Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches are pulpit-centric — meaning the man preaching from behind the pulpit is the hub around which the church turns. Steadfastly trusting that pastors are supernaturally called (odained) by God, church members believe their pastors speak on God’s behalf. Thus, these so-called men of God have an outsized influence on the lives of church members, especially teenagers.
IFB preachers stand before their churches and declare “thus saith the Lord!” Congregants are expected to believe and obey. While not all IFB preachers are authoritarians, many of them are. Church members are expected to submit to their authority, under penalty of judgment or death at the hands of God if they do not. Speaking against the man of God is treated as a mortal sin, one which could result in bears coming out of the woods and eating you — a common illustration straight from the Bible used by preachers to warn people about the danger of speaking ill about them. (Please see Touch Not My Anointed.)
Preachers dispense all sorts of “wisdom” from the pulpit, complete with KJV proof texts. Teenagers, in particular, hear all sorts of “wisdom,” not meant as advice, but as divine edicts straight from the mouth of God, through the Word of God, to the man of God, and finally to the people of God. Parents expect their teen children to listen and obey, no questions asked. Believe and obey! Remember the old gospel song? Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.
This kind of thinking leads to all sorts of problems for IFB teenagers. They are expected to “obey,” but as every teen who has ever lived, they want what they want. Not children, but not quite adults, they have wants, needs, and desires. Unfortunately, they are expected to drown those things in the sea of obedience. Taught that all that matters in life is obeying God (and by extension, their parents and pastors), church teenagers often make bad decisions, some of which can cause harm that will last for a lifetime.
IFB teenagers are expected to live morally pure lives. Never mind the fact that their parents and pastors didn’t; they are expected to save themselves for marriage. And while they are saving themselves, don’t spank the monkey or ring the Devil’s doorbell! Teens raised in such an environment often receive really, really bad information about sex, if they receive any at all. No need to teach them about the birds and bees. None of them is going to have sex before marriage, so need to teach them about birth control use or how their plumbing works. If you’re not knocking boots before marriage, there’s no need to know anything about birth control. Ditto for the HPV vaccine. Only sexually active teens need the shot, right? IFB teens don’t have sex!
I was a virgin, as was Polly, on our wedding day. We were true, blue believers. Our greatest “sin” was breaking the six-inch rule. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.) A lot of kissing and handholding, but no roving hands — although my “hands” felt quite cramped, at times. 🙂 Several years ago, Polly and I had lunch with two high school friends of mine. We attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio in the 1970s. One subject that came up was the strict moral code we were expected to obey. I told my friends that we were virgins when we married. They both snickered and told me that there was a whole lot of fucking going on back in the day! I was shocked to learn who was having sex with whom! I suspect things haven’t changed much these days in IFB youth groups. Hormones . . . they are always more powerful than the Holy Spirit.
Of course, IFB teenagers have sex much like their counterparts in the world. Poorly taught and unprotected, what happens? They contract STDs or get pregnant. All of this could have been avoided if science and common sense were their guides instead of the rants of their preacher from the KJV.
Another area where IFB preachers lead church teens to make bad decisions has to do with their lives post-high school. Teenagers have all sorts of dreams. Who among us didn’t at one time or another think about what we wanted to be when we grew up? The choices are endless, right? Not for IFB teens. You see, in the world they were born into, patriarchalism rules. Girls are taught that their highest goal in life should be marriage and childbearing. Boys are encouraged to become pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. Get married to a virgin, have lots of children, and win souls for Christ! This kind of thinking, of course, leads to church teenagers pairing off at young ages, never coming into physical contact with each other until their wedding day. No kicking the tires before buying the car. Just trust God. What could go wrong?
IFB preachers encourage church teenagers to attend Christian colleges after high school. Most of these institutions are unaccredited. Their credits are worthless outside of the IFB bubble. One of our great-nieces just left for The Crown College to become a teacher. Her degree will only be valid in IFB schools. She will spend four years earning a degree that has no value outside of IFB institutions. This is, to put it mildly, a travesty.
If teens want to go to godless secular colleges, they will be encouraged to attend Bible college for one year. “Everyone needs a Bible college education,” their preachers say, knowing that if they go for one year they will likely stay. Some IFB parents will tell their children that if they go to a Bible college, they will pay for it. If they go to a secular college, they are on their own. This is, of course, extortion.
Pastor’s children often receive free tuition. The goal, of course, is to get pastors to send more students their way. My oldest son planned to go to Pensacola Christian College. (Jason, feeling pressured to attend PCC, started to doubt his salvation. I told him he didn’t have to go to PCC. Once freed from pleasing his earthly father, his assurance of salvation quickly returned. Of course, years later he permanently lost his faith and now has a business degree from an accredited college.) One of the motivators was the fact that as a pastor’s son, he could attend PCC tuition-free, saving him thousands of dollars. I sure liked that idea.
IFB preachers are notorious for dispensing bad information from the pulpit. Premarital sex is not fun. Marijuana is a gateway drug. Masturbation will make you blind. Looking at porn will turn you into a child molester. Listening to rock music leads to demonic influence. LGBTQ teens live in the dark shadowlands of IFB churches. They are told that people like them are evil and disgusting. Never accepted, is it any wonder that many, if not most, gay IFB teens flee their churches as soon as they are able to do so?
By the time IFB teens reach eighteen, they are often confused and ill-prepared to face the real world. The blame for this rests squarely on the shoulders of their Fundamentalist Baptist parents, pastors, and teachers. I don’t doubt the sincere intentions of these people, but they do cause great harm, as many of the readers of this blog can attest. Baptist Fundamentalism is not a benign system of belief. Its beliefs and practices have real world consequences.
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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