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Tag: Psychological Manipulation

Scaring Children and Teenagers Into Getting Saved

hell

Why do Evangelical churches, pastors, and parents use scare tactics and methodologies to elicit salvation decisions from their young children and teenagers? Why are high-pressure tactics used to get children to ask Jesus to save them and forgive their sins? Why can’t Evangelical parents wait until their children are older — say late teens — before pressuring them to repent of their sins and ask Jesus to become their Lord and Savior?

In what follows, I will attempt to explain the theological beliefs that drive Evangelicals to treat their children like prospects for buying new vacuüm cleaners or Florida timeshares. Week after week, Evangelical pastors preach the gospel, imploring non-Christians to admit they are sinners and in need of salvation and forgiveness. As I shall discuss at the conclusion of this post, many Evangelical preachers and churches go to extreme lengths to scare children into becoming Christians.

According to Evangelicals, because Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden, all humans come into this world with a sin nature. This means that humans are born sinners, and not that they become sinners. Humans have no choice in the matter. Adam and Eve, as the first humans, are the father and mother of the human race. Because they were sinners, so are we.

God’s punishment for human sin is that every human must die physically and spiritually (first and second death). Eternal punishment in a burning lake of fire and brimstone — Hell and the Lake of Fire — awaits all humans after death.

Sometime in the future, Jesus Christ (God) will come back to earth on a white horse. Once he arrives, he will defeat Satan and his followers, vanquishing sin from the earth. Jesus will then resurrect the dead and judge them, along with those who are still alive when He returns. Those who are Christians will be rewarded with a room in the eternal Kingdom of God. Everyone else will be cast into the Lake of Fire. Once this final judgment is completed, God will make a new Heaven and a new Earth. (I am well aware of the various eschatological schemes. I am trying to paint a general picture without getting caught up with all the various end-times interpretations.)

Since hell awaits all humans, the only way to escape the eternal pain, suffering, and darkness of the Lake of Fire is for humans to admit that they are sinners and that Jesus — thanks to his death on the cross, paying for our sins and satisfying God’s wrath — is their only hope for salvation and forgiveness. Only those who put their faith in Jesus will go to Heaven when they die. (Again, I know that there are various soteriological schemes. I am trying to give the reader a broad picture without going into all the details concerning the order of salvation, Calvinism, Arminianism, etc.)

It should come as no surprise, then, based on the aforementioned core beliefs, that Evangelical churches, pastors, and parents are worried about their children going to Hell when they die. Most Evangelicals believe that, while all humans are born into the world with sin natures, children aren’t accountable for their sin until they reach a certain age or a certain intellectual capability (none of which is taught in the Bible). Some Evangelicals believe that the age of accountability is age twelve, whereas other Evangelicals believe that children are accountable for their sin the moment they understand the difference between right and wrong. All Evangelicals believe it is vitally important for their children to get saved as soon as possible — the younger, the better. It is not uncommon for Evangelical children to become Christians before they enter elementary school. In many Evangelical sects, formerly saved children, make new commitments to Christ — rededications — as teenagers. It is also not uncommon to hear of adults who have repeatedly rededicated their lives to Christ. As one old preacher said, just keep praying and asking Jesus to save you until it sticks.

Many Evangelical churches have what are called revivals. Hired guns called evangelists hold days- and weeks-long meetings at churches with the express purpose of “reviving” Christians and saving the lost. These evangelists are known for their fire and brimstone preaching, complete with stories about people who died without becoming Christians. These stories are key to evangelizing the lost. The unsaved, according to evangelists, need to know that every breath they breathe is a gift from God, and since the appointed time of death could happen at any moment, it is vital that sinners get saved today.

Evangelists held numerous meetings for me during my pastoring days. Two come to mind, both of whom went to great lengths to scare children and teenagers (and adults) into getting saved. One man was Dennis Corle. Corle preached several meetings for me in the 1980s. During one meeting, Corle asked if he could meet for a short time every night with the church’s children. I said yes, not bothering to ask why Corle wanted to do so. Imagine my surprise when I read a Sword of the Lord report of the Corle revival meeting at our church which stated that dozens of children were saved. Evidently, Corle spent his time with the children scaring the living Hell out of them. And it worked. Previously saved children even made new professions of faith.

Another evangelist who comes to mind is Don Hardman. (Please see The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review  and Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review .) Hardman held numerous meetings for me at two different churches. Some of the meetings were two weeks long — every weeknight, Saturday, and twice on Sunday. Hardman would often come out of the pulpit and address attendees personally, calling them by name if he knew them. At one such meeting, Hardman zeroed in on teenagers, going down the pews pointing his finger, and reminding them that God saw everything they did. Needless to say, this scared a number of attendees — most of whom were church members — and come invitation time, numerous people came forward to get saved or get “right” with God.

Corle and Hardman were hardly unique as far as evangelists go. I sat in a number of revival meetings during my days as a Christian and a pastor, and I heard evangelist after evangelist attempt to psychologically manipulate people into making decisions for Christ.

Evangelists rely on love offerings to fund their ministries. These hired guns know that good love offerings and future engagements rely on them producing decisions. Sinners and backsliders walking the sawdust trail (a reference to yesteryear when evangelists held tent meetings and covered the aisles with sawdust) to the front of the church so they can do business with God, are visible demonstrations not only of God’s power, but the evangelist’s ability to goad, manipulate, shame, and scare people into making decisions.

Some evangelists, using the Billy Graham model, ‘prime the pump’ by having trained Christian altar workers come forward during the invitation time. These altar workers give the unaware the illusion that God is moving and people are being saved. Contrary to Donald Trump saying that he invented the phrase ‘priming the pump,’ Evangelical evangelists have been talking about and using this practice since the 1920s. While many evangelists don’t use such a crass phrase as ‘priming the pump,’ and instead use less-offensive phrases such as ‘helping sinners take the first step’, I have heard several notable evangelists utter the phrase. The late Joe Boyd is one evangelist who comes to mind.

In the 1970s, I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. It was there that I was, at the age of fifteen, saved and called to preach. As was typical of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches during the church growth heyday, Trinity held two services on Sunday and one on Wednesday, along with Sunday school before the morning service and youth group before/after the evening service. The goal of every service was the same: the salvation of sinners and the reclamation of backsliders. Added to the weekly schedule of services were revival meetings. These revival meetings were special events geared towards reaching non-Christians. Church members were encouraged (commanded) to invite their friends, neighbors, and everyone they came in contact with to the revival. Get them to the revival, the thinking went, and let the evangelist — uh I mean God — do the rest.

These revival meetings were high-pressure events. During the invitation, church members were encouraged to speak to their visitors about the condition of their souls. Countless prospects for Heaven were badgered into coming to the front where altar workers would take them through the plan of salvation (the Romans Road). Those who prayed the sinner’s prayer and answered the correct questions were deemed saved. At the conclusion of the service, the newly saved were mentioned by name to congregants who then showed their approval by saying AMEN! Afterward, these newly minted Christians stood at the front so their new brothers and sisters in Christ could shake their hands, hug them, and give them spiritual advice.

One Wednesday night, a friend of mine by the name of Deke Roberts came with me to the Wednesday night service. During the invitation, one of the high-pressure saleswomen of the church came to Deke and started asking him questions about his spiritual condition. After being sufficiently badgered, my friend went forward and prayed the sinner’s prayer. Several days later I asked Deke about his salvation decision. He told me that he got “saved” just so that lady would leave him alone!

the burning hell

Some Evangelical churches use movies and drama events to lure people into getting saved. Teenagers, in particular, are the focus of these events. During my teen years, Trinity showed movies such as The Burning Hell and A Thief in the Night.

Video Link

Video Link

These movies were quite scary, warning sinners of the danger of waiting until tomorrow to be saved. During my ministry years, drama presentations became a popular way to get people saved. Hell Houses and dramas such as Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames were (and still are) used as evangelistic tools to reach the lost. Thousands and thousands of people have made professions of faith through these manipulative tools.

Let me conclude this post with an honest reflection on my own use of psychological manipulation. At the time, I wouldn’t have considered my actions as manipulation, but I now know they were. Believing that life was short and Hell was real, I felt burdened to use any means necessary to reach people with the gospel. For many years, Sunday after Sunday, service after service, I preached the gospel, using poignant stories and passages of Scripture to remind sinners of the danger of waiting to get saved. Hundreds and hundreds of people made professions of faith and got right with God during my time pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. While I deeply regret manipulating people, in my defense I was only modeling that which I had experienced growing up in Evangelical churches and attending an IFB college. I did the only thing I knew to do. Fortunately, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I began moving away from using such tactics. Embracing Calvinism put an end to my use of altar calls.  While I still passionately chased after the souls of men, I left it up to “God” to save sinners. Needless to say, once I embraced Calvinism, the number of people saved under my ministry greatly decreased.

Did you grow up in an Evangelical church? Did the church hold revival meetings? What techniques did the church use during church services to “reach the lost”? 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.

How Fundamentalist Christianity Turns People into Raving Lunatics

sean feucht

I am not one to write inflammatory, hyperbolic headlines, but for this post, it will be clear to readers that the chosen post title is not unfair nor does it misdescribe the subject matter. The following video features Sean Feucht, a, uh, a, well, I am not sure what to call him. Let’s go with Trump-supporting Fundamentalist Charismatic preacher and worship leader with deep ties to Bethel Church in Redding, California. (Please see Bethel Redding, a Dangerous Evangelical Cult and Do You Really Have to Ask if Bethel Redding is a Cult?) Feucht describes himself as a:

…. missionary, artist, speaker, author, activist, and the founder of multiple worldwide movements.

According to Feucht’s website, he currently operates three ministries:

  • Burn 24-7 — a global worship and prayer movement launched out of Sean’s dorm room in college, now spanning 6 continents and more than 250 cities.
  • Light A Candle — a global missions and compassion movement bringing light, hope, healing, and tangible love to the hardest, darkest, and some of the most isolated places of the earth.
  • Hold the Line — a political activist movement seeking to rally the global church to engage in their civic duty, to vote, and stand up for causes of righteousness and justice in the governmental arena.

Currently, Feucht is traveling the country holding “spontaneous” rallies. (The rallies are, in fact, quite organized.) Hundreds and thousands of primarily white Evangelical Christians flock to Feucht’s rallies. What follows is a video of Feucht’s latest rally in Little Rock, Arkansas. The video is six minutes long. PLEASE take the time to watch all of it. If you do so, you will understand why I chose the title I did for this post.

Video Link

Here’s a link to a recent rally Feucht held in Springfield, Missouri.

Feucht is a rabid anti-masker, so it should come as no surprise that none of the rally attendees is wearing a mask. Every rally Feucht holds is a super spreader event, yet thanks to warped interpretations of the separation of church and state and the First Amendment, he and his merry band of minstrels are exempt from state health mandates. Truly, with God all things are possible.

What troubles me is the religious hysteria shown in the video. Using rock music and psychological manipulation, Feucht and other rally leaders whip the crowd into a frenzy. While some Evangelicals might suggest that the behavior of rally attendees is fueled by Charismatic beliefs and practice, not True “Biblical” Christianity, I have witnessed similar insanity during Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) conferences and camp meetings. The root issue is psychological and emotional manipulation. The very same techniques that Feucht uses were used to foment the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The people in the aforementioned video are not, for the most part, uneducated, ignorant hillbillies. These people are educated, working-class people, people who have good jobs, own their own homes, and drive nice automobiles. If the Insurrection taught us anything, it is this: smart, educated, financially secure people can behave in ways that look a lot like the scenes from the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. When people gather together in like-minded tribes, it is easy for the Sean Feuchts of the world to manipulate them psychologically. I was a pastor for twenty-five years. I was, by all accounts, a well-spoken orator. I knew how to use the Bible, religious verbiage, and stories to deliver sermons that moved people to action. As I look back on the 4,000+ sermons I preached, it is hard not to conclude that I manipulated people to achieve a religious objective — be it salvation, getting right with God, winning the lost, fulfilling my agenda, or filling the church’s coffers. I may have thought, at the time, that I was doing God’s work, that my motives were holy and pure, but the fact remains that through my words (and behavior) I “led” people to do things they might not do otherwise.

What I found most disturbing in this video was clips of children being overcome with emotionalism. While Feucht and his defenders will claim that what is witnessed on the video is “God,” it is clear, at least to me, that these poor children were whipped into an emotional frenzy by an expert modern-day Elmer Gantry.

I should note, in passing, Feucht’s (and his crew’s) crass, manipulative appropriation of Native American (called First Nation People in the video) culture. I wanted to scream when I watched indigenous people wrapped in what are commonly called Indian blankets. Feucht is evidently unaware of the history Indigenous people have with Christianity, including blankets given to them infected with diseases such as smallpox.

What do you think of this video? Please leave 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.

How Preachers Put the Fear of God into Church Attendees

fearful of god

Fear is a tool used by Evangelical preachers to manipulate and control church attendees. While many Evangelical churches are taking more of a relational approach that focuses on feel-good how-to sermons, hellfire-and-brimstone churches can still be found in virtually every American community. These kinds of churches are known for sin-hating, devil-chasing “hard” preaching. The men — women need not apply — who pastor such churches take pride in the fact that their toe-stomping sermons cause sinners and saints alike to fear God. And in some instances, not only do church attendees fear the Almighty, but they also fear the preacher.

There are two methods commonly used by preachers to cause people to fear God. First, there are various Bible verses that promote fear of God. The book of Hebrews says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon said that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments. The Bible also says that people should fear he who has the keys of life and death, “he” being, of course, God. Then there are also various Bible stories that remind people of what might happen if they disobey God. Preachers remind congregants that disobeying God shows that they have a lack of fear. Church members who are not regular attendees or faithful tithers are told that their disobedience reveals a heart that does not fear God. No matter the sin, according to Evangelical preachers, the root cause is a lack of fear of God. If people feared God they would do all that God commands them to do. Of course, far too many Evangelical preachers confuse their personal convictions and way of life with the laws, commands, and precepts found in the Bible. I have written several posts in the past about the long list of rules and regulations that can be found in many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. (Please see An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) These rules and regulations are little more than personal interpretations of various Bible verses. There are no verses in the Bible that prohibit many of the things that Evangelical preachers preach against, but this does not keep them from conflating personal beliefs with the teachings of the Bible. While many Evangelical churches have softened their stance on many social issues, plenty of churches still preach against “sins” such as alcohol drinking, drug use, gambling, mixed bathing, movie attendance, swearing, immodest clothing, long hair on men, pants on women, rock ‘n roll music, dancing, petting, and premarital sex. Preachers scour their Bibles looking for verses and stories that can be used to prop up their peculiar social and moral codes. Again, the main purpose is to put the fear of God into people so they will not do the things that preachers and churches consider sin.

The second method that Evangelical preachers use to promote the fear of God is the telling of personal stories that are meant to remind people of what happens when people ignore God and live in ways that show a lack of fear. Remember, people show that they rightly fear God by obeying God and the teachings of the Bible. People who attend church, yet ignore God’s commands, are treading on thin ice, and if they do not repent, God could bring judgment down upon their heads. Preachers often tell stories about former church members who ignored their preaching and stern admonitions, only to find themselves being punished or even killed by God. Years ago, I listened to a preaching tape by Calvinistic Southern Baptist evangelist Rolfe Barnard. His sermon was titled, God kills people. Will he have to kill you? The purpose of Barnard’s sermon was to provoke church members to explicitly obey the commands of God. Threatening people with death was certainly a good way to get their attention. Of course, despite all the fear-mongering, most church members remain passive attendees who throw a few shekels in the offering plate and say, great show for a buck.

Evangelists are often the best storytellers. These merchandisers of fear and judgment use unverifiable stories about people in other churches who did not fear God. With thundering voices and apocalyptic pronouncements, these men of God tell stories about people who angered God. This God made them sick, took away their jobs, killed their children, or caused them to suffer any of a number of other reversals of fortune. Instead of seeing such things as shit happens, evangelists see these things as signs of God chastising his children.

I vividly remember a revival meeting with Don Hardman in the late 1980s when the evangelist left the pulpit and came down to where the church teenagers were sitting. With a raised voice, Hardman pointed his finger at each teenager, telling them that GOD sees everything they do. He then recited a list of the typical “sins” committed by rambunctious, hormone-raging young people. By the time he was done, I could see that the teenagers were fearful. I thought, at the time, that God was using Hardman to ferret out sin and rebellion against God. I now know that the church teenagers did not fear God as much as they feared Don Hardman. Or perhaps they feared being found out. Either way, come invitation time, numerous teenagers came to the altar to pray. I suspect very little changed for these teenagers, but by coming to the altar to pray, they showed, outwardly at least, that they had received God’s and Evangelist Hardman’s message.

Many Evangelical preachers save their best fear-mongering stories for unsaved church attendees. This kind of story is used to show unsaved people what could happen to them if they put off getting saved. Every Evangelical preacher knows of people who heard the gospel and had an opportunity to be saved, yet put off their decision to another day. And before they could be saved, some sort of tragic accident happened that led to their death. Once dead, these sinners no longer had an opportunity to make things right with God. They should have feared God and taken him up on his offer of eternal salvation, but because they didn’t, they are now burning in Hell.

I wish I could say that I did not use such manipulative stories and means to get people saved, but I did. I justified it, at the time, by reminding myself that the Apostle Paul became all things to all men so that by all means he could save some. What is the harm of a psychologically manipulative story if the end result is sinners saved from the fiery pit of Hell? I employed all sorts of justifications for my use of heart-wrenching, tear-inducing stories of human tragedy, suffering, and death. Believing that I somehow had to get people’s attention, I used these stories to force people to see the brevity of life and the importance of putting their faith in Jesus Christ. Over the years, hundreds and hundreds of people came forward at invitation time, knelt at the altar, and asked Jesus to save them. Nearby, at the same altar, would be saved church members who were also doing business with God — confessing secret and not-so-secret sins.

Putting the fear of God into people is good for business. Without it, I suspect many people would not bother to attend church. Without fear and threats of judgment, most people would choose to sleep in on Sundays and enjoy a leisurely brunch before they turn on the game. I know I would have. One of the greatest joys that came with becoming an atheist was that I no longer feared God. Since God doesn’t exist, I no longer have a need to quake in my boots at the very mention of his name. Of course, Evangelicals are fond of reminding me that there is coming a day when Bruce Gerencser WILL fear God, but I am confident that when that day comes, the fear-inducing God will be AWOL. This God is little more than a tool used by preachers and churches to keep asses the pews and money in the offering plates. Remove fear from the equation, and I suspect there will be a lot more Baptists at the lake on Sunday morning.

Did you attend a church where the preacher regularly made use of fear-inducing sermon illustrations? Was his fear-mongering successful? 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.

God DESERVES the Best of Everything!

free-money-for-pastor-walt

Sarcasm ahead! Easily offended Evangelicals should not read this post.

The Christian God is quite demanding, according to Evangelical preachers. God demands and expects the best of everything from his followers. Never mind the fact that God allegedly owns and controls everything right down the hairs on our heads. He still demands that Christians bow in fealty to him and bestow upon him everything they own and have worked for. According to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) eschatology, Christians will be judged by their works on Judgment Day and rewarded with crowns for their good works. A lifetime of slaving for Jesus, and all Christians get are tinplate crowns made in China? And even then, God expects believers to remove their crowns from their heads, joyfully, reverently casting them at his feet. What’s God’s going to go with all these crowns, anyway? Sell them on eBay?

For those raised in Evangelical churches, how many times did you hear sermons about giving God your best? Jesus died on the cross for our sins! If Jesus gave his ALL for us, shouldn’t we give our ALL to him? Our thoughts, words, and deeds, all belong to Jesus! This life is just preparation for the life to come. Giving everything to God now means he will reward us after death! Or so preachers say, anyway. No evidence for this claim is forthcoming. You are just going to have to take them at their word. But let’s, for a moment, take the non-inspired, errant, fallible Bible at face value. What awaits Christians after the resurrection of the just and unjust? Sure, no more pain, sickness, or death. But that aside, I am not sure Heaven (the eternal kingdom of God) will be such a great place to live for millions and millions of years. What will Christians spend their endless days doing? Worshiping, praising, and glorifying the universe’s ultimate narcissist, God. God demanded everything from his followers in this life, and he does the same in the life to come. Come on, Jesus, when is enough enough? Can’t believers have a toke of marijuana out back of the throne room with Peter or share a few off-color jokes with John? Must believers forgo the joys of human existence all because he who has EVERYTHING wants more? I am starting to think Hell is a far better destination. Satan didn’t ask anything of me in this life, and I heard from a reliable source, Christopher Hitchens, that Hell is quite the party. Sure, Hell is a bit warm in July, but hanging out with Hitch and other atheists at Beelzebub’s Bar and Grill seems preferable to neverending worship of Jehovah.

This notion of God deserving the best of everything has real-world implications. Instead of Christians focusing on life and enjoying the fruits of their labor, they are expected to hand their pay and the title of their property to God. How does this transfer of wealth take place? On Sundays, at Evangelical churches everywhere. Congregants are expected to tithe, give offerings, and give money to whatever project the pastor cooks up. Church members are reminded that all they have belongs to God, that he is just loaning it to them, subject to call at any moment. Christians are conned into believing that nothing they own belongs to them. Cue the song, All to Jesus I Surrender, All to Him I Freely Give.

Churches are, at their base level, membership clubs. I don’t have a problem with churches expecting members to pay their dues. However, it is not uncommon for Christians to give 10-25 percent of their gross income to their churches. In the IFB churches, we had numerous income streams: tithes (10% of gross income), building fund offerings, and faith promise missionary offerings, along with special offerings collected for guest speakers, evangelists, and singing groups. And then there were special projects that needed funding, often requiring thousands of dollars. Pastors think the church needs this or that, so they go to their congregations and ask them to cough up the money. “God is leading us to do __________! preachers say. Over the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I raised money for everything from pews to building refurbishments to copiers to buses. While some of these projects were certainly worthwhile, at what point do preachers stop bleeding church members for more money? If the early church could meet in homes or outside, can’t modern churches do the same? Surely, you jest, Bruce. God needs the best of everything! And that includes lighting and AV equipment. One local megachurch took up residence at the Defiance Mall. God “led” the pastor and other church leaders to install $100,000 of state-of-the-art AV equipment. Nice set-up, to say the least, but where did this money come from? Church members.

Bruce, shouldn’t Christians be free to give as much money as they want to their clubs? Sure. We live in a free society. We are free to spend our money as we wish. My objection is to what drives giving in Evangelical churches: the idea that God deserves the best of everything. How do Evangelical preachers know what God wants? How do they know that God only shops at Saks Fifth Avenue? You see, when I read the Bible, I see a God (Jesus) who is more of a Walmart shopper. If Christians are to follow Jesus’ example, how does that comport with the notion that God deserves the best of everything; that church buildings should be temples of capitalistic splendor? And this is not just an Evangelical problem. One need only look at mainline and Catholic church buildings to see glaring testimonies to the belief that God deserves the very best. If Jesus is the example, it seems evident, at least to me, that most Christians are not paying attention.

Further, I have a big problem with preachers who manipulate church members with claims that God spoke to them, telling them that to receive his blessing God wants new $30 a square yard carpeting for the sanctuary. Churches should be focused on meeting congregant needs and ministering to the sick, poor, and marginalized, and not building an opulent palace for a deity who supposedly already owns everything.

People who wholeheartedly love Jesus are bled dry by such thinking. People give even when they don’t have the means to do so. Their pastors encourage them to have faith or sow mustard seeds for God. Matthew 17:20 says:

. . . verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

NOTHING SHALL BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU, shouts the pastor. On his last show on 700-WLW, Gary Burbank — my all-time favorite comedian — said this:

The Little Radio Church of the White Winged Gospel Truth is in the air. Flock, as it sayeth in the Book of Hominominies, not your old testament, not your new testament, but your present testament, writ by me, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, ‘cause the Lord likes to mess with us. Can I get an “Amalulah!”? Now the Lord is taking Gary Burbank – not calling him home, just getting’ him off the radio. I’m going to need some love offerings soon before my radio pulpit goes away. So reach into them jeans and pull out some greens. Fly them rockets from thy pockets up around my altar. Don’t make me holler, don’t make me shout. Turn them pockets inside out.

The only difference between when Burbank acted out this script and the present is that Evangelical preachers now have MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal for extracting money from congregants. Imagine a cash strapped congregant at First Church of the Born Again hearing his pastor’s plea for money to fund new equipment for the praise and worship band. This devout Christian, feeling the “leading” of the Lord — also known as psychological manipulation — goes online and maxes out his credit card for the Lord. His pastor praises him for heeding God’s voice. And then the first credit card bill comes. For the next five years, this God-led Christian will be paying off his donation monthly with 24.99% interest. Ain’t God awesome?

Did your pastors pressure you or your parents to give money to the church? Please share 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.

Just As I Am, a Poem by Brian

just as I am

What follows is a poem by Brian. Raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home, Brian attended countless church services, heard countless sermons, and saw and participated in countless altar calls. My experiences are similar, except I was the one giving the altar calls. (Please see Walking the Aisle — A Few Thoughts on Altar Calls.)

Just As I Am

Ten-year-olds
a dozen of us lined up
at the front of the church
because the world
might just end today
and we have all sinned
Romans 3, verse 23
our fisted, hounded hearts
and the preacher
offering one last chance.
Streets paved with gold
stream liquid
through amber
stained-glass windows.
Some of us softly weep
awful doubt in ourselves
our Baptist Jesus
and the preacher walking
our line and shaking hands
as if we were grownup
and big enough to deal
with being caught
between heaven and hell
on a Sunday morning
and our walking right
into the arms of it
idiot-faced
crying along with the music.

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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Why Evangelical Beliefs and Practices are Psychologically Harmful — Part One

born in sin
Cartoon by David Hayward

In light of comments on the post Do Evangelical Beliefs Lead to Psychological Damage?, I thought I would give several reasons why I think Evangelical beliefs and practices are psychologically harmful.

Evangelical Christianity teaches that everyone is born with a sinful nature. People do not become sinners; they are, by nature, sinners. From the moment people come into this world, they are sinners who are at variance with God. This is the lot of the human race, according to Evangelicals. No one, except Jesus, is exempt. We have no choice in the matter.

What is sin? Sin is, according to Evangelicals, transgression of the law of God. (1 John 3:4) God is Holy. He hates sin and those who do it. Yes, God HATES sinners! (Please see Does God Hate? and God Hates the Sin but Love the Sinner.) All of us deserve to be eternally punished in the Lake of Fire for our sins. Because of Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden, we deserve to be tortured in the flame of Hell for eternity. Or so Evangelicals say, anyway.

Jesus came to earth to redeem people from their sins. According to Evangelicals, God demands human sin be atoned for through a blood sacrifice. When Jesus was on the cross, the wrath of God the Father was poured out on Him — wrath that Jesus did not deserve. Taking our sins and punishments upon himself, Jesus died on the cross to satisfy our sin debt.

Justification by faith is central to Evangelical soteriology. Simply put, the term means that God looks at a saved (born again) sinner “just as if they never sinned.” How is this possible? God hasn’t changed! He still hates sin and those who do it. He still throws people in the Lake of Fire to be tormented for eternity. God is God, and this is what God does. It is only through the merit and work of Jesus that born-again sinners are saved from the fury of a wrathful God. Jesus stands between the saved sinner and God, taking on the violence that rightfully belongs to saved and unsaved sinners alike. When God looks at saved sinners, all he sees is his son Jesus.

What I have written above is Evangelicalism 101. It is classic substitutionary atonement, justified-by-faith, Protestant theology. Understanding this will be key to what follows.

How do Evangelicals view themselves?

  • I am a sinner. I sin daily in thought, word, and deed.
  • Even now, I deserve punishment from God.
  • The only difference between me and the worst of sinners is that I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. The blood of Jesus covers my sin and I am, by faith, justified before God through the merit and work of Jesus.
  • No matter what suffering and pain comes in my life, I should be grateful that I am saved and that I have escaped eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire.

Most Evangelical pastors spend significant amounts of time preaching about sin. These self-described men of God really can’t be faulted for doing this. As People of the Book, they must preach what the Bible says — and the Good Book certainly has a lot to say about sin, judgment, and chastisement.

In the Old Testament alone there are 613 laws. Then there is the New Testament with all the new laws added by Jesus, Paul, John, and Peter.  Add to these the personal interpretation of these laws, commands, and precepts by Evangelical preachers . . . well, there’s plenty of sin to preach about.

Needless to say, there is a lot of guilt and fear among Evangelical believers. For all their talk about grace, Evangelical preachers spent inordinate amounts of time preaching sermons meant to cause listeners to feel guilty and fearful. Despite being “miraculously” saved, Evangelicals still sin —often more so than the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. No matter how often pastors preach about this or that sin, preachers and congregants alike continue to sin. Evangelicals commit sexual sins, divorce, felonies, misdemeanors, and have abortions, all at levels similar to those who never darken the doors of Christian churches. And thanks to the Internet, we now know that Evangelical pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, youth directors, and run-of-the-mill congregants abuse and sexually assault children and prey on vulnerable teenagers and adults. (Please see the Black Collar Crime series.)

Despite knowing all of this, Evangelicals preachers — ignoring their own secret sins — continue to berate and badger congregants over their sinful behaviors. How DARE you sin!, Evangelicals preachers proclaim. Look at what Jesus did for you! The Bible says, how dare they, who have been freed from sin, continue any longer therein?

Evangelicals believe that the third person of the Trinity — the Holy Spirit — lives inside them and is their teacher and guide. The Holy Spirit is a sin-o-meter of sorts. When temptation comes, the sin meter starts saying, NO! NO! Don’t do this! Turn! Run! Leave! Stop!

Yet, even with Jesus saving them, the Holy Spirit living inside of them, the Bible as the Words of God, and thundering preachers reminding them of the dangers of sins, Evangelicals still sin like just like the rest of us. Try as they might, Evangelicals can’t kick their sin habit. This ever-present reality results in a lifetime of guilt and fear.

Evangelical church altars are routinely lined with people “getting right with God.” Churches hold revival services so congregants can wipe their sin slates clean and return to walking the straight and narrow way. Pastors weekly spend hours counseling church members who find themselves ensnared by Satan — caught up in temptation and sin. Preachers themselves are routinely caught up in this or that sin. If a preacher can’t walk the talk, is it realistic to expect lesser Christians to do so?

For all their talk about forgiveness and deliverance, sin is still the number one problem Evangelicals face daily. No matter how much they pray, asking for forgiveness, sin keeps returning, spoiling their attempts to live Godly lives. A lifetime of this kind of living makes people emotional train wrecks. Over time, Evangelicals learn how to “hide” their sin. They learn the right things to say when asked about how things are in their lives. They learn how to play the “I am right with God” game. These bought-by-the-blood Evangelicals learn to erect a façade that masks the reality of their lives.

Sinning Evangelicals know they are frauds and hypocrites, yet they dare not admit this to anyone. Little do they know that EVERYONE, including the pastor, is just like they are. Some Evangelicals, after decades of being on the sin roller coaster, decide to get off. They crave an opportunity to live authentic lives, lives that are free from the emotional weight of guilt, fear, and condemnation.

Getting off the roller coaster is not easy. The emotional baggage weighs people down. Isn’t their walking away the BIGGEST sin of them all? Doesn’t this prove that they never were real followers of Jesus? Their churches, pastors, and fellow Evangelicals will condemn them for throwing in the towel. Their defection will be viewed in light of what the Bible says about them: they went out from us because they were not of us. For if they were of us, they would have continued with us.” (1 John 2:19) Leaving is PROOF that they never were the real deal. No matter how many years they faithfully walked the straight and narrow, the singular act of leaving undoes all the good they did in the name of Jesus.

Once free, an interesting thing happens: guilt and fear begin to recede. Psychological stress starts to fade. For the first time in years, they experience peace. For them, it took leaving the Prince of Peace to experience inner peace.

Instead of lives dominated by thoughts of their sinfulness, these former Evangelicals learn that many (most) of the actions the Bible, along with what their pastors and churches called sin, are not sin at all. As time goes on, their “sin” list becomes smaller and smaller. Perhaps they learn that there isn’t really any such thing as sin. People do good and bad things, and should be judged, not by a moral standard found in an antiquated book, but by a basic humanistic, common morality —  morality that respects the private acts of consenting adults; a morality that recognizes that many of the acts of other human beings are none of their business.

These former Evangelicals now have the freedom to live their lives on their own terms. Evangelical zealots from their past will warn them that they have made themselves their own God and that if they are not careful, they will become reprobates — those whom God has given over to the list of sins recorded in Romans 1 and 2. These types of threats no longer have the desired effect. Why? Because their minds have been freed from the chains of Evangelical Christianity. They now know what it is to have true freedom. Once free, having experienced the peace that passeth all Evangelicalism, they will never return to the garlic and leeks of Evangelical Christianity. To quote an old Southern Gospel song . . .They have gone too far to turn back now!

Part Two

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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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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“Old-Fashioned” Preaching: Calling Sin Sin, Stepping on Toes, And Naming Names

old-fashioned preaching jack hyles

“Old-fashioned” is a word used by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers and churches to describe their ministries and preaching. It is not uncommon to hear of IFB churches labeling themselves as “old-fashioned” churches. When asked what they mean by the word “old-fashioned,” IFB preachers will say “our churches are like the first-century churches in the Bible.” Never mind the fact that their churches don’t remotely resemble early Christian churches. IFB preachers see themselves as the keepers of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3) They believe that their Baptist theology is the same as that which Jesus, the 12 disciples, and the Apostle Paul preached almost 2,000 years ago. Sound like something straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? It is. As anyone who has spent time in “old-fashioned” IFB churches knows, such churches pattern themselves after 1950s Evangelical churches, and not the churches founded by  Peter, Timothy, and Paul. There’s nothing in IFB belief and practice that resembles early church practices. N-o-t-h-i-n-g.

IFB pastors frequently say that they are “old-fashioned” preachers, preaching the “old-fashioned” faith. What, exactly, is “old-fashioned” preaching? In what way does it differ from modern preaching? “Old-fashioned” IFB pastors think that “old-fashioned” preaching requires stepping on toes, calling sin sin, and naming names. “Old-fashioned” preaching is also called “hard” preaching. As opposed to what — “soft preaching”; on viagra preaching as opposed to erectile dysfunction preaching?

billy sunday preaching
Evangelist Billy Sunday, an IFB Idol

“Old-fashioned” preaching usually includes theatrics by preachers: loud preaching, shouting, pacing the platform, standing on the pews, pounding the pulpit, running the aisles with Bible raised high, to name a few. Such preaching is quite entertaining, but “old-fashioned?” Hardly. Such preaching styles find their roots in southern revivalism. People attend “old-fashioned” churches because they want to emotionally “feel” God. Thinking that they are “feeling” the Holy Ghost, well-intentioned congregants are blind to the fact that they are being psychologically manipulated by purveyors of “old-fashioned” preaching.

If I stopped writing at this point, most readers would laugh and dismiss “old-fashioned” preaching as a harmless cultural artifact of Christian Fundamentalism. However, many IFB preachers use “old-fashioned” preaching to abuse, manipulate, and control congregants. Imagine sitting in church on Sunday and hearing your pastor preach on the very “sins” you confessed to him during counseling? Or imagine being called out by name from the pulpit? Imagine having to sit in church and silently endure belittling sermons that are used by expert manipulators to control your behavior and that of your fellow church members? I spent decades of my adult life attending IFB churches. Such sermons are common. As an IFB pastor, I preached similar “old-fashioned” sermons. Imagine the poor school teachers who had to endure my sermon on the evil of unions. Or pants-wearing women who had to silently suffer as I lambasted them for their slutty dress. There was no “sin” that couldn’t be turned into a forty-minute, better-wear-steel-toed-boots, “old-fashioned” hellfire and brimstone sermon. I look back on that period of my ministerial career, and all I can say is this: “Bruce, you were a raving lunatic.” And so were my colleagues in the ministry, and the preachers I heard at preacher’s meetings and conferences.

Fortunately, I didn’t remain an “old-fashioned” preacher. In the late 1980s, I realized that what I was supposed to do as a pastor was teach the Bible to congregants and help them in their day-to-day lives. Of course, some of my colleagues thought I had abandoned “old-fashioned” Christianity or had lost my “fire.” Perhaps, but I came to a place in my life where I was content to just teach the Bible and let God do his work as he saw fit. I stopped the pulpit theatrics and abandoned the use of psychologically manipulative sermon illustrations. I also stopped giving altar calls. Granted, my new-found Calvinistic theology drove some of these changes, but the bigger issue for me is that I was tired of beating congregants over the head with the proverbial “sin” stick.

Did you attend an “old-fashioned” church? Did your pastor preach “old-fashioned” sermons? Please leave your “old-fashioned” thoughts in the comment section. 🙂

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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Emotionally Manipulating IFB Church Members through Music and Preaching Styles

ct townsend

As part of my responsibilities as a critic of Evangelical Christianity, I read Christian blogs and news sites and listen to sermon and music videos. Hey, someone has to do it! Better me than you, right? Yesterday, I spent some time swimming in the waters of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement — my spiritual home for many years.  While doing the backstroke, I stumbled upon a website for IFB evangelist C.T. Townsend.

Here’s a video of Townsend and his wife Becky singing a duet at Trinity Baptist Church in Asheville, North Carolina. IFB luminary Ralph Sexton is the pastor of Trinity. Both C.T. and Becky are the progeny of IFB preachers.

Video Link

Here’s another video of C.T. Townsend singing at Victory Baptist Church in North Augusta, South Carolina.

Video Link

And here’s Townsend singing at the North Florida Tent Meeting — circa 2009. Baptists love the Blood™ almost as much as the Catholics do!

Video Link

If you carefully watch these videos, you will see that listeners find the music emotionally stirring. This results in a lot of emotional outbursts and movement by congregants down to the front of the church to pray. Are these things “God moving” or are they the result of emotional manipulation and cultural expectations? I contend it’s the latter.

Here’s a video clip of Townsend preaching a sermon titled, The King Has One More Move at Rubyville Community Church in Portsmouth, Ohio. The video clip starts around the 26 minute mark.

Video Link

As you will see from this video, Townsend uses certain preaching techniques to manipulate listeners into making a decision for Jesus. In the last five minutes of the video, Townsend whips the crowd into an emotional frenzy, and then scales their fervor down so he can give an invitation. I watched a handful of his sermon videos, and he uses the same technique in each one.

There’s nothing in these videos that surprises me. Townsend is a product of IFB (and Southern Baptist) culture and practice — particularly in the South. I don’t know him personally, but I have heard and seen his methods and mannerism many times in the sermons of other IFB preachers. There was a time early in my ministry when I preached in a similar manner. My results were akin to those of Townsend.

The spirited, emotional songs are meant to prime the pump, so to speak; to prepare listeners for the sermon that follows. Already emotionally manipulated by the music, congregants are more open to what preachers such as Townsend have to say. The goal is always the same: to bring people to the place where they are willing to walk the aisle and make a decision; whether to get saved, confess one’s sin, rededicate one’s life, or surrender to some sort of calling.

I am in no way suggesting that C.T. Townsend is an Elmer Gantry-like con man. He is a product of his environment. Spend some time in the Deep South attending camp meetings, youth rallies, and revival services, and you will see countless C.T. Townsends using similar emotionally manipulative techniques to elicit desired emotional responses.

Townsend and other preachers like him will object to my characterizations of their methodologies, attributing everything to the power and work of the Holy Spirit. It’s all God, they will say. However, one-time insiders such as myself know better. These preachers, whether consciously aware of it or not, are psychologically manipulating people. (Please read Walking the Aisle — A Few Thoughts on Altar Calls)

Let me conclude this post with a video of a young man singing a solo at the Carolina Youth Rally. C.T. Townsend is a featured speaker at the event. As you will see, children are also used to emotionally manipulate listeners. I have no doubt that this young man will someday walk the aisle and say, God is calling me to be a preacher. And so the cycle continues.

Video Link

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.

Bruce Gerencser