Tag Archive: Midwestern Baptist College

Sermon Illustrations: The Lies Preachers Tell

lying for jesus

From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone, pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Dorm students were required to attend Emmanuel. One Sunday, Dr. Malone made a statement during his sermon that I have never forgotten. Meant to be a joke, Malone said “I am not preaching now. I’m telling the truth.”

I was 20 years old when Malone made this statement. I will soon be 59. In the intervening years, I preached thousands of sermons and heard hundreds of other sermons, either in person or on cassette tape. Preaching is an art form meant to convey some sort of spiritual message to hearers. While Evangelicals love to make much of the Bible, preaching is far more than just reading the Scriptures. Following Jesus’ example, many preachers use stories to illustrates their sermons. Story-less sermons are, in my estimation, boring. I suspect most church goers would agree with me. Imagine going to church on Sunday and hearing a sermon that consists of a droning-fan-on-a-summer-day preacher reading the Bible word-for-word. B-or-i-n-g.

Illustrations help keep parishioners engaged. There’s nothing better than a couple of stories interjected at just the right time. In fact, many parishioners won’t remember anything about their preachers sermons except for the fantastical stories they told. Marge, wasn’t that a wonderful story Pastor Billy told today? Yes it was, Moe. Why, that one story was almost unbelievable. Pastor Bill wouldn’t lie, so I know he is telling us the truth.

Dr. Malone got it right when he said, “I am not preaching now. I’m telling the truth.” Malone knew that preachers love to tell stories, and sometimes their stories are not as factual as they should be. Younger preachers often buy illustration books. These books provide preachers with a ready source of catchy, provocative illustrations sure to get the attention of parishioners. Older preachers often develop a cache of illustrations that can be pulled out of their mental file cabinet and used when needed. These illustrations often come from past experiences, especially for preachers who did a lot of “sinning” before Jesus rescued them. I have heard countless preachers regale parishioners with stories about their lives as drug addicts, drunkards, Satanists, atheists, or hit men for the mob. These stories often seem larger than life. And they are, because these kind of stories are often embellished.

I recently posted a video of anti-porn crusader Dawn Hawkins telling a story about seeing a man watching child pornography on an airplane.  Several commenters said that, based on their flying experiences, Hawkins was lying. I believe they are correct. I think the same could be said for many of the stories preachers use in their sermons. Simply put, these men are liars for Jesus.

The late Jack Hyles, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana was a masterful storyteller. I heard Hyles preach in person and on tape. His stories were mesmerizing, especially to a wide-eyed young Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher from Ohio. However, over time, I came to the conclusion that Hyles was a narcissistic, pathological liar.

For many years, Hyles pastored the largest church in the United States. Those raised in the IFB church movement know that for men such as Hyles, it was all about the numbers: church attendance, souls saved, baptisms, and offerings. The ministry was like a bunch of third grade boys in the restroom playing the who has a bigger penis game. Preachers who had John Holmes or Ron Jeremy-sized churches were considered men who were being mightily used by God. Young preachers and men who pastored smaller churches were expected to sit at the feet of these preachers, learning how they too could have a large church.

Hyles, due to his church’s number one place on the charts status, was viewed as a demigod by many IFB preachers. I was one such preacher. Hyles told stories about how many people he counseled, souls he had won to Jesus, and the thousands of miles he traveled to preach at Sword of the Lord conferences. Wow, what a great man of God, I thought at the time. I want to be used by God just like Brother Hyles.

I now know that Hyles’ stories were lies. He simply did not have enough hours in the week to sleep, eat, shit, have an affair,  pastor a church, win souls, and fly around the country to preach at conferences. As with all lies, Hyles’ stories had elements of truth. However, when carefully analyzed, Hyles’ sermon illustrations sound too good to be true.  Let me illustrate this with several stories found in Hyles’ book Let’s Go Soulwinning:

So I walked in and said, “Hey! Anybody home?” And there was—thirteen people at home—company all dressed up in suits and fine clothes. There I was. Imagine, Rev. Hyles, a cup in his hand, fishing hat on, split tee shirt, patch in his breeches, and a pair of tennis shoes on his feet! And I said, “Hello.” The lady looked at me, she looked at her company, then announced, “This is my pastor.” I was horrified! I was humiliated! I wanted to evaporate but couldn’t.  Finally I said, “Excuse me; I’m sorry.” Then I got to thinking. Shoot! Just take over the conversation. Just act like you have good sense. So in I walked. “How do you do! How are you? Are you a Christian?” I went around the entire room asking the same question. Then THEY got embarrassed.  (I found out long ago that when a preacher goes to a hospital or gets some place where he feels like a fifth wheel, he should just bluff them and take over the conversation. That will help you, too. It really will. You go to the hospital.  Here is the doctor, the nurse, the family. And everybody says, “That’s the preacher.” You know how you feel, pastors. It’s a terrible feeling. So I walk in, “Hello Doc. How are you?” Make HIM feel bad. Make HIM feel like he’s a fifth wheel.)

So I walked in and asked each person if he or she were a Christian. The last man, a young man, said, “No, I’m not, but I’ve been thinking about it.” Well, I said, “I can help you think about it right here.” We knelt there in that home and opened the Bible. He got converted. He lived at Irving, Texas, forty miles from Garland. I said, “Now, J.D., you need to walk the aisle in the church in Irving tomorrow.” He said, “If you don’t mind, Preacher, I’ll just stay over tonight and come to your church and walk the aisle.” He did, and that night he got baptized in my church. Later he joined the First Baptist Church of Irving, Texas.

You don’t realize how many places you will bump into people. I saw a lady while on vacation just recently. She said, “Hello, Brother Jack. Remember when you won me to the Lord?” I said, “I certainly do.” It happened while I was looking for a Mrs. Marsh. I knocked on Mrs. Marsh’s door—I thought. She came to the door. I said, “Mrs. Marsh?”

“No, I’m Mrs. Tillet.”

I said, “Mrs. Tillet, I thought Mrs. Marsh lived here.”

“No, she lives five houses down the street.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Tillet.” I walked off. Then I said, “Wait a minute, Mrs.

Tillet. Are you a Christian?” She began to cry. I led her to Christ right there.

I have won shoeshine boys and fellows on airplanes. I was going to Phoenix to a conference last year. I sat down beside a man seventy-two years old, a wealthy rancher. “Where do you live?” I asked.

He said, “On a ranch between Phoenix and Tucson.”

I said, “Do you and your wife live alone?”

“My wife died a few months ago.”

I asked, “Do you ever think about having anybody else come and live with you?” “Oh,” he said, “If I could find somebody who would come and live with me, a friend to keep me company, I’d give anything in the world.” He had chauffeurs, servants. He owned a big ranch with hundreds of acres, but was as lonely as he could be.

I said, “I know Somebody who would come and live with you.”

“You do? Does He live in Phoenix?”

I said, “He sure does. He lives everywhere.”

He said, “Who is it?”

“Jesus will come.” In fifteen minutes that man had Somebody to go home with him to live.

Oh, if we will just take time to witness. The trouble is, we are ashamed of Jesus. We don’t mind saying, “Isn’t it hot today?” or, “I wonder how the Berlin situation is.” We don’t mind talking about Khrushchev. We’re more eager to talk about him than about Jesus. Isn’t that a shame! Here we are redeemed. He died for us on the cross. We have been made heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. He is building a home in Heaven for us. We’re God’s children and we won’t even tell a stranger that we belong to the Lord Jesus. Be soul-conscious.

Storytelling preachers love to tell stories about people suddenly dying and going to hell. What better way to drive a point home than to tell hearers about this or that man rejecting God’s plan of salvation and then dropping dead and awaking in hell. This story can be told numerous ways with different characters and circumstances. The point is always the same: now is accepted time, now is the day of salvation.

Let me conclude this post with several stories I have heard preachers tell. One preacher told a story about a man God had called to preach. The man ignored God’s call and went on to have a large family and made lots of money. One day this man’s wife and children were driving down the road when a truck hit them head on. This man’s entire family was instantly killed. In a quiet moment before the funeral, the man wept over the caskets of his loved ones. And at that moment  God audibly spoke to him, telling him that it was God who had killed his entire family to get his attention. Are you ready to serve me now?, God asked the man. The man collapsed and told God that he would indeed forsake all and follow him.

Another preacher told a story about the people in hell. One day, a crew that was drilling an oil well began hearing what sounded like people crying and screaming. Where was this noise coming from? They soon ascertained that the noise was coming from the oil well casing. One of the workers decided to drop a microphone down the well casing, and sure enough they heard people screaming about being in the unrelenting, fiery flames of hell!

Of course, neither of these stories is true. The first story was a legend of sorts. I heard variations of it numerous times. Preacher Bob heard Big Name Preacher John tell  the story at a Sword of the Lord conference. Bob thought, why not use this story in my sermon, impressing on people the importance of immediately obeying the voice of God.

The second story is pure fabrication. But hey, if souls get saved . . . right? The end justifies the means, even if it means telling stories that are more farcical than the miracles of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.

Have you ever heard too-good-to-be-true sermon illustrations?  Please share them in the comment section.

 

Why Can’t I be Like Everyone Else?

normalI grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist home. I spent the first 50 years of my life regularly attending Christian churches. Deeply immersed in the Christian life and way of thinking, I never doubted that I would become anything but a Baptist preacher. I was five years old when I first told my mother that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. Not a fireman, not a police officer, not a baseball player — a preacher. Unlike most people, I never went through the angst of trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. From the time of my conversion at age 15 to the moment I walked away from the ministry, I never doubted that God had called me to be a preacher of the gospel. As I mentioned yesterday, I was what people would call a true believer®. My life oozed Jesus, the Bible, and my visible, dedicated commitment to the Baptist church. While many people today question whether I was a “real” Christian, no one during my time in the ministry ever questioned that I was anything but a sincere follower of Jesus Christ. Anyone who suggests otherwise is deliberately ignoring the facts.

Yet, here I am at age 58, no longer in the ministry, no longer Christian, and now an outspoken atheist and critic of Evangelical Christianity. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. During its 60-plus-year history, thousands of students attended classes at Midwestern. Hundreds of men went on to pastor churches or work in some other capacity at churches or Christian educational institutions. Some men went on to be missionaries or evangelists. Women married preachers, went to the mission field, or became Christian school teachers. While Midwestern never had a large student body, its students and graduates can be found serving Jesus all across the globe. Yet, out of all these students, as far as I know, my wife and I are the only two who have publicly renounced Christianity. While I am certain other former Midwestern students are atheists or agnostics, I am unaware of their existence. Perhaps they do not want the notoriety and hassle that comes from publicly renouncing Midwestern’s God. I know well the price one must pay when rejecting the tribal God. Polly and I lost dozens of friends and colleagues as a result of our public declaration of unbelief. We are estranged from family, have few friends, and are forced to live with the whispers and gossip of local Christian residents who treat us as some sort of exotic zoo animals. We willingly endure these things because we value honesty and intellectual integrity above cultural or social acceptance.

There are times when I find myself wondering why I cannot be like everyone else. I loved preaching and teaching. I loved helping others. I loved rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty in the work of the ministry. Yet, despite loving these things, they were not enough to keep me in the fold. Why is it my former colleagues and the students I attended college with are able to continue believing and I am not? While it would be tempting to say that I am intellectually superior to them, I know this is not the case. It would be easy to dismiss everyone with a wave of the hand and a snide — bunch of illiterate hillbillies — but I know that in doing so I would be painting with too broad a brush (a brush I wish atheists would quit using).

Perhaps there was something wrong with my faith. I have often asked myself this question. Was there something about my Christian experience that was in some way defective? I do not think so. While I certainly can see how someone might — by taking a short sample size of my life — conclude that the blame for my faithlessness rests solely on my shoulders; but my life, when taken as a whole, reflects that I was one who truly believed in God, Jesus, and the teachings of the Bible. Yet, I am an atheist. While I doubt I will ever fully understand why I cannot be like others, I have come to a few conclusions about the trajectory of my life and how I arrived at where I am today.

I have always valued intellectual pursuit. While I spent many years bouncing from wall to wall within the Evangelical box, even within these constraints I diligently sought to know the truth. This is why I left the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement in the late 1980s. It is also why I became a Calvinist and then later abandoned Calvinism as I embraced more of a works-oriented social gospel. While many of my former colleagues in the ministry have never deviated from the theology they were taught at Midwestern Baptist College and other evangelical institutions, I was unwilling to accept certain beliefs as “truth” just because it was the official doctrine of Midwestern or whatever group I was a part of. Years ago, I attended one of the monthly meetings of the Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship. It was a well-attended meeting, and every preacher had on the uniform — suit and tie. Not I. I wore an ivory-colored sweater. The reason I remember this is because the host of the meeting pointed out the fact that I was wearing a sweater. He found my attire amusing, yet he thought that it was wonderful that I was unwilling to follow the herd’s dress code. Of course, I spent the remainder of the day having corncob in their ass preachers look at me as some sort of liberal compromiser. Closer friends in attendance ribbed me over dressing so casually. I think this story accurately reflects how I viewed life then and still view it today. Unwilling to acquiesce to tribal demands, I forged my own path. Friends and colleagues viewed me as double minded, whereas all I was trying to do is be honest and follow the path wherever it leads. I am, today, still on this path. Who knows where I might yet end up.

I have never been a go-along-with-the-crowd type of person. Even though I was a committed Fundamentalist, I didn’t do something just because big-name preacher so and so did. As any observer of Evangelical Christianity can tell you, there has been a tremendous amount of upheaval over the past 40 years. Up until the 1970s, the 1950s style of doing church was considered the Evangelical way of doing things. Today? It is hard to find a church that still does things — as IFB preachers call it — the “old-fashioned” way — old-fashioned meaning “the way things were done in the days of Ozzie and Harriet.” While my style of ministry and preaching changed somewhat over the years, I made these changes, most often, for pragmatic reasons. I firmly believed that churches and preachers must adapt their methodologies to the times. While bus ministries and door-to-door evangelism once yielded great numerical growth, these methods no longer work — regardless of what head-in-the-sand IFB preachers might tell you. Churches unwilling to adapt only hurt themselves, leading to attendance decline and closures.

Even as an atheist, I am resistant to following the herd. The atheist movement and Evangelicalism have more than a few things in common. In Evangelicalism, certain preachers are revered and considered mountaintop dispensers of wisdom and knowledge. So it is with atheists. All one has to do is look at the speaker lineup for atheist and humanist conferences or the upcoming Reason Rally. Instead of embracing the diversity of the atheist community, these conferences often become little more than the atheist version of star powered award shows. And I get it. People are not going to fly or drive hundreds of miles to hear atheist nobodies. As with Evangelicals, many atheists seem to value the pronouncements of big-name speakers and writers over those of everyday, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety atheists. As with Evangelicals, the only way to get in the game is to play by the rules. If you are unwilling to play by the rules, you can expect to not be invited to play the game. I have accepted that this is the way things are. This is the price I pay for maintaining freedom and autonomy. A price, by the way, I am more than happy to pay.

As many of you know, I am working ever-so-slowly on an autobiography of my life. I think the book will be something that doubting Evangelicals and Evangelicals-turned-atheists will find helpful. As with all writers, I hope that my book will become a New York Times bestseller. One way to sell a lot of books is to get well-known atheists to write endorsements. I decided not to do this. While I know a handful of well-known atheists, most of my involvement with atheists comes through this blog and social media. I remain, to this day, a blue-collar laborer, unknown, but happy to have an opportunity to lend my small voice to the collective objection to evangelical Christianity. Knowing that I will never be asked to join the A-Team, I content myself with helping people break free of Evangelicalism’s pernicious grasp. While it would be fun and somewhat rewarding to speak to thousands of like-minded atheists, such an experience pales in comparison to helping people find their way out of the Fundamentalist maze.

I have said all of the above to provide some context for my answer to the question, why can’t I be like everyone else? I can’t be like everyone else because I am me. That is the simplest explanation. I am who I am and my life is what it is. I value honesty over conformity and independence over sameness. These values have only gotten stronger now that I am an atheist. No longer burdened by Evangelicalism’s written and unwritten code of acceptable belief and practice, I am free to be whomever and whatever I want to be. I recognize that living my life this way might result in me not being accepted by the larger atheist community. I know there are pro-life atheists and Republican atheists who understand what I am talking about. Conformity — even among atheists — is often demanded if one wants to join a particular club. This is why atheism is so fractured. Proponents of various atheistic groups — atheism+, mythicism, social justice, feminism, and the destruction of all religion — demand fidelity to that group’s doctrines. They are, in many ways, not much different from Fundamentalists with their rigid codes of belief and conduct. Many atheists have a need to be part of something larger, so they are willing to surrender their intellectual autonomy to be a part of a group. I am unwilling to do so, and this is why, in the end, I cannot be like everyone else.

I am more than willing to work with atheist groups and individual atheists when their causes align with mine. However, as I learned from my battles with the proponents of atheism+, it is all or nothing for many atheists. Either you accept the 10 Commandments of that group’s dogma or they will have nothing to do with you. This is why more than a few atheists have questioned my atheism. If I dare write something that runs afoul of the received atheist faith, as with Evangelicals, my commitment to atheism and humanism is questioned. If I suggest something that gives the hint of accommodationism, I am accused of promoting religion. I have received countless emails from atheists over the years who object to something I have written. If I say I am agnostic on the God question, the defenders of true atheism® are sure to let me know that they think I am a hypocrite and have some sort of religious hangover. While these letters used to bother me, I now understand that Fundamentalist thinking can be found in every group. There is nothing I can do about this. I am committed to being open and honest about my life and I am committed to passionately writing about my beliefs and worldview. If these things do not meet the criteria for acceptance into the atheist college of cardinals, so be it. I value personal freedom and intellectual integrity far more than I do membership in any group. If this limits me in some way, I am willing to accept that this is the price I must pay for being true to self. These traits will be valued by many, and that is enough satisfaction for me to continue preaching the gospel of godlessness.

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

bruce gerencser 2016

Bruce Gerencser, 2016

I am often asked why it took me so long to deconvert. Some people suggest that I must have really been stupid to have spent most of my life believing in a God that doesn’t exist. People who have always been atheists have a hard time understanding how anyone could spend 50 years believing a book of fairy tales — the Bible — is real. Sometimes people can be downright cruel, suggesting that there must have been some sort of ulterior motive that kept me believing all those years. Money? Power?

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

Now to the question, why was I an old man before I deconverted? First, let me tell you that economics played no part in my commitment to Christianity. The most I ever made as a pastor was $26,000. I spent 25 years pastoring churches that paid poverty wages and provided no insurance or benefits. I always made significantly more money working outside of the church — especially when I was managing restaurants. In retrospect, I wish I had made money more of a priority. I wish I had put my family’s welfare first. But, I didn’t. I was quite willing to work for poverty wages. I thought God had called me to the ministry and he alone was in charge of what churches paid me. I learned late in the game that churches are often sitting on large sums of money. These caches of money are often built through paying their pastors welfare wages and providing no benefits.

I grew up in an ardent Fundamentalist home. My parents were hardcore right-wing Christians. They were also supporters of groups such as the John Birch Society. From the time I was a toddler until the age of 50, I attended church at least once a week. After my parents fell in with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement, it was normal for me to attend church three times a week — plus Sunday school, youth meeting, revivals, mission conferences, youth rallies, youth events, church league sports, prayer meetings, visitation, soulwinning, preachers’ fellowships, music concerts, conferences, and bus calling. During my teenage years, I attended, on average, over 300 church services and events a year. While I had some social connection outside of the church, my best friends and girlfriends attended the same churches I did. The church was the social hub around which my life revolved.

By time I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College — an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — I had spent my life deeply immersed in IFB thinking, belief, and methodology. It was quite impossible for me to turn out any other way. It would take me 30 more years before I admitted that what I once believed was a lie.

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

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

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

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

The Dormitory Years: Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac Michigan

bruce and polly gerencser 1976

Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976

From the fall of 1976 to the spring of 1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — was founded in 1953 by Dr. Tom Malone for the purpose of training men and women for the ministry. Dr Malone called Midwestern a character-building factory. Midwestern’s goal was to produce men who would pastor IFB churches and women who would be pastors wives. A small number of graduates would go on to become evangelists, missionaries, and Christian school teachers, but the primary objective was to train God-called men for the ministry.

Dr. Malone was a graduate of Bob Jones College and Wayne State University. While serving as chancellor of the college, he also pastored Emmanuel Baptist Church — one of the largest churches in America during the 1960s and 1970s. Dr. Malone was a native of Alabama and his southern style of preaching appealed to many of the southerners who had migrated to the north to find work in Pontiac/Detroit area automotive plants. Looking for some spiritual home cooking, these southerners flocked to Emmanuel to hear one of their own preach.

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. This picture was taken days after we got engaged.

Polly, while still a student at nearby Oakland Christian School, enrolled at Midwestern in January of 1976 and began taking classes. I enrolled 8 months later. Polly’s uncle, James Dennis, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, graduated from Midwestern in the 1960s. Her father, Lee “Cecil” Shope — called late in life to be a preacher — graduated from Midwestern in May of 1976. After graduation, Lee moved to Newark to be James Dennis’ assistant. He would later, with my help, start a church in nearby Buckeye Lake — Emmanuel Baptist Church. After Emmanuel closed its doors, Polly’s parents returned to the Baptist Temple. They remain, to this day, faithful members of the church.

The dorm at Midwestern was a two-story building with a finished basement. It was named after IFB giant and editor of the Sword of the Lord John R. Rice, and was home for single students. All single students — unless they lived nearby with their parents — were required to live in the dorm. The men lived on the first floor and the basement. Women lived on the second floor. The north men’s wing was called the party wing and the south men’s wing was called the spiritual wing. The basement was called the pit. I, thankfully, lived on the party wing.

The dorm supervisors were Ralph Bitner and his wife Sophie. A young, inept couple, the Bitners had no idea how normal, heterosexual young adults thought and lived. Their job to make sure we kept the rules, including keeping our rooms clean. Ralph was also responsible for the Sunday night Devotional/Singspiration held in the dorm common area.

Two older single male teachers lived in the dormitory. One was a man who suffered from some sort of mental illness. As long as he took his medications, he was fine. Sadly, thinking that God would help him live a “normal” life, this man would often stop taking his medications. This resulted in bizarre behavior, which at the time seemed quite funny. The other was a gay man who lived on the spiritual wing. He was quite effeminate, which was odd considering that Dr. Malone had zero tolerance for “sissy” men. This man had a student who lived with him.

Midwestern strictly regulated every aspect of dormitory life. Students were required to adhere a puritanical dress code. Midwestern also controlled who students could date, when they could date, and where they could go while on a date. Rule-breaking resulted in infractions being written on a demerit slip and turned into the dean of men. If students were written up, they were required to appear before the disciplinary committee to answer for their crimes. Most infractions were minor ,but other infractions — such as breaking the six-inch rule — could result in students being expelled from the college. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule)

When dorm students left the college campus they were required to put their names and destinations on the sign-out sheet. This sheet was religiously checked by the Bitners. Students quickly learned how to manipulate the sign-out sheet so they would never be in violations of the rules. Dorm students were not permitted to go beyond a ten-mile radius from the college campus (an exception was made for work). Single dating was banned and couples could only date on Saturday and Sunday evening — and only then with permission from school administrators. Weekends were often a scramble as dating couples tried to find another couple to double date with. Dating couples who had problems keeping the six-inch rule would seek couples with a similar rule-breaking mindset. Most of the dorm students broke the no-touch, six-inch rule. Copping a feel for a Midwestern dorm student meant trying to secretly hold a girl’s hand.

Midwestern was an unaccredited college. Students were not eligible for federal or state financial aid. As a result, most students worked one or more jobs. Polly worked at several restaurants, cleaned offices, and did house cleaning for a rabbi and his wife during her college career. I worked numerous jobs, mostly second shift factory jobs. I also worked at several grocery stores, sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners, pumped gas, worked as a mechanic, and drove a truck for a local dry cleaner. I changed jobs so often that I was threatened with expulsion if I changed jobs again. These jobs paid between $3.00 and $5.00 an hour.

One of the teachers — knowing that I worked on automobiles — asked me if I was interested in a mechanic’s job. This teacher worked part-time for Anderson Honda on Telegraph Road, and my job there would be an entry-level position. I would primarily be responsible for prepping new cars, oil changes, and doing minor repairs. My starting wage was $7.00. After working for Anderson Honda for a few weeks, Dr. Malone called me into his office and told me that I would have to quit my job. He told me that I would just have to trust him, and that working at Anderson Honda was not good for me. I later learned that the Andersons used to attend Emmanuel Baptist church and left after having a falling out with Dr. Malone. I would later learn that the teacher — a married man — who offered me the job was having an affair with a woman who worked at Anderson Honda. That woman just so happened to be the wife of Midwestern’s dean of men. Both couples would later divorce.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Shope Gerencser, May 1978

Polly and I started dating a few weeks after I enrolled at Midwestern. We tried our best to keep the six-inch rule, but it soon became impossible for us to keep our hands to ourselves. That said, we did not kiss each other for the first time until we had been dating for four months. Our first kiss took place during my visit to Polly’s Newark, Ohio home during Christmas break. Polly’s Mom asked her to go down to laundry room and check to see if the clothes were dry. I went along with Polly to help her check on the laundry. Amazingly, it took forever to ascertain if the clothes were dry.

Needless to say, when we returned to Midwestern in January of 1977, we had a huge problem on our hands. Let me explain it this way. It was like going to a Dairy Queen the first time for a milkshake. The milkshake was tasty, but after sampling that delight, every time you drove by a Dairy Queen you wanted to stop and get another milkshake. Kissing for Polly and me was like drinking a milkshake at Dairy Queen. Once we started we didn’t and couldn’t stop. For the next 18 months, Polly and I lived in fear of being caught — knowing that such dangerous living would likely result in us being expelled from school if we were caught.

In the spring of 1977 — six months after we started dating — I asked Polly to marry me. She said yes. I bought Polly an “expensive” diamond engagement ring. It had a 1/4 carat diamond and cost $225.00 at Sears and Roebuck. Years later, the diamond fell out of the cheap setting and it was lost. We sold the ring for scrap when gold prices started escalating. Our engagement only served to add fuel to the physical fire. Weekend dates became make-out sessions — times when we were free from the ever-watchful eyes of teachers, dorm supervisors, room monitors, and students who were saving their kisses for their wedding night.

During our sophomore year, Polly and I were caught breaking the six-inch rule. I played on the college basketball team. During practice one day I slapped at a basketball and severely dislocated the middle finger on my left hand. I had to go to the emergency room to get the finger put back in place (an excruciatingly painful procedure). Male students were required to wear a necktie to class, and thanks to my injured finger I was unable to tie mine. Polly and I would meet each weekday morning in the common room so we could walk together to classes. Unable to tie my necktie, I asked Polly to tie it for me. She did so, and we then walked to our classes. Unbeknownst to us, someone saw us break the six-inch rule and turned us in to the disciplinary committee. Ironically, the couple that turned us in were notorious six-inch rule breakers. It was rumored that they had rounded the bases and slid into home. Today, this couple is faithfully serving Jesus as pastor and pastor’s wife at a Southern Baptist church.

Polly and I made our required appearance before the disciplinary committee to answer for our crime. The disciplinary committee consisted of two men — Gary Mayberry, the dean of men and Don Zahurance, a recent Midwestern graduate. These “pious” men told us we had committed a serious breach of the six-inch rule. Zahurance even went so far as to suggest that I got some sort of sexual excitement from Polly tying my necktie. Each of us was given 50 demerits and warned that any future infractions would result in us being campused — not permitted to leave the campus or date — or expelled.

Dr. Tom Malone thought by having puritanical rules — similar to those he experienced at Bob Jones —it would keep students from engaging in more serious sexual behaviors. Dr. Malone was quite naïve, and outside of a few a self-righteous rules-keeping students, dating couples, with passion and fear, broke the six-inch rule. Whether it was in the back seat of a car while on a date or in an out-of-the-way corner of the college campus, dating dorm students found ways to act on their basic need for human connection and touch. I have come to understand that Midwestern, regardless of their intention, taught an aberrant, crippling form of moralism. Instead of quashing passion, it stoked it. Learning nothing from the countless moral failings of the past, Midwestern still enforces a strict moral code of conduct. (Please see The Midwestern Baptist College Handbook)

Midwestern prohibited freshmen students from marrying. Dorm students could not marry until the summer of their sophomore year. Students who broke this rule were required to drop out of school for one year. Needless to say, come the summer of our sophomore year, there were a number of couples who got married — Polly and myself included. Due to the difficulty in arranging housing, the college allowed couples who were planning on being married in the summer to look for housing before school let out in May. One couple rented a house that quickly turned into a place for couples to have sex. While Polly and I never went to this house, the couple who rented it were friends of ours and we knew that they, along with other couples, used the house for secret booty calls. Some of these couples are now in the ministry, and several are luminaries in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I find myself amused when I read their moralizing sermons and websites, remembering the time so many years ago, when they gave in to biology and passion and lost their virginity.

Several years ago, Polly and I drove to Pontiac to see what had become of the Midwestern campus and Emmanuel Baptist Church. We were saddened to see the places that once were a major part of our lives now closed and for sale — testifying to the bankruptcy of the IFB church movement. Midwestern still exists in a much smaller form as a ministry of a nearby IFB church. While Polly and I have many fond memories from our days at Midwestern, we are grateful that the college is but a shell of what it once was. No longer will Midwestern have the opportunity to infect large numbers of young people with its pernicious ideology.

Did you attend an IFB college and live in its dormitory? If so, please share your experiences in the comment section.

 

Breaking News: IFB Preacher Bob Gray, Sr. Admits to Driving Church Members

bob gray driving sheep

IFB sheepdog Bob Gray, Sr. driving church members (sheep) to give, give, give and win souls, win souls, win souls.

It is not often that an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher of the stature of Dr. not-a-real-Dr. Bob Gray, Sr., exposes for all to see the way he really does the work of the ministry. While I appreciate Gray’s “honesty,” something tells me that he won’t appreciate this blog post.

There was a day when the job description for Evangelical pastors included things such as preaching, teaching, visiting the sick and the elderly, marrying the young and burying the old. These days, Evangelicals pastors, especially those who pastor megachurches, inspire and encourage church members. Every Sunday, church members file into the sanctuary hoping to get their weekly fix of Jesus. Pastors, knowing they must rev up congregants to keep them happy and tithing, resort to all sorts of tricks to make sure felt needs are met and every person leaves the sanctuary all jacked up on Mountain Dew, I mean Jesus.  This type of ministry has turned church members into spectators.

Down in Longview, Texas, things are different at the Longview Baptist Temple — a sin-hating, devil-fighting, King-James-Only Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. The Gray clan — Bob Gray, Sr., and Bob Gray II — have little interest in inspiring, motivating or encouraging church members. Death is certain, hell is real, and Jesus is coming soon, preach the Grays, and they have no time to coddle church members. According to Gray, Sr.’s recent blog post, God-called preachers should drive their church members to do what they want them to do. Gray wrote:

The more I think about the subject of driving people the more I realize how we badly have missed the boat regarding this. In every other area of life we taut [sic] and praise the people who are driven and do drive others for a cause.

We celebrate a coach who drives his team to victory, but criticize the pastor who drives his church to reach their city for Christ. We praise the teacher who drives her students to study harder to get good grades, yet slander the pastor who drives his people to fulfill the great commission as they are commanded to do. We rejoice over the parent who drives their child to practice their musical instruments so that they can become accomplished musicians, but we demonize the pastor who drives his people to give more to God.

Let me ask you a question. Is winning the lost less important than winning the national championship? Tell me why Nick Saban can drive his Alabama football team to win and we love it, but we criticize the preacher for driving his people.

It seems that Gray, now 70 years old, has failed to learn that rarely does driving people result in long-term success. When people feel they are constantly being pushed to do, do, do, and do some more, they will, over time, tire of it and seek rest and relaxation somewhere beyond the incessant pushing of their drug-dealer pastor. I wonder if Gray, Sr. has ever thought about the thousands of church members he has driven right off a cliff? Tens of thousands of people have been won to Jesus through the soul-winning efforts of sheepdog Gray and Longview Baptist Temple (LBT) sheep. Shouldn’t the auditorium of LBT be teeming with members by now? Surely, 30 plus years of driving congregants to give, give, give and win souls, win souls, win souls, should result in overflow attendance on Sunday; yet attendance at LBT is a smidgen of what it once was. Longview Baptist Temple used to regularly publish its attendance numbers, bus rider numbers, and number of souls saved. Today? These numbers are no longer shared with the public. If continually driving church members is the way to do the work of the ministry, why does attendance at LBT continue to decline?

Where did preachers such as Bob Gray, Sr. get the notion that church members must be driven to accomplish great things for God? For many years, Jack Hyles — pastor of First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana — held an annual Pastor’s School. Thousands of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers and church members flocked to Hammond to sit at the feet of Hyles. First Baptist — at the time, the largest church in the world — was the crown jewel of the IFB church movement. Numerous preachers — Bob Gray, Sr. included — took to heart Hyles’ preaching and returned home to drive their churches to give, give, give, and win souls, win souls, win souls. The result? In the 1970s and early 1980s most of the Top One Hundred churches in attendance were IFB churches. Today? Only a handful of IFB churches are on the list. None is anywhere near the top of the list, having been displaced by friendlier, generic Evangelical churches.

The blame for the decline of the IFB church movement rests at the feet of Jack Hyles and those who followed in his steps. Hyles taught these so-called men of God to verbally, emotionally, and mentally abuse church members. As one aged IFB preacher said years ago, We hit our people over the head with the sin stick so often that they duck when we begin to preach. For years, Sunday after Sunday, IFB church members filed into churches such as Longview Baptist to hear preachers tell them that they were never doing enough. 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, sang the Midwestern Baptist College student body when I attended there in the 1970s. Today, the school has a handful of students, and the church which students were required to attend — Emmanuel Baptist Church — is no longer in existence; a church, by the way, that once exceeded 5,000 in attendance.

Thousands of souls were saved through the work of Midwestern college students. Required (driven) to evangelize, students fanned out across the Pontiac and Detroit area, knocking on doors and offering the one-two-three- repeat-after-me IFB gospel to those who dared to answer their knock. Freshmen students, filled with zeal and unaware as to how the soul-winning game was played, were those most likely to devote themselves to saving the lost. By the end of their first year, students who had been repeatedly berated at church, college chapel, and Saturday bus meetings over their poor souls-saved numbers, learned how to lie about their soul-winning conquests. Students were required to report each week how much time they spent evangelizing the lost and how many people were saved. Midwestern even held soul winning contests. Won souls were carefully tabulated and the best soul-winners had their names affixed to a chart.

Many IFB churches have moved on from their hyper-soul-winning days. As members began to burn out, attendance numbers declined. These IFB preachers — considered compromisers by men such as Gray — say they are now focused on quality and not quantity. Other IFB preachers, refusing to admit that they have burned through several generations of church members, continue to drive their churches — demanding more and more from fewer people. The numbers are against them, and in time churches built on the Hyles model of sheep-driving will collapse, and the remaining sheep will scatter, finding pastors and churches who treat them like people instead of a commodity. Whatever my feelings are concerning religion, I consider that those who choose to believe should be treated with respect. After all, they are the ones doing the work and paying the freight. Without them, preachers would be forced to sell vacuum cleaners and hamburgers to make ends meet.

Note

Gray, Sr. recently took to his blog to whine about people saying he drives church members. Gray wrote:

Recently it has been brought to my attention that someone who once worked side-by-side with me in my ministry has criticized me to several men for having “driven” my people rather than leading them. Now, normally I would actually consider that to be a compliment. However, it was obvious that it was not said as a compliment but as a criticism.

It is interesting that someone who would claim to be a friend would say what my enemies also have said about me. This is not something new. Nor is it something that concerns me other than for the fact that it came from a source I would have trusted. Plus it confuses people as to what good leadership is.

People who are told they are “hurting” after being so-called “driven” never knew it until they were told so. We are basically lazy by nature and anyone who will feed that will have to be critical of prior leaders who were driven because of a cause. It is an insult to those who gave their lives to a cause to say they were “driven” without a choice in the matter.

….

So, I say to those who accuse me of driving my people, you are right, I did drive my people. I drove them to do what’s right. I drove them to obey the Great Commission. I drove them to sacrifice for the cause of Christ. I drove them to put the Kingdom of God above themselves. I drove them to be the Christians they should be.

 

Midwestern Baptist College: The 1978 Yearbook Incident

From 1976-79, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College (IFB) in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern, an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college, was established in 1954 by the famous IFB pulpiteer Dr. Tom Malone. Forty years later, the college campus is up for sale, Tom Malone is dead, and the church he once pastored, Emmanuel Baptist Church is shuttered with weeds growing around the buildings and through the cracks in the parking lots. Due to increased costs, buildings that are falling apart, and declining enrollment, Midwestern moved to Orion, Michigan so it could use the buildings of Shalom Baptist Church for classes. David Carr, Midwestern’s president, is the pastor of Shalom Baptist.

In the spring of our sophomore year, Dr. Malone gathered the student body in the chapel so he could talk to them. Students were told to bring the recently released 1978 yearbook with them. As the students settled into their seats, Dr. Malone stood up and came to the pulpit. It was clear that he was quite upset about something. We quickly learned that Dr. Malone was livid about three of the yearbook pictures. The photographs were shot by Mike Veach, currently the pastor of First Bible Church, a fundamentalist church in Staten Island, New York. Mike was (is) a wonderful photographer. A few months after what students would later call “The Yearbook Incident,” Polly and I went to nearby Cranbrook Gardens so Mike could take pictures of us. We still have these pictures, reminders of the youngsters we once were some forty years ago.

What was so offensive about these photographs, that a noted IFB pastor and college chancellor would deem it necessary to talk to the entire student body about them? See for yourself.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number one was taken during Founder’s Day. Always held on the Friday after Thanksgiving (students were not allowed to go home for Thanksgiving), Founder’s Day was a day set aside for showing the college to prospective Fundamentalist high school students.  Part of the day’s events included a singing talent show. This picture is of a group from a nearby IFB church.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number two is a picture of Julian Lyons, the Emmanuel Baptist Church bus pastor. Lyons and I did not get along. He considered me a slacker because I didn’t want to work in the bus ministry after my freshman year. (All students were required to work in the bus ministry their freshman year.) I considered Lyons a racist because he stopped running the buses in Detroit. (The overwhelming majority of the kids from Detroit were poor and black.) One day, as I was exiting the school building, he and I ran into each other and had words, each telling the other what we thought about them. We never spoke again. I was surprised that I did not get expelled from school for what was surely viewed as insubordination.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number three was shot during one the chapel services. Pay close attention to the student in the middle of the picture.

I am sure you are scratching your head right now, trying to figure out what is wrong with these pictures. Can’t you see it? Look closely. Put your IFB alternate reality glasses® on…Still nothing?

In the first picture, the boys have long hair, and in the second picture it looks like Lyons’ hair is over his collar. Midwestern had/has a strict policy against men having long hair. Male students were required to keep their hair short, with the college even going so far as to legislate that the back of men’s hair had to be tapered and not block cut.

And the third photograph? The student “looks” like he has bushy, long hair on the back of his head. What he really has is the hair of the student in front of him, that student being my future wife, Polly. As photographers know, perspective and angles can do strange things to photographs. Sadly, Dr. Malone was only concerned with the “appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22).

Dr. Malone was furious over these photos, so much so that he took one of the yearbooks and tore it in two right in front of the student body. He then ordered the yearbooks collected. The yearbooks were later returned, but not before the offending photographs had been marked-out with black, permanent ink felt markers.

So why do I have an unaltered copy of the yearbook? I refused to turn my yearbook in to prison authorities. Even then, as Fundamentalist as I was, I knew that Dr. Malone was acting like a crazed wild man over these photographs. It made no sense to me to mar the yearbook just because three of the pictures showed men with long hair. If Dr. Malone was serious about giving “sins” the black permanent marker of death, why not mark out:

  • The numerous photographs of the man who was having an affair with the wife of the dean of men
  • The photographs of the homosexual teacher who lived in the dorm

Both of these “sins” were well known by students, yet they were pushed to the deep recesses of the Midwestern closet. Instead, very ‘70s looking hair became the target of Dr. Malone’s “righteous” indignation and wrath.

I know these kind of stories sound bat-shit crazy to some readers, but this is a good example of the Fundamentalism I was raised in and a part of for many years. To this day, there are IFB pastors and churches who preach against the “sin of men having long hair.”  A man with long hair is considered rebellious and effeminate. If you have not read my post Is it a Sin to Have Long Hair?, please do so. I think it will help you understand the kind of thinking that goes into someone concluding that men having long hair is some sort of mortal sin.

Note

Every week, there are a dozen or so Google searches on “is it a sin to have long hair”  which result in a person being brought to this website (first page, seventh search result).

Rock Music is Evil

bob gray jacksonville florida preaching against elvis

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

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

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

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

….

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

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

….

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

….

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

….

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

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

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

bob larson rock music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backwards, the words above were supposedly turned into:

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

According to Wikipedia:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video Link

Video Link

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

Here is a recent video by P.O.D..

Video Link

Here is a video by Skillet.

Video Link

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

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

Video Link

Evangelicals, to some degree or the other, have been waging war against rock music for 60 years. Based on the videos above, I think I can safely say that rock music has won the war. Like all battles waged against popular culture, prohibition only makes what has been deemed sinful more enticing and popular. Teenagers will always be drawn to that which parents, pastors, and other authority figures say they can’t have. Teenagers are built to try the forbidden and test boundaries. We all did it, and here is the lesson that adults need to learn: we survived. Instead of treating teenagers like toddlers, how about teaching them to make responsible choices? Surely by now we have learned that telling teenagers to Just Say No doesn’t work. It is far better to equip them with the requisite skills necessary to navigate the world. Yes, there are real dangers they will face, but rock music is not one of them. I seriously doubt that there are many teenagers whose lives are destroyed because they listened to songs that have sexual or substance abuse references. I am sure there are some who take the lyrics to heart and make bad decisions, but most teenagers, as sixty years of history shows, can listen to rock music without being adversely affected.

Note

Bob Larson book quotes found here.

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

The Independent Baptist War Against Long Hair on Men

gerencser boys 1989

Nathan, Jaime, and Jason Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1989

Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (I Corinthians 11:14)

According to many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers, 1 Corinthians 11:14 is clear: it is shameful and against nature for a man to have long hair. The late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, made it his life’s mission to rid American men of what he considered effeminate long hair. In a sermon titled, Satan’s Bid for Your Child, Hyles stated:

God pity you people who call yourselves Christians and wear your long hair, beard and sideburns like a bunch of heathens. God, clean you up! Go to the barber shop tomorrow morning, and I am not kidding. It is time God’s people looked like God’s people. Good night, let folks know you are saved! There are about a dozen of you fellows here tonight who look like you belong to a Communist-front organization. You say, “I do not.” Then look like you do not. You say, “I do not like that kind of preaching.” You can always lump anything you do not like here.

In the booklet titled Jesus Had Short Hair, Hyles made the connection between male hair length and homosexuality. In Hyles’ eyes, men with longer hair were more likely to be sissified, weak homosexuals. Hyles wrote:

It is very interesting that as the trend toward long hair increases, the acceptance of homosexuality increases. This is not to say that long hair and homosexuality always go together, but it is to note the fact that both are on the rise in our generation. Several of the major denominations have now accepted homosexuals. In some cities there are churches for homosexuals pastored by avowed homosexuals. At least one major denomination has ordained a homosexual preacher and others are considering following suit.

IFB preaching against long hair on men found its impetus as men began to grow their hair longer in the late 1960s and 1970s. Hippies had long hair and were anti-establishment. IFB preachers viewed long hair on men as a sign of rebellion against parental and religious authority. As anyone raised in the IFB church movement knows, rebellion is considered a grave sin, one that is never to be tolerated by parents or churches. This view of rebellion led to the establishment of IFB group homes, places where frustrated parents sent their children to be cured of rebellion. Sadly, children sent to these homes often returned to mom and dad emotionally and mentally broken. In some instances, these rebellious children had been physically and sexually assaulted.

In the IFB church movement of the 1970s, the four big sins were: long hair on men, short skirts on women, pants on women, and rock music. Youth directors waged holy wars against these sins and pastors frequently excoriated church teenagers over their unwillingness to obey the rules. While the days of hippies, Woodstock, and free love have faded into the pages of American history, many IFB preachers still preach against long hair, short skirts, pants, and rock music.

There are numerous unaccredited IFB colleges and Bible institutes in the United States. With few exceptions, these institutions strictly regulate how  men must wear their hair. I attended Midwestern Baptist College from 1976-79. Midwestern had a strict standard concerning hair: short, off the ears, no long bangs, short sideburns, no facial hair, and a tapered neckline. This standard was strictly enforced, and men who let their hair grow too long were told to get a haircut. Ignoring this demand resulted in suspension.

While some IFB preachers, churches, and colleges have adapted to the times, many have not. Midwestern Baptist College is one such institution that still thinks it is 1976. Here is Midwestern’s male hair standard, as published in their 2013-14 student handbook (PDF):

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

As a loyal, faithful son of the IFB church movement, from the time I was a child until the late 1990s, I had short hair. As an IFB preacher, I thought it important to model the hairstyle God approved. While I didn’t preach very often on men having long hair, my short hairstyle made it clear to church members where I stood on the matter. Not only was my hair a testimony to the notion that the Bible condemned long hair, but so was the hair of my three oldest sons. Jason, Nathan, and Jaime spent many years looking similar to children who were either being treated for lice or recently released from a Nazi prison camp. Not wanting to spend money on haircuts, we bought a pair of clippers and periodically gave them buzz cuts. No protestations allowed. Sit down, buzz, next. I am sure, at the time, they hated me and I don’t blame them.

charles spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon, a 19th Century English Baptist Preacher

Over time, my views on hair began to change. In the early 1990s, I grew a beard, much to the surprise of my fellow IFB preachers. By then I had distanced myself from the more extreme elements of the IFB church movement, and I began fellowshipping with Calvinistic-oriented Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptist preachers. These men, refugees from IFB churches, didn’t have as many social hangups. While they were still quite Fundamentalist, these preachers spent little time preaching on things such as male hair length and facial hair. Charles Spurgeon was one of this movement’s patron saints and he had long hair and a beard. I thought at the time, if Spurgeon had long hair and a beard, it must be okay for me to do the same.

Last Saturday, Polly and I drove to Newark, Ohio to visit her parents. While there, my IFB mother-in-law asked me about my hair. Since last October, I have let my hair grow. It is longer now than it ever has been. Mom, who attends a church that is anti-long hair on men, asked, So you are growing your hair long? I replied, Yes. She responded, Why? And with nary a thought, I replied, Because I can. I am sure she is disappointed that I am letting myself turn into a hippie. She later asked if I planned to put my hair in a ponytail like my former brother-in-law does I told her I didn’t plan to let my hair grow that long.

As it stands now, my hair has quite a bit of curl on its extreme ends, an unexpected result. I am not sure Polly likes my hair this long, but we have a hard, fast agreement: we don’t criticize each other’s hair styles. While we do, at times, defer to one another, both of us are free to wear our hair as we wish. Now that we have cast off the shackles of Fundamentalism, we are free to do what we want. As I have mentioned before, Polly and I missed out on the freedoms of the 1960s and 1970s. Both of us were members of hardcore IFB churches that strictly regulated dress, hair styles, and conduct. Now that we are no longer emotionally and mentally bound in IFB bondage, we are, to some degree, living, for the first time, the 1960s and 1970s. On the plus side, we are much wiser than we were 40 years ago. On the negative side, we also have bodies that are 40 years older. Oh to be wise and young!

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

Note

Previous post on this subject, Is it a Sin for a Man to Have Long Hair?

Why Every High School Should Teach a Mandatory Comparative Religion Class

one true religion

Several days ago, Polly and I traveled to Jackson, Michigan to have dinner with Sergio and Russ, two people I had met through this blog and Facebook. Russ talked about how he had been exposed to a variety of Christian sects and how this cornucopia of beliefs caused him to be skeptical of religion. Teenage Russ quickly figured out that no two sects had the same beliefs. Each sect had different beliefs, yet all of them supposedly worshiped the same God. Russ rightly wondered, if they are all worshiping the same God, why is this God giving each sect different beliefs? Questions such as this ultimately resulted in Russ rejecting religion and embracing atheism.

Polly and I grew up in Fundamentalist Christian homes. Neither of us can remember a time when we weren’t part of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. After high school, both of us attended an IFB college, Midwestern Baptist College. We met, married, and several years later began pastoring IFB churches. We were in our thirties before we attended a church outside of the IFB church movement. Indoctrinated in the one, true IFB faith, we were certain that our sect and its beliefs were the faith once delivered to the saints. While we grudgingly admitted that there were Christians in other sects, we believed that our sect was the only one that had the right beliefs. Not only did we have the right beliefs, we also had a pure lineage that reached all the way back to Jesus and John the Baptist. While we would eventually abandon the IFB church movement for the friendlier confines of generic Evangelicalism, it would be another 20 years before we left Christianity.

By being exposed to a plethora of beliefs, Russ was able, at an early age, to conclude that Christianity was false. Polly and I, on the other hand, having been exposed only to a narrow set of beliefs, spent five decades of our life in the Evangelical church before we could extricate ourselves from its hold on our lives. Sergio had a similar background, having been raised in an Evangelical home. He spoke of the anger that came when he realized he had wasted much of his adult life believing a lie. And not just believing, but diligently trying to live according to the precepts of Evangelical Christianity. Polly and I had similar anger and regret. It is hard not to be bitter when thinking about wasting the most productive, healthy years of your life worshiping a mythical God.

Which path should children be encouraged to follow — that of Russ or that of Bruce, Polly, and Sergio? I think most agnostics and atheists would agree that blind devotion to religious dogma harms children and robs of them the critical things skills necessary to help them understand life. Instead of being immersed in Christianity, children are better served if they are exposed to a wide spectrum of religious beliefs, including non-Christian religions.

I have long advocated that public high school students be required to take a comparative religion class. Such a class would expose students to the various world religions and their teachings. Once exposed, like Russ, they will be in the position to compare religions. Since most public school students come from Christian homes, this means they would be exposed to religions different from their own. This exposure would provide an effective inoculation from Fundamentalism and religious bigotry.

Evangelicals continue to demand that the various trappings of the Christian religion be reintroduced in the public schools. Often, Evangelicals will argue that morality requires religion, and it is our duty to give students a moral and ethical foundation. Fine, I say. Every school  then should require high school students to take a comparative religion class. Middle school and elementary students should regularly be exposed to a variety of religious beliefs, taught from a historical perspective. What better way to turn out well-rounded students than to expose them to a variety of beliefs, including atheism, agnosticism, humanism, paganism, and Satanism? Doing this prepares students for choosing their own non-religious/religious path. By the time students graduate they will have a sufficient understanding of religion and will be in  the position to choose accordingly.

Surely Evangelicals want their children to have all the facts about religion, including Christianity. Surely, they don’t want their children making ill-informed decisions about God and salvation. Well, actually Evangelicals don’t want their children to be exposed other religions. Instead, Evangelicals diligently indoctrinate their children into what they believe is the one true faith. Children born into Evangelical homes are bombarded with calls to put their faith and trust in Jesus. Sunday school teachers and children’s church workers use manipulative and high pressure techniques to induce children into asking Jesus into their heart. If children make it through the primary years unsaved, they are handed off to youth directors who “encourage” them to put their faith and trust in Jesus. The goal is to make sure children are saved and on the narrow path before they become young adults. Church leaders know if unsaved children reach adulthood they are often “lost” forever.

The next time you hear Evangelicals clamoring for Christianity to be reintroduced into the public schools, ask them if they would support teaching students about other religions. Keep pressing them until they admit that what they really want is a religious monoculture. In their minds there is no King but Jesus and no religious truth but the Bible. If left to their own devices, many Evangelicals would burn freedom of religion at the stake and turn the United States into a theocracy.  Exposing Evangelical children to other religions is crucial in our attempts to beat back theocratic thinking. Once exposed, religious extremism loses its power.

The Preacher Boy  and the Pastor’s Daughter

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

It seems like yesterday…

The early days of fall have arrived and the young preacher boy busily loads his possessions into a dilapidated, dented Plymouth. It’s time for me to go, he says to his Mom. I wonder what she thinks, her oldest son headed off to college, the first in their family to do so. They embrace, a rare expression of emotion,  and the preacher boy quickly turns away, not wanting her to see the tears running down his face.

Soon the preacher boy is headed north and then east of Bryan. Several hours later he arrives in Pontiac, Michigan, the community he will call home for the next few years.  Midwestern Baptist College, A Character Building Institution, says the sign along Golf Drive. The preacher boy had planned to attend Prairie Bible Institute, but God had other plans for him.

The preacher boy parks his car in front of the dormitory, John R. Rice Hall, and quickly unloads his meager possessions. Tall and lean, the red-headed preacher boy, wearing a blue shirt with the number 75 and the name Rev. on the back, moves his possessions into room 207. The dormitory has two floors and a basement, with wings on either side of a common meeting room. The top floor houses the women. The first floor has two wings, one to each side of the meeting room. Students call one wing the Spiritual Wing, the other the Party Wing. The basement, for obvious reasons,  is called The Pit.

The preacher boy lives on the Party Wing. There, he soon meets like-minded young men, filled with God, life, and recklessness. The preacher boy settles into the rhythm of dorm life at a fundamentalist college. Rules, lots of rules, and just as many ways to bend the rules to fit the desires of a youthful heart. The preacher boy would live in the dorm for two years, and in that time he would repeatedly run afoul of the rules. Told he is brash and rebellious, a fitting description, those who know him would say, the preacher boy does his best to outwardly conform to the letter of the law.

The blue shirt the preacher boy wore when he arrived at the college was given to him by a girl who hoped he would remember her while he was away. Not long after, the shirt disappeared, as did any thought of its giver. If there is one thing that the preacher boy loves almost as much as God, it is girls. And here he is, enrolled at a college that will provide him ample opportunity to ply his charm. Little does he know that fate has a different plan.

The week before the official start of classes, a young, beautiful 17-year-old girl from Newark, Ohio moves into the dorm. The preacher boy mentions the girl to his roommate. Stay away from her, the roommate replies. Her father is Pastor Lee Shope. Unfazed by the stern warning, the preacher boy decides to introduce himself to the dark-haired beauty. He quickly learns she is quite shy. Not one to be at a loss for words, the preacher boy takes the girl’s backwardness as a challenge, one that he successfully conquers over the course of a few weeks.

Soon, all thoughts of the field fade into the beauty of the pastor’s daughter. The preacher boy quickly finds himself smitten. Come spring, he proposes and she, despite her mother’s disapproval, says yes. Having known each  other for two months short of two years, the preacher boy, now 21, and the pastor’s daughter stand before friends, family and strangers and promise to love one another until death severs their bond.

Thirty-seven years have passed since the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter  pledged their troth. Under the proverbial bridge has flowed a shared life, one that has blessed them with a quiverfull of children and grandchildren. The grand plans of an idyllic pastorate, two children (a boy named Jason, a girl named Bethany), and a parsonage with a white picket fence, perish in the rubble of the hard work necessary to parent six children and pastor churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Twenty-five years of working in God’s vineyard have left the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter with deep, lasting scars. They have learned what it means to do without and suffer loss. Yet, they have endured.

Stoicism now defines them. As life has poured out its cruelties and left them wondering why, the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter continue to hold one another tight, refusing to let adversity win. When their love for God wavered and then died a death of a thousand contradictions, the preacher boy and pastor’s daughter, now aged friends and lovers, joined their hands once more and walked into the dark unknown.

The full moon sits high above his home on this cold winter’s night. The clock on the nightstand clicks as each second passes by, a reminder that life is fleeting. The preacher boy, now a 58-year-old atheist, turns his thoughts to the beautiful, dark-haired girl he met so many years ago. Who would ever have thought we would be where we are today?, he says to himself. Yet…here we are, survivors, taking each and every day as it comes, without a prayer or a God to smooth the way. He wonders what tomorrow will bring, safe in the knowledge that whatever might come their way cannot defeat the enduring love of the preacher boy and the  pastor’s daughter.

1978: Our First Christmas

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly, in front of our first apartment, Fall of 1978

On a hot summer day in July of 1978, a young, naïve couple recited their wedding vows, and with a kiss for luck, they were on their way.  Little did they understand that they really didn’t know each other as well as they thought they did. Young love, also known as mutual infatuation, will do that, obscuring  flaws in your one and only.

Polly and I were college freshmen at Midwestern Baptist College when we started dating in September 1976. Five months later, with a 1/4 carat, $225 engagement ring in hand from Sears and Roebuck, I asked Polly to marry me. She enthusiastically said yes. Polly was 18 and I was 19.

We had grand plans: 3 kids, a house with a white picket fence, and a lifelong pastorate in a nice, quiet rural community. As with all such fantasies, reality proved to be quite different from what we expected. It didn’t take long for each of us to see that being married to one another was not quite what we expected.

Several months before our July wedding, we rented an upstairs apartment on Premont Avenue in Waterford Township (Pontiac) Michigan. Our apartment had four rooms: a living room, bathroom, bedroom and kitchen. The walls were freshly painted. The living room floor had recently been covered with green and white shag carpeting. (I would later come home from school  to find a discolored, brown stain on the carpet. Polly had spilled her tea and used bleach to remove the spot.)

After classes ended in May, Polly went home to prepare for our wedding and I moved into the apartment.  I worked at a nearby grocery store, Felice’s Market. Knowing that I needed to make extra money so I could furnish our apartment, one of the Felice brothers asked me if I was willing to repaint the store’s roof with aluminum reflective tar. I said yes, and earned $200 for my efforts.

polly gerencser 1978

Polly standing in front of our apartment, late summer 1978

One day, while out and about with college friend Wendell Uhl, I stopped at a yard sale that had a bunch of furniture for sale. I made them a $150 offer for all the furniture, an offer they quickly accepted. Upon returning home from our honeymoon, Polly was quite surprised to see all the “wonderful” furniture that I had purchased to furnish our apartment. After a few months of marriage, we bought a love seat from Kay’s Furniture to replace the piece-of-junk futon couch I had purchased at the yard sale. The love seat, along with a new double bed we bought from J.L. Hudson’s, would be the last new furniture we would own for the next 20 years or more.

After our wedding, we had about six weeks before classes started up again. We settled in as newlyweds to a wonderful life of wedded bliss. Little did we know how quickly life would throw us a curve.

polly gerencser 1978

Polly with my sister and niece a few days after our wedding, 1978

During the first week of fall classes, we found out that Polly was pregnant. We had everything planned out, yet, at the time, it seemed God had a different plan for us. We now know that the ineffective form of birth control we were using did not do its job. Polly was quite sick from the pregnancy, which forced her to reduce her class load. By Christmas, Polly was four months pregnant. Her expanding belly advertised to family and friends that little Jason or Bethany was on his way.

We planned to go to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve, then get up early the next morning and drive to my  mom’s home in Rochester, Indiana. At the time, we were driving an old beater, one of many such cars we would own over the years. After spending Christmas Eve with Polly’s family, the next day we borrowed Polly’s parents’ car, a Plymouth Arrow, to make the trip to Rochester to see my  mom. We returned later that night.

Even though we spent Christmas with family, we still wanted to have our very own Christmas tree. We had  some Christmas decorations that our moms had given us, and these, along with a few new decorations we had purchased from a nearby department store, would be enough ornamentation for our tree.

We decided to buy our tree from the nearby Boy Scout tree lot. After we purchased what we thought was the perfect tree, we put it in the back of our green Ford station wagon and drove home. Once there, I dragged the tree up the long flight of stairs to our apartment. I then put the tree in the recently-purchased $2 tree stand, tightened the screws, and let go of it so I could admire my handiwork. The tree proceeded to fall over. No matter what I did, the tree would not stand upright.

The more I tried to get our perfect tree to sit aright, the angrier I got. For the first time, Polly saw how angry I could get. My legendary redheaded temper was on full display. I finally reached a breaking point. I opened the upstairs window, and much to Polly’s surprise, I threw the Christmas tree out. It landed with a thud in the front yard.

After I cooled down, we went out and bought another tree. And,  as with the previous tree, I couldn’t get this one to stand up straight. As I look back on the tree debacle, I suspect the problem was the cheap, undersized tree stand. My answer on that day for the falling tree was simple: I nailed the tree stand to the floor.

And THAT was our first Christmas.

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And Just Like That

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977

Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

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 young seventeen year old girl from Bay City, Michigan 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 any way.

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.

Pontiac, Michigan, Bryan, Ohio, Montpelier, Ohio, Newark, Ohio, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, New Lexington, Ohio, Glenford, Ohio, New Lexington, Ohio, Somerset, Ohio, Junction City, Ohio, Mt. Perry, Ohio, Elmendorf, Texas, Frazeysburg, Ohio, Alvordton, Ohio, Clare, Michigan, Stryker, Ohio, Yuma, Arizona, Newark, Ohio, Bryan, Ohio, Alvordton, Ohio, and Ney, Ohio…all the communities Polly and I have lived in over the past thirty-seven 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 newborns and now they are 36, 34, 31, 26, 24, and 22.

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

Now we have ten grandchildren.

My Mom and Dad are long gone and Polly’s parents are 80.

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 life, strong in body. Now my body is broken and Polly is reminded every day that she is no longer young.

Our two youngest moved out, joining their older brothers in the world, and…just like that…there is the two of us…and Bethany. Dear, dear Bethany.

Our life has had one constant, change.

Time marches on and stops for no one.

More of life is now in the rear view mirror.

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 seen my sons marry wonderful women.

Happy that I have spent time with ten 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 girl in the world…

it would be Polly.