Tag Archive: Midwestern Baptist College

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.

The Mesmerizing Appeal of Jack Hyles

jack hyles 1973

Jack Hyles, 1973

Jack Hyles was pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana from 1959-2001. For many years, the church was the largest congregation in America. The church held a Pastor’s School and Youth Conference each year that brought thousands of people to Hammond to see first hand what God was doing through Dr. Jack Hyles. (See post The Legacy of Jack Hyles.)

In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, no one was bigger than Jack Hyles. IFB churches and pastors measured success by:

  • Church attendance
  • Offerings
  • Souls saved

In these three areas Jack Hyles and First Baptist Church were the king of the hill.

jack and beverly hyles statute

Jack and Beverly Hyles statue

Like most IFB churches, First Baptist Church was owned and operated by Jack Hyles. No, Hyles didn’t literally own the church, but there was no doubt about one thing, this was the house Jack built. Hyles had unlimited power to rule the church as he saw fit, and even when caught in an inappropriate sexual relationship with his secretary, he was able to wiggle free, and remained pastor of First Baptist Church until he died on February 6, 2001.  A statute of Jack and Beverly Hyles can be found in the church courtyard, an ever-present reminder that First Baptist Church owes its existence to Jack Hyles.

People not raised, schooled, and indoctrinated in the IFB church movement often have a hard time understanding how Jack Hyles could wield such power over people.  It seems so “cultic” to them, and truth be told, there are elements of IFB belief and practice that are “cultic.” While the IFB church movement is not a cult in the classic sense, it does have beliefs and practices that are harmful to people emotionally and mentally. Because it is a movement built on a foundation of anti-intellectualism, pastors are given an inordinate amount of power over people. The pastor becomes the resident intellectual, even though he is likely no more educated than the people in the pew. The pastor is considered God’s chosen man, the man of God who speaks on God’s behalf. He is uniquely called by God to the ministry and he is to be obeyed. Failure to obey will bring judgment from God, at least according to IFB preachers. (Sermons on pastoral authority are quite common in IFB churches.)

Jack Hyles was considered a god in IFB church circles. He was also revered by many outside of the IFB church movement. People read his sermons in the Sword of the Lord, and cassette recordings of Hyles’ sermons made their way around the globe. He was the Big Kahuna, and when he spoke everybody listened. It is important to understand how popular Hyles was.  People would drive hours to hear him preach at a Sword of the Lord Conference. They would hang on his every word. After all, look at the size of his church. This is PROOF that Hyles and God were on a first name basis.  When it came time for the invitation, hundreds of penitent Baptists would stream down the aisle to the altar and prostrate themselves before Hyles, praying that God would forgive them of their sins and give them Holy Ghost power to do whatever Hyles was telling them to do.

It is hard for me to admit, even to this day, that I was a part of this; that the  churches I pastored participated in this. (I left the IFB church movement in the late 1980s.) It is hard to admit that I was caught up in a religion that encouraged worshiping men as gods. Hyles, like Bob Jones, even had a college named after him: Hyles-Anderson College.

Granted, any time a group of people gather together under a common belief or ideal, there is the tendency to elevate certain people to god-like status within the group. IFB churches do it, Evangelicals do it, and yes, even atheists do it. Look at the typical Atheist/Humanist conference and you see the same speakers over and over. To some degree, it is human nature to fawn over those we think are in some way unique, successful, or who have some sort of special insight.

It has been thirty years since I heard Jack Hyles preach. I heard him preach many times during the heyday of the IFB movement — the late 1960s to the late 1980s. I would attend Sword of the Lord conferences whenever I could . Sometimes, I drove several hours just so I could sit at the feet of great IFB luminaries such as Jack Hyles, Lee RobersonLester Roloff,  Bob Gray of FloridaCurtis HutsonJohn R. Rice and Tom Malone. (Malone was the President of Midwestern Baptist College, the college I attended from 1976-79. Lester Roloff was accused of promoting child abuse, and Bob Gray of Florida was arrested for molesting children.)

the captain of our team jack hyles

A poem written by a devoted follower of Jack Hyles

What was it about Jack Hyles that drew people to him (and God is not the right answer)?

Jack Hyles was a superb orator. He knew how to use words, cadence, volume, and inflection to deliver sermons that most preachers could never deliver. As oratorical specimens, his sermons were flawless.  His sermons rarely had much Bible in them since he typically preached textual or topical sermons, but his sermons were perfectly scripted, with each point and sub point in perfect harmony. When Hyles chased a rabbit down the rabbit trail, he did it on purpose. He was methodical and disciplined in his preaching.

Hyles told a lot of stories about himself, his mother, and his feats as a pastor-god. His stories often made up the bulk of his sermon. Young preachers such as myself hung on every word, every story. Here was a man mightily used by God. It was many years before I could divorce myself from my worship of Jack Hyles enough to see his sermons for what they really were; grandiose brag sessions of a narcissist. I also came to see that the stories Hyles told were often lies or distortions of the truth, though I am inclined to think that Hyles really believed his own narrative.

The IFB church movement prides itself on being anti-cultural. The movement is known for what it is against and not for what it is for. In his sermons, Hyles would rail against Southern Baptists, The National Council of Churches, Evangelicals, pants on women, alcohol drinking, sex, and any other ill he deemed “worldly” or contrary to the received truth of the IFB church movement.

hyles baptist church

Yes, there really is a Hyles Baptist Church in Chesterfield, Virginia, pastored by Ron Talley.

When Hyles would preach against these things, his words elicited deep emotional and physical response. People would shout or say Amen or Preach it, Brother Hyles. People would stream down the aisles to confess their sin, their disobedience to God. The Sword of Lord would report the “number” of people  who came forward. (The IFB follows a corporate model, dominated by numbers.) If you want to see how the numbers racket works, read Bob Gray of Texas’s blog. A Hyles disciple, trained at Hyles-Anderson College, he knows exactly how many souls have been saved under his ministry. He is the ultimate IFB bean-counter.

When preaching at a conference, Hyles would often have an afternoon Question and Answer time for preachers. Young, aspiring preachers, along with old struggling preachers, could ask Hyles questions about building a great church. I can’t tell you the number of times I saw Hyles eviscerate a preacher because he asked the wrong question. One time, a young preacher asked a question about how to choose a good youth director — not that Hyles would know since his son, serial adulterer, David Hyles was the youth director at First Baptist. Hyles asked the young man how big his church was and after the young preacher told him, Hyles belittled him and accused him of being lazy. The young preacher should have felt humiliated, but he more likely felt that “God” was speaking to him through Brother Hyles. Hyles, like many top shelf IFB preachers, could be a bully.

Hyles liked to give off an air of invincibility. His illustrations made him seem like a man who could charge into the flames of hell and come out without one hair singed on his head. He told illustrations such as:

There were two men playing tennis and at the end of the game, the loser graciously shook the hand of the winner.

Bro. Hyles, how do you handle losing (code for failure)?

Hyles would thunder, I don’t know, I’ve never lost.

And then he would preach forcefully and loudly about not being a loser, a quitter.

When you take all these things together, it is easy to see why Jack Hyles was, and still is, worshiped. Some consider him the greatest preacher since the Apostle Paul. I understand how people become mesmerized by the Hyles mystique. However, when a person puts some distance between himself and the IFB church moment, he starts to see that the movement is a man-centered, man-worshiping religion. Are their good, decent people in IFB churches? Sure. For whatever reason, they cannot or will not take off their blinders so they can see things as they really are. IFB-preachers-turned-atheists such as myself have little influence over them because they see us as traitors and God haters.

I wonder what it will take to finally bring the IFB house crashing to the ground? Evidently, sexual scandal won’t do it. Maybe it is too much to ask for. After all, the Roman Catholic Church has pedophiles running amok, yet faithful Catholics still show up for mass and give their money to the church.  It seems that we as humans quite easily ignore what is right in front of us.

Shrine built after Jack Hyles died, as always bigger than life.

Shrine built after Jack Hyles died, as always bigger than life.

For further information:

Read Andrew Himes’ book, The Sword of the Lord, The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family.

Read Bryan Smith’s Chicago Magazine article, Let Us Prey: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church

Read the Legacy of Jack Hyles

Read the 1980s Biblical Evangelist story on the Jack Hyles scandal

During the uproar over Hyles’ illicit affair, loyal Hyles followers wore “100% Hyles” buttons to show their support for Hyles.

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The Midwestern Baptist College Handbook

bruce and polly gerencser 1976

Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976. Polly is first person from the left, first row. Bruce is eighth person from the left, third row.

What follows is some of the 2013-14 rules and regulations for students at the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college, Midwestern Baptist College. I attended Midwestern and met my wife-to-be there when it was located on Golf Drive in Pontiac, Michigan. The school moved a couple of years ago to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. It is a withering ghost of what it was when Polly and I enrolled in 1976.

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

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

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

Enjoy!

General Policies

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

Dress and Appearance

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

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

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

POLICY FOR MEN

Hairstyle:

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

Attire:

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

POLICY FOR WOMEN

Hairstyle:

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

Attire:

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

RESTRICTIONS

All students

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

Dormitory Students

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

DATING POLICIES

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

I’m Not Preaching Now, I’m Telling the Truth

preaching

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. Midwestern, started in 1954 by Alabama preacher Tom Malone, was a small fundamentalist Baptist college.  Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. In the 1970’s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the country. Today its buildings are shuttered and a FOR SALE sign sits in the dust-covered main entrance door.

During my time at Midwestern, I heard Tom Malone preach several hundred times. Considered by many to be a great pulpiteer, Malone’s preaching was fervent and punctuated with illustrations meant to drive home the point he was making. During one sermon, Malone said something I never forgot. In the middle of sharing an illustration, Malone said:

I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.

Everyone laughed and then he finished his illustration.

Over the march of my life from infancy to the grave, I’ve heard thousands of sermons and preached thousands more. I’ve heard men that had no public speaking skills and others who were wordsmiths capable of enchanting hearers with their preaching and illustrations. Sadly, there are a lot more of the former than the latter.  Even though I am an atheist, I still enjoy hearing a well crafted sermon delivered by a man who knows how to turn a word into an epic Broadway production.

Preaching only the Bible is boring, uninspiring preaching. An effective sermon requires illustrations. Jesus was a master storyteller. His sermons made ample use of illustrations meant to drive home a spiritual point. A preacher that is good at his craft knows that illustrations are key to helping listeners understand and embrace his sermon. And therein lies the danger.

When I started preaching, I used illustrations from illustration books. As I aged and experienced more of life, I began to use more and more illustrations about my experiences and personal life. If a preacher isn’t careful, it is easy to massage his illustrations to “fit” a particular sermon or audience. Sometimes, the illustration becomes a lie.

As I mentioned above, I’ve heard a lot of sermons. I’ve heard thousands of illustrations and personal stories, all meant to get my attention or drive home a point. Over time, I came to understand that many preachers played loose with the truth, often shaping their stories to make a particular point or to cast themselves in a positive light. In other words, they lied, even if they don’t understand they are doing so. Often, a speaker can tell the same lie over and over until they reach a point where the lie become reality and they think it is the truth.

Take Jack Hyles, by all accounts a masterful speaker and storyteller. He was also a narcissistic liar. I heard Hyles preach numerous times at Sword of the Lord and Bible conferences. His sermons were usually long on illustrations and short on Scripture and exegesis. For Hyles, it was all about the sermon, the story, and the invitation. Everything he said was meant to bring hearers to a point of making a decision for or against Jesus.

Here’s a story Hyles told about winning an auto mechanic to Christ:

When I got to his house, he was working under the car. He was lying face up on a creeper and could not see me as I arrived.

“Hyles Mechanic Service!” I shouted.

“Who called you?” he asked.

“I was not called,” I replied, “I was sent.”

“Well, roll yourself under and see if you can see what is the trouble.”

I got another creeper, laid down on it, and roiled myself under the car with him.

“Looks like to me you need the valves ground,” I shouted.

“How can you tell from under here?”

“I am not talking about your car. I am talking about you.”

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am Pastor Hyles of First Baptist Church.”

Then he became inquisitive, and I explained to him that he needed Christ as Saviour to make him a new creature and that he was in worse shape than the car. With both of us lying on our backs looking up at the bottom side of the car, I told him how to be saved. When time came to pray the sinner’s prayer, he closed by saying, “Lord, I am just coming for a general overhauling.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. The next Sunday he came forward in our service professing his faith in Christ.

Great story, and one I have no doubt is an admixture of truth and lie. Every time I read a story like this I am reminded of that Sunday morning almost forty years ago when I heard Tom Malone say, “I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.”  Now, that will preach, as the Baptists like to say.

The Tullian and Kim Tchividjian Sex Scandal, A Reminder That Pastors are Just like the Rest of Us

tullian and kim tchividjian

Tullian and Kim Tchividjian

Another big name Evangelical pastor has resigned over having a sexual affair. Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin), grandson of Billy Graham and pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, resigned after his affair became public. Tchividjian released the following statement to The Washington Post:

“I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues. As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself. Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign. Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm. We are amazingly grateful for the team of men and women who are committed to walking this difficult path with us. Please pray for the healing of deep wounds and we kindly ask that you respect our privacy.”

After the release of her husband’s statement, Kim Tchividjian sent the following message to The Post:

“The statement reflected my husband’s opinions but not my own. Please respect the privacy of my family at this time, thank you. I do thank everyone for the outpouring of love for my family as well during this difficult time and we appreciate all the prayers and support we are receiving.”

In 2009, Tullian Tchividjian  assumed the pastorate of Coral Ridge, a church pastored for decades by culture warrior D. James Kennedy. At the time, Christianity Today published a feature story about the strange appointment of Tchividjian to replace Kennedy:

…For decades, another Presbyterian church in South Florida pressed to win the culture for Christ. Coral Ridge, once led by D. James Kennedy, is 12 miles away from New City in Fort Lauderdale. Once visited by as many as 7,000 on Sunday mornings, Coral Ridge shrunk to 1,400–1,500 regular attendees as Kennedy’s attention turned to national politics. Kennedy last preached on Christmas Eve 2006, and suffered cardiac arrest four days later. He died September 5, 2007, and the church’s leaders searched far and wide for a new senior pastor.

No culture warrior himself, Tchividjian seemed like an unnatural replacement for Kennedy. Yet in January 2009, Coral Ridge and New City proposed a dramatic plan: If the two churches could agree to merge, Tchividjian would become the senior pastor. If not, he would happily remain the pastor of New City. As the churches completed their merger March 15, Tchividjian inherited a high-profile opportunity to work out his vision for an unfashionable church.

Though Tchividjian had never preached at Coral Ridge before March, he was no stranger to its congregation. He hosts a monthly radio program on its radio station, has spoken on numerous occasions at the Kennedy-founded Knox Theological Seminary, and attended Coral Ridge’s private school, Westminster Academy, when his family moved to South Florida in the late 1970s. For a time they even worshiped at Coral Ridge. Once the fastest growing Presbyterian church in the country, Coral Ridge welcomed Billy Graham to dedicate its gorgeous campus in 1974…

…But unlike many others who emphasize this universal dimension, Tchividjian cares little for political life. Millions of dollars dumped into Florida during the past three presidential campaigns have numbed him to politics. Like other young evangelicals, he’s reacting against the overemphasis of the Religious Right, which has precious little to show for extraordinary efforts. Yet Tchividjian does expect that his weekly scriptural expositions will help Christians understand their cultural, social, and political obligations, including how they will vote. And he does not shy away from speaking directly about social issues clearly addressed by Scripture, such as abortion, which he called the “Holocaust of our generation.” Nevertheless, he believes politics reflects, and does not direct, cultural trends.

“For a long time now, I’ve been convinced that what happens in New York (finance), Hollywood (entertainment), Silicon Valley (technology), and Miami (fashion) has a far greater impact on how our culture thinks about reality than what happens in Washington, D.C. (politics),” he writes in Unfashionable. “It’s super important for us to understand that politics are reflective, not directive. That is, the political arena is the place where policies are made which reflect the values of our culture—the habits of heart and mind—that are being shaped by these other, more strategic arenas.”

Unlike the Religious Right’s founders, Tchividjian preaches little about winning the culture wars. Like his grandfather, he believes that focusing on the gospel will reap the reward of faithful church practice, an appealing apologetic in a skeptical age. Now as senior minister of Coral Ridge, he takes this message into one of America’s most prestigious pulpits.

According to Washington Post, a significant number of Coral Ridge members did not like Tchividjian’s approach to the Evangelical culture war and tried to unseat him:

Before he became senior pastor of the Fort Lauderdale congregation, Tchividjian’s church plant, New City, merged with the larger Coral Ridge. Seven months in, a group of church members, headed by Kennedy’s daughter, circulated a petition calling for his removal. Church members voted 69 percent to 31 percent to keep him, but a group of congregants formed a new church in response.

I know, nothing new here.

You have a one time famous Evangelical church that is in serious numerical decline. They bring in a big name preacher to fix what ails them. When some members don’t like the cure they attempt to remove the pastor, and when this fails they abandon the church and start a new one. And all of this is done because God is leading and directing.

Behind closed doors, the famous grandson of Billy Graham is having marital problems. His wife seeks out the comfort and support of another man and he does the same. How many times have we seen this movie? Same plot, different actors. What remains to be seen is whether the Phoenix will rise again. My money is on Tchividjian surviving putting his penis in a non-approved receptacle. The same goes for Kim Tchividjian. The heart wants what the heart wants, and only in the alternate universe of Evangelicalism do people fail to understand this.

I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Men of God seeking out the comfort of a woman not their wife is common. Less common is a pastor’s wife doing the same. Usually, the pastor’s wife is left to endure the indignities heaped upon her by her skirt-chasing husband. It’s somewhat refreshing to see a pastor’s wife doing what has long been the provenance of God’s chosen ones. Progress? Equal opportunity philandering?

Evangelical pastors, Tullian Tchividjian included, have spent the last five decades riding a high horse on the range of moral superiority. Before the internet, clergy sex scandals rarely made the news. Sure there were whispers, but most vow-breaking Evangelical clergymen survived the scandal and continued to pretend they met the ministerial qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3. Thanks to the internet and smartphones, this is no longer the case. It is not IF a pastor will be found out but WHEN. (and I know of NO pastor who meets the qualifications set forth by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and the book of Titus)

shane and morgan idleman

Shane and Morgan Idleman

It’s time for Evangelical pastors to admit that there is no difference between them and any other man. Not that every man has an affair, but every man (and woman) can, in the right circumstance, break their marital vows. Why is it that Evangelical pastors refuse to admit this? Take Shane Idleman, pastor of WestSide Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California. Idleman thinks Tullian Tchividjian’s run from grace is due to:

Within weeks, two of my heroes have fallen from grace, and some of my friends in pastoral ministry have taken detours in their destiny as well. Moral failings among leaders are becoming an epidemic. No one is beyond the reach of Satan’s grasp. Although I’m disappointed, my faith is not shaken because only Christ should be placed on a pedestal.

Why do they fall? They fall for the same reason that all Christians fall. Each of us are drawn away by our own evil desires and enticed. When these desires are acted upon, they lead to sin (cf. James 1:14-15)…

Consider the following ways that sin gains entrance:

1. “It will never happen to me.” 1 Corinthians 10:12 reminds us that if we think that we are standing firm, we should be careful that we don’t fall. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Pride says, “I’ve never committed adultery. It will never happen to me.”…

2. I’m “too busy.” We are all susceptible to putting God second and ministry first. If we’re too busy to cultivate a prayer life that places God first—we’re too busy. Men would live better if they prayed better…

3. Holiness is compromised. The enemy attempts to draw us away from God’s holy standard… Of all the attributes of God described in the Bible, holiness is seen most often. Holiness is a vital weapon of defense against the enemies attack (cf. Ephesians 6:14). But holiness must come from brokenness and humility not legalism. A low view of holiness always damages morality…we rationalize instead of repent. I’m convinced that today’s media plays a significant role in the decline of holiness. Sadly, hollywood, not the Holy Spirit, influences many. We cannot fill our mind with darkness all week and expect the light of Christ to shine in our lives.

4. Many build unhealthy relationships with the opposite sex. We must be on high alert in this area and have tremendous steps of accountability in place. The devil doesn’t show those involved in counseling appointments, inner office meetings, and private “fellowship” the pain and anguish and the years of regret that moral failure brings; he deceives them with a false sense of freedom in ministry…that we are simply “helping” the other person. If you are married and attracted to another person, or if the potential is there, take steps now and remove yourself from the environment. Adultery begins with small compromises. We’re often too smart to take deliberate plunges, but we’re easily enticed to take one step at a time, one compromise at a time, one bad choice at a time until we’re at the bottom. Don’t fight sexual desires; don’t entertain them…flee (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:18).

5. We fail to strengthen weak areas. The demands of life often tempt us to seek gratification in alcohol and other things. We must be on high alert. The enemy uses “opportune times” to draw us away from God. (cf. Luke 4:13.) The line is so thin that it is often hard to determine when we cross over. Weak areas such as drugs, alcohol, pain meds, sex, anger, marriage issues, and so on are “opportune times” for the enemy to strike. We must expose these areas through repentance, and install safeguards and accountability. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. (As a sidenote, depression and anxiety can work against us as well. Much can be done to safeguards these areas too…

6. Accountability is often breached or minimized. Accountability is a safeguard, but its not bullet-proof. Accountability, by itself, doesn’t work—it’s not realistic to ask others to hold you accountable. Your heart must be focused on honoring God’s Word. Accountability simply adds another level of security in the battle against sin…

I also have accountability software that sends all websites visited to my wife’s email every week. This is a major deterrent and it makes me very conscious of even seemingly innocent sites. To some, this may seem extreme, but we need to be armed for the enemy who steals, kills, and destroys. The greater our influence, the greater the need for accountability: spiritually, financially, and relationally.

7. Loneliness becomes an excuse. Ministry is hard and can easily take it’s toll. Feeling a sense of entitlement if often the beginning of justifying wrong choices. We can easily become jealous and judgmental of those who seem to have “all the fun.”…

In closing, if you are on the cliff or have already fallen, take time now and repent…

Seven points and poem from Idleman only confuse and obfuscate what the real issue is. Forty years ago, a crusty old preacher-professor told the preacher boys at Midwestern Baptist College, the college my wife and I attended in the 1970’s, that a “stiff prick has no conscience.” No need to slather Tullian Tchividjian’s affair with hyper-spiritual blather.  The sexual want, need, and stirring that arose in Tchividjian’s body gave him sufficient warning. Danger Tullian Danger, you want this woman. He chose to act on his desire, as did his wife. While there are certainly contributing factors that led to the affairs, the base reason is the need for sexual fulfillment

Idleman’s article is little more than an attempt to justify the moral failure of his hero.  It’s time for Evangelical pastors and churches to come clean about sexual infidelity in their ranks. ( please see my post Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?) It’s time to admit that there is no difference between the Evangelical Christian and the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. The moral high ground is a fiction used to prop up House Evangelical. As the light of day continues to shine on the dark secrets of Holy Spirit filled men of God, we should expect to hear of  more and more stories like this one.

Note

I focused on just one aspect of Shane Idleman’s article. There was just too much bullshit to shovel in one post.

Am I the only one who notices that most of these big name Evangelical preachers have hot wives?

Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978, With Polly’s grandfather and parents.

When I write posts like Leaving the Ministry: Dealing with Guilt and Regret, I am always concerned that someone might conclude that I was unhappy while I was in the ministry or that felt I was trapped in a job I didn’t want to be in.  Neither of these conclusions would be an accurate assessment of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

I was fifteen years old when I went forward at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio and informed the church that I thought God was calling me to the ministry. A few weeks before, I had made a public profession of faith and was baptized.  I had no doubts about God’s call on my life. In fact, my desire to be a preacher went all the way back to when I was a five-year old boy in San Diego, California. My mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a preacher. Not a baseball player, not a trash truck driver, or fireman. I wanted to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never wondered about what I wanted to do with my life. God called-preacher, end of story.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, a small fundamentalist college in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly Shope, my wife to be, started taking classes at Midwestern in the spring of 1976 while she was finishing her senior year at Oakland Christian School. At the age of fourteen, Polly went forward at the Kawkawlin River Baptist Church, Bay City, Michigan and let the church know that she believed God was calling her to be a preacher’s wife. When Polly enrolled at Midwestern, she had one goal in mind, to marry a preacher.

polly gerencser, pontiac, michigan 1978

Polly in front of our apartment, Fall 1978

Polly and I were immediately drawn to one another. She was quiet, reserved, and very beautiful. I was outspoken, brash, with a rebellious spirit. According to Polly, I was her bad boy. We started dating in September of 1976 and by Christmas we were certain that we were a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, Polly’s parents thought we were a match made in hell. My parents were divorced and Polly’s mom thought that divorce was hereditary. Though she did her best to quash our love, in the spring of 1978, we issued an ultimatum: give us your blessing or we will get married without it (a few weeks earlier, we had seriously considered eloping). On a hot July day in 1978, Polly and I exchanged vows at the Newark Baptist Temple, Heath, Ohio. As Mark Bullock, the soloist for our wedding, sang the Carpenter’s hit, We’ve Only Just Begun, Polly and I had thoughts of the wonderful life that awaited us in the ministry. Little did we know how naïve we were about what being in the ministry really entailed.

Polly’s idea of the ministry was quite idealistic. In her mind, we would have two children, a boy named Jason and a girl named Bethany, and live in a beautiful two-story house with a white picket fence. She saw herself as the quiet helpmeet of her preacher husband.  My idea of the ministry was a bit more realistic. Preaching, teaching, winning souls, visiting the sick, all in a church  filled with peace, joy, and harmony.  No one had prepared us for what the ministry would really be like. I still remember a time when I was standing in a three-foot deep hole partly filled with sewage trying to repair a broken septic line. Polly came out to see what I was doing and I said to her, well, they certainly didn’t teach me this in college. No one told us that the ministry would far different from our idealistic expectations.

Two months after we were married, Polly informed me that our use of contraceptive foam had failed and she was pregnant. Not long after her announcement, I lost my job at a Detroit area production machine shop. Financially, things quickly fell apart for us. We went to see Levy Corey, the dean at Midwestern, and told him that we needed to drop out of college. He told us we just needed to trust God and everything would work out. While I was able to find new employment, it was not enough for us to keep our head above water. In February of 1979, we dropped all of our classes and prepared to move to Bryan, Ohio. Several of our friends stopped by before we moved to berate us for not having faith in God. One friend told us that we would never amount to anything because God doesn’t bless quitters. Years later, at a Newark Baptist Temple preacher’s conference, Dr. Tom Malone, the president of Midwestern, mentioned that I was in the crowd. He said that I had left Midwestern before graduating, but if I had stayed, they (the college) probably would have ruined me. He meant it as a joke, but I took his comment as a vindication of our decision to leave college.

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before wedding.

In February of 1979, we moved to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth and the home of my sister Robin. After living with my sister for a short while, we found a house to rent on Hamilton Street. I began working at ARO, a large local manufacturer of pumps and air tools. ARO paid well, but I still desired to be a pastor. As with every job, I viewed secular work as just a means to an end — me pastoring a church. My sister attended the Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. When we first moved to Bryan, we thought that we would attend First Baptist Church, the church I had attended before enrolling at Midwestern. Though I knew everyone at First Baptist, we decided to go to Montpelier Baptist, a young, growing GARBC church pastored by Jay Stuckey. This decision did not sit well with the people at First Baptist. One of the matriarchs of the church told me, “Bruce you know you belong at First Baptist!”  At the time, First Baptist was pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack was married to my uncle’s sister Creta.

I had previously preached at Montpelier Baptist, so I knew a bit about  Stuckey and his ministry philosophy. Stuckey was a graduate of Toledo Bible College, which later moved to Newburgh, Indiana and became Trinity Theological Seminary.  After attending the church for a few weeks, Stuckey asked me to help him at the church by becoming the bus pastor and helping with church visitation.

The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get–it-done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders. I vividly remember arriving at the church with all these kids and the junior church director running out to the bus and frantically asking me what I expected him to do with all the children. I replied, that’s your problem, I just bring them in. Needless to say, this man was never very fond of me.

A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders. On the first Sunday in October, 1979, Montpelier Baptist held its morning service at the Williams County Fairground. A quartet provided special music and Ron English from the Sword of Lord preached the sermon. Five hundred people attended this service and about 150 of them had come in on the buses. Less than two weeks later, I was gone. Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio.

021916

 

What Motivated Me to Work so Hard for Jesus

working for jesus

It all started with my belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant Word of God. I considered the Bible the road map for navigating through a Satan dominated. sin plagued world.

According to the Bible, every person is a sinner under the just condemnation of God and deserves to burn in hell for all eternity. The Bible also taught me that God graciously provides a way for us to have our sins forgiven and avoid hell. God sent Jesus Christ, the son of God, to earth be the final atonement for our sin. Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sin and three days later rose again from the dead, conquering death and the grave. Our salvation and eternal destiny rests squarely on the merit and work of Jesus. He, and he alone, is the way, truth, and life.  Through the preaching of the Word (the Bible) and the work of the Holy Spirit, God calls out to us, saying, repent and believe the gospel. Those who do are gloriously saved and made part of the family of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Day Abraham Blew Himself Up at Emmanuel Baptist Church

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac

For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

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

in the 1970’s, Emmanuel Baptist Church was a large church, one of the largest churches in the United States. The church ran buses all over the Pontiac/Detroit area. During my time at Emmanuel, the church operated 80 buses.

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

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

Abraham would walk up in back of people and snip hair from their heads. A week or so later Abraham would bring the person a silk sachet filled with the hair and his finger nail clippings.  Needless to say, most of us were freaked out by Abraham and kept a close eye on him.

One day there was an explosion at the church. Abraham had built a bomb and brought to church. He carried the bomb into the restroom and, whether accidentally or on purpose, the bomb detonated. It was the last strange thing Abraham ever did. The bomb blew Abraham to bits. One man who helped clean up the mess said bits and pieces of Abraham fell from the drop ceiling.

At the time, I thought all of this was quite funny. I thought “I guess Abraham won’t do that again.” Years later, my thoughts are quite different. The buses brought thousands of people to the services of the Emmanuel Baptist Church. Most of the riders came from poor and/or dysfunctional homes. Their need was great, but all we offered them was Jesus.

Jesus was the answer for everything. Except that he wasn’t. As I now know, the problems that people face are anything but simple and Jesus is not the cure for all that ails you. What Abraham really needed was residential treatment and psychiatric care. What he got was a Jesus that could not help him. In the end, his psychosis won.

Hey Girlfriend, When You Feel Tempted to Hug Your Boyfriend…

jesus hug

Hey Girlfriend, when you feel tempted to hug your boyfriend, hug your dad, brother, sister, or an old lady in the church. Nothing quenches sexual desire like hugging a male family member or ancient Sister Bertha, right?

Paula Hendricks, a writer for the Lies Young Women Believe website, had this to say to young women who doubted an invisible Jesus could meet their sexual longing and desire:

 Apparently I’m not the only one who has wondered how God can satisfy when all I want is a pair of strong arms to hold me close. Here’s what Rebecca wrote me:

“The biggest thing I think my crush can give me that God can’t is his strong arms wrapped around me. Although my crush has yet to hold me in his arms, his physical closeness sends shivers throughout my body. I know that God is always there for me . . . but sometimes my feelings get the better of me, and all I want to do is be wrapped up in my crush’s arms and attention.”

Grace added:

“I think what always gets me is that God isn’t physically there like a guy is. He can’t wrap his arms around me. Sometimes I just want that.”

And finally, Isabella said:

“I have often thought, I wish God could come down here and give me a big bear hug. Then I would really be in love with Him.”

But here’s the thing . . . He has come down! And while He was here, He picked up kids and cradled them in His arms. (You have to admit, that shows a tender heart—few guys walk around doing the same thing!)

I know He’s not physically here now…But one day soon, we will see Him. We will be with Him.

When Christ comes again to “marry” the Church, His Bride, He will likely hold us too…

…Now that is something to look forward to! Jesus Christ is not an idea; He is a Person. A Divine Person with arms and legs and beautiful probing eyes. He loves you. Enough to spread His arms wide in order to bleed so you might be healed. And if you have put your trust in His death and resurrection on your behalf, you will soon see and know Him fully.

So in the meantime, as you wait for Him, by all means, hug! No, not your crush. Hug your dad. Hug your mom. Hug your brothers and sisters. Hug your friends. Hug those old ladies at church…

I wonder if Hendricks has heard about the Christian side hug, a type of hug sexually aware young people can give one another without causing lust?

Video Link

Rational Wiki describes the Christian side hug this way:

The Christian side hug is a means by which young Christians can show affection for each other without engaging in possibly tempting and impure front-to-front contact.

Instead of hugging face-to-face, the huggers stand side-by-side, and can be facing either the same way or in opposite directions. Unlike frontal hugging, side hugs minimize the risk of an eternal damnation which could result from possible incidental contact with a boob or penis of somebody to whom one is not married.

For extra affection, the side hug may be accompanied by a few non-contact blessing pats. If even the side hug is too intense, you can work up to it coyly with this elaborate sequence of gestures. There’s even a Christian side hug rap, which attracted the attention of The Young Turks. The degree of parody and satire intended in the rap version is unknown, but that doesn’t make it any better.

Recently, I wrote about the Six Inch Rule, a regulation used at the college Polly and I attended to keep young adults from touching one another. It proved to be a dismal failure. I don’t know of one couple who lived in the Midwestern Baptist College dorm when Polly and I did that didn’t violate the spirit and the letter of the six-inch rule. Something tells me, oh like common sense, that teenagers and young adults are still failing at keep the touching prohibitions of Evangelical moralizers like Paula Hendricks. Why, you ask? Simple. We are sexual beings and we desire physical, intimate contact with others. All the Jesus in the world won’t quench sexual desire. When it comes to choosing between sexual intimacy and Jesus, my money is on sexual intimacy.

What makes writers like Paula Hendricks so harmful is that they encourage teen girls and young women to act against their nature. They encourage them to repress their sexual desires. Sadly, when these girls later marry, they often bring a warped view of physical intimacy and sex into the marriage. (and men can do the same)  Marriage is tough enough without starting life with sexual dysfunction. Instead of teaching teenagers and young adults to repress their sexual desires, they should be encouraged to responsibly act on their desires, starting with a hug or a kiss. If there is more to the relationship, then they can determine where to go from there.

Contrary to Paula Hendricks’s horrible advice, hugging is not a gateway to sexual intercourse. Teenagers and young adults can sexually experiment without having intercourse. And if they decide to slide into home base, the best advice to give them is on how to be sexually responsible and use birth control. Of course, this advice must be given to them BEFORE they are rounding third and heading for home. In fact, before they even get to first base, wouldn’t it be better to prepare teenagers and young women for their sexual future?