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Tag: Pastoral Authority

Why Are So Many Evangelical Preachers Arrogant and Full of Themselves? — Part One

humble pastor

Part One

Part Two

Why are so many Evangelical preachers arrogant and full of themselves? While it would be easy to answer this question simply by saying that these so-called “men of God” are narcissistic Assholes for Jesus®, the correct answer is more complex and nuanced. In what follows, I will use the fifty years I spent in Christianity and the twenty-five years I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan as a backdrop as I attempt to answer this question. While no two life stories are exactly the same, I am confident that I can pick things out of my own story that can also be found in the life stories of many Evangelical preachers. Readers who were long-time members of Evangelical churches or once in the ministry themselves will likely agree with much of what I have written here. Try as we humans might — thinking we are special, unique snowflakes — to frame our stories as different from the rest, certain sociological, psychological, biological, and tribal influences directly affect how we live our lives, revealing that none of us is as radically distinctive as we think we are.

In the 1960s, my parents moved to California, hoping to find a pot filled with gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. While they never found great wealth, my parents did embrace certain religious and political beliefs that would dramatically change not only their lives, but mine. Mom and Dad both found Jesus at Tim LaHaye’s church — Scott Memorial Baptist Church — and while attending Scott Memorial, were exposed to the uber-right-wing anti-communist group The John Birch Society. My parents, overnight, became Fundamentalist Christian zealots and defenders of right-wing political extremism. While in California, Mom campaigned for Barry Goldwater, hoping that he would unseat incumbent Democratic president Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election. Goldwater lost the election, garnering only thirty-eight percent of the popular vote.

Not long after my parents became born-again Christians, I too gave my heart to Jesus. This youthful, uninformed, manipulated-by-children’s-church-workers decision was the first step of many I would take as I followed after and served the Evangelical Jesus. Not long after asking Jesus into my heart, I told Mom that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. A decade later, as is common among Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB), I made another public profession of faith, and a few weeks later I informed the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. This one moment, publicly saying that Jesus wanted me to be a “man of God,” would color and affect virtually every important decision I would make for the rest of my life.

A week or so after I let the church know I was called to preach, I preached my first sermon. I was fifteen. I would preach my last sermon thirty-three years later. All told I preached 4,000+ sermons. During this span of time, I attended an IFB college to study for the ministry, married an IFB pastor’s daughter who was looking to marry a preacher, was the assistant pastor of two churches, and pastored five churches. I also started four new churches, two Christian schools, and a multi-church youth fellowship. While at the various churches I pastored, I started street preaching ministries, nursing home ministries, and youth groups, along with preaching numerous special meetings (revivals, conferences, etc). I also attended pastors’ fellowship meetings, and supported fellow pastors when their churches had revivals and conferences.

In the mid-1970s, I spent three years at Midwestern Baptist College training for the ministry. I met Polly there, and during the summer between our sophomore and junior year years, we married, excited that God had called both of us to into full-time service — me to a life of praise and adulation and Polly to a life of watching the nursery and dutifully modeling the patriarchal way of life. It should come as no surprise then, that Polly’s view of the twenty-five years we spent in the ministry is very different from mine.

During the three years I spent training for the ministry, I taught Sunday school, worked in the bus ministry, helped with the youth group, and held services at a drug rehab/halfway house in Detroit. Unlike many of the men who attended Midwestern, I actually gained a lot of preaching experience by the time I left Midwestern in the spring of 1979. It was not uncommon for men to graduate from Midwestern having only preached sermons in their homiletics class and infrequent services at their home churches.

While attending Midwestern, it was drilled into my head that it was GOD, not MAN, who had called me to preach; that no one but God could tell me what to preach. I was also taught the importance of following the leading of the Holy Spirit, not only in my preaching, but also in determining whether I should start a new church or become the pastor of an established church. As a preacher, according to what was modeled to me by my pastors and what I was taught in college, I answered to no one but God. Jesus may have been head of the church, but on earth I was the final authority on spiritual and theological matters.

Baptists love to attack the Roman Catholic Church with its Pope and his infallible pronouncements, yet they seem blind to the fact that in their churches, every church has its own little pope — the pastor. Saved by God, called by God, filled with the Spirit of God, led by God, and given absolute authority, these Evangelical chosen ones rule their churches as kings and potentates. Pastors, commanded by God to “humbly” sit at the head of the table, expected congregants to submit to their God-given authority, obeying those that have the rule over them (Hebrews 13:17).

Some Evangelical churches, hoping to correct the excesses of single-pastor church rule, have a plurality of pastors (elders) or have governing boards.  All these polity changes do is increase the number of bwanas. The end result is the same: a man or small group of men rule over the church. And more often than not, in churches with governing boards, there is one man, the senior/preaching pastor, who is the hub around which the church turns. As is clear to anyone who is paying attention, Evangelical churches are all about the man who stands at the front of the church and preaches and teaches the Bible. Whether intentional or not, Evangelical churches become Pastor So-and-So’s church. His name is on the sign, bulletin, and every piece of advertising put out by the church. It is not uncommon for congregants to say when asked where they attend church, I go to Pastor Ain’t He Awesome’s church. Churches pastored by men with John Holmes-sized oratorical prowess take great pride in having a pastor who is a great pulpiteer.

I preached thousands of sermons during my time as a pastor, and, hopefully without coming off as braggadocios, was considered by the people I pastored and my peers to be an excellent public speaker. My sermons were well-crafted, steeped in study and prayer, and delivered with passion and animation. I expected every sermon I preached to be used by God to save the lost and motivate the saints. I expected to see visible human responses — be it nodding heads, shouts of “amen,” raised hands, or tears — during my sermons, and at the end, I expected to see movement towards the front during altar calls. I was of the opinion then, and am still of this persuasion today, that public speakers should always bring audiences to a place of acting on that which they have heard — be it getting saved, getting right with God, or advancing this or that political cause.

Evangelical preachers believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. Every word is straight from the mouth of God, and with rare exception, these God-breathed words are meant to be understood literally. This way of reading the Bible forces Evangelical preachers to defend all sorts of absurd beliefs; things such as the idea that the universe was created in six twenty-four-hour days and is six-thousand and twenty-four years old. Ministries such as Answers in Genesis and Creation Research Institute were established to give literalism a veneer of respectability, and countless apologetical books are published in the hope that pastors will read them so they are better equipped to defend Evangelicalism’s literalistic view of the Bible.

Let me conclude this post by tying everything together, setting the foundation for what I will write in Part Two. Evangelical preachers are saved and called into the ministry by God. They are viewed as people uniquely qualified to teach and preach the Bible. From the moment Evangelical preachers are called into the ministry until they preach their last sermon, they are treated as special and placed in positions of honor, power, and authority few Christians ever experience. Evangelical pastors who go off to college to be trained for the ministry are reminded by their professors and chapel speakers that God has given them the greatest job on earth; that becoming president of the United States would be a step down for them; that God will greatly reward them in heaven if they give their hearts, souls, and minds to the work of the ministry; that if God so chooses, they might even see Him use them to reap harvests of souls and build large churches.

Trace the life of the typical Evangelical preacher and you will find a lifetime of adulation, praise, and being in the spotlight. Even in small country churches deep in back-woods hollers, preachers are honored and revered. Is it any wonder, taking all that I have said in this post, that many Evangelical preachers become arrogant and full of themselves? Rare is the man who can handle a lifetime of praise and adoration, coupled with absolute power, control, and authority, and not be adversely affected, particularly when you factor in the Type-A, narcissistic, workaholic, driven personalities many preachers have. And rarer still is the man who is willing to admit these things.

I am sure some Evangelical preachers will self-righteously and indignantly say that they were NOT like me, but with their protestations they will only prove my point. I hope, at the very least, Evangelical pastors, evangelists, and missionaries will shut up and listen to what this old curmudgeon has to say. I may now be an atheist, but my leaving the ministry and Christianity has allowed me to have a unique view of Evangelical preachers and the work of the ministry. Perhaps I yet have a sermon to preach to those who claim by their words and actions to be know-it-alls for God.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Two Questions About the IFB Church Movement

i have a question

Several weeks ago, a reader sent me an email, asking me two questions. What follows is my response.

For Independent Fundamental Baptists, I’ve watched a couple of Steven Anderson’s sermons, and I see the congregation agreeing and saying amen to everything pastor Anderson has said (even if it is rude and hateful). Why do the Independent Fundamental Baptists have to agree with their pastor?

While some people paint Steven Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, as some sort of extremist within the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement (even suggesting he is NOT IFB), Anderson is typical of what I saw and experienced as an IFB church member and pastor. Granted, Anderson is more public about his abhorrent beliefs and practices than many IFB preachers, but he hasn’t said or done anything that is uncommon among Fundamentalist Baptists. (Please see Understanding Steven Anderson, Pastor Faithful Word Baptist Church, Tempe, Arizona.)

IFB churches typically believe that their pastors are chosen by God, ordained to be their leaders. Most IFB churches are led and controlled by one man, the pastor. The pastor is viewed as a divine oracle of sorts, one who speaks on God’s behalf. The pastor is a gatekeeper, the hub around which the church turns. Church members are conditioned and indoctrinated to submit to their pastor’s rule and authority.

Thus, when the man of God stands to speak to the people of God, from the inerrant, infallible Word of God, congregants believe his words are straight from the mouth of God. IFB pastors work for God, not the church, a belief that is often reinforced through preaching on subjects such as pastoral authority and the dangers of going against the man of God. So, then, it should come as no surprise that church members hang on their preacher’s every word, showing their agreement with shouts of AMEN!, THAT’S RIGHT PREACHER!, or PREACH IT!

Also, why do they seem to hate liberals, Catholics, homosexuals, Jews, etc?

Hatred of others is part of the DNA of IFB churches, colleges, preachers, and church members. IFB churches aren’t counter-cultural, they are anti-cultural. Congregants are taught to hate the world.

1 John 2:15-16 says:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Thus, it is not surprising that IFB believers hate liberal Christians, Catholics, LGBTQ people, Democrats, abortionists, atheists, socialists, and anyone else who believes or lives differently from them. In Steven Anderson’s case, he wears his hate proudly. Other IFB adherents hide their hate behind the closed doors of their homes or the safe confines of their churches. Whether out and proud or hiding behind an “I love Jesus” smile, IFB Christians hate.

Years ago, I made the case that there was no difference between Fred Phelps, of Westboro Baptist Church fame, and Southern Baptist luminary Al Mohler. While Phelps wore his hate on his sleeve and Mohler couched his hate in politeness and ten-dollar words, both were Fundamentalists and Calvinists with a “righteous” hatred of the “world.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

How Evangelical Preachers Demean and Harass Female Congregants

god is a woman
Cartoon by David Hayward

Many (most) Evangelical churches are hierarchical in nature: male God, male pastor, male church leaders, married men, and then women and children. God, of course, comes first. God, of course — because it says so in the Bible — is a HE, not a she. God, of course, determines the order of all things, including the church and home.

God created man first, and then woman. He commanded that men are to be the head of their homes, and women are to submit to their husbands in all things, as unto the Lord. God commanded that women were to be keepers of the home, submitting cheerfully and without complaint to their husbands. Children are commanded by God to joyfully obey their parents in all things.

God commanded that men, as pastors, elders, and deacons, are to rule the church. Only men are permitted to preach and teach during public worship services. Women are permitted to teach other women and children, but they must never, ever usurp authority over men. In some Evangelical churches, women are expected to be quiet during worship services. I knew of one church (Mennonite) where women were not permitted to sing the first note or two of any song lest they are guilty of “leading” men. I attended a number of their services, and the men would start the singing and then the women would join them a note or two later. I knew of another church (Sovereign Grace Baptist) where women were not permitted to speak during the services. If a woman had a prayer request, she was expected to whisper the request to her husband or another man, and he would make the request known. This same church would not allow women to ask questions during business meetings. If a woman had a question, she was to, again, whisper the question to her husband or another man, and he could then ask the question.

In many Evangelical churches, women working outside of the home is frowned upon, if not outright prohibited. In such churches, married women are expected to bear children, cook meals, do laundry, clean the house, teach children, and submit to their husband’s sexual advances — all without complaint or question. Unmarried girls and women are expected to learn domestic duties from their mothers, preparing them for marriage. In some churches, girls are discouraged from having college or career ambitions. Their future was sealed the moment they were born — a life devoted to husband, children, and domestic duties. Some churches do permit young women to attend church-approved Bible colleges, but only for the express purpose of getting an MRS degree.

I can safely say that Evangelicalism, in general, is anti-woman. While it is encouraging to see some churches abandoning complementarianism for egalitarianism, millions of Evangelical women and girls are members of churches that treat them as subservient, inferior, second-class people. Their lives are dominated by the male species, first as daughters, and then as wives. Attempts by women to break free from male dominance are viewed as rebellion against God and the men he has set as rulers over them. In some instances, rebellious women are brought under church discipline, which leads to shunning until they confess their sin and bow in submission to male authority.

People not raised in Evangelical churches will likely read this post and say, Bruce, surely this is satire. It’s 2022 and women are free to be whatever they want to be. It may be 2022 where you live, but for many Evangelical women and girls, it is the 1950s, or the 1850s for that matter. The driving belief behind the anti-abortion, anti-birth control movement is that God has commanded women to marry, spread their legs when asked by their husbands, and bear lots of children. Women who chase dreams of higher education, athletics, or careers are living lives contrary to God’s plan and his divine order for families and societies. According to more than a few Evangelical preachers, much of what is wrong with the world can be traced back to women not accepting their God-given role as mothers and keepers of the home.

Imagine, for a moment, being raised in churches where women are treated as I mentioned above. Week after week, month after month, year after year, you are reminded of your second-class status before God and man. Sunday after Sunday, your preacher reminds you of your place in the home and church, and your duty to submit to your husband and male church authority. Imagine being a bright, inquisitive girl who has great ambition, only to have these things stomped into the ground by men who say they know God’s plan for your life, and that plan does not include college, athletics, or a career. Even worse, imagine when one of these “godly men” sexually harasses, molests, or rapes you, and if you dare report it, you are blamed for the man’s perverse behavior.

biblical submission

Outsiders rightly ask, why would any woman willingly submit herself to such psychological abuse? Why don’t they stand up against patriarchal thinking and demand equality? Surely, these women want more for their lives than babies, casseroles, and watching the church nursery? Unfortunately, for many women, they were raised in churches that devalued women and it is the only thing they know. Imagine being repeatedly threatened with judgment and chastisement from God if you dare to demand the same opportunities in life as men. Being told over and over that God wants you to live a certain way and living otherwise could lead to pain, loss, and even death, is sure to result in obedience and conformity. Such conditioning and indoctrination lead to tragic outcomes.

According to Evangelicals, preachers are God-ordained keepers of divine order. Through their preaching and modeling, women are shown how God wants them to live. Using a plethora of Biblical proof texts, women and girls are frequently reminded of their place, and that not accepting that place means they are being sinful, rebellious, and disobedient to God. These preachers literally demean and harass female congregants with their sermons and Bible quotations. Girls come into this world rebellious against God’s constituted order, and it is up to preachers to use the Bible to beat the rebellion out of them. Countless effervescent girls have been turned into dowdy, rarely-smiling, obedient women who no longer have dreams of life beyond the bed, cradle, or kitchen. Such preaching can and does suck the life out of women, turning them into servants of the male God, their husbands, and male-controlled churches.

The good news is that many Evangelical women are tired of being treated as doormats. They are tired of having their ambitions drowned out by their husbands’ wants, needs, and desires. Evangelical teen girls are increasingly rebelling against their fathers and pastors, demanding that they be treated with decency and respect and afforded the same opportunities as boys. I know of a number of women who demanded the right to take college classes. Many of these women, once they graduated from college and figured out they could live on their own, left their churches and divorced their husbands — proving to Evangelical troglodytes that women must be tethered to the home lest they overthrow God’s order.

My wife and I grew up in churches where complementarianism was frequently preached from the pulpit; churches where women were expected to be married, barefoot, and pregnant; churches where women were expected to do menial labor while the men sat in the gates and did the “real” work of ruling nations, churches, and homes. It should come as no surprise, then, that when Polly and I married, we had what was commonly called a “traditional” marriage, with me being the patriarchal head of the home, and Polly devoting herself to domestic chores and children. Fortunately, both of us saw the light, resulting in fundamental changes to our marriage and home. Some of this change was driven by my health problems. I worked for much of our marriage and Polly quietly and happily maintained the home. When fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, degenerative spinal disease, and gastroparesis forced a change of roles, our marriage changed too — for the better, I might add.

The girl I married in 1978 was quiet, soft-spoken, and content to let me be the boss. The bad-ass woman I am now married to is still quiet and soft-spoken, but that boss thing? That ain’t happening. Both of us will admit that we have struggled with our changing marital dynamic. It wasn’t easy at first. It has taken years for the bad thinking from our patriarchal past to be transformed into egalitarian thinking that values and respects people regardless of their sex. Even now, both of us can, on occasion, fall back into our former way of life. I still, at times, want to be the boss, and Polly is content to let me make decisions, especially those that could have negative outcomes. Our new, ever-evolving relationship has taken a lot of conversation, arguing, and forgiving. I can honestly say that our marriage today is better than it ever has been. I love and respect Polly more than ever, even when she still refuses to know what she wants to order when we pull up at a fast-food order window. 🙂 Each of us recognizes the other’s strengths and weaknesses and our divisions of labor are determined by expertise and not some verses from an outdated, ancient religious text. It’s unlikely that we will ever have the “perfect” marriage, but I can safely say that what was begun almost forty-four years ago continues to blossom and grow.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Touch Not My Anointed

touch not my anointed

Criticize or judge an Evangelical preacher, and you likely will be told that preachers are called and anointed by God, and only God can judge them. Recently, an Evangelical commenter on a Black Collar Crime series post told me that it was wrong for me to expose these men of God; that it was up to God alone to deal with them. She even went so far as to quote the parable of the tares and wheat (Matthew 13:18-30), suggesting that clerics who are child molesters, rapists, abusers, and adulterers should remain in their churches. If God wants to remove these tares from among the wheat, it is up to him to pull these so-called men of God up by the roots.

I grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement. I attended an IFB college, Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, and pastored several IFB churches in the 1980s. Throughout my time in the IFB church movement, I heard and was taught that preachers were untouchable, that criticizing pastors would bring the judgment of God down upon your head.

Those of us who spent significant time in IFB churches likely heard sermons from 2 Kings 2:23-24:

And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

The CEV translates this passage of Scripture this way:

Elisha left and headed toward Bethel. Along the way some boys started making fun of him by shouting, “Go away, baldy! Get out of here!” Elisha turned around and stared at the boys. Then he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Right away two bears ran out of the woods and ripped to pieces forty-two of the boys.

The recently anointed prophet Elisha was walking to Bethel. While on his journey, he came upon forty-two boys who mocked him for having a bald head. Elisha, a temperamental Baptist preacher, turned around, looked at the boys, and cursed (at?) them — in the name of the Lord, of course. God heard Elisha’s bitching and moaning, sending two female bears to attack and kill the boys. Moral of the story? Don’t mock a man of God. If you do, God might kill you.

Imagine being a child in an IFB church. Imagine hearing this story repeated over and over again. It should surprise no one that children grow up fearing their preachers (and God). Children are taught that they must respect the “man of God” no matter what. Thus, it is not uncommon for IFB children to reverence their pastors as if they are God himself. These children later marry and teach their own children to view their pastors as godly, holy, larger than life figures. I heard more than a few IFB preachers say that there was no greater job than being a pastor; that becoming the president of the United States would be a step down for them.

In December 2020, I wrote a post titled, The Gods Have Clay Feet: A Few Thoughts on Evangelical Pastors:

The Evangelical Christian church has many gods. While Evangelicals will profess to worship the true and living God — the God of the Bible — often their true object of worship is human and not divine. Most Evangelical churches have a congregational form of church government. Some churches have adopted an elder rule form of government. Regardless of what form of government a church adopts, there can be no doubt about who really runs the church. The CEO, the boss man, the head honcho is the pastor — also known as the senior pastor, executive pastor, and prophet, priest, and king.

The pastor is the hub upon which the wheel of the church turns. He (there are very few she’s) is the man who runs the show. He sets the course for the church. He is a modern-day Moses leading the church to the Promised Land. He is the visionary with a vision that the church is expected to follow. He is, after all, the man of God. He is divinely called by God, a call that cannot be explained with human words. He is the man of God, given a message by God, to speak to the people of God.

He is a man not to be trifled with. He has been anointed by God. He has been set apart by God to do the most important work in the world. His calling is higher than even that of the President of the United States. The congregation is reminded that the Bible says “touch not mine anointed.”

Touch not mine anointed . . . 1 Chronicles 16:22 says: Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. The Message translates this verse this way: Don’t you dare touch my anointed ones, don’t lay a hand on my prophets.

IFB preachers remind congregants that GOD SAYS they are NOT to ever TOUCH his anointed ones — pastors. Not literally “touch,” of course. These men of God want to warn people that it is a sin against the thrice Holy God to say bad things about them.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post titled, How Dare I Talk Smack About C.T. Townsend. Townsend is a well-known IFB evangelist and pastor. One of his acolytes, a Baptist preacher, took issue with a previous post I had written about Townsend. (Please see Emotionally Manipulating IFB Church Members through Music and Preaching Styles, You Better be Mindful of Speaking Against a “Man of God”, and How Dare I Badmouth IFB Evangelist CT Townsend! Says Fundamentalist Christian.)

He sent me a scathing email, part of which said:

The BIBLE says to TOUCH NOT mine anointed. Be careful brother you are walking on dangerous ground. You know nothing about CT Towsend. The life He lives and what He says proves what’s in His heart I don’t know you but THE BIBLE SAYS Out of the abundance of the Heart the mouth speakerth What you say about GODs man exposes who You Are ! It’s funny to me that a child of satan thinks he’s so smart that he can judge a Great Man of GOD like CT Townsend. I will leave you with this Bible verse The FOOL hath said in his heart There is no GOD. THE BIBLE IS NEVER WRONG.

According to this Baptist preacher, Townsend is untouchable. Since God uses Townsend to save souls and do mighty works in his name, he’s above criticism and judgment. How dare I speak ill of the man. I am walking on “dangerous” ground — IFB-speak for “God is going to kill you!”

This kind of thinking allows IFB preachers to behave any way they please. Even when caught in sin and debauchery, these preachers are often quickly forgiven or allowed to quietly resign and move on down the road to another church. Bad conduct is routinely covered up. Churches leave it to God to chastise and correct errant preachers. Told repeatedly that they must never touch God’s anointed, congregants can’t bring themselves to discipline and excommunicate erring pastors.

Surely, conduct can rise to the level where these men are no longer considered God-called, anointed preachers, right? Nope. Romans 11:29 says: For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. The Message translates this verse this way: God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded. Never mind the fact that this verse is talking about Israel, not IFB preachers. This verse is why more than a few IFB Christians believe I am still a God-called preacher; that my health problems are the result of God’s chastisement; that God will one day use me again to win souls and advance his Kingdom. Once a Christian, always a Christian. Once a preacher, always a preacher. Or so the thinking goes, anyway.

Did you hear sermons from the verses mentioned in this post? How were preachers treated in your churches. Were you told to never “touch” God’s anointed ones? Please shares your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

IFB Bullies in the Pulpit

angry preacher

I recently read a blog post on another website that talked about bullies in the pulpit. For those of us raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, we are quite aware of so-called men of God bullying church members under the guise of preaching the Word of God or sharing what God laid upon their hearts. Let me share a couple of illustrations I believe will aptly illustrate my point.

In the early 1980s, my wife and I attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark, Ohio. The church’s pastor was James (Jim) Dennis, Polly’s uncle. Jim graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1960s. Polly’s father would later attend this college, as did Polly and I. Midwestern was known for producing fire-breathing, authoritarian preachers. Tom Malone, the chancellor of Midwestern and pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, took a ” my way or the highway” approach to ministry. Legalistic thinking permeated both the church and the college. Run afoul of Malone, and you were shown the door. I vividly remember someone leaving a church service at Emmanuel and Malone stopping his sermon to address the man leaving. Much to the man’s embarrassment, Malone said, with his Alabamian drawl, “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” The only phrase missing was “on the ass.”

Jim Dennis followed in the footsteps of Malone when it came to being a bully. While Jim could have a winsome personality, cross him and he would quickly put you in your place. The Baptist Temple was his church, end of discussion. God had called him to be its pastor, and as God’s chosen oracle, his word was law.

The church was going through a difficult time financially. Jim decided that he would inspect the tithing records to see which church members were giving and how much. Jim was shocked to learn that many of the teachers and staff in the church’s Christian school were not tithing. Never mind that teachers and staff members were paid pathetically low wages and had few, if any, benefits. Polly taught first grade one year at the school. She made $180 a week before taxes. She also worked in the church’s daycare the previous year. Polly’s total gross wages in 1980-81 were $9,111. I made almost three times as much money working for Long John Silver’s (and had full benefits) as Polly did teaching and caring for the church’s children. Worse yet, women were paid less money than men. Why? Because men were breadwinners, not women. Employees were expected to treat their jobs as a ministry of sorts, the equivalent of a Baptist vow of poverty. It should not be surprising then that many teachers and staff members couldn’t afford to tithe and give offerings. When you are in the poorhouse, it is hard to justify giving money to the church.

One Sunday, an angry Jim Dennis — righteous anger, right?— took to the bully pulpit and savaged his selflessly serving teachers. He demanded that they immediately start tithing, and if they didn’t, he would have their tithes deducted from their paychecks. While I’m sure Polly’s IFB family would wish I didn’t write stories such as this, I think it is important to expose this sort of behavior for what it is: bullying.

Let me share another story before moving on to my own abhorrent behavior. In the 1980s, a fire-breathing Fundamentalist named Mike Lee was the pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. Montpelier Baptist was the first church I worked for after leaving Midwestern in 1979. The pastor I worked for, Jay Stucky, later left and Lee became pastor. My sister and her husband were members of the church both while I was there and after Lee took over the helm. After my sister’s marriage fell apart, Lee would have her followed to see what she was up to. Granted, her behavior didn’t measure up to the IFB standard, but deacons following her to the local bar and grill to observe her behavior? My sister, of course, left the church.

Several years later, the good pastor Lee decided to address the burning issue of church teenagers attending their high school prom. In the minds of Fundamentalists like Lee, attending the prom was among the vilest of “sins.” After his sermon was over, Lee told the congregation that he had something he wanted to talk to them about. Wanting to make sure that no one could leave the church auditorium, Lee had the ushers lock the doors. How do I know this happened? A couple who would later join the church I pastored in West Unity were visiting Lee’s church that day. They were scared witless by his behavior. There’s one word to describe this pastor’s behavior: bullying.

These two illustrations likely seem beyond the pale to non-IFB Christians, but trust me, such behavior is quite normal among IFB pastors and churches. Why is that? Most IFB pastors are anti-culture. I suspect most of them voted for Donald Trump in the last election. Authoritarians love other authoritarians. Many IFB pastors run their churches in a fashion similar to the way Trump ran his businesses and the federal government. IFB pastors, to the man, believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Couple this with a literalistic interpretation of the Bible, a belief that pastors are divinely called by God to speak on his behalf, and that their opinions and personal interpretations have the weight of law, is it any surprise that many of them are bullies?

I grew up in IFB churches and attended an IFB college. My pastors, professors, and colleagues in the ministry all modeled bullying behavior to one degree or another. I heard it at pastor’s conferences in the stories preachers told about their churches, and I witnessed it when I visited other IFB churches. People wrongly assume that Steven Anderson, an IFB pastor in Tempe, Arizona, is an outlier, an aberration. He’s not. The same goes for the late-Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church.

It is not surprising, then, that I was an authoritarian and bully as a pastor. I may have been kind, compassionate, and may have gone out of my way to help church members, but I expected congregants to heed my pronouncements. I expected them to recognize and bow what is called in IFB circles “pastoral authority.” This false notion was reinforced in my sermons, private interactions, and church business meetings. Church members were warned that failure to obey the man of God would lead to judgment and chastisement from the Almighty. And surprisingly, hundreds of people bowed to my authority, believing I was in some way or the other chosen by God to be their “shepherd.”

The good news is that I stopped being a bully long before I left the ministry. I came to see that the church didn’t belong to me. It was “our” church, not my personal fiefdom. Did I totally lose my authoritarian bent? Sadly, no. I learned that many church members were quite comfortable with me making all or most of the decisions. They were fine with me telling them what to believe and how to live. I endured countless church business meetings where I would plead with congregants to share their opinions, only to see them stay silent or let me have the final say. This was frustrating, to say the least, but it is hard for me not to conclude that every church I pastored had cultic tendencies.

After leaving the ministry in 2005 and Christianity in 2008, I have repeatedly apologized to former parishioners for my bullying behavior. While I have been forgiven by those I have harmed, it’s hard for me to live with the damage and harm I caused to others. Sure, I was a product of my environment and training. Sure, I did what was modeled to me by my pastors, professors, and other IFB pastors and evangelists. All that is true and makes for a great psych profile, but the fact remains that I was a bully, that I harmed other people, including my wife and children.

Alas, there are no do-overs in life. All I know to do is tell my story and hope that others will be warded off from authoritarian pastors. Not all pastors are bullies, so I suggest potential church members carefully pay attention to how a preacher conducts himself before committing one’s time and money to a particular church. Bullying behavior can be found in other sects too. In general, Evangelicalism has a problem with bullies in the pulpit, men who are engorged with power and control. The only way to end such behavior is to stop giving these bullies an audience. When all the students stay off the playground, the bully has no one to harm. It’s time for Christians to leave authoritarian pastors to their own devices.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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Dear Evangelical Pastor, Why Should I Listen to You?

authority

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In this post I use authority and expert interchangeably.

If you have spent significant time in Evangelical churches, you know that the pastor is considered the pope of the church. He is the go-to guy about everything. The pastor takes seriously Paul’s statement, “I became all things to all men.” Not only is the pastor an expert on the Bible and theology, he is also an expert on current events, history, archeology, politics, science, sports, medicine, sex, construction, child-rearing, meal planning, and auto repair.

If the pastor doesn’t know it, it ain’t worth knowing.

Now here is the truth.

Most pastors are barely proficient when it comes to their chosen profession.  Many church members would be surprised to know how little actual Bible training their pastor received while attending an Evangelical college. It should never be assumed that any pastor is adequately trained in understanding and teaching the Bible.  Personally, I am of the opinion that it is almost impossible for pastors to get a proper education about the Bible in Evangelical institutions, due to their ideological bent.

Most pastors know enough Greek to make them dangerous. Few pastors know any Hebrew at all. A parishioner would be mistaken to accept the pastor as the authority on the Bible without inquiring as to WHY he should be accepted as such. Should he be accepted as an authority just because of the position he holds or because the Bible says he must be accepted as such? Perhaps church members need to start asking their pastor, WHY should I listen to you?

No pastor is an oracle who knows everything. His office does not make him an authority. Becoming an authority on a matter requires work, hard work. There are some things I am good at. I work very hard to know what I know and to be able to do what I do. Granted, many of us are good at some things because they come easy for us, but no one should be faulted for that. For example, I am very good at being a pain in the ass. It comes easy for me.

Early in the ministry, I was flattered that people would come to me for advice. I was glad to be the answer man. For many years, I even had an “Ask the Pastor” question time one Sunday night a month. Parishioners could ask me any question they wanted. I answered every question, no matter what the question was. I came off as a man with a vast knowledge of virtually everything. In reality I was like a fart in a forty mile per hour wind. I was five miles wide and one inch deep. In other words, I was a pompous, arrogant, know-little know-it-all.

In the latter years of my time in the ministry, I became less willing to answer questions that were not within the range of my expertise. I’ve had to learn that there is a difference between having an opinion about something and actually knowing about something.  Since leaving the ministry and leaving Christianity, I have worked very hard to fill in some of the glaring knowledge gaps I have. As a pastor, I would pontificate about Darwin, creation, and evolution, yet I didn’t know a damned thing about science. In high school I took earth science and biology. In college I took one science class, a biology class, that had no lab and had a teacher who had no actual science training beyond being able to read the textbook. So science is an area in which I am working very hard to fill in the gaps.

Years ago, a liberal Baptist pastor and I got into a discussion about psychology. At the time, I was an Evangelical. He brought up Maslow. I waxed eloquently about what I had read in a book opposing psychology. The liberal Baptist preacher could tell I didn’t really know anything, so he called my bluff, and then he told me I was full of shit. He was right.

Pastors should stick to what they know. If their calling is to teach and preach, then they owe it to their congregations to be educated about the Bible and to learn communication skills that will allow them to be the best preachers possible. Sadly, over the years, I’ve heard countless preachers preach who were illiterate concerning theology and who had little or no training in public discourse. Awful sermons, to say the least.

Want to talk about the Bible, church history, Evangelicalism, Fundamentalism, tax issues in the ministry, photography, or Windows computers? I’m your man. If you want to talk about gardening, environmental issues, politics, or sports, I am “kinda” your man, depending on the specific subject. Most everything else, I am just a man with an opinion. An intellectual jack of all trades, master of none.

The next time someone speaks as an authority ask yourself, WHY should I accept this person’s word on this matter?” Each of us should think critically about the people to whom we grant authority. In the 1960s young people were challenged to question authority. The pastors of the churches I attended as a youth said, submit to authority. Their authority. I was raised in an environment that frowned upon, and sometimes punished, any challenge to authority. The college I attended used the same methodology. Imagine where we would be today if no one ever questioned or challenged authority.

The Internet has brought us a vast store of information. No longer do we have to take someone’s word for anything. We can investigate a matter and determine if a person is being factual with regard to that matter. Before granting anyone the vaunted position of an authority, it is always wise and prudent to fact-check their claims. Even then, a person we accept as an authority might not be equally authoritative on everything.

Here’s the bottom line. Be careful about those whom you allow to be authorities in your life. WHY should they be granted this noble position of authority? No person can be an authority on everything. Be wary of any man, especially a “holy man,” who passes himself off as a know-it-all. Such a person cannot be trusted.

At the same time, we should not be guilty of showing no respect for authority at all. When people give themselves to learning a particular discipline, they should not be dismissed without reason or cause. I am always amused when people dismiss NT scholar Bart Ehrman out of hand without ever engaging or understanding what he writes. He’s an agnostic, an unbeliever, why should I listen to him? they say.  Regardless of his spiritual state, he IS an expert in the fields he writes about.  Since I am NOT an expert, I must determine if I can trust his expertise. I do. Others don’t. Such is the nature of choosing which experts we will believe.

The same could be said of the science surrounding climate change. Few of us are experts. We must choose which experts we will believe. Personally, my money is on 95% of climate scientists who say global climate change is real. I am aware of the other 5%, but I don’t think they are right. Granted, I am not a science expert, and I am willing to even admit I am poorly trained in science, but I can read. I do have a rational mind that still has a modicum of sharpness that allows me to make an educated choice about which expert I will believe.

How do you decide whom to grant authority to in your life? How do you determine which expert to believe?  Have you ever been deceived by an “expert”? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Allen Domelle Whines About How IFB Preachers are Treated Today

elisha bears
Cartoon by Graham Williamson

Allen Domelle is the pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church in Bethany, Oklahoma. A staunch defender of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, Domelle is also the editor of the Old Paths Journal. Last week, Domelle published an article titled, Treatment of the Man of God. Domelle offered four ways church members should never treat their pastors:

  • Never treat the man of God with disdain
  • Never demand of the man of God
  • Never distance yourself from the man of God
  • Never treat the man of God irreverently

In IFB churches, the pastor is called the “man of God.” While Domelle says “the man of God is nothing of himself,” he makes it clear that the man of God’s “position” is what makes him important. Most IFB congregations are pastored by one man. He is considered the head honcho, boss, and ruler over all. Jesus might get top billing, but IFB preachers are the star of the show, the hub around which the church turns. I know of one man who pastored his church for over forty years. He not only preached, but he also wrote the checks, kept the books, looked at the tithing records to see who was contributing, and ruled over every aspect of church life. When congregants were asked where they attended church, it was not uncommon for them to say, “I attend Pastor _______’s church.” This should not come as a surprise. In IFB churches, pastors often stay at one church for years. The longer the man stays at the church, the more autocratic control he has.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an IFB institution. Pastors-in-training were encouraged to go to a community, start a church, and stay for a lifetime. Countless Midwestern graduates did just that. In fact, some men stay until they retire or die, often handing the church off to a son. The patriarchy lives on in IFB churches.

Millions of people attend churches on Sundays that are pastored and controlled by one man. When congregants look towards the man in the pulpit, they see a man above all men; God’s man; a man chosen by God to be their guide and ruler. (The phrase “man of God” is used seventy-two times in the King James Bible.) IFB preachers turn to the following verses (and others) to justify their authoritarian rule:

  • Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation . . . Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:7,17)
  • Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17)

Some IFB churches have a plurality of elders (pastors). Supposedly, having multiple “men of God” stymies authoritarian rule. However, a closer examination of such churches reveals that while there may be more than one pastor, there’s one, and only one, head pastor. Fundamentalist John MacArthur pastors a megachurch in California. The church is governed by an elder board. But make no mistake about it, Grace Community Church is John MacArthur’s church. He alone has the final say. I have yet to see an Evangelical church that has an elder board that didn’t have one man that ruled the roost above all others.

In IFB circles, along with Evangelicalism in general, congregants revere their pastors. This should not shock anyone. When you are taught from an early age that the man in the pulpit is God’s messenger; that he is chosen, directed, and anointed by God; is it a surprise that church members idolize their pastor? As a student at Midwestern, I heard more than one chapel speaker say that a pastor becoming president of the United States would be a step down. I was taught that what America needed was more “men of God” called to preach the gospel and stand against Satan. I left college in 1979 believing that God had put his stamp of approval on my life; that this “calling” I had received from God was irrevocable. (The Bible says in Romans 11:29: For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.)

Let me bring this rabbit trail back around to Domelle’s post. As is common among IFB preachers, Domelle yearns for the good old days — the 1950s. (Please see Pastor Bob Gray Sr. Pines for the 1950s) He pines for a day when “men of God were revered and honored. It wasn’t that those men were sinless, but it was the position they held that demanded the respect of every person, and was expected from every person.”

Let’s briefly look at Domelle’s four ways congregants should not treat the “man of God.”

Never treat the man of God with disdain

Just because the man of God preaches against your sins doesn’t make him a bad man. The disrespect of men of God on social media is atrocious. People feel like they can say hateful and disrespectful things to the man of God because they feel that they have the forum and the “right” to criticize him. Always remember that how you treat men of God is a revelation of your respect of God.

Domelle believes it is always wrong to criticize the “man of God.”  How you treat the “man of God” reveals the level of respect you have for God. Disrespect your pastor, and you disrespect God. Is it any wonder IFB church members fear criticizing their pastor? Mess with the preacher, and you are messing with God.

Never demand of the man of God

To demand of the man of God is to put yourself in God’s place because it is God’s position to deal with the man of God. Sometimes it is not what you are saying that is wrong, but it is how you are saying it to the man of God that is wrong. Your tone towards God’s man does matter to God; you should always be respectful instead of demanding.

According to Domelle, congregants should never demand anything from their pastor. If congregants think the “man of God” is lacking in some way, it is up to God, not them, to straighten him out. Hear rumors that Pastor Billy is fucking his secretary? Take the matter to God and let him take care of it. Scandals are often shoved under the proverbial rug. If God wants things to be different, he will take care of the matter. Sadly, God rarely takes care of anything, resulting in the rug turning into a mountain of dirty laundry. Decades of misconduct are swept under the rug, with congregants believing that God will make things right. As the Black Collar Crime Series makes clear, if church members don’t act no one will.

Domelle believes that congregants should always be respectful to their pastor, regardless of whether such respect is earned. The “man of God” deserves respect no matter what. Again, Domelle invokes God’s name when he says “your tone towards God’s man does matter to God.” Be careful, God is listening to how you talk to your pastor. Use a disrespectful tone and God just might chastise you.

Never distance yourself from the man of God

People who distance themselves from God’s man find themselves missing the heart of the man of God, and they also miss seeing the miracles of God up close. One of the biggest reasons I have found that people follow the man of God from afar is because they don’t want him to find out what they are doing.

In IFB churches, pastors are often considered God’s bloodhounds. Supposedly, they have a nose for sin — well a nose for every sin but their own. According to Domelle, people distance themselves from the “man of God” because they fear he will discover their sin. Wait a minute, Bruce, I thought people’s sins were between them and God. Maybe, but pastors of IFB churches are the equivalent of the Pope. They are Christ’s representatives on earth, given the duty and responsibility to suss out the sinful behavior of congregants.

The “man of God” oversees the lives of church members, both at church and home. His eyes are ever watching for “sin.” What is “sin” you ask? Why, whatever the man of God says it is. His interpretation of the Bible is the standard by which all things are judged. Interpreting the Bible differently is viewed as rebellion against not only God, but the “man of God.” One pastor I knew well told me, “how can a man of God rule over his church unless he rules over EVERYTHING?” His question reveals the fact that authoritarianism breeds absolutism. The pastor is absolutely right all the time. Why? Because he is the “man of God.” Is it any wonder that some people consider the IFB church movement a cult?

Never treat the man of God irreverently

In 2 Kings 2:23-25, some boys thought it was funny to call Elisha a bald man, but God showed that He would not tolerate irreverence towards His servant. Always treat the man of God with respect. Never call him by his first name, but always address him according to his position. Never talk bad about the man of God, because you place yourself against God when you choose to speak irreverently about His servant.

The proper way to treat God’s man is to have a reverential fear of him and follow him closely as he follows God. You should have a fear of God’s man, and you should treat him with dignity and respect; he is God’s man.

Virtually every article or sermon on pastoral authority will include 1 Chronicles 16:22: Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm and 2 Kings 2:23-25:

And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.

Simply put, don’t mess with the “man of God” lest bears kill you and eat your body for dinner. Longtime IFB church members have likely heard these verses many, many times. What better way to keep congregants in line than to warn them that God will kill them if they dare speak poorly of or oppose the “man of God.” Domelle states, “Never talk bad about the man of God, because you place yourself against God when you choose to speak irreverently about His servant.” In fact, according to Domelle, you shouldn’t even call the “man of God” by his first name! That’s right. Doing so is disrespectful. I have heard several IFB preachers say that they demand church members call them Pastor _________ (last name). Some of these preachers have Dr. in front of their names (please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) and expect church members to address them as Dr. ____________ (last name). Never mind the fact that IFB doctorates are almost always honorary or earned through diploma mills. If the “man of God” has a doctorate, people are expected to reverently address him as such.

Domelle tells his readers that they should “fear” the “man of God.” Why? Bears. Woods. Dinner. No one should be astonished, then, that IFB church members fear their pastor. He is the “man of God” and is to be respected at all times. If God and his man are as tight as Domelle alleges, I’d be fearful too. When you believe the preacher has a direct line to God, it makes sense to keep your mouth shut and obey his edicts. Either that or run as fast as you can out the back door of the church never to return. If you are heaven-bent on going to church, there are kinder, gentler expressions of faith than those found in IFB churches. Don’t waste another moment being psychologically traumatized by a man who confuses his place in life with God’s. (Not that I believe in God, I don’t. But some readers of this post do, and my advice to them is to seek out a pastor that doesn’t have a God complex, and will treat them with dignity and respect.)

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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Sexual Abuse and the Jack Hyles Rule: If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen

jack hyles 1973

The late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, spent decades training Fundamentalist pastors through his annual pastors’ school, Hyles-Anderson College, and country-wide Sword of the Lord conferences. Hyles was a powerful motivator and speaker. In the 1970s and 1980s, I heard Hyles preach many times. I remember coming home from hearing him preach, filled with renewed desire to serve God and build a New Testament Baptist church that would reach thousands of people for Christ. Hyles was the type of preacher who could motivate pastors in such a way that they would be willing to charge the gates of hell with a squirt gun — an empty one at that.

Hyles taught pastors how to handle accusations and conflict in their churches. One line that stood out — I heard Hyles say it several times was If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen. Hyles often talked about gossip and false allegations, telling pastors that they should teach congregants not to believe such things unless they saw them for themselves. Hyles had Biblical support for his approach:

Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father … Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:1, 17-19)

Elders (pastors), according to the Apostle Paul, are to be considered worthy of double honor and revered as fathers are. Accusations leveled against pastors were to be rejected unless they could be confirmed by two or three eye-witnesses. Thus, if a woman says the pastor raped her, the church was to reject her allegations unless two or three people saw their pastor rape the woman. In other words, if you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.

Since most church sex crimes involving pastors, youth directors, missionaries, deacons, church bus drivers, and Sunday school teachers take place in secret without others seeing the abominable behavior, this means, according to Jack Hyles, that allegations of sexual misconduct should be rejected out of hand. No eye witnesses? No crime. Welcome to the Jack Hyles Rule®.

This kind of thinking allowed Hyles and countless pastors trained and influenced by him to ignore criminal behavior within their churches or to excuse their own behavior. When confronted with allegations of sexual assault, Hyles influenced preachers to say, did you see this happen? Were you there? If the accuser said no, then the allegation was rejected out of hand. If the accuser said yes, then he or she would be asked, did anyone else see this happen? If the answer was no, then nothing more was done about the allegation. Thanks to the Jack Hyles Rule®, countless abusers and predators escaped punishment for their crimes, including Jack Hyles’ son David.

Hyles and other like-minded pastors groomed their churches to turn a blind eye to sexual abuse, adultery, and other criminal behavior. Remember, church, if you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen. Throw in sermons about pastoral authority (Hebrews 13:7), not touching men appointed by God to preach his words (Psalm 105:15), and bears eating people who slander pastors (2 Kings 2:23-24), it should come as no surprise, then, that congregants were fearful and hesitant about voicing accusations against their pastor and other church leaders.

Add to this the fact that many churches are secretive about sexual misconduct in their midst. Members are expected to trust church leaders, and if nothing is ever said about a matter, it’s because there was a good reason for not saying anything. I can’ tell you how many times I have heard through the grapevine that a pastor or some of other church leader has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, yet the powers that be refuse to publicly acknowledge the allegations or inform the church about how the matter is being dealt with. My wife’s parents have attended the same Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church for over forty years. When asked about what happened to so-and-so after he was accused of rape/sodomy/sexual assault, Polly’s parents tell us, we don’t know. Pastor never told us anything about this matter. He asked us to trust him and not talk about Brother So-and-So’s criminal behavior. So, they didn’t. And as long as good people such as they sit silently in the pews and do not demand full disclosure, sex crimes and illicit affairs will be swept under the rug.

Did your church or pastor promote/use the Jack Hyles Rule®? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Are you unfamiliar with Jack Hyles? Please read:

The Legacy of Jack Hyles

The Mesmerizing Appeal of Jack Hyles

The Scandalous Life of Jack Hyles and Why it Still Matters

Jack Hyles Gives Advice on How to Raise a Girl

Jack Hyles Teaches Parents How to Indoctrinate Their Baby

Jack Hyles Tells Unsubmissive Woman to Kill Herself

Jack Hyles Tells Christian Women it is All Up to Them

UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored

Serial Adulterer David Hyles Receives a Warm Longview Baptist Temple Welcome

Cindy Schaap, Daughter of Jack Hyles, Divorces Convicted Felon Jack Schaap

What One IFB Apologist Thinks of People Who Claim They Were Abuse (features letters and texts Jack Schaap sent to a minor girl in his church)

The Bible Says Obey Those Who Have the Rule Over You

hebrews-13-17

Have you ever wondered why many Evangelicals blindly believe and submit to whatever their pastors utter from the pulpit? During the last Presidential election, Donald Trump said “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Candidate Trump is now President Trump, so reasonable people can conclude that tens of millions of Americans, including eighty-two percent of white Evangelical voters, weren’t bothered by his committing-murder comment. Think of all the offal that has fallen from the man’s lips, yet millions of Republicans still think he is a Christian or, at the very least, a man God is using to restore Fundamentalist Christianity to its rightful throne.

These Trump voters are more often than not the same people who bow in reverence to self-appointed men of God; men who say they are called by God to preach and lead churches — yet their calling comes not from a deity, but from their own wants, needs, desires, and that of the churches they pastor. Skeptics wonder why these people don’t see though the con and think for themselves. All any of us needs to do is listen to what these preachers are saying to conclude that they are spouting harmful nonsense. Yet, otherwise intelligent people check their minds at the church door and give themselves over to men who will purportedly teach them truth and provide a blueprint for living. No need to think, just believe. No need to wrestle with questions and doubts, just have faith. Belief and faith, not just in the Christian God and the Protestant Bible, but also the words of pastors and evangelists who are given almost absolute power over congregants.

Evangelical churches are generally pastored by one man. This is especially true in Southern Baptist and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. Some churches have a plurality of pastors (elders), but I have found that despite this plurality, there is always one man who has the final say. Most Evangelical churches have a congregational form of government. This means that the church membership has the final say on how the church is run, including who their pastor will be. The thinking goes, then, that if congregants want a new pastor, all they have to do is vote him out of office. However, rarely is getting rid of a pastor so simple, especially in churches that aren’t part of a denomination. If a church is a member of a particular denomination, the congregants can, if need be, call on denominational leaders to help remove a pastor from office. In independent churches, the congregation has the final say; that is, if the church hasn’t ceded its control to a board of elders or, as is the case in many megachurches, an outside board of directors (much like the corporations such church are patterned after).

Churches have governing documents, one of which is a constitution. The constitution details who is a voting member and how/when votes can be called. If a church wants to dismiss its pastor, it must follow the process detailed in its constitution. Many constitutions state that removing a pastor requires a two-thirds or three-fourths vote of the membership. This high standard makes it hard for congregations to fire their pastor. Even worse, pastors — if they are at a particular church for a long time — will attract loyal church members who will oppose attempts to remove him. The longer a man pastors a church, the harder it is to get rid of him. Over time, he becomes the hub around which everything turns. The pastor is viewed as God’s mouthpiece;  a man called by God to pastor that particular church. Is it any surprise then, that long-tenured pastors tend to become authoritarians?

Baptist pastors, in particular, are fond of talking about pastoral authority — the power by which they control the church. Bruce, I thought Evangelicals were people of the Book; that the Bible was sole rule for faith and practice? It is, and the Bible does indeed grant pastors authoritarian control over their churches.

The Bible says:

And he [God] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11,12)

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. (Romans 13:1)

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:7, 17)

I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth. (1 Corinthians 16:15, 16)

And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12,13)

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be ….One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Timothy 3:1,2,4,5)

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:17-19)

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; (1 Peter 5:1.2)

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

(And yes, I realize these verses can be interpreted many different ways. But this is my sermon, so I decide what these verses mean!)

These verses and others have been interpreted to mean that God-called pastors have rule over the churches they pastor. Church members are obligated to submit to their pastor’s authority. Not doing so is considered rebellion and could bring judgment from God or excommunication. Most often, rebellious congregants are shown the door and told to find a church that meet their “needs.” It is not uncommon to find Evangelical churches that have high membership churn rates. Members who become tired of eating McDonald’s quarter-pounders leave and hit the drive-thru at Wendy’s. And on and on it goes. I pastored people who had been members of numerous churches before they came to one of the churches I pastored. These church-hoppers rarely stay for long. Initially, they will find their new churches to be delightful, but given enough time, they will find faults with their pastors and move on to greener pastures. The one thing that church hoppers never do is consider that they might be the problem. They place blame on the pastor or the congregation, often couching their objections in theological verbiage, but more often than not, they are difficult people or they easily bore.

Most Evangelical churches are a mix of new and old members. The longer someone stays in the church, the more they become conditioned to their pastor’s preaching, teaching, and leadership. This conditioning allows pastors to gain authority over congregants that in any other setting would be considered cultic. When you are taught their entire lives that the man standing behind the pulpit is called by God to deliver divine messages to them, it should come as no surprise that, bit by bit, they surrender their will and critical thinking skills. In time, pastors amass great power and control, and once this happens these leaders can and do muddle the minds of their charges, rendering them powerless to resist.

Worse, many Evangelicals want to be told what to believe and how to live their day-to-day lives. They come to church on Sundays to be inspired and taught the ways of God. This is why, when Evangelicals are quizzed about their beliefs, more often than not they either can’t give an answer or they simply regurgitate the beliefs of their pastor. As a pastor, I was often asked, what does your church believe? I would respond, I don’t know what the church believes. This is what I believe, and it is these beliefs that are the foundation of my preaching and teaching. Most congregants are not going to spend significant time studying the Bible. This does not make them bad Christians. The truth is, pastors have the freedom and luxury to read and study the Bible. Church members have full-time jobs, families, and countless responsibilities that limit the amount time they can devote to theological learning. Thus, most Evangelicals have a theology they have borrowed from their pastors. They know what their pastor knows, and unfortunately many Evangelical pastors are poorly educated. When a man believes God speaks through him, why should he study? When he believes that God puts His words in the pastor’s mouth and all he has to do is speak them, why bother with the words of mere humans? And if members dare to think for themselves and challenge something their pastor has said, they can expect to reminded that Pastor So-and So has authority over what is taught and members are expected to believe as he does or leave.

Church aisles are littered with the bodies of those who dared to challenge the man of God’s authority. Their deaths are their own fault. Don’t they remember their pastor quoting 1 Chronicles 16:22:  Saying, Touch not mine anointed [Hebrew for pastor], and do my prophets [Hebrew for pastor] no harm? Surely, they have heard the Bible story about some children who mocked the prophet Elisha?  2 Kings 2:23, 24 says:

And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

Mess with the man of God, rebellious church members, and God might send bears to eat you alive, just like he did to the children who mocked Elisha. Simply put, mess with the pastor and he will have God fuck you up!

Is it any wonder that many people need therapy and counseling after extricating themselves from Evangelical churches? Those of us who spent most of our lives under the thumbs of authoritarian religious figures often spend years regaining a sense of self-worth. What’s worse for someone such as myself is that I not only was victimized by my pastors and teachers, I was also a victimizer. I taught and practiced what my pastors and professors taught me. I passed on to a new generation the dysfunction of my generation. The only good news in this sordid story, at least for me, is that I got off the crazy train and abandoned the damaging religious nonsense that controlled my mind for almost fifty years. Better late than never, I suppose, but I still lament the fact that I lovingly and sincerely caused untold harm to my family and the churches I pastored. By owning my past, I am in a better position to help people avoid a similar path. While I grudgingly and doubtfully admit that some religious expressions are less harmful than others, I can’t help but think that until the world reaches a place where it no longer has a need for deities, religion will continue to cause harm. This is especially true of Evangelical Christianity. It will be a good day when Fundamentalist Christianity draws its last breath. I will long be dead, but perhaps one of my grandchildren will have the privilege to hold a pillow over the Evangelical God’s face as it struggles to breathe. Good riddance, I say.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Bruce Gerencser