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Tag: Separation From the World

How IFB Beliefs and Practices Ruin Family Relationships

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

Millions of atheists, agnostics, pagans, and non-Christians have wonderful relationships with their Christian families. Unfortunately, this is not the case for unbelievers who have Evangelical families, especially those affiliated with churches on the extreme right of the Evangelical spectrum. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement — the religion of choice for my wife and I for many years — is one such extremist sect. Why do so many former IFB Christians have so many problems with their IFB parents, siblings, and extended families?

The IFB church movement — a broad collection of thousands of independent churches — is by nature separatist, exclusionary, and anti-cultural. (This thinking can be found in the Southern Baptist Convention and other Evangelical sects too.) IFB preachers tell their congregants that it is “us against the world.” Everything is neatly put in two categories: saved or lost, Heaven or Hell, godly or ungodly, worldly or wicked. Either you are part of the “in” group, or you are not. Their relationship with you depends on what group you are in.

IFB Christians are Bible literalists. In their minds, the Bible is not only inspired (breathed out by God), but it is also inerrant (without error) and infallible (true in all that it says). This thinking cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained, but millions of Fundamentalist Christians believe otherwise. Thus, when IFB believers read the Bible — and they do, far more than most Christians — they believe every word, including the words “thee” and “and” are true, straight from the mouth of God. Granted, IFB Christians don’t always practice what they preach, but when confronting sinful, wicked, evil, worldly non-Christian family members, they will expect them to submit to and obey the Bible’s inerrant, infallible edicts.

IFB Christians live in a black-and-white world without shades of gray or nuance. In their minds, there is only one way to see things: God’s divine plan as revealed in the Bible. All other worldviews and philosophies are false, even Satanic. That’s why IFB believers are at the forefront of the culture wars. They used to withdraw from the world, but thanks to successes in the political realm, Trumpism, and theocratic tendencies, IFB believers are quite militaristic in the public square.

While there is some theological and social diversity within the IFB bubble, generally people are expected to all believe and practice the same things. The IFB church movement is a monoculture where unapproved beliefs, practices, books, and interactions with the “world” are roundly condemned. Church members who can’t or won’t follow the yellow brick road are considered backslidden or carnal (worldly) Christians. Typically, such people will, over time, move on to other churches that are more accepting of theological and social diversity.

IFB Christians are encouraged by their pastors to treat their churches as their families. In fact, many pastors tell their congregants that their church “family” is their real family. Most IFB churches are hives of activity, often having services, ministries, and programs five days a week. These things, of course, are meant to reinforce the notion that the church is just one big, happy family. Families are encouraged to fellowship with fellow church families outside of the church. Friendships with unsaved people are frowned upon, if not outright condemned.

Many IFB parents either send their children to a private Christian school (often operated by their church) or homeschool them. After graduation, IFB children are expected to either get married or attend a Christian college. Many of these institutions are unaccredited, often providing inferior education. I recently perused the website of an IFB college that a family member is attending so she can be a school teacher. The college requires all students to earn a minimum of sixty hours in Bible. That means my family member, who is training to be a teacher, will only have sixty-eight hours of teaching-related training (the equivalent of an associate arts (AA) degree). Of course, upon graduation, she will only be able to work for unaccredited IFB schools. In other words, her degree will be worthless outside of the IFB bubble (though she will likely graduate with a preacher boy on her arm and have a baby two years later).

As long as everyone believes and practices the same things, all is well. Fellowship: a bunch of fellows in a boat all rowing in the same direction. This perfectly describes the IFB church movement. What mucks family relationships up is when a family member either jumps out of the boat or starts rowing in a different direction. This causes immediate conflict, often leading to hostilities and estrangement.

My wife, Polly, and I were raised in IFB churches. In the fall of 1976, we both enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — a militant IFB institution. Polly’s father and uncle were IFB preachers, both graduates of Midwestern. Her grandfather was a lay Fundamentalist preacher with the United Baptists. Everything described in this post fits her family to a T. While my family was also IFB in my younger years, by the time I was 15, my parents had divorced and remarried and stopped attending church. I continued alone in the IFB church, seeing the church as my “real” family.

After Polly and I Ieft Midwestern in February 1979, I started working for and pastoring IFB churches. I spent the next decade pastoring IFB churches in Montpelier, Buckeye Lake, and Somerset (all in Ohio). By the late 1980s, thanks to the Jack Hyles/David Hyles scandal and changing soteriological and eschatological beliefs, I stopped self-identifying as IFB. That said, my theological beliefs were still quite conservative and many of the social strictures from my IFB years remained. We remained in fellowship with Polly’s IFB family until we left the ministry in 2005 and left Christianity altogether in 2008. For a few years, we maintained a strained relationship with Polly’s IFB family. We were able to maintain cordial relationships at family holiday gatherings. Then everything fell apart.

In 2020, I wrote:

With my parents being dead, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Polly’s parents. This abruptly changed in 2010. I left the ministry in 2005 and we abandoned Christianity in November 2008. In early 2009, I sent out my family-shattering letter, Dear Family Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter fundamentally changed our relationship with Polly’s IFB family.

Christmas of 2009 was best remembered by a huge elephant in the middle of the room; that elephant being Polly and me and the letter I sent the family. No one said anything, but the tension was quite noticeable.

2010 found us, just like every year since 1978, at Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. This would be the last Christmas we would spend with Polly’s parents and her extended family. We decided to blend into the background, and besides short pleasantries, no one talked to us. Not that they didn’t want to. We found out later from one of our children that Polly’s uncle wanted to confront me about our defection from Christianity. Polly Mom’s put a kibosh on that, telling her brother-in-law that she had already lost one daughter and she was not going to lose another. (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005. Please see If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All.)

I appreciate Polly’s mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family (and a bully). I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people, and I couldn’t ask for better in-laws.

Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and throughout the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism behind it made for an uncomfortable evening.

Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephews had bought on the cheap at Big Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, “to go poo-poo on” — poo-poo being the Fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life with James Dennis.)

On our way home the next day, I told Polly that I couldn’t do it anymore and she said neither could she. We decided to stop going to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. We do try to see her parents during the holiday season, but we no longer attend the family gathering on Christmas Eve. Making this decision saddened us, but we knew we had to make it. (By the way, our children still attend the Christmas Eve gathering.)

It has been over a decade since we attended a family gathering. We do travel to Newark the week of Christmas and spend the day with Polly’s mom (her father is dead). While in Newark, we may see several of our nephews while at Polly’s mom’s home. Outside of that, we have no contact with our IFB family. We are Facebook friends with one of Polly’s cousins and nephews, but the rest of the family either refuses to respond to friend requests or has no interest in talking to us. We are godless outsiders, not part of the “in” group.

IFB Christians have little capacity to bend or compromise. That’s certainly the case for Polly’s family. As long as we remain atheists, humanists, and Democrats, we will be ostracized and shunned. Oh, they talk (gossip) about us and pray for us and use us as sermon illustrations, but love us for who and what we are? Never. As a result, many of our great-nephews, great-nieces, and second cousins have no idea who we are. One of our great-nieces got upset over something I had written about a family member on Facebook. “HOW DARE YOU! I DON’T KNOW YOU! YOU ARE A STRANGER!” I replied, “Actually, I am married to your dad’s first cousin. Your dad was in our wedding.” You see, we have been written out of the family’s storyline. The only way these children will ever know anything about us is if they do a Google search.

Polly and I would love to have meaningful relationships with our IFB family. Unfortunately, Fundamentalist religious beliefs and practices make that impossible. We lament these lost relationships, but time is too short for us to spend much time trying to have relationships with people who cannot or will not love us as we are. Polly and I can and will compartmentalize our religious, political, and social beliefs so we can have relationships with IFB family members. We spent six hours earlier this week with Polly’s IFB mother and family. (Please see “I Don’t Know What You Are,” My IFB Mother-in-Law Says.) I (we) didn’t say shit, fuck, or goddammit one time. 🙂 Yet, Polly’s mom had to stop all of us from eating our pizza so a prayer could be offered up to Jesus. No compromise for Polly and Bruce. And that’s fine. We tend to follow the rule, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” We stopped eating so our food could be Jesus-blessed. Jesus didn’t make or cook the pizza, nor did he earn the money to pay for it. But, IFB Christians are duty-bound to thank Jesus for everything (except ice cream at Dairy Queen). When Polly’s parents came to our home for Thanksgiving, I would have Dad pray a prayer before we ate — the only prayer ever uttered in our home except when Polly screams out “Oh God!” 🙂 Why do I do this? I wanted Mom and Dad to feel at home. Unfortunately, that’s a one-way street. When at that their home, we are expected to behave and conform. That’s the essence of IFB Christianity: obedience and conformity.

Mom is dying. When is unknown, but based on how she looks, we expect her death will be sooner, and not later. We will greatly miss her. However, we won’t miss her IFB beliefs and practices. We won’t miss being “othered.” We won’t miss being treated as outsiders, or worse yet, as complete strangers. We won’t miss being judged for how we talk, dress, or act.

One thing is for certain: Religious Fundamentalism kills everything it touches. For Polly and me, IFB Christianity killed the relationships we would love to have with our family. And once dead, there’s no way to resuscitate them.

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.

The Wearying Life of a “Separated” Christian

working for jesus

Leslie Allebach blogs at Growing4Life: Never Satisfied with Status Quo. She, along with countless other Evangelicals, spend their waking hours devoted to Jesus, the Bible, and the church. As the following excerpt shall show, Leslie is chasing a “separated life,” constantly judging and reassessing every aspect of her earthly existence:

The new Christianity (the mystic, self-centered, ecumenical version) is literally in everything. Once we are aware and start looking for it, we find it everywhere. While there are still a few pure churches, they are few and far between (as many of you can probably attest to). It’s an additive that comes in just bits and pieces at first. Although, unlike sodium benzoate, it is more like a terrible yeast that grows uncontrollably until it’s taken over the once-sound church or ministry.

But it begins as a bit. Just a tiny promotion of a false teacher here. A joining with a false church there. An almost invisible twist on the Gospel here. A book or movie recommendation there. Little things that look minuscule to the average church goer. But these little compromises spell disaster to the one who has taken the time to compare what is happening in this new Christianity to God’s Holy Word.

You see, you have to know what you are looking for and that it actually exists before you can understand what is taking place.

….

But what is my duty now? Do I just ignore the truth and live life as normal? Or do I have a responsibility to share the truth and make some changes in my life? Changes that might mean giving up favorite products that I’ve used for years?

I am guessing you can see the clear parallel here. When we begin to see the truth of this new (i.e. false) Christianity, it requires something of us. And it isn’t a fun process. The truth rarely is. One by one, we start eliminating things that contain it. Books, music, movies, and other forms of compromised “Christian” entertainment. We start evaluating our churches and what they are preaching from the pulpits, teaching in their Sunday Schools, and using as books for their small groups and Bible Studies.

Whether we are discussing an unproven additive or a wave of unbiblical teachings, there will always be scores of people to tell you to relax. Trust the narrative. Stop witch-hunting. Stop being so negative. Stop doing your own research. Just. Stop.

But we can’t stop. Because it is the truth that sets us free. It truly is. It may be an easier road to not know it in the short term. But, in the long-term, knowing the truth is always best. Knowing the truth is what keeps you spiritually and physically healthy. It protects you from the harm and danger of the world. It keeps you from being deceived. Spiritual truth is what keeps Satan from devouring you.

So how in the world do we find this spiritually life-saving Truth?

It is in God’s Word. If we are in the Word and reading it and studying it with a humble heart and a readiness to obey, no matter the cost, God will show us the truth. We don’t need to study the ways of false teachers or make a long list of who has compromised. We can simply compare them to scripture and see, fairly quickly, if someone has compromised.

….

This life is hard, isn’t it? I wish I could say I have this down, but I definitely struggle with the first reason, particularly. I can grow exhausted and in my exhaustion, I grow lazy. My flesh whispers “what does it matter, anyway?” and I give in. (That is one of the things I am looking most forward to in heaven– no whispering flesh!!)

But we must endure to the end. We may cave to laziness or an unwillingness to give something up or to the ridicule that is sure to come, but when God helps us to see it, we must acknowledge it, confess it, and then move on. Thankfully, we have a wonderfully forgiving God and He loves us dearly.

Allebach admits that pursuing the “separated” life is hard, and that she finds her struggle for purity and perfection exhausting. Instead of embracing and enjoying life, Allebach seeks to “endure to the end” so that she might be saved. This present life is just a means to an end. Prepare to meet the Lord thy God, the prophet Amos said. Everything experienced in this life is just preparation for the life to come.

I spent much of my life seeking a path similar to that of Leslie Allebach. Be ye perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect Jesus said in Matthew 5. Ditto for being holy. If one believes the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God and Jesus commands his followers to obey every law, command, and precept, it’s hard to live a nominal Christian life. If the goal is to hear Jesus say “well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord,” how can a Christian not pursue separation from the world? After all, I John 2:15 says:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

We only have one life. I just celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday. Born when Dwight Eisenhower was president, I am nearing the end of life. My body tells me that time is running out. If I were still an Evangelical Christian, much like Leslie, I would be working on making sure that my spiritual house was in order; that I was ready to meet my Lord and Savior face-to-face. Fortunately, fifteen years ago, I saw the “light.” Since then, I try to spend as much time as possible with Polly, our six children, and thirteen grandchildren. I want their last memories of me to be good ones, not memories of a husband and father so devoted to Jesus, the ministry, and evangelizing sinners that I had little time for them; that I had little time to exhale and enjoy life.

I have a bucket list, things I want to do before I die. I am calling this summer “Summer 2022 Bruce Gerencser Death-Defying Bucket List Tour.” So far, I have heard Breaking Benjamin, Halestorm, and Theory of a Deadman (and their opening acts) in concert, with Drive-By Truckers, Lydia Loveless, Collective Soul, and Switchfoot still on the schedule. Polly and I plan to take a daylong steam train ride next month. While doing these things (and others) this summer has extracted a high price from me physically, I intend to do all I can to check things off my bucket list. Why? This is the only life I will ever have, and I want to go out with a bang. And why not? Life after death is a myth, so I only have a short time to do the things I want to do. Leslie is willing to sacrifice her present life in hope of a divine payoff after she dies. But what if she is wrong? What if this life is all she has? BUT IT’S NOT, Allebach will likely say. The Bible says _____________. Yeah, about that. What if the Bible is not what Evangelicals claim it is? What if it’s just the words of fallible men? I for one am not willing to gamble my life away on the irrational belief that an ancient religious book written thousands of years ago by mostly unknown men is the rulebook/blueprint for my life. Bruce, what if you are wrong? I’m confident that I am not. I’ve seen no evidence that suggests I should give the Bible one moment of my time. (The only time I ever look at the Bible is when writing for this site.) Instead, as a good humanist, I seek after meaning and purpose, pleasure and happiness.

Allebach will continue pursuing the separated Christian life until something happens that causes her to doubt and question her sincerely held beliefs. If this never happens, she will arrive at the end of life, hoping and praying that her separated life will be sufficient to gain her entrance into Heaven. If she is wrong about God, Jesus, the Bible, and the afterlife, she will never know. Death ends life for all of us, regardless of our beliefs. When I die, I will remember nothing. But, maybe, just maybe, before my brain shuts down and my heart stops pumping blood, I will have a brief moment when a smile comes to my face as I think about the summer of 2022. I hope I will have the opportunity in that moment to say to the love of my life, thank you.

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.

The Us vs. Them World of Fundamentalist Christianity

us vs them

Recently, my friend Bob Felton wrote:

Certainly, I do not mean to relieve Christian cultists of their moral responsibility for their sometimes very bad behavior. It does bear mention, however, that those who are raised in this nonsense live in an environment where cult ethics are the norm — and the New Testament affirmatively does cultivate cult ethics (see Matthew 12:46-50 for a famous example). Such people are reared with an Us (People of God) vs. Them (the wicked, wicked, world) worldview. They are incapable of seeing themselves as skeptics see them, and very often do sincerely believe their bad behavior pleases an Invisible Friend.

Maybe Bruce could weigh-in and let us know what he taught on this subject when he was preaching?

I was raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I made a public profession of faith and was baptized as a fifteen-year-old boy at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Several weeks later, I announced to the church that God was calling me to preach. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon from 2 Corinthians 5:20:

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

Four years later, I left Bryan Ohio and moved to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll in classes at Midwestern Baptist College. While there, I met and married the daughter of IFB preacher and Midwestern grad Lee Shope. In the spring of 1979, Polly and I left Midwestern and moved to Bryan, the home of my birth. A few weeks later, I was asked to be the assistant pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church — a fast-growing General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) congregation. Thus began my official entrance into the ministry. The next twenty-five years would take us to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. While my theology and practice would evolve over the course of my ministerial careers, how I viewed the “world” and its opposition to Evangelicalism remained constant. While it is certainly true that I was far more ecumenical at the end of my career than at the start, my opinion of the “world” remained the same.

From start to finish, I believed the Bible was the inspired Word of God. Yes, my view on Bible inerrancy and infallibility evolved over the years, but I always believed that the Bible was a supernatural book; a book different and above all other books. Thus, I took seriously the teachings of the Bible.

In 1 John 2: 15-17, the Bible says:

 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18 states:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

Ephesians 5:11 says:

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

As a Bible-believing man of God, I found these verses clear: Christians were to separate themselves from the world, and avoid contact with unbelievers. This Us vs.Them view of the world theme runs throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. In the Old Testament, God picked Israelis (Jews) as his chosen people. They were commanded to separate themselves from the heathen nations of the world. God even commanded the Israelites to murder nearby worshippers of false Gods so that they wouldn’t influence and infect God’s chosen ones. Even in the book of Revelation, we find God winnowing the Us from the Them. Separation, then, from the world, has always been God’s standard of conduct for those who worship him. How this separation is practiced varies from sect to sect, church to church, and Christian to Christian.

I taught congregants that they were to separate themselves from the world as much as they could. It would be impossible to totally separate one’s self from the world, but interaction with the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world should be limited to necessary acts of commerce. And even here, Christians should seek to distance themselves from the taint of the world. I remember a time when I tried to find a grocery store that didn’t sell alcohol. I found one store, a Mennonite-owned store in Muskingum County. Things were horribly expensive, and the store carried a limited supply of goods. After a few weeks of shopping there, I gave up and went back to the “world.” Notice that I use the “I” pronoun, and not “we.” This was back in our patriarchal days. I was the head of the household. Deciding where we shopped was up to me, not Polly. How “separated” Polly wanted to be didn’t matter. She was going to be as separated from the world as I was — at least outwardly.

Separation from the world affected every aspect of our lives, from the clothes we wore to where we went for entertainment. It was not uncommon for me to ask, “what would Jesus say or think if we went here or did this or that?” WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) deeply influenced my thinking, decision making, and preaching. “Would Jesus go here?” “Would Jesus associate with this person?” This kind of thinking fueled my Us vs. Them mentality. I frequently preached sermons on separation and holiness; how True Christians® separate themselves from the world and abstain from the very appearance of evil. Evil, of course, being any behavior deemed sinful by one Rev. Bruce D. Gerencser, man of God. Years ago, I attended a Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship Meeting for preachers in Columbus. Such meetings were times for likeminded preachers to get together and gossip, break bread, and listen to preaching. One preacher preached from Ephesians 4:27: “Neither give place to the Devil.” After reading his proof text, this man spent the next 40 or so minutes listing every behavior he deemed “giving place to the Devil.” He hit all the big sins, getting raucous AMENS from many of the preachers in attendance. In 2015, I wrote a post titled, An Independent Baptist Hate List. I listed some of the people and things IFB preachers hate:

  • Roman Catholics
  • Charismatics
  • Pentecostals
  • Arminians
  • Calvinists
  • Denominational Baptists
  • MTV
  • Television
  • HBO
  • Secular radio
  • Contemporary Christian music
  • Christian TV
  • Pagan holidays
  • Rock and Roll music
  • Long hair on men
  • Short skirts on women
  • Pants on women
  • Shorts on women
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Hollywood
  • Atheism
  • Secularism
  • Humanism
  • Pluralism
  • Socialism
  • Communism
  • Liberals
  • Progressives
  • Democrats
  • Bill Clinton
  • Liberal Christian colleges
  • Female preachers
  • Effeminate male preachers
  • Effeminate men
  • Hen-pecked men
  • Haughty women
  • Church members who disagree with the pastor
  • Premarital sex
  • Extramarital sex
  • Christmas
  • World Council of Churches
  • National Association of Evangelicals
  • Billy Graham
  • NIV
  • The Living Bible
  • Dancing
  • Card Playing

This list is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the people and things hated by Fundamentalist Christians. The goal of all this “hating” is to create a vast space between Us and Them; between the saved and the lost; between True Christians® and Christians in name only. While certainly many Fundamentalists just go along with the rules to fit in, many of them are really true believers. I know I was. James 1:27 described “pure religion” this way:

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Want to have “pure religion” and be undefiled before God? Keep yourself unspotted from the world. Unspotted means unblemished, irreproachable, unsullied, free from vice. A sure way to accomplish this is to stay away from the “world.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 commands Christians to be holy in all manners of “conversation” (lifestyle). Why? Because as God is holy, we should be also. How many Christians do you know who keep themselves unspotted from the world; who are holy in all manners of conversation? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. The answer is NONE. No matter how hard Fundamentalists try to keep a clear, distinct difference between Us. and Them, they generally have the same wants, needs, and desires as unbelievers. Certainly, Christian Fundamentalists try their damnedest to be and stay “right with God,” but the fact remains that they sin, according to the Bible, in thought, word, and deed. No matter how hard they try to distance themselves from the “world,” the world and its wonders creep in.

butch-hartman-midway-speedway
Late Model driver Butch Hartman, 1980s, Midway Speedway, Crooksville, Ohio

While I became more liberal and progressive in the latter years of my ministerial career, I don’t know that I ever shook Us vs. Them thinking. I did, in retrospect, conclude that I was quite the hypocrite. I would stand behind the pulpit on Sundays and preach against the world, calling on congregants to separate themselves from evil works of darkness. But on Saturday, I would load my family into our car and drive to a nearby dirt race track so we could watch the races. If there was ever place that the “world” and its vices were on full display, it was the race track. Yet, Pastor Bruce, his dress-wearing wife, and their children attended races at tracks such as RR Speedway, Midway Speedway, KC Speedway, and Skyline Speedway. Sometimes, we would attend races on Friday and Saturday night. One Saturday, we attended a big S.T.A.R.S. race at Midway. All the big-name dirt track racers would be there. Unfortunately, it rained, and the race was postponed to the next day, Sunday. “What I am going to do?” I thought at the time. The “right” thing to go was to go to church just like we did EVERY Sunday night. But creative Bruce schemed a way to do both. Rather than preach Sunday night, I, instead, planned for us to have a “special” communion service after our afternoon church meal. By doing this, we were able to make it to the races on time. I battled guilt for a bit, but once I smelled wafts of racing fuel and heard the thundering noise of late model race cars, my mind quickly turned to racing. And boy, what a night of racing it was, as my older sons can attest.

I am sure by telling this story, and others I have told over the years, that my critics see evidence that I was never a True Christian®. However, on balance, I really tried to keep myself unspotted from the world. I really tried my best to avoid contact with unbelievers outside of commerce and evangelization. But try as I might, the world, the wild, wonderful world, sometimes called out to me, and more often than not, I gave in and indulged my so-called “fleshly” desires.

We left Christianity in 2008, which afforded my wife and me the freedom to live in the “world” without feeling sinful or guilty. We do what we want to, no regrets. While Us vs. Them can still affect my thinking, especially when it comes to politics, I try my best to be “worldly.” I missed out on a lot of life during the first fifty years of my life. No longer. It’s wonderful to have the freedom to do whatever you want, with no thought of what God (or others) might say. I only wish I had the young, healthy body that I had in my preaching days. Some race tracks have what are called “run what you brung” races. No rules, just race the car you pull off your trailer. That’s life for me these days. My life may be a banged-up street stock on its last leg, but I intend to race it as hard and as fast as I can until I reach the finish line.

How about you? Were you taught to view the “world” as Us vs. Them? Did your church or pastor preach against the world? What behaviors were considered “worldly?” Were you a hypocrite? Did you try to abstain from the appearance of evil, but fail to do so? Please share your stories 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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Missing Out on Life, A Guest Post by Ian

guest post

I was listening to some songs from the late 1980s today. One song led to another, and I started looking at top 10 playlists from ‘88 and ‘89. As I was reminiscing about the songs, I got to thinking about how I used to have to sneak around to listen to these songs.

I loved secular pop music and would tape record hours of music at night, using my boom box, so I could listen in private over the next few days. I would also watch MTV when I babysat, or any other chance I got. During the 80s, there was a heavy emphasis on movie music, so movies and music became tied together in my mind. I missed out watching those movies, and didn’t have constant access to the music I liked, so I was always frustrated because I couldn’t get any fulfillment.

I realized, today, that what makes me melancholy about some music videos and movies is there are huge gaps in my experience with “the world.” There were things I loved or wanted to experience so badly, but they were just out of reach; almost like a mirage in the desert. I liked the styles of clothing people wore. They seemed happy, the boy always had a girl, things just seemed right. Even then, I knew that it was just a video, but I always wanted to have these experiences for myself. An example of this is one of my favorite songs, “How Can I Fall?” by Breathe. It features a very stylized game of stickball on the streets of New York, along with two beautiful girls. I first saw that video and thought it would be so cool to experience something like that, knowing that I would never be allowed to hang out on a street corner and would be in trouble if I was caught with a girl. Neither of those things stopped me from wanting the experience, though.

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I feel cheated because I was not allowed to have the experiences most other teens had. Even the kids in the churches I attended were given way more freedom than I had. They watched movies (on a VCR, because that was so much different from going to the movies), hung out at the mall, wore stylish clothes, and had friends of the opposite sex. Even those church teens had a more normal life than I did. That was what I wanted, too.

I was told that missing out on those things kept me from trouble. Probably so, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept. All of the adults, my parents included, lived through the 50s and 60s and enjoyed the normal freedoms children were allowed to have. The restrictions that were placed on me, and all of the Evangelical/IFB teens, from the 70s until now, are rules created by old white men who were pushing back against what they perceived was wrong with society. The rules were set up and enforced so they could keep their power. Those men are no different from the Pharisees that Jesus condemned in the Bible. Outwardly, they seemed holy; inwardly they hated minorities, were whoremongers, adulterers, pedophiles, drunks, and everything else they preached against.

So, now when I listen to the songs from the 80s and early 90s, it is always with a bit of sadness, realizing they represent a time in life when I missed out on many of the things “worldly” youths experienced. And I understand, now, that I missed out because of fearful men who hated anything new.

 

Bruce Gerencser