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Tag: Midwestern Baptist College

The Midwestern Baptist College Preacher Who Became an Atheist

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977
Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977, Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet, the only time we were allowed to be closer than six inches apart.

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly also attended the college, as did her father and uncle before her. While not as large or as prestigious as institutions such as Bob Jones University, Hyles-Anderson College, Tennessee Temple, or Pensacola Christian College, Midwestern is known for turning out men who are church planters and fierce defenders of the Word of God. Started in 1953 by Dr. Tom Malone, Midwestern once had an enrollment of over 400 students. These days, the enrollment is less than a hundred, and in 2010 the college moved its location to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan.

At one time, Midwestern advertised itself as a character building factory. Over the past 67 years, this factory has graduated hundreds of men and women, each devoted to the IFB faith. While some of the students who attended Midwestern no longer wear the Fundamentalists label, I do not know of one Midwestern attendee who is a liberal. As best I can tell, there is only one man who became a liberal, and that is yours truly. Certainly, many churches pastored by Midwestern-trained men are Evangelical and to the left of the Fundamentalism taught by the college, but none of them, as far as I know, are liberals theologically. Even more amazing, as far as atheism is concerned, I am the only person who attended Midwestern and entered the ministry as a Midwestern-trained preacher who is now an atheist.

i am special

I am soooo special.  From time to time, I see in the logs search strings such as “the Midwestern Baptist College preacher who became an atheist.” Google? This site is number one, top of the page. Same with Bing.  Even when generically searching for “Midwestern Baptist College Pontiac” this site is listed twice on the first page, fifth and sixth, respectively. I am quite sure that the prominence of my writing in search engine results for Midwestern irritates the hell out those who still profess fealty to the IFB religion and who still view the late Tom Malone as a demigod.

I am as rare as a real science exhibit at Ken “Hambo” Ham’s Creationist Museum. I am sure there are others who attended Midwestern who no longer believe, but I am the only person who has dared to poke his head above the proverbial ground and say so.

Are you a former Midwestern attendee or graduate who is no longer a Christian? I would love to hear from you. Please use the Contact Form to send me an email. Much like the search for extraterrestrial life, surely, somewhere there’s another former Midwestern student who no longer believes. I’m listening. . .

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

What Motivated Me to Work so Hard for Jesus

working for jesus

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected

It all started with my belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. I considered the Bible the road map for navigating through a Satan-dominated, sin-plagued world. The Bible, along with the Holy Spirit who lived inside of me, was my God’s way of speaking to me and telling me what to do

According to how Evangelicals interpret the Protestant Bible, every person is a vile sinner under the just condemnation of God, deserving eternal punishment in Hell/Lake of Fire. The Bible also says that God graciously provides a way for us to have our sins forgiven and avoid eternal punishment. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth to be the final atonement for our sins. Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross, and three days later rose again from the dead, conquering death and the grave. Our salvation and eternal destiny rest squarely on the merit and work of Jesus. He, and he alone, is the way, truth, and life. Through the preaching of the Word (the Bible) and the work of the Holy Spirit, God calls out to sinners, saying, repent and believe the gospel. Those who hear his voice are gloriously saved and made part of the family of God.

The Bible taught me that as a God-called, God-ordained minister of the gospel, I had the solemn obligation to preach the good news to everyone. Work for the night is coming. Leave everything for the sake of the gospel. Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ. These clichés were not mere words to me. They were clarion calls to forsake all, including my family and economic security, and follow Jesus.

Every church I attended, every youth group I was a part of, and every summer youth camp I went to, reinforced the belief that God wanted (demanded) one hundred percent of me. All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give, says the old gospel song, I Surrender All. I went to an Evangelical Bible college to train for the ministry. Every class curriculum, every professor, every chapel speaker shouted out to students:

Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.
We never will give in while souls are lost in sin
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.

My wife went to college to get an Mrs. degree. She believed God wanted her to marry a preacher. Polly knew that she would have to make sacrifices for the sake of her husband’s call. She was taught that Jesus, the ministry, and the church came first. She was also taught that her husband was specially chosen by God to proclaim the good news of the gospel. She was encouraged to read biographies of great men and women of faith to learn how to deal with being married to a man of God. Polly and I entered marriage and the ministry knowing God had called us to a life of self-denial and devotion to the work of the ministry. Hand in hand, we embraced the work we believed God had set before us.

I consider 1983-1994 to be the high point of my ministerial career. I pastored a growing, busy Evangelical church. Sinners were being saved, baptized, and joining the church. Backsliders were being reclaimed. God was smiling on our work. Not only was this my observation, but it was the observation of my colleagues in the ministry. God was doing something special at Somerset Baptist Church.

During this time, I did a lot of preaching.  A typical week for me looked something like this:

  • Jail ministry on Tuesday
  • Nursing home ministry on Wednesday
  • Midweek service on Thursday
  • Street preaching 2-3 days a week
  • Teaching the adult Sunday school class
  • Preaching twice on Sunday

We also had a tuition-free Christian academy, open only to the children of church members. In addition to my busy church preaching schedule, I held revival services and preached at bible conferences and pastor’s fellowships. I was motivated by what I believed the Bible taught me about the work of the ministry.  I looked at the life of the apostles and thought that they were a pattern to follow. Run the race, Paul told me, I. I was totally committed to what I believed was God’s calling on my life.

Some Christians object and say “you are the one who worked yourself to death. Don’t blame the Church or God. OUR pastor doesn’t work this way. He takes time for his family. Blah. Blah Blah.” Even now, as an atheist, I find such objections lame. If the Bible is true, if what it says about God, sin, salvation, death, Hell, and Heaven is true, how dare any preacher or any Christian for that matter, treat the gospel of Jesus Christ so carelessly.  How dare any preacher not burn himself out for the sake of those in need of salvation. No time for busywork. No time for golfing with your fellow preachers.

More than a few pastors are lazy hirelings who do just enough to keep from getting fired. They pastor a church for two or three years, wear out their welcome, and then move on down the road to another church. I have no respect for pastors who defend their laziness by stressing the importance of balance in their lives. Where do they find such a notion in the Bible they say they believe? Jesus doesn’t call them to balance. He calls them to forsake all and follow him.

One of the reasons I see Christianity as a bankrupt religion is the lackadaisical approach Christians and their spiritual leaders have towards matters that supposedly have eternal consequences. Most of what goes on in the average church is meaningless bullshit. Call a business meeting to decide on the color of the paint for the nursery walls and everyone shows up. Implore people to come out for church visitation and the same three or four people show up.

Why should I take the Bible, God, Jesus, salvation, Heaven or Hell seriously when most Christians and pastors live lives that suggest they don’t. It took leaving the Christian church and leaving the ministry for me to realize that most of what I was chasing after was nothing more than a fool’s errand. Many of the ex-ministers who read this blog know what I am talking about. So much of life wasted, and for what? Too bad I had to be fifty years old before I realized what life is all about. Too bad I sacrificed my health on the altar of the eternal before I realized that there is no eternity, just the here and now.

From a psychological perspective, I understand that my type-A, workaholic personality made it easy for me to be the preacher I came to be. Whether it was pastoring churches or managing restaurants, I worked day and night, rarely taking time off for family or leisure. I still have the same tendencies, the difference now being that the list of things that matter to me is very small. Polly matters. Family matters. My neighbors matter. But matters of eternity, Heaven, and Hell? Nary a thought these days. If the Christian God exists, then I am screwed, and more than a few of the readers of this blog are too. However, I don’t think the Christian version of God exists, so I am investing all my time, money, and talent — how many times did you hear that phrase in a sermon? — on the only life I have — this one. I will leave it up to the gods and my family to do what they will with me after I am dead. Of course, depending on what happens to me after death, I could come back from the dead and write a book titled, “Heaven is for Real and Boy are the Atheists In Trouble.”

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

Basketball Memories: The Day Goliath Slew David at Midwestern Baptist College

bruce gerencser 1971
Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade, 1971. My slim and trim playing years, six foot, 160 pounds.

Regular readers know that I am a sports addict. The Coronavirus pandemic has caused all sorts of serious sports withdrawal symptoms for me. Why, just this past weekend, I searched the satellite for some sort of fix, only to find myself watching — I kid you not — a cherry-pit-spitting contest and lawnmower racing. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I played team baseball from little league through tenth grade. I was always good enough to make the team, but I certainly wasn’t an all-star. I suspect that the reason coaches gave me a second look was the fact that I was left-handed. That and I could run. I couldn’t hit a breaking ball to save my life, so my coaches typically used me to bunt and run like hell.

After high school, I played slow-pitch softball. My increasing girth made me a much better hitter, though I was slower afoot as the years went by. I was in my early thirties when, thanks to knee problems, I was forced to stop playing.

While baseball is my favorite sport to watch, basketball was my favorite sport to play. I enjoyed the physicality of the game, and skill-wise, I was a decent player. Again, being left-handed was a huge advantage in a game dominated by righties.

I attended three high schools during my playing years: Rincon High School in Tucson, Arizona, Riverdale High School in Mt Blanchard, Ohio, and Findlay High School in Findlay, Ohio. I attended Rincon for the last half of my tenth-grade year and Riverdale for the first few months of my eleventh-grade year. Riverdale, a small, rural high school, was a perfect spot for me to ply my basketball talents. Unfortunately, before practice started, the church family I was living with at the time decided it was time for me to move. This meant I had to move back to Findlay, a school in which I had no chance of making the basketball team.

At the time, Findlay High School was one the largest schools in Ohio. Hundreds of boys would turn out for basketball tryouts, hoping to land a handful of open bench spots available any given year. I didn’t stand a chance making the team, so I decided, instead, to play for Trinity Baptist Church in a hyper-competitive high school basketball league. This league allowed boys who didn’t make local high school teams an opportunity to play. I was one such boy.

My coach was my youth director, Bruce Turner. In a 2014 post titled, Dear Bruce Turner, I wrote:

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.

All told, I played basketball for Trinity for three years.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. As a freshman, I was asked if I was interested in playing on the college basketball team. The very fact that I was asked to play should tell you all you need to know about the quality of Midwestern’s team — think intramural basketball. Midwestern, with an enrollment of 400 or so students, played other nearby small Christian colleges. My college basketball career quickly ended one day during practice as I was defending one of my teammates. As he went up to shoot the ball, I jumped, swatting the ball. Unfortunately, the middle finger on my left hand hit the ball, causing the finger to dislocate. Coach couldn’t reset it, so I was taken to the emergency room. Not only was the finger dislocated, but it was also jammed into the knuckle. The ER doctor, at first, couldn’t reset the finger either. Finally, he said, “Bruce, this is going to hurt.” He made sure the bed was locked so it couldn’t move, put his foot on the bottom of the bed, grabbed my finger, and violently jerked it back into place. And man was he right. Over the years, I had numerous sports injuries, but this one hurt like hell.

six inch rule midwestern baptist college 1970s

While this injury ended my Midwestern playing career, it almost caused me to get expelled from school. In a 2015 post titled, Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule, I wrote:

Another time I was written up for breaking the six-inch rule. The six-inch rule was a rule meant to keep unmarried men and women from getting too close to each other. Six inches is about the width of a songbook or a Bible and unmarried students were not allowed to be closer than a songbook or a Bible from each other.

I was on the college basketball team. One day during practice I slapped at a basketball and severely dislocated a finger. I was rushed to the emergency room and the doctor was able to fix the dislocation. I’m left-handed and the dislocation had occurred on my left hand.

Every male student was required to wear a tie to class. I found it very difficult to tie a tie with one hand, so one day I asked my fiancé to tie my tie for me. In doing so, we broke the six-inch rule. Someone anonymously turned us in for breaking the six-inch rule and we had to appear before the disciplinary committee to answer the charges against us.

We each received twenty-five demerits for breaking the six-inch rule. We were warned that if we broke the six-inch rule again, we would be expelled from school. Little did they know that we had been breaking it for quite some time.

During my sophomore year at Midwestern, the college’s athletic director — a friend of mine at the time and the soloist at my wedding — scheduled a basketball game with Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio — an NCAA Division III school. When I saw that Ohio Northern was on the schedule, I asked the athletic director, a Michigander, if he knew anything about the school. He did not. I suggested that he might want to rethink playing the game, but he assured me it would be fine. “Fine” turned out to be Midwestern’s basketball team playing George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry at Little Big Horn. Talk about slaughter.

midwestern baptist college vs ohio northern 1978 (2)

Today, I tracked down the stats for this game. Ohio Northern won by 107 points, 141-34. Ohio Northern made 66 field goals, accounting for 132 of their 141 points. This means they shot, at most nine free throws. As you can see, try as they might Midwestern’s team not only couldn’t shoot the ball, neither could they play defense.

Polly and I attended this game. I still remember the pall that came over the crowd as Ohio Northern eviscerated the home team. After the game, Dr. Tom Malone, the president of Midwestern and the pastor of nearby Emanuel Baptist Church, was livid over the loss. Malone, himself, was a cutthroat, physical basketball player. I played several games with Doc. He definitely subscribed to the “no blood, no foul” school of play — as did I. I have no doubt that he wanted to pummel the athletic director over Midwestern’s embarrassing loss to Ohio Northern. Expulsion was a real possibility, I thought at the time. Fortunately, the athletic director survived Doc’s wrath.

After Midwestern, I continued to play basketball into my early thirties. I typically played year-round, often two to three times a week in the winter. During the summer, I would play outside pick-up games. I suspect that it was playing sports that kept my weight relatively in check for so many years. As with softball, knee problems — which I battle to this day — put an end to my basketball career. I remember seeing an orthopedic surgeon in the early 1980s about my knees. He told me, “either quit or you’ll be in a wheelchair someday.” I ignored him for another year or so, but once I reached the place of having to crawl up the stairs to get to our bedroom, I decided to hang up my Converse sneakers and call it a day.

These days, my involvement with basketball is limited to watching my grandchildren play junior high and high school basketball and photographing boys’ and girls’ games for nearby Fairview High School. There’s still nothing like an exciting prep school game on a cold winter’s night. Here’s to hoping that such games will be played yet again in 2020-2021. I sure don’t want to be spending the winter months watching “sports” I have never heard of on ESPN.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

I’m a Prophet, Preacher, or Evangelist Because I Say I Am

calling of god

Have you ever wondered how, exactly, an Evangelical man (or, in some instances, woman) becomes a prophet, preacher, or evangelist? What’s the process one goes through to become a spokesperson for the Evangelical God? In this post, I will detail how someone becomes an out-front spokesperson for the one true God.

Salvation Experience

First, a candidate for the ministry must be a saved/born again/bought-by-the-blood child of God. A prospective prophet, preacher, or evangelist must a clear, definitive testimony of salvation. An added bonus is a life before Jesus that includes drug use, drunkenness, sexual deviance, Satan worship, or atheism. The more fantastical the testimony, the more likely it is that congregants will think a person is a bona fide man of God.

Baptism

Second, a candidate for the ministry must be baptized. This is the first step new believers take in their new life with Christ. Some Evangelical sects also believe that ministerial candidates must give evidence that they have been baptized with the Holy Ghost. Such Spirit baptism is often evidenced by speaking in tongues.

Calling

Third, a candidate for the ministry must know that God is calling him to be a prophet, preacher, or evangelist. How does one know that God is calling him? Well, he just knows. Calling is a feeling, a psychological/emotional impression. I was saved and baptized at the age of fifteen. Several weeks after my conversion, I felt led by the Holy Spirit to go forward and confess to the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. The church was thrilled over my confession of ministerial ambition. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon. For the next thirty-five years, I never one time questioned my calling. I just knew beyond all shadow of doubt that God had called me into the ministry. I was as sure of this calling as I was the fact that Jesus had saved me from my sins.

Educational Requirements

While some Evangelical sects have educational requirements for ministerial candidates, other sects, along with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Charismatic, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, and non-denominational churches have no requirements others than salvation, baptism, and calling. Countless Evangelical churches are pastored by men and women who don’t have a lick of post-high school education. The same can be said for evangelists. Years ago, I attended a revival meeting at a holiness church near the Baptist congregation I was pastoring at the time. The evangelist, an older man, would have his wife read the Bible for him. I had seen this tag-team approach before, but this evangelist was having his wife read because he, himself, could not read. Yet, I am sure if I asked if he was a God-called preacher of the gospel, he would have said with great assurance and certainty, yes.

Within the broad, diverse Evangelical tent, it is not uncommon to find prophets, preachers, or evangelists with little or no relevant ministerial training. God saved and called them, end of discussion. And as long as they believe God called them, that is all that matters. Sure, scores of Evangelical ministers have college educations. However, a closer examination of their educational backgrounds often reveals that they attended unaccredited Bible colleges or institutes (local church-based schools). These institutions often provide perfunctory, superficial educations that are little more than Sunday school classes. Even for men who attend accredited Evangelical colleges and universities, the academic level of their instruction is often woefully lacking. Readers might be surprised to know that the overwhelming majority of Evangelical ministerial graduates lack through, comprehensive training in the teachings of the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible. All too often, ministerial students take survey classes that are little more than shallow commentaries on the Bible. Worse yet, most Evangelical pastors are not fluent in the original languages the Bible was written in — Hebrew and Greek.

Ordination

Many Evangelical sects and churches use ordination as a gateway of sorts for men and women who say God has called them to be a prophet, preacher, or evangelist. Ordination is a stamp of approval put on the candidate by the denomination or church. In the IFB church movement, churches often call for a council of like-minded pastors to come together to examine the prospective ministerial candidate. Often, these examinations are little more than rubber-stamp approvals of the candidates. Who are they to say to no to what God has said yes to. How does the council know God has called a person into the ministry? Do they get some sort of impression or feeling that affirms to them that the candidate is a God-called prophet, preacher, or evangelist? Nope. they just take the candidate’s word for it.

External Evidence

Certainly, sects, churches, and ordination councils look for external evidence of calling. Is the prospective prophet, preacher, or evangelist active in the church? Does he or she have a passion for soulwinning? Does he have the requisite skills necessary to preach and teach? You would think this last point would be essential, but having listened to scads of sermons, I can tell you that a lot of pastors and evangelists are terrible communicators. In the early 1980s, I helped my father-in-law start an IFB church in Buckeye, Lake, Ohio. Dad had a real passion for evangelism, but his sermons, to put it bluntly, were atrocious. Dad graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in 1976. Somehow, he got all the way through college without ever learning to construct an outline and deliver a coherent sermon. Outlining always came easy for me, so I sat down with Dad one day and tried to teach him how to make a sermon outline. Sadly, my instruction did not stick. How he got through Midwestern without learning the basics of sermon construction is impossible to comprehend. I suspect that to his professors and pastors, Dad saying he was called by God into the ministry was all the mattered. Hey, who are we to say this guy isn’t fit to be a preacher? I left the church in Buckeye Lake in 1983, moving a half-hour south to Somerset to start a new IFB church. Dad closed the church six years later, and never pastored another church again. He continued to preach, but most often his congregations were found in nursing homes and jails — places where sermon quality didn’t matter.

Lone Rangers

What happens if a man’s church or sect doubts his calling? Does that mean the prospective candidate can’t be a prophet, preacher, or evangelist? Silly boy, of course not. You see, the calling card trumps all others. If a man says God has called him, how dare any sect or church say no to what God has said yes to. This is especially true with churches that are non-affiliated or independent. If a man finds disapproval in these settings, he’s free to move on to another church that is willing to acknowledge his calling. And if he can’t find a church that will put their stamp of approval on his life, there’s nothing to keep him from starting his own church. Thanks to the First Amendment and non-existent tax laws governing churches, little stands in the way of a man starting a new church. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I started four churches and pastored three churches that were first-generation church plants. Nothing ecclesiastically or governmentally stood in my way. I was a God-called preacher of the gospel, and that’s all that mattered. With Bruce and God, all things were possible.

Are you a former Evangelical prophet, preacher, or evangelist? Did you consider yourself called by God into the ministry? Were you ordained? Did you have a Bible college education? How in-depth was your training? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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

The Midwestern Baptist College Handbook

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

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

What follows are some of the 2013-14 rules and regulations for students at  Midwestern Baptist College — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. I attended Midwestern and met my wife-to-be there when the campus was located on Golf Drive in Pontiac, Michigan. The school moved several years ago to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. It is a withering ghost of what it was when Polly and I enrolled in 1976. I fully expect to hear of its demise one day. 

I give Midwestern credit for putting most of their rules and regulations out there for all to see. Many Fundamentalist colleges do not make their rules and regulations public. They don’t want to be misunderstood, they tell me. Either that or they know they will not have as many students if they let them know beforehand that they are going to a college that is like a prison. I suspect this is why Midwestern does not make their dating rules available before students arrives on campus. (See The Six Inch Rule.)

The handbook is more complex and lengthy than when Polly and I were students at Midwestern from 1976-1979. It is quite evident from the rules that Fundamentalist girls have really gotten worldly. There are SIX attire rules for men and FIFTEEN for women. Of course, the rules for women are so men won’t lust after them and be forced to masturbate in the dorm shower. Those future preacher-boys must be protected from their sexuality. How will they ever be able to someday preach the IFB moral and purity standard if they couldn’t keep it themselves while at Midwestern? (Oh, the stories I could tell!)

This is not the complete handbook. These are the parts I thought readers might find interesting. I have done some reformatting to make the text suited for the internet.

General Policies

Midwestern Baptist College, as a Christian institution, expects its students to live lives that are above reproach and to exemplify Christian usefulness and kindness in their dealings with their instructors and their fellow students. We believe that Christian young people should manifest loyalty to Jesus Christ by living consecrated Christian lives. Midwestern Baptist College does not permit dancing, the use of tobacco, alcoholic drinks, non prescribed drugs, gambling, obscenity, and other forms of worldly indulgence. Complaining, destructive criticism, and cynical attitudes are not allowed. The college expects the cooperation of all students in respect for and enforcement of the rules and regulations of the college.

Dress and Appearance

Dress standards at Midwestern are based upon the principles of modesty, self-respect, and concern for the reputation of the school. Some principles are spiritual; others are professional. As spiritual and professional leaders in the church, students are expected to set an example. In connection with the following rules and to help the student maintain a well-groomed appearance, all students will be expected to follow a healthy hygiene regimen daily. This includes showering, shaving, brushing teeth, and hair care. Furthermore, students are expected to have all of their clothing maintained in a neat, washed, and pressed condition.

Since fashion continually changes, the appropriateness of trends in both men’s and women’s clothing may be addressed, and the dress code amended during the school year as the need arises. Students are to abide by the dress code at all times, both on campus and in public.

Wearing inappropriate apparel is a demerit offense. Demerits will be assigned in proportion to the offense. Non-dormitory students are expected to follow the same guidelines as dormitory students.

POLICY FOR MEN

Hairstyle: 

Men are to be neat in appearance and dressed properly at all times. The hair is to be cut over the ears and tapered at the back above the collar. Sideburns are to be no lower than the middle of the ear. Hair must be no longer than the middle of the forehead in front. Men may not have facial hair unless approved by the Dean of Students. Such facial hair must be neatly groomed at all times. Faddish, worldly hairstyles will not be tolerated. The final decision as to the appropriateness of a hairstyle will rest with the Administration.

Attire:

  1. Dress pants may not have patch-pockets or topstitched side-seams. Fatigues, work jeans, sweatpants, and wind-pants are considered athletic and/or work apparel. They are not to be worn on campus other than in the dormitory, in the gym, or to work. Pants with frayed cuffs, tears, or holes are not to be worn.
  2. No recreational pull-overs or jackets are to be worn to church, chapel, library, or classes.
  3. Dress shirts may be long or short sleeved with a collar and must button down the front. The top button must be buttoned when wearing a tie. Shirt-tails are to be tucked in at all times. A tie and suit coat/jacket are required for classes, chapel, and church services. We ask that men wear their suit coat/ jackets until 1:00 PM.
  4. Men must wear a belt with their pants at all times.
  5. Necklaces and bracelets may not be worn by male students unless they are of a mandatory medical nature. Men are not permitted to obtain tattoos while enrolled as a student, or body piercings, or to wear earrings.
  6. No sweatshirt or tee-shirt with inappropriate writing may ever be worn. Sweatshirts may not be worn to classes or church services.

POLICY FOR WOMEN

Hairstyle: 

Hair must be neatly cut, groomed, cleaned, brushed, and styled in such a way that it does not resemble a man’s haircut. Hair should not naturally fall over the face. Unnatural colors are not to be used. Faddish, worldly hairstyles will not be tolerated. The final decision as to the appropriateness of a hairstyle will rest with the Administration.

Attire: 

  1. Modest apparel must be worn for all occasions.
  2. Dresses or skirts must come to the middle of the knee. When ladies are seated, the knees are to be covered. Dresses or skirts having slits must not be slit above the knee. Dresses worn for formal occasions (i.e. Banquets and concerts) must be approved by the Deans Office at least one week prior to the event. No tight skirts or dresses are permitted. NOTE: A skirt must fall freely from the hips when lifted or it will be considered too tight.
  3. Sleeveless dresses and blouses may not be worn unless a blouse or jacket is worn over them or a blouse under them. Spaghetti strap dresses may not be worn.
  4. Low necklines or backs are forbidden. Generally, necklines should be no lower than three fingers width below the hollow of the neck.
  5. Ladies are not required to wear hosiery and may wear socks. We ask ladies to wear a slip beneath their clothing except when in casual or recreational apparel.
  6. All tops must be long enough that the midriff is never exposed.
  7. All culottes of appropriate length must be approved by the Dean’s Office. These items may only be worn for approved recreational activities or work. NOTE: All items of this sort must come to the middle of the knee.
  8. Jeans, slacks, gauchos, spandex, sweatpants, and capri-pants are considered inappropriate apparel for campus wear.
  9. Undergarments may not be visible through the clothing.
  10. Shoes may not be masculine in appearance. Heels on dress shoes should not exceed 3 inches. No “flip-flops” are to be worn to classes, chapel, or church services.
  11. No recreational pull-overs, denim jackets, or fleeces are to be worn to church, chapel, or classes.
  12. Jewelry, make-up, and fingernails may not be gaudy, faddish, or unnatural in appearance. Earrings may be worn in the lobe of the ear (maximum of two sets). All other body piercing is prohibited. Ladies are not permitted to obtain tattoos.
  13. Garments having the appearance of lingerie may not be worn as outer wear.
  14. Sweatshirts may not be worn to classes or church services. Nice sweatshirts are considered casual wear and athletic sweatshirts are considered recreational dress.
  15. No sweatshirt or ladies tee-shirt with inappropriate writing may ever be worn.

RESTRICTIONS 

All students

  1. Students may not attend any church service other than Shalom Baptist Church without permission.
  2. Students must not patronize a bar, saloon or a place of ill repute.
  3. The College and church offices are not loitering places for students.
  4. The kitchen is not a gathering place for students. Students are not to eat in the kitchen.
  5. Students are not to be in the church auditorium except for services. Practice for special music is to be done in classrooms that have pianos, unless requested by the church staff.
  6. Off campus students must have permission from the Dean of Students to visit the dormitory.
  7. Men may not go to the Women’s quarters for any reason nor Women to the Men’s quarters.

Dormitory Students 

  1. Dormitory students are not allowed beyond an 8-mile radius (without permission).
  2. Dorm students may not visit homes of other students or church members without first an invitation and then permission.
  3. Men and women may not go shopping together unless as double dates.
  4. Any public performance (without permission) is prohibited.
  5. Movie theaters are off limits (no permission granted)
  6. Sports arenas (without permission) are prohibited.
  7. Dorm students may not accept invitations without permission.
  8. The guest rooms are always off limits except when students are cleaning them. Privacy for our guests must be maintained at all times. Ladies may not baby-sit in unsaved person’s homes or where tobacco and alcohol are used. Baby-sitting will be considered work and must be approved by the Dean Office.
  9. Ladies are not allowed to work in any situation where they are not treated with respect by the employer and other workers.

DATING POLICIES

Dating Regulations are available from the Dean of Students. Copies will be explained and distributed to the Dormitory Students during dormitory orientation.

I recently came upon an old Midwestern Baptist College handbook for the 1977-78 school year (our sophomore year). I want to focus on two sections: Maintaining a Christian Testimony and Griping not Tolerated.

Maintaining a Christian Testimony

  1. Midwestern does not permit dancing, the use of tobacco, or alcoholic drinks, dope or harmful drugs, gambling, obscenity, and other such forms or worldly indulgence in which young people so often engage.
  2. It is the conviction of the institution that griping, destructive criticism, and cynical attitudes grieve the Holy Spirit and they are destructive to Christian growth and Christian development. Constructive criticisms which are made to the proper authority will always be appreciated, but griping will not be tolerated. Penalty: 50 demerits
  3. The school expects the cooperation of all students in the development of the respect for and the enforcement of the rules and regulations of the school.
  4. The cooperation of every student is expected in the development of goodwill of the institution throughout the community. Therefore, each student and his family must live above reproach at all times in maintaining the testimony of Christ.
  5. The discipline committee reserves the right to issue demerits for attitudes of disloyalty, destructive criticism, or griping. The committee wishes to work with the student in a fair, helpful manner. Faculty members desired to offer advice when needs and conferences may be requested.

Griping not Tolerated

  1. Any student showing any attitude of complaining about our policies at Midwestern will be dealt with by the administration
  2. Students complaining to faculty or staff about another member of the staff or faculty will be considered out-of-line and shall be dealt with severely.
  3. Students showing a mean, insubordinate attitude toward any faculty or staff member shall be reported to the discipline committee and dealt with severely.
  4. Griping not tolerated about the dress code and standards.
  5. Griping not tolerated about the food served.
  6. Griping not tolerated comparing our school unfavorably with another.

As you can see, Midwestern had a strict policy concerning what the school president Tom Malone and administrators called “griping.” The no-griping law can be summed up this way: shut up and do/believe what you are told. Classic IFB thinking, is it not? We have the right beliefs and practices, and you are expected to happily obey them without deviation or criticism. Don’t do what you are told? You will be dealt with severely. Every year, students were expelled over griping; for daring to have an opinion of their own; for daring to challenge the school’s beliefs and practices. 

Male students who made it to graduation were ordained at nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church — the official Midwestern megachurch, pastored by Tom Malone. Ordination required students swearing before God that they believed and practiced the doctrines and tenets of the IFB faith. Students holding different beliefs would not be ordained. 

Graduates scatted across the United States to start new churches or pastor established congregations, taking four years of indoctrination with them. Is it any surprise, then, that many Midwestern graduates take a “shut up and do/believe what you are told” approach to the ministry? Midwestern was not special in this regard. All of us tend to practice and follow that which we were taught. For Midwestern students, growing up in IFB churches and four years of “shut up and do/believe what you are told ” turned them into psychologically damaged goods; who then, following in the footsteps of their pastors, Tom Malone, and college professors, inflicted psychological damage on their congregations.

This cycle of harm continues unabated unless those involved one day see the error of their ways and consider that there just might be a better way to treat people. Sadly, more than a few of the men I knew when we were students at Midwestern — over forty years ago now — are still faithfully preaching the gospel of “shut up and do/believe what you are told.” Their churches are ruled with rods of iron, with absolutely no griping allowed. Such churches are in decline, but the harm they cause is great, and often multi-generational in scope. One of the reasons for the existence of this site is to help people escape the pernicious hold IFB churches and pastors have on their lives.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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1976-1978: The Midwestern Baptist College Dorm Snack Room

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977
Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977,
Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet

It was late September 1975. I had driven to Phoenix to spend the weekend with my twenty-year-old girlfriend Anita at the Southwestern Conservative Baptist Bible College. We had started dating six months prior, a relationship that quickly turned serious. Both of us had volatile personalities. Years later, I concluded that had we married, it is likely one of us would have ended up in prison for murdering the other. 

Our weekend together turned sour, and by the time Sunday night arrived, I had broken up with Anita and angrily driven back to the home of my dad and his wife in the southeast Arizona community of Sierra Vista. I vividly remember driving my 1960s Chevrolet station wagon at excessive speeds the three hours home, culminating in a speeding ticket near Huachuca City. The same state trooper had ticketed me the previous week for assured clear distance. He warned me that my next ticket could result in the loss of driving privileges. I was eighteen.

By the next weekend, I had packed my meager belongings in two suitcases, hopped a Greyhound Bus, and traveled to my mom’s home in the northwest Ohio community of Bryan. I left my car with my father to sell, which he soon did. I am still waiting for the money. 

After returning to the place of my birth, I immersed myself in the life of First Baptist Church in Bryan, reconnected with friends such as Randy Rupp and Dave Echler, and became the dairy manager at Foodland, a local grocery store. I planned to wait a year and then enroll for classes at Briarcrest Bible Institute in Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada.

In early 1976, I turned my focus towards preparing for college. At the time, Canada had strict financial requirements for non-residents attending Canadian colleges. It became clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to meet this requirement, so I began looking at other Fundamentalist colleges to attend. I asked my pastor, Jack Bennett, for recommendations. He provided none. I came away from our discussion angry. I suspect Pastor Bennett thought that I was not qualified or well-suited to become a pastor, due to my family background and general orneriness. 

My mom’s dad and stepmother lived in Pontiac, Michigan. They attended Sunnyvale Chapel, a Fundamentalist church. Upon hearing that I was not going to Briarcrest, the Tiekens suggested that I check out Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac. In June of 1976, I drove up to Pontiac to check out the college. I quickly decided that Midwestern was where “God” wanted me to study for the ministry. In truth, Midwestern was much cheaper than other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) colleges. Jobs were also plentiful. My grandparents, ever-helpful — until you crossed them — found a job for me working at the Rochester Hills Kroger. (Please see John and Dear Ann.)

I arrived at the Midwestern dormitory in late August 1976. A few weeks later, I started dating a beautiful seventeen-year-old dark-haired preacher’s daughter who would later become my wife. 

Men lived in the basement and the first floor of the dorm. Women were housed on the second floor. As one walked into the dorm, one entered a common meeting room. At certain times, dating couples could sit there six inches away from each other (please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule), and “fellowship.” To the right, down the hallway toward the section of the men’s dormitory called the “Spiritual Wing,” was the snack room. (I lived on the “Party Wing.” Of course, I did.) 

While Midwestern had a school cafeteria that provided rudimentary lunches for students, most dorm students did not use the cafeteria. In my case, I was too busy taking a full load of classes and working a fulltime job to fit going to the cafeteria into my schedule. Thus, for the two years I lived in the dorm, the snack room became my “kitchen.” I say “kitchen,” but that would imply it had basic appliances such as a stove, refrigerator, and cooking utensils. It didn’t. The snack room had a handful of tables and a microwave. 

Most students either ate at nearby fast-food restaurants, ate out of a can, or warmed up meals in the microwave. Imagine the eating habits I developed from eating this way for two years. The highlight of each week was going out on a double date on the weekend to a real restaurant that served food that didn’t require a can opener. I will never understand why Midwestern didn’t care enough about dorm students to require that they eat at least two meals a day in the school cafeteria. Surely they had to know that students needed proper nutrition and sufficient nourishment; especially since students were spending virtually every waking hour attending classes, doing homework, working fulltime jobs — often at local factories — attending church three times a week, working bus routes, teaching Sunday school, preaching, and going soulwinning. Whatever the reasons, dorm students were left on their own to scavenge for food. This led to numerous hilarious stories. 

One evening, Polly decided to cook a special meal for me. She knew that I loved liver and onions. I had eaten it on one of our early dates at Jerry’s Restaurant. Polly bought one of those ribbed microwave “browning” plates and cooked liver and onions. Needless to say, an awful smell emanated from the snack room as Polly lovingly cooked for me. The taste was not much better. 

One student worked at a nearby McDonald’s. Each night at close, the manager instructed him to throw away the unsold hamburgers. Not wanting to miss out on a free meal opportunity, the student brought the hamburgers home. Remember, there was no refrigerator — students were not permitted to have appliances or electric cooking implements in their rooms — so this student took to storing the hamburgers outside in a snowbank. More than a few of us afforded ourselves to one or more of Tom’s free hamburgers. It’s a wonder we didn’t get food poisoning. 

Most students had a food box. I had a long cardboard box that I kept under my bed. It was not uncommon for students to trade foodstuffs. It was also not uncommon for food (and money) to come up missing. We may have been at Midwestern to serve God and train for the ministry, but hunger and an empty gas tank will turn the best of people into petty thieves. I put the blame for this not on a lack of character, but on the blindness and indifference of Tom Malone, the college president, and dorm supervisors to the financial and material plight of many single students. All the focus was on winning the lost. What’s a bit of hunger when souls need saving, right? I suspect some with the college administration believed that deprivation was good for students; that suffering hardship would make for better Christians, and for better pastors and missionaries. Midwestern advertised itself as a “character-building factory.” By the time I arrived at Midwestern, I had already lived through nineteen years of doing without. I knew how to adapt and survive, even it meant swiping Hostess cupcakes and soft drinks from the grocery where I worked. 

Polly, on the other hand, came from a solidly middle-class family — a new car every two years, annual vacations. Polly’s dad entered the ministry late in life, graduating from Midwestern in May 1976. Polly was grossly unprepared for the life that awaited her at Midwestern. Her parents gave her little, if any, financial support, expecting her to “survive” on the part-time wages she earned at places such as Burger King, Sveden House, and cleaning houses. Her means of transportation was a worn-out early-1970s AMC Hornet. After the car broke down, her parents told her to junk the car, with no new car forthcoming. Fortunately, her mechanically inclined boyfriend was able to fix the car. When it finally gave up the ghost, Polly drove my car. If it hadn’t been for me providing financial support and allowing her to drive my car, I doubt she would have made it through her dormitory years. Of course, I have a vested interest in making sure that didn’t happen.

While I have many fond memories from the two years I spent living in the Midwestern dorm, I do wish that the college had invested more money in the welfare of its students. Sadly, all too often, it seemed that students were just fuel for the machinery of the college and nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church — the church all dorm students were required to attend. As a pastor, I had the opportunity to counsel church teens about their post-high school plans. While I suggested checking out schools such as Bob Jones University, Tennessee Temple, and Pensacola Christian College, I never recommended Midwestern. Had Midwestern cared better for their students, I may have sent students their way. It’s not that I am bitter about my experiences at Midwestern, I’m not. But the college could have been so much more had it not been so focused on soulwinning. The number of dorm students who didn’t return for their sophomore year was staggering. Midwestern prided itself on this winnowing process; sending home those who were “affectionately” called Momma-called, Daddy-sent preachers. By the time students reached their senior year, the majority of the students in their freshman class had dropped out. I wonder if this attrition could have been lessened had college officials truly cared about dorm student living conditions.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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And Just Like That

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

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

It’s late August in 1976 and I have just walked through the doors of the Midwestern Baptist College dormitory.

A few days later, a seventeen-year-old girl from Bay City, Michigan, a preacher’s daughter,  walked through the same doors.

A few weeks later, we went out on our first date.

It wasn’t long before we were in love; well, we thought it was love, anyway.

I knew she was the one.

I proposed, she said yes, her parents said no, we said we are going to get married anyway, and so we did on a hot July day in 1978 at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio.

Pontiac, Michigan, Bryan, Ohio (twice), Montpelier, Ohio, Newark, Ohio (twice), Buckeye Lake, Ohio, New Lexington, Ohio (twice), Glenford, Ohio, Somerset, Ohio, Junction City, Ohio, Mt. Perry, Ohio, Elmendorf, Texas, Frazeysburg, Ohio, Alvordton, Ohio (twice), Clare, Michigan, Stryker, Ohio, Yuma, Arizona, and Ney, Ohio . . . all the communities Polly and I have lived in over the past forty-one years.

Jason was born in Bryan, Nathan was born in Newark, Jaime was born in Zanesville, Bethany was born in Newark, and Laura and Josiah were born in Zanesville. Just yesterday, they were cute, cuddly newborns, and now they are 40, 38, 35, 30, 28, and 26.

Where did the time go? Polly and I ask ourselves.

Now we have thirteen grandchildren.

My Mom and Dad are long gone and Polly’s parents are in their 80s, in failing health.

I am no longer in the ministry and Polly and I have left the faith.

Never would we have considered such a thing possible.

Yet, here we are.

For decades, Polly was a stay-at-home mom, but now the roles are reversed.

We started married life full of vim and vigor, strong in body. Now my body is broken and Polly faces serious, life-threatening health problems of her own.

Our children are all out on their own, own their own homes, and are productively employed. Just like that . . .there are the two of us . . .and Bethany. Dear, dear Bethany.

Our life has had one constant: change.

Time marches on and stops for no one. A cliche? Perhaps, but nonetheless true.

Most of life is now in the rear-view mirror.

We peer dimily into the future, knowing that death lurks in the shadows.

If I died today, I will die happy.

Happy that I have seen my children grow up into fine adults.

Happy that I have spent lots of time with thirteen wonderful grandchildren.

Happy that I own my home and that I have lived a gratifying life of love with Polly.

If I had to sum up my life I would say, it has been good.

I am often asked, if I had to do it all over again would I ____________________?

I can’t answer this question.

Life is what it is, and playing the what-if game holds no value for me.

I know this one thing . . .

If I could marry one woman in the world . . .

it would be Polly.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Is it Possible to Reform the IFB Church Movement?

for sale sign midwestern baptist college
For Sale Sign in Front of Midwestern Baptist College

I was interviewed recently for the Preacher Boys podcast by Eric Skwarczynski. The primary purpose of Eric’s podcast is to expose abuse within the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Eric is a Christian, but we share a common purpose when it comes to sexual abuse and clergy misconduct in IFB churches, so I was more than happy to lend my voice to his noble cause. The podcast will be available soon. I hope readers of this blog will find our discussion insightful and helpful.

At the end of the show, Eric asked me whether I thought the IFB church movement could be reformed. I told him I didn’t think it could be reformed and that I hoped to be alive when the IFB church drew its last breath. I want to be the person standing bedside with pillow in hand, smothering the last breath out of a religious movement that has caused incalculable harm. I have seen first-hand (and participated in) the carnage caused by IFB churches, colleges, and pastors. I have talked to and corresponded with countless people whose marriages, families, and personal lives were ruined in the name of the IFB God. The psychological wounds and scars run deep. The widening exposure of abuse within the IFB church movement is a sign that people are no longer willing to be cowed into silence by men who value protecting their reputations and their ministries more than they do victims. This exposure is in its infancy, so we can expect to see more and more abuse stories come forth in the days, months, and years ahead.

While it is certainly true that some IFB churches and pastors have “reformed,” I have found that the changes that they have made are largely cosmetic in nature. I don’t know of an IFB church that embraces progressive theology, liberal social values, or inclusivism. Big change in “reformed” IFB churches usually means they use translations other than the KJV, use drums, have praise and worship teams, allow women to wear pants, and permit men to have hair over their ears. Real “reformists” now let congregants go to movie theaters, drink beer from time to time, or read books not published by the Sword of the Lord or Bob Jones Press. Why, some IFB churches are so liberal that high school graduates are now permitted to attend colleges other than the ones attended by their pastors. Talk about unholy ecumenism! Such changes, however, are window dressings meant to give the appearance of a new, improved IFB. Once in the store, people find the same authoritarian practices and exclusionary doctrines. The fundamental problem with the IFB church movement is their beliefs and practices. These things will never change. They can’t. The very foundation of the IFB church movement is the notion of certainty and right belief. Countless IFB churches and pastors believe that they alone have the truth; that they alone are God’s voice and God’s chosen people in their communities. The IFB church movement has always been separatist in nature. I haven’t seen anything in recent years that suggests this has changed.

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

The only cure for the IFB church movement is death. And the good news is this: IFB churches, colleges, mission agencies, and parachurch organizations are in numerical and economic decline. The heyday of the IFB church movement was 40 years ago. In the 1970s, many of the largest churches in the United States were IFB churches. Today, many of these same churches are either closed or shells of what they once were. From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an IFB institution started by Dr. Tom Malone in 1954. Midwestern was never a big college, but today it roughly has ten percent of the students it had in the 1970s. Its website is outdated, and current information about the college hasn’t been posted in ages. The spacious 32-acre college campus has long since been abandoned and, I believe, sold. Midwestern is now an ancillary ministry of Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. Its president, David Carr, like his father Harry Carr, is a Midwestern grad. I predict that there is coming a day when I will hear that the college has closed its doors.

Dr. Malone was the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. A product of Bob Jones College, Malone started Emmanuel in 1942 after becoming increasingly troubled over what he perceived was liberalism in the Southern and American Baptist conventions. In the uber-sanitized authorized biography Tom Malone: The Preacher from Pontiac, Joyce Vick shares the following apocryphal story:

People ask me all the time, “Brother Tom, to what group do you belong? Of what association are you a member?”

I answer, “None.”

They ask, “Are you a Missionary Baptist?”

“Yes, I am.”

It may sound like a lie, but they do want to know what I am. “Are you a Southern Baptist?”

I say, “I am Southern and I am a Baptist.”

“Are you a Conservative Baptist?”

“Sure, I am conservative.”

“In what association book does Emmanuel Baptist Church appear?”

“Don’t have any.”

“Where are your headquarters?”

“I don’t have one.”

“You mean you don’t belong to anything?”

“No, I belong to the same thing to which the church at Antioch belongs. There is only one tie between New Testament churches, and that is the tie of fellowship. Each church is a local, autonomous church within itself. We have God, El Shaddai, and that’s enough.”

I have never felt I was called to preach for anybody, but I have felt I was caused to preach to everybody. I am not preaching for anybody but Jesus. There is nothing so wonderful, nothing so wholesome, as for a preacher to know there are no strings attached.

Thank God, I don’t have to fit into a denominational program. Thank God, I don’t have to get my orders from some national headquarters. Oh, thank God for the privilege of going to God for my directions! (pages 303, 304)

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

Emmanuel would be a new kind of Baptist church: an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregation. In the 1970s, Emmanuel had over 7,000 active members, and had attendances on special days over 5,000. Today? The doors of the church are shuttered, and its few remaining members scattered to other Fundamentalist churches in the area. The same story could be said of countless other IFB churches. Even First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, pastored by the late Jack Hyles and once arguably the largest church in the United States, is a shell of what it once was. Sure, you can find growing IFB churches here and there, but most of them are dying. Oh, they will still brag about the number of souls saved, but actual attendance numbers don’t lie.

My wife’s uncle, the late James Dennis, graduated from Midwestern in the 1960s. After pastoring a church in Bay City, Michigan, Jim moved to Newark, Ohio in 1968 to assume the pastorate of the Newark Baptist Temple. A church plant by the Akron Baptist Temple (started by Charles Vaden), the Baptist Temple, as it is commonly called, would see exciting numeric growth in the 1970s and early 1980s. However, by the time Jim died, after serving the Baptist Temple for forty-two years, the church was a shell of what it once was. Its one-time large Christian school was forced to drastically reduce its staff. Licking County Christian Academy (LCCA) at its inception was an Accelerated Christian School (A.C.E.) institution. It would later morph into an unaccredited traditional K-12 school. Today, a skeleton crew of staff use prerecorded Abeka videos to instruct students. Some of our relatives currently attend LCCA, as did our three oldest children for a short time.

emmanuel baptist church 1983
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination April 1983

Polly and I attended the Baptist Temple for a short time decades ago. I could write for hours about our experiences there — good and bad. We left the Baptist Temple in early 1981 to help Polly’s father, a 1976 graduate of Midwestern and Jim Dennis’ pastoral assistant, to plant a new church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. I continued to have interaction with Jim and the Baptist Temple into the early 2000s. When our family briefly relocated to nearby Frazeyburg, Ohio in late 1994, people were shocked that we decided to NOT join the Baptist Temple, choosing instead to join the Fallsburg Baptist Church, an IFB congregation pastored by my former best friend Keith Troyer.

Over the years, I have watched the Baptist Temple “evolve.” While the church and its leaders are no longer as dogmatic as they once were over “church standards” (extra-Biblical rules used to govern and control the behavior of congregants), they are still a hardcore, right-wing, King James-only authoritarian congregation. When asked what I think has “changed” at the Baptist Temple, I laugh, and reply, “men are allowed to have facial hair now.” I suspect that this is not the kind of “reform” Eric Skwarczynski is talking about.

IFB institutions don’t reform. At best, they pretty themselves up a bit, hoping to attract unsuspecting visitors. Most IFB churches, however, remain committed to what they call “old-fashioned” Baptist beliefs and practices. They are proud to never have changed anything except their underwear. James Dennis was proud of the fact that be believed the same Biblical “truths” when he retired that he believed when graduating from Midwestern years before. No one should wear unchangeability as a badge of honor. “I have never changed my mind on anything. Bless your heart, my beliefs have never changed! Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and so am I. Can I get an AMEN?” And it is for this reason alone that I am convinced that it is impossible to reform the IFB church movement. The movement has chosen to die on the twin hills of arrogance and certainty. All any of us can do is to help them swiftly meet their end.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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1978: Grocery Shopping

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

In the fall of 1977, as a soon-to-be-married sophomore student at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac Michigan, I started working in the dairy department at nearby Felice’s Market. I worked forty hours a week while taking a full slate of classes at Midwestern. Throw in attending church three times a week, going on bus visitation on Saturdays, driving a church bus on Sundays, preaching on Sunday afternoons at a drug rehab facility in Detroit, and taking Polly out on a date once or twice every weekend, I was one busy young man. I thoroughly enjoyed my job at Felice’s. It didn’t pay well, but the working conditions were great, and the owners treated me well. They went far beyond what anyone could’ve expected: gave us a $200 wedding gift, helped arrange for us to buy a used automobile (1969 Pontiac Tempest), and hired me to do odd jobs around the grocery store so I could earn extra money. 

In the spring of 1978, in anticipation of our marriage, Polly and I rented an upstairs apartment several blocks away from Felice’s Market on Premont Street. The apartment had four rooms: living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. It was more than enough of a place for us and our meager belongings. The living room had new green and white carpet. One day I came home from work to find a large discolored spot on the carpet. I asked Polly what had happened. She replied, “I spilled tea on the carpet and I used bleach to get the stain out.” Ah, the lessons we learn when we are young.

In July 1978, Polly and I were married at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. Married in front of several hundred of our family members, church members, and friends, we had grand thoughts about the future. “A kiss for luck and we’re on our way,” we thought. We would quickly learn that life does not always go according to plan, and that there was a lot we didn’t know about each other. I often tell people that we married because we were mutually infatuated with each other. Over time, we grew to love one another, and finally like each other. Polly was nineteen and I was twenty-one when we married. I was the only boy she had dated and I came from a dysfunctional home, with a mother who was mentally ill. We had few real-life skills. We had no idea how to manage money, and that quickly led to financial problems. Six weeks after we were married, Polly informed me that she was pregnant. While we were certainly excited that little Jason was on the way, our plan was to wait until after we got out of college to have children.

One day, Polly said to me that she needed to go to the store and buy some groceries. I had no idea what domestic skills Polly did or didn’t have. I assumed her mother had taught her how to shop for groceries. I had been shopping for groceries since my early teen years. Mom would send me to the store with a list and food stamps and I would purchase what she needed. Before working for Felice’s, I had worked for several other grocery stores. I knew the art of grocery shopping inside and out. For Polly, however, going to the grocery store and buying groceries for not only herself, but her new husband, was something she had never done before.

Off to Felice’s she went. I thought that she would return home in about an hour. After several hours had passed and she had not returned home, I began to worry. There was plenty of crime in Pontiac to make anyone concerned when a loved one didn’t come home at the expected time. The previous year, a group of boys tried to assault me as I walked home from work. Another time, as I walked up the road near the college, a car pulled up beside me and stopped. A man rolled down the window on the passenger side, stuck a gun out of the window, cocked the hammer, and pointed it at me. Fortunately, he didn’t pull the trigger. After Polly and I were married, we woke up one morning to find a man who had been severely beaten lying in our front yard. Other students at Midwestern had their own stories about attacks and robberies. Collectively, these stories had me worried about whether something had happened to Polly.

I quickly drove to Felice’s Market, hoping that I would find Polly sitting there with a flat tire or some other mechanical problem. These were the days when we drove rust buckets and beaters, so mechanical breakdowns were a regular part of the ebb and flow of our lives. While I did not find Polly in a broken-down car, I did find her sitting in the parking lot crying her eyes out. She had gone into the store, started wandering from aisle to aisle, and quickly became overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. She left the store without buying anything, returned to the car, and that’s where I found her. Safe, but psychologically a wreck.

People often find it strange that I do most of the grocery shopping for our family. My doing so hails back to that moment in a grocery store parking lot over forty years ago. While Polly is now more than competent to go shopping, she still prefers if I do it. Usually, we shop together. That way, Polly will have the things that she wants and needs. Tonight, I went grocery shopping without her. She texted me a list, and I bought what was on that list. This way of doing things works for us.

I’ve often wondered why, exactly, Polly had a brief mental breakdown years ago. It seemed such an insignificant thing — grocery shopping. However, when you’re not taught to do something and your parents give you little latitude to make decisions on your own, I can easily see how being forced into making decisions might cause psychological trauma. I’ve never been afraid to make decisions, even stupid ones. Polly, on the other hand, found decision-making difficult. She was content to defer to others. What has changed for her in recent years is the fact that she went to the local community college on her own and got a degree. That was a big deal, a seismic event in her life. Polly also received a promotion at work. She is now a supervisor and is responsible for making a number of decisions on a daily basis. This has proved to be transformative for her, though she still has trouble deciding what to order at a fast food restaurant. 🙂

Lurking underneath this story is the bondage of Fundamentalism and the freedom found post-Christianity. Polly was a perfect little Fundamentalist girl. She played by the rules. Whatever her parents, teachers, and pastors told her to do, she did it without question. She didn’t have to make decisions. Her parents made them for her. No need to think, just do. While I certainly grew up in a similar fashion, my parents’ dysfunction and a healthy wild streak gave me opportunities to make decisions on my own. After we married, we were a good patriarchal family, and Polly had another decision-maker lording over her — me. Not only was I her husband, I was her pastor. Talk about an ugly two-headed monster. It was only when we walked away from Christianity in 2008 and Polly went to college in 2010, that things began to change for her. All of a sudden, she was free to walk her own path, make her own decisions, and even have her own money. Never underestimate the power of having your own money.

Fundamentalism harms everything it touches. I could share countless stories similar to the one I’ve shared today that show how Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christianity harmed us emotionally and psychologically. I’m not sure we will ever recover completely from the damage done by our religious past. I do know, however, that life is far better today, even with its pain, heartache, and suffering, than it was back in our “living for Jesus” days. We are free to live as we want to live, go where we want to go, and yes, buy whatever we want at the grocery store.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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The Day Abraham Blew Himself Up at Emmanuel Baptist Church

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

Originally posted April 2015. Edited, updated, and expanded.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the mid-1970s. All dorm students were required to attend nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Emmanuel was pastored by Tom Malone, the chancellor of Midwestern.

Emmanuel Baptist Church was a large church, what we today would call a megachurch. At one time, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the United States. Emmanuel ran busses all over the Pontiac/Detroit area. During my time at Emmanuel, the church operated 80 busses. (Today, Emmanuel Baptist is shuttered, its members having moved on to other churches.)

One of the bus riders was a young man named Abraham.

Abraham was a walking contradiction. He was a brilliant, crazy young man.

Abraham would walk up in back of people and snip hair from their heads. A week or so later, Abraham would bring the snipped person a silk sachet filled with hair and fingernail clippings. Needless to say, most of us kept a close eye on Abraham.

One day there was a huge explosion at the church. Abraham had built a bomb and brought it on the bus to church. Abraham carried the bomb into a restroom and, whether accidentally or on purpose, the bomb detonated. It was the last strange thing Abraham ever did.

The bomb blew Abraham to bits. One man, an older dorm student, who helped clean up the mess, said bits and pieces of Abraham fell from the drop ceiling. Not a pleasant sight.

At the time, I thought all of this was quite funny. “I guess Abraham won’t do that again.”

Years later, my thoughts are quite different. The busses brought thousands of people to the services of Emmanuel Baptist Church. Most of the riders came from poor or dysfunctional homes. Their needs were great, but all we offered them was Jesus.

Jesus was the answer for everything.

Except that he wasn’t.

As I now know, the problems that people face are anything but simple, and Jesus is not the cure for all that ails you.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

1979: The Gremlin

1970s-amc-gremlin

On a hot July day in 1978, before friends and family at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, a naive nineteen-year-old girl and a similarly clueless twenty-one-year-old boy tied the knot, and with a kiss for luck, they were on their way. Little did they know how quickly their lives would change. After a week-long honeymoon at the French Lick Hotel in Indiana, Polly and I made our way north to our new apartment in Pontiac, Michigan. We were looking forward to our junior year of classes at Midwestern Baptist College. Shortly before the first day of classes, Polly said, “I think I’m pregnant.” We had been married six weeks.

When it came to the birds and the bees, we knew the basics, but birth control? We didn’t have a clue. Needless to say, the method we chose to use did not work, most likely due to operator error. Both of us enrolled in classes just as we had planned. However, Polly began having severe bouts of morning sickness. She dropped all of her classes, but two. By January, the machine shop I worked for laid me off. And just like that, six months into marriage, we were plunged into a financial crisis. Neither of us had any idea about how to handle money. I thought it best to withdraw from college too, but the dean of men counseled me to stay in school and “trust that God would provide.” A month later, God still hadn’t provided, so I dropped out of school and prepared to move us to Bryan, the place of my birth. We lived with my sister and her husband for a few weeks until I found employment and suitable housing.

Come late May, Polly’s water broke and I rushed her to the local hospital. It would be two days before our son was born. Polly had what can only be described as marathon labor. Neither of us knew anything about childbirth — no classes back then. We literally were, so to speak, learning on the job. Well, truth be told, Polly was doing all the learning. I was a scared-shitless bystander, sure that my bride was going to die at any moment. Neither of us had parents nearby, so we were on our own.

As Polly moved into the second day of labor, Dr. Sharrock, a pediatrician/obstetrician, told us that it was going to be a while before Polly gave birth.  He said, “I have to pick up a few things at Carroll-Ames (a local hardware/appliance/five and dime store), and then I will be back.”  I told Polly, “look, since nothing is happening, there’s a car I’ve been looking at that I would like to buy. I will be right back, I promise.” Off I went to a small used car lot on the north side of Bryan to see if the car I wanted was still available. I had already arranged for financing, so all I had to do is decide for sure which car I wanted to buy, sign the papers, and return to the hospital. All told, I was gone for about an hour.

I decided to buy a ‘70-something AMC Gremlin. Cool, right?  It had a six-cylinder motor and a three-speed manual transmission. By this time, I was the assistant pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church and was working a first shift job in the shipping department at pneumatic tool maker, Aro Corporation. We needed two cars. Our other car was a white 1967 Chevrolet Impala with red interior. The Impala had a 327-cubic-inch motor with solid lifters. It hammered like a diesel and burned lots of oil. I was looking forward to having a “nice” car. If I remember correctly, I paid $1,200 for the Gremlin.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of our first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents. Polly is six-weeks pregnant.

With the papers signed and the cardboard temporary license plate attached to the back of the car, I pulled the Gremlin out of the car lot and drove south on Main Street towards the hospital. Life was good. Here I had a “new” car, a beautiful wife, and soon I would be a father. I drove under the railroad tracks and stopped at the first traffic light. The light changed, and just as I moved into the intersection, an elderly man drove through the light and attempted to turn right. Unfortunately, my “new” car was in the way, and the man tore the right-front fender completely off the Gremlin. “How can this be happening?” I thought, at the time. “Polly hasn’t even seen this car, and I have already wrecked it!” This accident would become a metaphor for many of the things we have experienced over the past forty-one years of marriage.

After the police report was filed, I drove the fenderless Gremlin to the hospital. I thought, “what in the world am I going to tell Polly?” When I got to Polly’s room, I panicked as I saw her hooked to all sorts of monitors. I thought, “oh, my God, she’s dying!” In my absence, Dr. Sharrock had decided to induce labor. It was game on. Polly was NOT dying, but she sure sounded and felt as if she were. Several hours later, our son Jason was born. The doctors had to use forceps, so Jason came into this world with what can best be described as a conehead. A pretty baby he was not. Polly, of course, disagreed with me. “What a BEAUTIFUL baby!” Polly would go on to have five more beauties.

Several days later, I picked up Polly and Jason from the hospital with the Gremlin and drove them to our apartment duplex on Hamilton Street. In October of that year, we packed our belongings into the Impala and Gremlin and moved 4 hours south to Newark, Ohio. We would remain in central and southeast Ohio for fifteen years.

Dozens of cars would be bought and sold in our lives over the next 40 years, but none of them has a story quite like the Gremlin.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.