastor at the Baptist Temple, decided to start a new IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. Never feeling at home at the Baptist Temple, Polly and I decided to help Dad with his new church. For the next two years, I was the assistant pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church (also called the “Bean Pot Church” because we met a former restaurant building called the Bean Pot).

In July 1983, I started a new IFB church in Somerset, Ohio. I pastored this church for eleven years. I was still quite IFB when I started Somerset Baptist Church, but by the time I resigned and moved to San Antonio, Texas to co-pastor Community Baptist Church I had stopped identifying as IFB. What happened?

Two things happened that forced me to reconsider my sincerely held IFB beliefs. First, there was the Jack Hyles scandal. (Please see The Legacy of IFB Pastor Jack Hyles.) Hyles was an IFB demigod who pastored the largest church in the United States, First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. In 1989, Hyles was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with his secretary:

Accusations of improper sexual behavior and financial and emotional abuse are elements of Hyles’ legacy. In 1989, the paper The Biblical Evangelist published a story “The Saddest Story We Ever Published,” accusing Hyles of sexual scandals, financial misappropriation and doctrinal errors. These charges were denied by Hyles who deemed them “lies.” He was accused of a decade long affair with his secretary, Jennie Nischik, who happened to be the wife of a church deacon, Victor Nischik.

It was during this time that rumors were circulating about the predatory behavior of David Hyles, Jack Hyles’ son. David Hyles was a youth pastor at First Baptist. During his tenure, he sexually preyed on teen girls. Jack Hyles covered up his son’s crimes and shipped him off to a church in Texas. While there, he had numerous affairs with church women. David Hyles’ immoral behavior has continued over the years, yet there are still IFB preachers who support him.

The Hyles scandals caused an uproar in the IFB community. Some people were Pro-Hyles, others were not. I was not. The blind loyalty and support for both Jack and David Hyles troubled me, causing me to question whether I still wanted to be associated with the IFB church movement.

The second thing that happened was the release of John MacArthur’s seminal book, The Gospel According to Jesus. This book fundamentally changed how I viewed the gospel. I concluded that I had been preaching a truncated, bastardized gospel, one that was little more than one-two-three-repeat-after-me easy believism (also called decisional regeneration). Coming to this conclusion forced me to radically change my beliefs and practices. I embraced Calvinism and started preaching expositionally. Some of my colleagues in the ministry deemed me a liberal and broke fellowship with me. I made new friends with men associated with Sovereign Grace and Reformed Baptists. Was this the moment I left the IFB?

Many of my new friends were former IFB and Southern Baptist pastors. Much like me, these men saw the bankruptcy of the IFB church movement and wanted nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, my new friends and I left the IFB, but its worldview was still very much with us. I knew a number of Sovereign Grace and Reformed Baptist pastors who were every bit as Fundamentalist as the IFB pastors/churches they despised.

It would not be until the early 2000s that I was finally free from the IFB church movement. While I was still Evangelical theologically, I was no longer KJV-only, I no longer stressed social Fundamentalism, and I was quite ecumenical in my approach to other Christians. I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio from 1995-2002. Started as Grace Baptist Church, I changed the church’s name to better reflect its moderation and ecumenism. My theological and political beliefs continued to move leftward. I voted Democrat in 2000, a sure sign of my increasing liberalism. I also started to question what it meant to be a Christian. I concluded that it was our works that determined whether we were Christians, not mental assent to a list of propositional facts.

In 2005, I pastored my last church, Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. Victory was affiliated with the SBC. One Sunday a theologically astute young man who was a member of Somerset Baptist Church in the early 1990s visited Victory to hear me preach. He told me that my preaching had changed; that I was preaching a “social gospel.” I am sure this alarmed him. The focus of my preaching had indeed changed. While I still affirmed the central claims of Christianity, my focus had changed. I came to see that the religion of Jesus was all about good works, not right beliefs; that our eternal destiny was determined by how we lived, not what we believed.

While I was still an Evangelical preacher, I had abandoned the beliefs and practices of the IFB church movement. In the eyes of some of my colleagues in the ministry, I was a liberal or an apostate. I will leave it to others to judge my life. All I know is that I loved Jesus to the end. My theology may have changed, but my love for my Savior never changed — until it did.

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.

I Made the Mistake of Checking Out the Facebook Profiles of Former IFB College Friends

gary keen bruce mike fox greg wilson midwestern baptist college 1978
Gary Keen, Bruce Gerencser, Mike Fox, Greg Wilson, Midwestern Baptist College, 1978

Last Monday, I tested positive for COVID, as did my wife and our oldest daughter. Thanks to vaccines — we are triple-vaxxed, having received our last vaccination in May — and, in my case, Paxlovid, an anti-viral drug, we avoided hospitalization and possible death (a likely outcome for me without the vaccines). While Bethany is back to her ornery self and Polly is mostly recovered, save for a nagging cough and sinus drainage, my recovery, as expected, has been much slower. I still have a good bit of congestion and I am quite weak. Much better? Absolutely! All praise be to science! But, I suspect it will take some time before I return to my normal sickly self where pain is my biggest problem.

I have spent a lot of time in bed over the past nine days trying to combat weakness and fatigue. Of course, spending time in bed doesn’t necessarily lead to sleep. Pain often precludes me from sleeping, and when it does, I try to “rest,” watching YouTube videos, catching up on recorded TV programs, and surfing the Internet. Sometimes, resting eventually brings sleep, other times it doesn’t. I learned long ago to not fight my body when it comes to sleep.

Last night, I stumbled upon the Facebook profile of a man I knew back when both of us studied for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. This man, a megachurch pastor’s son, was an usher for my wedding. After perusing his Facebook wall, I took a look at his friend list. (Yes, his list was public, a really bad idea.) I noticed that he was friends with lots of people who were also students at Midwestern back in the day. With lots of time on my hands — after all, how much time can you spend reading the Bible and praying 🙂 — I started stalking my former college friends, looking at what they had posted on their Facebook walls. Click, scroll, click, scroll, click, scroll . . . and as I did so, I found myself becoming increasingly depressed. After looking at three dozen or so profiles, I concluded that I had made a mistake; that knowledge wasn’t power.

Every person — and I mean EVERY — was still either an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian, or, at the very least, a right-wing Evangelical. The hatred and vitriol toward the “world,” atheists, liberals, progressives, Democrats, socialists, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama was on full display. To the person, they were Trump-loving, gun-loving, forced birthers, anti-LGBTQ Republicans. And proudly so. I looked in vain for anyone who was a Democrat, a member of a mainline Christian denomination, or who had lost their faith altogether. Taken together, what I found was a monoculture, a cult-like enclave where fealty to rigid, narrow, unbending beliefs was required for admission. What troubled me the most was the devotion to Trump. Even after two impeachments and the January 6th hearing, they still supported the disgraced immoral ex-president.

This shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. If I could break free from IFB thinking, why can’t others? What is it that insulates Fundamentalists from reality? Is there nothing that can change their minds? I recognize that I am, for whatever reason, an exception to the rule, as is my wife. Sure, scores of IFB congregants exit stage left, moving on to friendlier confines, but it seems that few pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and professors are willing to do so, especially once they have been in the ministry for decades. Why is that?

While I found myself depressed over what I saw, I also felt gratitude. I escaped. I found a way to break free. Am I special? Nope, I am lucky. While I continue to struggle with guilt and regret over the harm I caused my family, my counselor reminded me that life could be a lot worse for me and my family had I remained Pastor Bruce Gerencser, the family patriarch. Imagine how life might be for Polly and our children had I remained in the ministry; had I maintained my rigid Fundamentalist beliefs and practices? I can’t think of any way in which that would have been a good thing. So, while it depresses me that my former college friends have matured very little from the days we roamed the hallways of the Midwestern dormitory, I am grateful that I escaped.

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