Tag Archive: Pastoral Authority

Allen Domelle Whines About How IFB Preachers are Treated Today

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.

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

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

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

humble pastor

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 churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan as a backdrop in an 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 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 years later.  During this span of time, I attended an IFB college to study for the ministry, married a girl 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 we 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 the 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 becomes 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, to respond, 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-two years old. Ministries such as Answers in Genesis and Creation Research Institute are 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 tomorrow. 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 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 an 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.

Read Part Two

Does IFB Preacher Bob Gray, Sr. Have Dementia?

bob gray sr

Bob Gray Sr, retired pastor of Longview Baptist Temple, Longview, Texas

Bob Gray, Sr., retired pastor of Longview Baptist Temple (LBT), Longview, Texas, is widely viewed as an arrogant, stubborn megalomaniac.  Much like numerous other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist IFB) preachers, Gray’s ministry approach is simple: my way or the highway. While Gray, Sr. is now retired, having handed the keys of the kingdom to his son Bob Gray II, he continues preach conferences and write articles for his blog, Solve Church Problems, and other IFB websites. Now 70, Gray is proud of the fact that he has never wavered or changed his beliefs. The truncated, bankrupt gospel taught to him decades ago by Jack Hyles is the same gospel Gray preaches today. Subscribing to what I call the 4 W’s: win them, wet them, work them, and waste them, Gray has churned through thousands of converts building his kingdom on earth. (Please see One, Two, Three Repeat After Me: Salvation Bob Gray Style) Those drawn into Gray’s pernicious form of Baptist Fundamentalism are sure to find themselves battered, bruised, and assaulted as Gray preaches to them what he thinks is old-time, Just-like-Jesus-preached, Christianity.

Knowing these things about Gray, I was puzzled when I read his latest blog post. Titled, The Danger of Being a Bitter and Cranky Old Man, Gray gives seven things he does to keep from being a bitter, cranky old man. I thought, does Gray have dementia? Here’s what he had to say:

1. Preach often about the love and grace of God. If you go back and listen to the sermons Dr. Hyles preached in the last years of his life you will find that he often preached about God’s goodness and God’s love. He made certain that his preaching did not reflect just a fighter’s mentality, but that it reflected a heart of tenderness and love as well. He didn’t lose his fight, but he didn’t lose his sweetness either.

2. Keep helping people. Dr. Hyles has seen what betrayal can do to men. He chose to ignore the betrayal of people who he had helped and just keep helping more people. Someone once asked Dr. Hyles, “What do you do when your personal converts have turned against you?” He answered, “I just get more converts.” What a great answer.  I have converts who have turned against me. But, I have new converts who I won to Christ this past week. Rather than dwelling on the pain of those who have turned on me, I dwell on the joy of those who recently turned to Christ.

3. Don’t take every battle personally. This is important. Dr. Hyles did not allow himself to be the issue even though others often tried to make him the issue. He even tried to stop those of us who loved him from making him the issue. He said, “The issue is the issue. People want to make me the issue because they can’t argue the real issue.” When you allow yourself to be the issue you are dangerously close to becoming bitter and angry.

4. Remember the things that made you sweet before. I love to go back and reflect on the good things. I love to rejoice in what Christ did for me in times when I most desperately needed him. Oh the joy of returning to the places where God did something special in my life.

5. Stay sentimental. I once heard someone say, “Dr. Hyles thank you so much for taking us back to visit the places that were sacred to you.” Dr. Hyles replied, “Thank you for accompanying me to those places. I don’t go just for you to see them. I go to remember what God did for me there.” Sentimentality in moderation can keep you from becoming bitter.

6. Don’t stop needing God. Dr. Hyles once said, “I’m glad that I don’t have a bunch of millionaires who supplement or subsidize my ministry.” He said, “I have friends who have given a lot of money, but I have always rerouted most of that money to others. I never want to be in a place where I don’t need God because I have someone else who is taking care of all my needs.  I want to stay needy because if I stay needy I get to rejoice in God providing. If you’ve ever been poor you know how wonderful it is when something comes that you weren’t expecting and desperately needed. I don’t ever want to lose that feeling. What a great truth. I love it that I still desperately need God in my life.

7. Stay in the book. The Bible is not just a manual for sermons we as preachers can easily begin to think. The Bible is the precious love letter from our Heavenly Father about his precious son. Stay in love with the word of God. May it never become merely your manual for ministry but always be a personal way to know your God better.

After reading these points, I thought, where was THIS version of Bob Gray, Sr. when he was pastoring the Longview Baptist Temple? Ask former members if Gray spent the bulk of his time preaching the love, goodness, and grace of God. Ask them if Gray had a heart of tenderness and love. Ask them how Gray responded when they voiced their disagreements. Ask them if Gray ignored personal slights. Ask them how Gray reacted to those who refused to bow before him and grant him autocratic power over their lives. Ask them what Gray did when people challenged his “pastoral authority.”

Gray concludes his post with this:

I get a little cranky at times. Sometimes I even get mean and angry. I would like to think that most of the time it’s on purpose, but I want to work at making certain that in my heart I’m still filled with God’s love and grace. I don’t want to be that bitter and cranky old preacher that Dr. Hyles feared becoming.

Buried in this paragraph is the real Bob Gray: a man who thinks that getting mean and angry has its place. And Gray is clear. When he is mean and angry, you know when he is assaulting church members with his rules-driven, Puritanical, cult-like demands, he is behaving this way on purpose. As with Jack Hyles and countless other Hitler-like preachers, Bob Gray, Sr. has no tolerance for those who dare to march to the beat of a different drum. When crossed, Gray can, and does, turn into a venomous viper, capable of killing others with his words. (Please see IFB Pastor Bob Gray, Sr. Shows His True Colors)

Several weeks ago, Gray wrote a post titled, Pastor, is it Possible That You are Abusing Your People?  Gray wrote:

 There is much talk especially on the Internet about pastoral abuse. Unfortunately much of this talk comes from disgruntled church members seeking to justify their leaving the church. Certainly there are cases of pastoral abuse, but in this day and age anything people feel infringes upon them personally is deemed as being

There is far too much being called pastoral abuse, which is nothing more than strong leadership. It is much like parental abuse. What my parents did in raising me would be called abuse today.

I am not justifying any kind of real abuse, but unfortunately the word abuse has been broadened in its meaning beyond reasonability. That said it is possible that sometimes a pastor could inadvertently be guilty of abusing his people.

As you can see, in Gray’s version of the world, mentally and emotionally abusing and manipulating church members is just “strong leadership.” Those who have, over the years, complained about Gray’s abusive behavior are “disgruntled church members seeking to justify their leaving the church.” Just remember, rule number one in the IFB Pastor’s Manual states: Always blame others. Gray has spent his 44 years in the ministry blaming sin, worldliness, liberalism, and compromise for the steady stream of people exiting the back door of the Longview Baptist Temple. Perhaps it is time for Dr. not really a Dr. Gray to take a hard look at his own life  (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) and stop blaming others.

Those who worship at Gray’s feet will likely say I am dead wrong about their demigod. Like the Texas blind salamander and the followers of Jack Hyles, Gray’s devotees refuse to see the man for who and what he is. There’s little I can do to bring such people to the light. I am friends with several people who, at one time, attended Gray’s church and Bible college. I have also corresponded with current and former LBT members. Yes, current members. These are members who dare not voice their disapproval of Gray, Sr. and his son’s fawning over the Hyles family. When the Grays and LBT one Sunday gave serial adulterer David Hyles a warm welcome, these devoted followers were shocked. Evidently, crossing Gray, Sr. will result in a lifetime ban from LBT. Fucking your way across America and committing numerous felonies? Welcome home, Brother Hyles. (Please see Serial Adulterer David Hyles Receives a Warm Longview Baptist Temple Welcome and UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored)

Other posts about the erstwhile king of Longview, Texas, Bob Gray, Sr.

Pastor Bob Gray, Sr. Pines for the 1950s

IFB Preacher Bob Gray, Sr. Says “Buy My Book if You Really Care About Souls”

Bob Gray, Sr. Peddles Lie About New American Standard Bible

Lest You Forget Why You Ran Screaming from the IFB Church

The Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) Indoctrinates Children to Obey Church Leaders

religious pedophiles

What follows is a video put out by The Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), a “Christian religion whose primary purpose is to worship the Almighty God based on His teachings as taught by the Lord Jesus Christ and as recorded in the Bible. The Church of Christ is a church for every one who will heed the call of God and embrace its faith — regardless of his or her nationality, cultural background, social standing, economic status, and educational attainment.” (website)

Video Link

The sect’s executive minister is Eduardo V. Manalo. According to Wikipedia,The Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) is an ” international Christian denomination that originated in the Philippines.” The sect is now in 102 countries, including the United States, comprising over 5,000 congregations. Wikipedia states that Iglesia ni Cristo is the third largest religious sect in the Philippines, behind only Roman Catholicism and Islam. You can read more about  Iglesia ni Cristo’s extreme religious beliefs here. I say extreme, but not really.  Similar beliefs can be found in numerous American Evangelical churches. In fact, The Iglesia ni Cristo  can be traced back to nineteenth and twentieth century missionary work done by Evangelical missionaries to the Philippines.

If you care about children and how Fundamentalist religion affects them, I am sure you found this video to be quite troubling. These children, at a very early age, are taught to explicitly obey church leaders. A common cult-like practice, also found in sects like the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, indoctrinating children is a crucial component in the continued growth of Fundamentalist sects. The inquisitive minds of children must be destroyed and then reanimated with authoritarian beliefs. A failure to do this often results in church children, when they come of age, leaving the sect. This is why every Fundamentalist sect I know of targets children. Such sects are religious pedophiles, grooming children for a lifetime of submission and abuse.

Churches That Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things and Why Bad People Do Bad Things Part 3

elmer gantry

Is Your Pastor an Elmer Gantry? Are You Sure? How Can You Know?

In my last post on this subject I wrote:

In this post I want to deal with Churches that Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things. This post deals with a very difficult and controversial subject.  It is easy for us to understand evil actions in a church when they are committed by evil people: wolves in sheep clothing. It’s much harder for us to understand evil actions in the church when the evil is committed by individuals who are generally considered good people…

Let me digress for a moment and lay some groundwork for what I will say next. Evangelicals believe:

  • The Bible is the inspired word of God and is sufficient for faith and practice. I am deliberately avoiding the various  arguments about inspiration, inerrancy, etc. Every Evangelical believes the Bible, to some degree or another, is God’s truth.  If they don’t they are not Evangelical.
  • That what the Bible teaches is to be believed, obeyed, and practiced.
  • The Bible is to be, with rare exception, read in a literal sense.
  • The pastor is called by God to preach and teach the Bible to the church membership. I am well aware that a minority of churches have multiple pastors or elders, but the majority of churches are pastored by one person.

As I mentioned in the previous posts in this series, when we add these things together we end up with a church that believes everything written in the Bible. Its members believe they are to live by teachings of the Bible. They believe the most important thing in the world is to be obedient to God.

God has given them a man or a woman (most often a man) to teach and guide them in the teachings of the Bible. The pastor is linchpin of the church. He is the main cog upon which the machinery of the church turns. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance the pastor plays in what people believe and practice. The amount of power that a pastor has is astounding.

How do pastors gain such power over people?

People want to believe that when they go to church they are safe. After all, they are surrounded by people who love Jesus and who seem to sincerely follow the teachings of the Bible. The “it’s what is inside that counts” sounds nice, but in most churches everything is measured by what can be seen and experienced. If people “look” Christian then they “are” Christian. If they “act” Christian then they “are” Christian. People enter the pastor/parishioner relationship with their guard down. They trust the pastor. Surely, he has their best interest at heart.

This is why, when charges of abuse are brought against their pastor, it is hard for churches to accept that their pastor is an abuser. “He wouldn’t do such things.” “He is a man of God.” “He is kind and loving.” “He would never do anything to hurt the church or his family.” Looking in from the outside, the level of denial seems astounding, but church members are taught to be loyal. They are taught to stand firm no matter the circumstance. If they didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.

I know of countless church scandals where the facts of the scandal were not in dispute, yet many members refused to believe the facts. They steadfastly denied reality. When the late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church, Hammond Indiana (at one time the largest church in America),was charged with infidelity, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement was divided into two groups of people; those that stood with Hyles and considered all the evidence against him to be false or circumstantial and those who believed Hyles was guilty of the things he was accused of.

The evidence was overwhelming. I have no doubt that Hyles did what his accusers said he did. Yet, the 100%-Hyles people — those who actually wore buttons that said “100% Hyles” — won the day. Thousands of people left the church, but Hyles survived the scandal and pastored the church until his death. After his death, his son-in-law Jack Schaap pastored the church.  He, too, found himself accused of sexual misconduct. Unlike his brother-in-law David Hyles, who got away with having sex with numerous female church members, Jack Schaap was found guilty of having sex with a minor and is now serving a twelve-year prison sentence.

Hyles had what we called the “Hyles Mystique.” Jack Hyles had god-like qualities.  He was a super-Christian, a super-pastor who somehow got thirty hours out of every twenty four hour day. He preached at conferences every week, preached at his church on Sunday and Wednesday, counseled dozens and dozens of people each week and still had time to be a wonderful father and husband. His preaching was inspiring and he had command of the pulpit like few other preachers. Surely, such a man could not “sin” or “abuse” other people. I was quite the Hyles fan, but I later came to see that Hyles was a narcissist and a serial liar.

In the Evangelical church, pastors are considered to be a step above the rest of the human race. They are God-called, God-inspired men who speak on behalf of God. They have vast knowledge of the Bible and they have an answer for every question. If the God/Bible/Pastor doesn’t have the answer to a question…well that’s never happened.

Church members are taught that the Bible is God’s divine answer book. In the Bible Christians will find everything they need that pertains to life and godliness. If it is not in the Bible, it is not worth knowing. Say what you will about evangelicals, but many of they take seriously the teachings of the Bible. They read it and study it, desiring to know how to live their lives in conformity to its teachings.

Church members are taught to NOT trust their own reasoning. They are taught to NOT trust the vain philosophies of this world. Out in the world Satan walks to and fro seeking whom he may devour. This is why church members are discouraged from reading  books or magazines that are not written by approved Christian authors. They dare not open their mind to the world, and by living this way they ultimately lose their ability to rationally think and, over time, to spot error and contradiction. Skeptics do not make good Christians. The Bible, or should I say, the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible, becomes the only thing that matters.. This is fertile ground for the seeds of abuse to grow and mature.

Sunday after Sunday, people gather together in Evangelical churches to listen to their pastor expound and illustrate his interpretation of the Bible. They think they are doing so with an open mind, but instead they have closed off their mind to everything except what their pastor teaches. Since he is the man of God, he is explicitly trusted by almost everyone.

Before I go on, I need to say that I think most pastors are honorable people.  I think they, as I did, entered the ministry with the best of intentions. They sincerely want  to help people and to teach people how to live according to the teachings of the Bible. Regardless of my beliefs about God, the Bible, and Christianity in general, I greatly respect pastors who selflessly work hard to minister to their churches.

Most churches are pastored by one person. Churches with multiple pastors or multiple staff members make up a small number of the total number of churches. Even in large churches, with numerous staff members, there is usually one person who is THE pastor. Take a look at the mega-churches. Tens of thousands of church members and dozens of staff members, yet the churches are labeled as John MacArthur’s, Rick Warren’s, Bill Hybels’  church, etc. No matter how many elders are on the board, there is no doubt whose church it is.

No matter the size of the congregation, the church revolves around the pastor. He  the head honcho, the bwana, the chairman of the board.  The pastor has tremendous power granted to him by the church body. In many churches, the power that a pastor has is almost absolute. Granted, a church CAN dismiss a pastor, but rarely are disaffected church members willing to get into a turf war with the pastor. In every church there is a core group of people who are on the pastor’s side. Disaffected church members find it difficult to take on the pastor and those who support him.

As time goes on, the pastor, whether on purpose or not, tends to consolidate his power/authority in the church. He becomes the go-to man for everything, even things that have nothing to do with the Bible or the church. The pastor may even deceive himself about this. He may see this as the church and pastor maturing together like an old married couple.

I am sure you have heard the line absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sadly, this is often the case in many churches. Over time, the pastor becomes  a monarch ruling from a throne. First Baptist Church becomes John Smith’s church. The pastor’s name is on the sign, the church letterhead, and every piece of literature put out by the church. If the church is a corporate body, with every member being an essential part, why does it matter what the pastor’s name is?

The answer is quite simple. In America we are attracted to personalities. We live in a culture that puts a great premium on star power. As a result, people view pastors as stars and personalities. As with actors and political personalities, when a pastor begins to believe the hype about himself, he has taken the first step to being an abuser. Filled with pride and arrogance, the pastor begins to actually believe what people say about him. “Great sermon pastor.” You are the best preacher I have ever heard.”  “What a powerful man of God you are!”

The pastor and the church are complicit in providing a fertile ground for abuse to occur.  While ultimately the abuser is the one who must give an account  for his abuse, the church is complicit to the degree that it failed to see all people, INCLUDING the pastor, as mere humans. Pastors are capable of committing the same sins and behaving the same way as church members and non-Christians.

Trust is a good thing. Generally, we should trust one another. However, there is a difference between eyes-wide-open trust and blind trust. Closing off one’s mind to the possibility that good people can do bad things is irresponsible.  Every week there are news reports of good people doing bad things. Sometimes it is bad people acting like good people doing bad things, but sometimes it really is good people doing bad things.

Good pastors are capable of doing bad things. I have pondered the WHY of this for a long time. I want to conclude this post with a few thoughts on the “why” of pastors that abuse. Why to good men do bad things?

First, they believe the hype about themselves. Pastors foolishly begin to believe the accolades that are thrown their way. Pretty soon they begin to think, I AM SOMEBODY. This is especially true if the pastor is a gifted communicator or has great people skills. They forget that Bible says pride goeth before a fall. The story of Nebuchadnezzar and his rise to power and fall should be burned into the mind of every pastor. The book of Daniel records Nebuchadnezzar saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?”  Many an Evangelical pastor has uttered a similar statement, only to be ruined by his arrogance and pride. (see Tony Soprano Would Make a Good Independent Baptist Preacher)

Second, they think they are more knowledgeable than they really are. The longer a pastor serves in one church, the more willing people are to come and talk to the pastor about the troubles they are facing. Most pastors have little or no training in counseling or psychology. Even when they do have training, most often they are trained to view the Bible as the answer to every problem. When I was a pastor, rare was the day that someone didn’t come to me and say “can we talk.” I counseled hundreds of people over the years. Evangelicals have the same problems as non-Christians do. Sometimes they have MORE problems than non-Christians, due to literalist interpretation of the Bible. The Bible does not make life easier to live. It’s commandments, rules, and regulations are often a source of conflict and mental/emotional stress.

This is complicated further by the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible. In the hyper-fundamentalist wing of the Evangelical church, you will find lengthy codes of conduct said to be taken straight from the bible. This code of conduct is enforced through the preaching of the pastor. (see An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) Many times, the pastor’s own personal code of conduct is presented as the standard by which everyone else must live. After all, the pastor got it right from the Bible! (See Are Evangelicals Fundamentalist?)

As I look back over twenty-five years in the ministry, I now realize the churches I pastored had far more dysfunction than I was willing to admit. My staunch, literalist stand on the teachings of the Bible caused some of this dysfunction. Thinking the Bible is the answer to what ails us is not only ignorant, it can be dangerous. This dysfunction was furthered by my own arrogance as I allowed myself to become THE answer man. I could justify myself by saying that many of the people I pastored were lazy Christians. They were quite willing to accept whatever answer I gave them. One church member, when asked “what do you believe?” answered, “I believe whatever the preacher believes.” Brutal, but honest.

Most church members read the bible devotionally and never spend a moment studying the doctrines they say they believe. Of course, I now see that this is essential to the long-term survival of Evangelical Christianity. Ignorance is bliss or, in Evangelicalese, ignorance is faith. When Evangelicals embark on an intellectual journey to truly understand Christianity and its teachings, they often end up leaving the faith or embracing some form of liberal Christianity. Evangelical Christianity is not well served when looked at with the microscope of reason and fact. For this reason, pastors encourage their parishioners to read only approved books, and they are encouraged to only send their kids to approved Evangelical colleges. This is vitally important for keeping the ship afloat. Non-approved books and non-approved colleges usually cause trouble and often lead to people leaving the church. Knowledge is power.

Over the years, I counseled a number of people who needed immediate psychological or psychiatric help. At the time, I despised the mental health profession. I viewed them as tools of Satan. Instead, I gave people lame, unhelpful advice from the Bible. Instead of helping them, I abused them with the Bible. Several church members had nervous breakdowns and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I viewed this as their fault, their unwillingness to trust God and obey his commandments. Those who had a nervous breakdown later left the church. They found out that what I was selling was snake oil. I proclaimed Jesus as the cure and they found out he wasn’t.

When given the opportunity, I tell young pastors to stick to doing what they were trained to do. Leave mental health issues to the professionals trained to deal with them. The same could be said of many things pastors counsel others on without having the proper training to do so.

Third, the pastor thinks of himself as being impervious to sin. He is, after all, the man of God. He is the servant of the Most High. He has his Ephesian 6 armor on 24/7. Pastors can begin to think that they are invincible, that they are above the fray. They really should know better, but arrogance and pride blinds them from seeing themselves as they really are. As this point, the pastor lacks self-awareness and is extremely vulnerable to self-deception and open to doing things considered sinful and abusive.

Pastors have a legal, ethical, and moral obligation to act appropriately and  responsibly. The Bible, in 1 Timothy 3, sets a high moral and ethical standard for pastors, as do the laws of most states.

Here in Ohio, a pastor is considered a person of authority. He can be held criminally liable for not reporting abuse or for violating the trust of a parishioner. Let me give an example. If church member Joe has an affair with church member Sue, the Bible calls their behavior adultery. However, when a pastor has an affair with a congregant the Bible still calls the action adultery, but the law calls his behavior an abuse of authority. Uncounted pastors end up in prison because they ignored their moral, ethical, and legal obligations to church members.

Pastors who commit sexual sin with a church member are abusing the trust given to them by the person. The state recognizes this and accordingly criminalizes such actions, Pastors, due to the sensitive nature of their interactions with congregants, put themselves in situations where the potential for sin and abuse is great. They often see people at their worst. The conscientious pastor acts appropriately, giving what help he can and recommending secular services for those things he can’t help with. The abusive pastor sees vulnerability as an opportunity to take advantage of a church member. Such pastors are rightly considered the lowest of the low, like dog shit on the bottom of a shoe. Preying on the weak and the vulnerable might work in Darwin’s survival of the fittest, but in the church members rightly expect their pastor to treat them ethically and morally.

Let me share a personal story that I believe will help illustrate what I am trying to say. One spring day, a young woman who used to attend the church came to my office dressed provocatively.  Her parents still attended the church, but she had left the church, off to sow her wild oats.  She had a short, tight skirt on and when she sat down and crossed her legs she definitely had my attention.  It didn’t take me long to realize what her intentions were. In her mind, the best way to get back at her parents was to screw the preacher and ruin his ministry and the church. Fortunately, I realized what was going on and had my wife come into the office with us.

In no way do I intend to present myself as a pillar of moral virtue. I wasn’t then and I am not now. In the above-mentioned story, I was fortunate that I did not take a bite of the forbidden fruit. I just as easily could have. If I had, I would have been guilty of abusing this young woman. Never mind her attempt to seduce me. As a pastor, I was the one who had the responsibility to act appropriately in every circumstance. That’s what the Bible teaches and what the law demands.

A number of the readers of this blog were abused in Christian group homes and boarding schools. Their stories of abuse still bring me to tears. How did these people, children at the time, end up in abusive settings? In almost every circumstance it began with their pastor. Let’s face it, troubled teens are not easy to deal with. But, we must remember that “troubled teen” in an Evangelical context does not mean the same thing as it does elsewhere. A “troubled teen” in an Independent Baptist church might be nothing more than a teen who listens to rock music, drinks a beer now and again, fools around with her boyfriend, or admits to trying pot. This, of course, explains most everyone who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s.

Evangelical children are taught to obey authority, especially the authority of their parents and pastor. When parents have a child or a teen they can’t control–and I readily admit there are some kids that need help beyond what  parents can provide — they most often seek out counsel from their pastor. When teens end up in a Christian group home or boarding school, they almost always end up there based on the recommendation of their pastor. In my opinion, when these kids are sent off to a group home and abuse happens, the pastor bears just as much responsibility as the abusers. He is culpable because he is the one who recommended a home, such as New Bethany Home for Girls, Hephzibah House, or the Roloff Homes. Our legal system recognizes this, equally punishing the bank robber and the person who drove the getaway car. (See Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls and Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sins.)

Truth be told, pastors often are just as trusting as church members. Parents come to them seeking help for their “troubled teen.” The pastor remembers that “so and so” from college runs a group home, so he  gives the parents the phone number for the home, thinking he has done all he needs to do, The pastor has NOT done his due diligence. He should thoroughly check out any place he is recommending to parents with “troubled teens.” The same could be said for Christian colleges. Many Christian colleges are purveyors of institutionalized abuse, yet pastors blindly recommend these colleges to prospective students.  Rarely, does anyone consider how the bizarre codes of conduct at many Christian schools affect the minds of the students sent there. Pensacola Christian College goes so far as to withhold giving the student and their parents the complete list of rules and regulations until the student is on campus. Pastors are responsible for the people, places, and things they recommend. Ignorance is not an excuse.

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Dear Pastor, Why Should I Listen to You?

authority

(in this post I use authority and expert interchangeably)

If you have spent significant time in Evangelical churches, you know 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, due to their ideological bent, for a pastor to get a proper education about the Bible in an Evangelical institution.

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 an authority. Should he be accepted as an authority just because of the position he holds or because the Bible says he must be accepted as an authority?  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 a “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 a teacher who had no actual science training beyond being able to read the textbook.  So science is an area where 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 preacher possible. Sadly, over the years, I’ve heard countless preachers preach that were illiterate concerning theology and who had little or no training in public discourse.

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 we grant authority to. In the 1960’s 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 had 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.  Before granting anyone the vaulted 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 who you allow to be an authority 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 can not be trusted.

At the same time, we should not be guilty of showing no respect for authority at all. When a man or a woman give themselves to learning a particular discipline they should not be dismissed without reason or cause. I am always amused when people dismiss 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 the 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 who to grant authority 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.