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Tag: Sexual Abuse

What One IFB Apologist Thinks of People Who Claim They Were Abused

if you didn't see it it didn't happen
If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

When Jack Schaap, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana — now a convicted felon — was accused of having a sexual relationship with a teenager in his church, apologists for the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and the Hyles/Schaap crime family came out in force to defend their own. They told me things like:

  • He is a man of God and he wouldn’t/couldn’t do such a thing
  • The girl was a whore
  • The girl seduced him
  • The girl was “almost” of age
  • If Schaap hadn’t taken her across the State line, the sex would have been consensual

Before I deal with these claims, let me remind readers of how Schaap groomed this girl; how he emotionally manipulated her so he could have sex with her. Here are some of the messages that Schaap sent the girl:

From a birthday card

I can’t get you out of my mind. I keep thinking about how much I enjoy talking with you, how great you look when you smile, and how much I like your laugh. I daydream about you off an on all day, replaying pieces of our conversation . . .laughing again about funny things you said or did. I’ve memorized your face and the way you look at me . . . it melts my heart every time I think about it. And I catch myself smiling when I imagine what will happen the next time we’re together. You must be something really special, because I can’t remember the last time I felt so strongly about someone. Even though neither of us knows what the future holds, I know one thing for sure – you’re one of the very best things that’s happened to me in a long time.

From a handwritten letter

Hi [Jane Doe],

Because my time with you is so limited, I find great comfort in writing to you. Certainly it is no substitute for being with you – nothing is – in fact, being with you is unlike anything I have ever experienced.

You have a gift of making me feel more alive and more happy than I have ever felt! THANK YOU! I’ve been doing much thinking about you – our brief journey together has been like a spiritual allegory (a story that illustrates a truth . . .

Your life began to deteriorate w/ actions + activities that were self-destructive + that would have brought great tragedy eventually. Then, as your Pastor, I began to counsel you [unintelligible] you to God, the truth, and to a better path of living – that’s what we call Righteousness. Almost immediately, I felt such a profound tug in my heart for you – an intense desire to pull you away from destructive habits + to pull you into pure love + acceptance. I felt the only hope I had to truly make that difference was to pull you 1st to myself – if I could get you to trust me + open your heart to me. I could not have anticipated or hoped for what happened.

You opened your heart wide to me – you made me more than a Pastor/Rescuer – you made me your friend your confidant, your beloved. You gave me your trust, your heart, your love, + your affection. [Unintelligible] must feel when a sinner makes Him more than a Savior – he/she makes Him a beloved lover + friend. I have never felt so truly loved in my life. It is a feeling that is incomprehensible! (off the charts)In our “fantasy talk,” you have affectionately spoken of being “my wife.” That is exactly what Christ desires for us. He wants to marry us + become eternal lovers!

I tried to craftily catch your heart so that I could lead you into a better life. You have caught my heart + I have never felt so loved by anyone! Thank you[Jane Doe]. Thank you for the privilege of helping a struggling teenager. Thank you for opening your heart. Thank you for your trust. Thank you for your love. My hope and prayer is that someday you will comprehend what an impact you have made on your Pastor and friend.

[Jane Doe] you have such a wonderful life ahead of you. I must be careful not to spoil that with any of my selfish fantasy desires. It would be grossly unkind to you for me to hold you captive in any fashion. When we get scared, Jesus sends His spirit to live within us. But He does not personally live with us. He waits until we have fully matured before he takes us to Heaven to live with Him. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are exceedingly so – sorta like [name redacted] (sp?) or a young child dying too young.

I must follow the example of Christ. I have espoused you to Him as a chaste virgin. You are pure + lovely + perfect in His eyes. Now you must mature in His grace until the time he brings you to Himself. Until then, I am here to guide you + help you. [Unintelligible] your heart.

I could only wish you would carry my love for you with you + in you forever. For me to wish for more would only be hurtful to the beautiful life He has planned for you. I will die 10,000 deaths knowing I cannot have you in my life as I would desire. But I would far rather die those deaths than to hurt you in any way by injuring your future.I would gladly do anything for you + I must lay down my life – my desires – for you

I will ALWAYS be here for you [Jane Doe]!! Always And I will carry you in my very soul as a part of me forever. I ‘ve never met anyone like you. Please keep on becoming what you are becoming now. I’ve tried to point you in the right direction. PLEEEAASSE don’t ever go back to what you were when we found each other. That would put my soul in Hell!

I promised you I would do anything to help you – and I have shown you what I mean by that. I still promise you I would do anything TO HELP YOU but I be me let + can you when see to by stop time- time from Text you! hurt would that anything do>part of your life + decision-making. But live your life – the life God has for you. Be 17 + enjoy this great stage of life. I’ll always be watching + always be pulling for you. I will always love you –

FOREVER! Your BFF, Pastor.

From another handwritten letter

Hey Baby, Hope you slept well.

I’m sitting at my table reading the Words that help me through powerful emotions that are surging through me. I miss my Bible Reading partner. It was fun to have our Bible Study yesterday morning. I Have my good music on – “I will trust in You” + the “Power of the Cross.” Good music drives me to the Scriptures to find the strength to go forward when my emotions want me to “freeze” time + go back to yesterday.

No matter how glorious the past, the future is the only direction we can go without dying inside. The past 3 days w/ you were beyond my imagination :! But what I hope you take from this wk. is more than the “magic” we enjoyed but also some better understanding of how incredibly important + special + awesome you are to Jesus! I wanted you to feel + know how much He loves you! I wanted to let some of the hurt + headache – the bad hurt – out of your heart.

This week, [Jane Doe], I tried to climb into your heart and write the graffiti of the Gospel on the walls. I wanted to spray paint in Neon colors that you are Priceless + Precious + are “off the charts” important – yes – to me personally -but especially to OUR Savior Jesus Christ. I’m reading my Bible now to draw a little closer to God – even if it’s a millimeter closer – because if we both get a little closer to Him, we also get closer + stronger + deeper w/ each other.

Every relationship not built around that truth eventually must die – that’s what happened w/ you + J. And that’s why afterwards you pursued “dead” things + “dead”relationships. My passion this week was to show you a living relationship + how to keep it alive! [Jane Doe], however, whenever God takes our love, we never have to[unintelligible] to each other. Keep pursuing Good and we keep living because He is Life!!

I have a special gift for you that I want to give you Sunday if you would stop by my office when you arrive. Also, I really want you to download the App Olive Tree Bible Reader when you get it, I’ll teach you how to use it.These days w/ you are tattooed on my heart + in my mind – Forever!

But these days, also gave me great insight to the profound needs of my teens + young adults. You’ve helped me. Finally, I want to thank YOU for giving me something I was not planning to receive. Through you, I have felt very loved by God. I gave Him my heart when I was 5, I gave Him my life when I was 17. And yes I love Him + know Him +understand much about Him, but, sometimes I just need to “feel” His love in away that only He can provide . . . and this week, through you, I have “felt” His love.

I absolutely cannot thank you enough!! It is obvious to me that God must trust you very much. He gave you the work of caring or ministering to His servant- just as the angel ministered to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemine. Of course,you have been given enormous responsibility. The Scriptures do not tell us what the Angel said, how he arrived or how he left + apparently no one knows to this day – 2000 years later – what happened. That’s a very wise Angel! And so are you, Baby! 1432444!!!!!

From the Sentencing Memorandum of Jack Schaap.

Jack Schaap is not an outlier when it comes to sexual misconduct and abuse in the IFB church movement. His father-in-law Jack Hyles and his brother-in-law David Hyles preceded him at First Baptist in Hammond. Jack Hyles had a least one inappropriate sexual relationship and David Hyles had dozens. The list of abusers and predators that were trained by Jack Hyles and Hyles-Anderson College is long. Taken cumulatively, they make one think there is something very wrong in Hammond and other IFB schools and churches.

bill wininger
Bill Wininger, former pastor of Kingsway Baptist Church

In 2013, Bethany Foeller Leonard alleged that Bill Wininger, pastor of King’s Way Baptist Church, Douglasville, Georgia, molested her 20 years ago when he was the pastor of North Sharon Baptist Church, Grass Lake, Michigan. Several other women came forward and added their voices to Leonard’s accusation. Due to the statute of limitations, Wininger will never face justice for what he did in Michigan, but Leonard”s accusation did result in his resignation from King’s Way. In an unrelated case, Wininger was arrested and charged with four counts of misdemeanor battery of a female church member. He was sentenced to probation and court-ordered counseling.

When Leonard first made her accusation, apologists for Pastor Bill Wininger loudly defended him and said Leonard was lying. Some of you may remember the comments and emails I received when I first wrote about Bill Wininger being outed as a sexual predator.

Apologists for the IFB church movement and Bill Wininger couldn’t call Bethany Foeller Leonard and the other women sluts, whores, home wreckers, or church destroyers. After all, they were little girls, the age my granddaughters are now, when the abuse took place. So, they had to take a different approach when defending the most holy IFB church and Bill Wininger. They attempted to use the time-honored if you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen defense to silence those of us who aired Bill Wininger’s secrets.

Take Jason, a young man who vociferously defended the IFB church movement, King’s Way Baptist Church, and Bill Wininger, even though he said he was not a part of the IFB church movement.  Here is what Jason had to say about the accusations (spelling in the original, emphases mine).

First Comment

Wow. I haven’t heard this much wining in a long time. It’s sad when Christians contribute to the pussifacation of America. I would be ashamed if this is how I had to get 15 mins of fame. When I first saw this I thought this was a joke but then I realized you people are serious. There are consequences that come with attacking a man called by God. Everyone who is pointing a finger needs to realize that no person is blameless. I have not seen one bit of proof that proves any of these theories. My advice… Shut up and worry about your own life and let ALMIGHTY GOD worry about everyone else

Second Comment

The definition of pussifacation is the state in which a society becomes less and less tough. As a whole men and women in America are becoming this way. For example I recently read about a man who’s daughter was allegedly molested. 20 years later he decides to say something about it. To me this man has no backbone whatsoever and has joined many others in the realms of weak and pathetic. Maybe you should talk to ________. She has shown more backbone in here by standing up for herself and the people she loves. My father taught me to be a man. You asked me what if this happened to your daughter. Let me explain that it would never happen to my daughter simply because child molesters target weak people. This is how they get away with what they do. There would be no getting away with anything should this happen to my daughter and justice would not begin 20 years later. IF any of your accusations hold any truth which I doubt considerably then you should get real life smoking gun evidenced and prosecute. Obviously you dont have this or you wouldnt be wasting time here.

Third Comment

Actually I am not in the ifb. I know this crushes your idea of how narrow minded I must be. However I do not see the point of targeting them out specifically or even more so targeting a single church which seems to be what is happening here. Cassandra the point is that without physical evidence of child molestation BW is innocent of this accusation. Without physical evidence of rape BW is innocent of this accusation as well which means that IF another woman was involved it was consensual.

Bruce how else would a woman excuse a relationship with a married man but pawn it off as “molestation”? In this day and age nothing is personal cultural suicide. You give me the evidence that supports these accusations and I will have concern for these alleged victims. Until then I will support innocence until proven guilty by a court of law. I will not take your moth to the flame approach just because someone made an accusation. Didn’t you say “After all, the lies told about a person always make for better news than the truth”? Sounds to me like you have your own koolaid for people to drink. I stand by my words. A year from now they will not be foolish nor will they 10 years from now. You dont want to hear what I have to say because you cant combat it. You deflect everything like you have no idea what to say. Its obvious that you have no idea what to do about my voice so you dismiss me. Sorry to ruin your pity party but there are 2 sides to every story. Here is a thought for you. Instead of blasting away at a man or a church or an entire religion why not open a thread that actually helps people who are truly victims? If your intentions are pure it would not matter what religion or church or person it happened with. Not all victims are from a church or a specific religion. You may even sound like you really care about them instead of sounding like a bitter ex-church member who is using this to harp on the ifb.

Let the words of the greatest preacher since the Apostle Paul, the late Jack Hyles, state the official IFB position on abuse:

the-hyles-rule

If you have not read the posts If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen and Sexual Abuse and the Jack Hyles Rule: If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen, I encourage you to do so.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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The IFB River Called Denial

jack schaap 2

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In 2012, Jack Schaap, pastor of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) megachurch First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, was fired over a sexual relationship he had with a sixteen-year-old girl. The teen was in the church’s Christian school and Schaap was “counseling” her. Schaap was later arrested and convicted, and is now serving a 12-year sentence in a federal penitentiary. (You can read the texts, letters, and cards Schaap sent to this girl here.)

Several decades ago, Jack Schaap’s father-in-law, Jack Hyles, was accused of having an affair with his secretary. The evidence for his affair was overwhelming, but the church rejected the evidence and Hyles remained the church’s pastor until his death.

Sexual and financial scandals are quite common in the IFB church movement. Pastors have sexual affairs, molest children, surf porn sites, cavort with prostitutes, lie, cheat, and steal. They are, in every way, just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines they condemn in their sermons. Deacons, Sunday school teachers, church bus workers, Christian school workers, and every-day church members are just like unsaved worldlings too. If the curtain was ever pulled back, it would expose for all to see that IFB pastors, leaders, and members are no different from atheists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Mormons, Methodists, or Southern Baptists. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.)

IFB Christian are human beings, capable of doing good or bad things. They are capable of being good, decent, kind, loving people, and they are also capable of being evil, unkind, indecent, and unloving. Much like all of us, they have the power to choose what kind of person they want to be. No matter what their theology tells them about the depraved, sinful condition of the natural, unregenerate, unsaved human heart, they KNOW they have the power to be whatever kind of person they want to be. They KNOW that there are countless atheists, deists, non-IFB Christians, and Catholics who are good, decent, kind, loving people, all without believing the King James Version of the Bible is the Word of God or believing in the IFB God at all.

Every IFB church and pastor has its own list of things they consider sins. Besides the “big” sins such as adultery, fornication, and homosexuality, IFB churches have rules (standards) about things that many non-IFB Christians might not consider a sin. Things such as:

  • Watching TV
  • Listening to secular music or Contemporary Christian music
  • Going to the movies
  • Gambling, playing cards
  • Men and women swimming (mixed bathing) together
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Cursing or using bywords
  • Women wearing pants or shorts
  • Women wearing anything that reveals their “shape
  • Long hair on men, short hair on women

Over the years, I heard IFB pastors, including myself, say the following things were sins:

  • Wearing wire-rim glasses
  • Having a beard
  • Having a mustache
  • Wearing any clothing with “worldly” advertising
  • Going to stock car races
  • Sending your children to a public school
  • Using any Bible except the 1611 King James Bible
  • Not having a Sunday evening or midweek service
  • Not having an altar call
  • Using recorded (canned) music for church specials
  • Marrying a non-IFB Christian
  • Going to a non-IFB college
  • Having non-IFB friends
  • Working on Sunday
  • Letting your children play sports on prayer meeting night or Sunday
  • Not giving at least 10% of your money to the church, along with extra offerings for revivals and missions
  • Eating in restaurants that serve alcohol
  • Allowing women to pray while men are present or teach anyone other than women or children

The IFB church movement prides itself on being “better” than other Christian sects and the “world.” Their literalist belief system and their list of sinful behaviors are the standard every IFB church member is expected to live by. For all their talk about salvation by faith and grace, their religion is all about works, as is every religion, to some degree or the other. They will tell you that a person does not have to do any works in order to be saved, but ask them if a person who refuses to live by the above standards is a Christian and they will likely say, I doubt it.

In the IFB world, “true” Christianity is determined by how well a person adheres to the church’s/pastor’s interpretation of the Bible and whatever list of “standards” they have. Some allowance is given for differences of opinion, but not much. Church members who don’t conform are labeled as worldly, carnal, weak, fleshly, or backslidden.

The stated moral and ethical standard is high — impossibly high. Remember what I said earlier about IFB pastors, leaders, and church members being just like the rest of us? Well, this poses a real problem for them. They take the high moral ground, believing they are superior to everyone else, including other Christians. They consider themselves pillars of moral virtue. But they are not, and when pastors, leaders, and church members get in trouble, as in the cases of Jack Schaap and Jack Hyles, they have a real dilemma on their hands. Their moral and ethical failures expose the bankruptcy of their claim of superiority. Their behavior shows that the IFB emperor has no clothes.

The right thing to do would be to admit their failures, confess their “sins,” and come down from Mount “I am Holier than Thou.” Of course, doing this would mean that they are just like the rest of us, and that ain’t gonna happen.

The IFB scandal starring Jack Schaap and First Baptist Church in Hammond provides for us an excellent example of HOW IFB churches handle having their “humanness” exposed.

First, they deny.  When the Schaap scandal first became public, IFB commenters on blogs, news sites, discussion forums, and social media were quick to deny that Schaap had done anything wrong. The accusations were lies, they said, and they were certain that Schaap was completely innocent.

Second, they marginalize. When they could no longer deny the reality of the Schaap scandal, they turned to letting everyone know that Schaap was a “sinner” just like everyone else, and while his “fall” was regrettable, people should not judge the IFB church movement or First Baptist Church negatively. One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bushel. Actually, it can and does.

Third, they attack the critics. Instead of owning the scandal, many IFB defenders decided to attack those who reported the scandal or wrote negative things about Schaap, Jack Hyles, First Baptist Church, and the IFB.

Across the blogosphere, in discussion forums, in blog comments, and emails, the defenders of the IFB attempted to ameliorate the scandal by attacking people such as me. They couldn’t dismiss my impeccable IFB credentials, so they attacked me personally or they dismissed me out of hand because I am an atheist. Why should anyone listen to what Bruce Gerencser has to say, they write. He’s a God-hater. He’s bitter, angry, and has an ax to grind. Besides, he never was a “real” Christian. They try to discredit the messenger so they won’t have to deal with his/her message. The goal is direct attention away from the facts.

Fourth, if all else fails, they attack the victim. Let’s not forget that there is a victim in the Jack Schaap scandal. Schaap’s “sin” was not a victimless one. He had sexual relations with a minor in his church.

Jack Schaap was 56 years old when he traveled across state lines to sexually liaison with a sixteen-year-old church girl. The victim was young enough to be his granddaughter. As a grown, mature man, he should have been in control of his sexuality. Surely he KNEW it was morally, ethically, and legally wrong to have sex with this girl. Schaap had the power to control the relationship he had with this girl. He was the grownup in this story; he was the “man of God”; he was a married man with children; he was the one with everything to lose.

If he had overt sexual desire — a need to get laid — he could have sought out the help of a professional sex worker.  I am sure there are plenty of adult establishments in the Chicago area that Schaap could have gone to in order to get his sexual need met. More than a few IFB pastors have availed themselves to the services of prostitutes. But Schaap chose, instead, to sexually violate a trusting church girl.

In the sleaziest of attempts to justify Jack Schaap’s behavior, his defenders attacked the girl. One commenter on this blog suggested the girl was a slut, that she seduced Schaap. She wrote:

So…what about the teenage girl? How hot was she? How hard did she pursue him? We all know young girls flaunt everything these days to get what they want. a rise from any man they can. especially one in the limelight (our a uniform!) They don’t care if he’s married our not, or if he’s her best friends dad. it’s really sad.young girls are a whoring in our churches.

I responded:

Bullshit.

It doesn’t matter how hot she was or whether or not she flaunted herself before him.

He is a grown, mature man, a few years younger than I. By now, he should have learned how to deal with temptation and keep his penis in his pants.

It is reported that he was counseling this girl. If this is true, then he abused his power and authority and, here in Ohio, could be held criminally liable.

Whatever the girl’s faults, she is not the problem in this story.

She responded:

You men and women be careful. She is closer than we think. the world is full of young sluts stealing our husbands and sons! Praying for Cindy!

And, I responded:

You mean stealing pathetic, poor Christian men who have been taught they are helpless creatures unable to withstand sexual temptation? How about teaching them to be accountable for their own sexual behavior? They have a choice, do they not? Or are they so weak that the slightest temptation turns them into sexed crazed maniacs who are unable to control their lust?

The only right answer to the Jack Schaap scandal, the Jack Hyles scandal, or any other church scandal, is IMMEDIATE, COMPLETE disclosure. Instead of trying to cover the matter up or trying to make it disappear, churches should show they take these kinds of things seriously. What First Baptist Church in Hammond needed was a Penn State moment. They needed to come to terms with fifty years of cover-ups and denials. The deacons and church membership needed to own their own culpability in the Schaap scandal. They are the ones who did nothing about Jack Hyles and his serial-adulterer son David. They are the ones who allowed an abusive, controlling, cultic environment to develop in the church. They are the ones who, like lemmings, sat and listened to Schaap’s preaching, shouting Amen. They are the ones who practiced the Jack Hyles Rule, if you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.

Instead of having a Penn State moment, First Baptist Church called in attorney David Gibbs, the Ray Donovan-like fixer of IFB scandals. Gibbs has fixed and sanitized countless IFB sex scandals. Instead of encouraging churches to come clean, Gibbs helps them minimize fallout and loss. The goal is not restitution or helping the victims. Instead, it is all about protecting the church’s testimony.

David Gibbs’s law firm, the Christian Law Association, advertises itself this way:

The Christian Law Association exists to preserve Christian liberty for your children and grandchildren.

CLA received in excess of 100,000 phone calls annually, not counting the thousands of pieces of correspondence from those who are in some way facing legal difficulties for doing what the Bible commands. These cases involve Christians arrested for witnessing to others in public, public school students being told they do not have the right to read their Bibles at school, churches being excluded from communities, Christians being fired for sharing their faith at work, and thousands of other shocking assaults on our precious religious freedoms. CLA provides free legal services based in part on the generosity of God’s people.

Missing from this description is helping pastors and churches manage scandal and marginalize victims. Missing is their motto: Protect the Church’s Reputation at All Costs! Minimize Financial Payouts so the Church can Continue to Win Souls for Jesus.

jack and beverly hyles statute
Jack and Beverly Hyles statue

The Joe Paterno statues at Penn State have been pulled down as a public act of contrition, but the Jack Hyles statute remains, a reminder of who it was that built First Baptist Church. One can only hope that public scrutiny will force the IFB church movement to own their “sins” and that dramatic change will be made, resulting in a reduction of predatory acts against children and teenagers. One can hope, but as of today, it is business as usual in the alternate universe called the IFB church movement.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Black Collar Crime: Why Eric Jackson Confessed to Raping His Sister

jackson brothers
Six Jackson Brothers Who Repeatedly Raped Their Little Sister

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Several years ago, Scott Brown, one of the elders at Hope Baptist Church (link no longer active) in Wake Forest, North Carolina, church home to two of the six brothers accused of repeatedly raping their sister over an eight-year period, shared the reason the Eric Jackson confessed. In a blog post titled Eric Jackson and the Power of the Gospel (link no longer active) Brown wrote:

Now, you may have heard that Hope Baptist has two of her members in jail on sex offenses against their sister. The tragic family life of the Jacksons is almost overwhelming. It is a story we will never forget.

But how did this come to light? The reason this story is in the national news right now is because of the power of the gospel. Eric Jackson came to the church, responded to the preaching of the Word of God, recognized that he was a false convert, embraced the true gospel, and was born again. His new heart compelled him want to walk in the light. As a result, he confessed his sin.

He first went to my fellow Hope Baptist pastor, Dan Horn and confessed. We collaborated on the situation and the next day Dan called to report it to the authorities in Elizabeth City. Shortly thereafter Dan went with Eric to the authorities to turn himself in. In that meeting Eric exposed the patterns of evil in his home and his past participation in it. Finally, 18 months later when their investigation was complete, 8 of the 11 family members were indicted by a grand jury and jailed to await trial. The father and the mother, Jon and Nita Jackson are out of jail on bond.

If Jesus had not saved Eric, perhaps the devastating culture of this family could have continued, even to more generations. But the gospel transforms and shines light in dark places. Jesus was the source of light that caused things to be brought into the light, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” John 1:4-5

Paul speaks of the transforming power of the gospel to the Corinthian church. He mentions that some of them had a horrible past – adultery, homosexuality… He writes to them of the mercies of God in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

When the gospel has truly been embraced, it makes murderers former murderers. It makes idolaters former idolaters. It even makes child molesters former child molesters who walk in the light. Nothing else has that kind of power. Nothing else can break the patterns of sin that once enslaved those who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)…

Eric Jackson is now thirty-two years old. This means, depending on which report you believe about when the rape stopped, Jackson was around fifteen when the rape started and twenty-three to twenty-five when the rape stopped. Ponder that for a moment. He was a teenager when he started violating his sister and a grown-ass man who owned a business when he stopped.

One commenter suggested that the brothers were so corrupted by their parents that they didn’t know raping their sister, age four and a half when it started and age twelve to fourteen when it stopped, was wrong. The only proof of this claim is a subjective comment the local sheriff made in an interview. There is no proof that the brothers were so under the influence of their parents that they were powerless to stop raping their sister or didn’t know that it was wrong.

Now we have Scott Brown saying that Eric, the oldest of the molesters, did not know that raping his sister was morally wrong. It wasn’t until Brown, using the mighty power of the Word of God, showed Eric that he was a false Christian, that Eric began to see that raping his sister was wrong. Until the moment that Eric gloriously embraced the gospel of John Calvin, he had no clue that sexually molesting a child was immoral. Until the Calvinistic Holy Spirit gave life to Eric’s dead, darkened, depraved heart, he did not know that what he and his brothers did was wrong.

Those of us who are familiar with Fundamentalist Calvinism have heard similar stories. Many of the “new” converts in Calvinistic churches are actually people who were already professing Christians. They were just the “wrong” kind of Christian. Calvinistic pastors are noted for their ability to persuade Christians that their non-doctrines of grace salvation is false. What better way to understand Eric Jackson’s sin and confession than to paint it as a Saul on the Road to Damascus conversion story.

Brown, of course, is an opportunist, and he is using Eric Jackson’s story to promote fundamentalist Calvinism. He even goes so far to suggest “If Jesus had not saved Eric, perhaps the devastating culture of this family could have continued, even to more generations.” If it is the Calvinistic gospel that made the difference, and so far Eric is the only Christian brother to get really, really, really saved, aren’t the rest of the brothers still rapists dead in trespasses and sin? Besides, at least two of the brothers regularly attended Hope Baptist Church. Surely they heard preaching against raping your sister? Surely they heard preaching against sexual immorality? If they heard it, are they not accountable?

Calvinists love to make much of Romans 1-2 and the law of God that is written on the heart of every human. Surely, that law would tell Eric Jackson and his brothers that raping their sister is wrong, right? If atheists know that the raping a child is morally wrong, shouldn’t people raised in church, raised under the teachings of the Bible, — even if they are not a Christians — know that they shouldn’t sexually molest children?

Brown’s blog post is quite “Biblical,” typical Calvinistic drivel. People such as Brown are convinced that anyone who is not like them — a regenerated sinner brought into the glorious light by the Calvinistic gospel — is dead in trespasses and sin. We are vile, wicked, enemies of God. It’s a wonder that all of us don’t rape our siblings and children. We are helpless, in bondage to sin and Satan. Or so the Scott Browns of the world would have us to believe.

This story continues to sicken me, and Brown’s opportunism and explanation only makes it worse. While I am sure that there was tremendous dysfunction in the Jackson home, it does not excuse the brothers for raping their little sister. I don’t believe for a moment that none of them knew what they were doing was wrong. Unless they were raised as feral animals, they had to know that what they were doing was wrong; especially by the time the brothers became adults.Four of the six Jackson brothers pleaded guilty to sexually molesting their little sister. Eric and Matthew Jackson each pleaded guilty to a first degree sex offense and were sentenced to twelve to fifteen years in prison. Nathaniel and Benjamin Jackson each pleaded guilty to multiple counts of incest and were sentenced to twenty-four months in prison. In 2016, Aaron Jackson was found guilty of second-degree child abuse and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Jon Marc Jackson was later convicted of taking indecent liberties with a minor. and sentenced to 10 months in prison. And the parents of this brood of child molesters?  John and Nita Jackson pleaded guilty to felony sexual abuse and were sentenced to 31-47 months in prison each.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Evangelicals Use “We Are All Sinners” Argument to Justify Sexual Abuse

josh duggar

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

One would think decent, thoughtful people would agree that a fifteen-year-old teen boy touching the genitals of five little girls is criminal. One would think decent, thoughtful people would agree that we should do all we can to protect children from those who will use them for sexual gratification. One would think that decent, thoughtful people would agree that covering up and not prosecuting sexual abuse is not in the best interest of the victims or society.

One would think . . . and you’d be wrong. I have been astounded by Evangelical excuses, justifications, explanations, and dismissals of Josh Duggar’s criminal sexual assault of five girls. Consider for a moment the universal condemnation of Congressman Dennis Hastert over his decades-old sexual abuse of a student of his. According to Hastert’s indictment, he paid a male student $1.7 million “in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against” him. Hastert used money to cover up his criminal behavior just as Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar used their influence to cover up their son’s crimes. Why is one universally condemned and the other explained away as nothing more than a teenager “playing doctor,” a “youthful mistake,” or “that’s what boys do”?Let me illustrates this with three Facebook comments made by Fundamentalist Christian, Quiverfull defender, Duggar and Bill Gothard loving Rick Boyer:

rick boyer 1
rick boyer 2
rick boyer 3

Let me cut through all Boyer’s super spiritual, holier-than-thou, braggadocious, religious bullshit. He is using the “we are all sinners” argument to defend, excuse, justify, and explain away a 15-year-old boy putting his hands on little girls vaginas and a grown man who manipulated and sexually molested girls and young women.

It seems that any time a darling of Evangelicalism finds himself in a compromising or criminal position, the first excuse trotted out by his defenders is “we are all sinners.” While I don’t believe in the Christian concept of sin, for the sake of this post, I am going to accept as valid the notion of sin. I will then, in the rest of this post, gut the “we are all sinners” argument.

First, we may all be sinners, but most of us don’t sexually molest children or groom and assault girls and young women. Such behaviors are deviant and vile and deserve punishment. We the people, through our elected officials, have enacted laws that protect children and vulnerable adults from predators like Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard. Thanks to the statute of limitations and a big help from law enforcement, neither of them will be prosecuted. The fact that they are not being prosecuted doesn’t mean that they are not guilty. Both admitted their behavior, though their admissions leave a lot to be desired. One would think that this would be enough for people like Rick Boyer, but it isn’t.

Imagine if Richard Dawkins, who was abused as a child, was accused of molesting five little girls. Why the Evangelical outrage would be swift and earsplitting. Evangelicals would demand his prosecution and would write voluminous blog articles about Dawkins’s crimes against children being proof that there is no morality without God. And here’s the thing: atheists such as myself would demand Dawkins be prosecuted. Because the issue is CHILD ABUSE, and not obtuse, never-ending arguments about sin, God, and morality. We have laws, and we expect people to obey them. Both Duggar and Gothard broke the law. They got by with their crimes because people covered up their behavior. It wasn’t until a victim made her story public or an investigative reporter sussed out the facts, that the public learned about their crimes. And, as a person who thinks the rule of law is important, and that protecting children is a key part of a just society, I expect people like Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard to be prosecuted for their criminal behavior.

Second, Rick Boyer blames all the outrage on pagans and gullible Christians. This is blame-shifting extraordinaire, a game played by those who want to deflect criticism or judgment. Anyone who has raised children has seen this game played. Johnny gets caught throwing food at Sally and when his Mom confronts him he says, “but Rudy,” Johnny’s little brother, “was throwing food too.” Mom rightly replies, “but I am talking to you, Johnny, about what you did, not what Rudy did.” The wise parent does not let her children blame-shift. Those who do end up having children like Rick Boyer.

I thought Evangelicals were the personal-responsibility wing of Christianity. Since their politics are overwhelmingly right-wing, they have demanded Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accept responsibility for what was done on their watch. Yet, when it comes to Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard, many Evangelicals are strangely quiet about “personal responsibility.” (And don’t get my started on the immoral and criminal behavior of baby Christian Donald Trump.) Why is this? Why has this been the case my entire life? Big-name Evangelical preacher gets in trouble and his defenders flock to the Internet and protect their boy. No matter the crime, they are quick to justify and forgive. I wonder if they would be so understanding or forgiving if it were their daughter or granddaughter who was sexually molested by Josh Duggar or Bill Gothard? Something tells me that they would be calling for the perpetrator’s head to be cut off as swiftly as Geoffrey cut off Ned Stark’s head in Game of Thrones.

get out of everything free card

Third, it seems that no matter what an Evangelical superstar does, the God of forgiveness and the blood of Jesus provide a get-out-of-jail-free card. While Evangelicals will feign concern for the victims, their real concern is for the perpetrator. He’s a star, and is so important to God and his work here on earth that anything and everything he does must be forgiven. No matter the crime, the sin slate must be wiped clean. After all, King David, a man who committed adultery, was a polygamist, and had a man murdered so he could fuck his wife, is called in the Bible, a man after God’s own heart. If King David can have his slate wiped clean and be best buds with God again, surely the same can happen for Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard, right?

Sadly, Evangelical beliefs about sin, atonement, and forgiveness turn Evangelicals into lobotomized lemmings unable to see things as they are. What we have with Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard are clear cases of sexual abuse and abuse of power. Every non-lobotomized person knows this. The facts aren’t in dispute, yet many Evangelicals blithely preach up the love, grace, and forgiveness of God as an excuse for heinous behavior that is rightly condemned by Christian and atheist alike. It’s only Evangelicals who are defending these men. Why is this?

Most Evangelicals believe that the forgiveness of ANY sin is but a prayer away. The Bible says in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Let me use an extreme example to explain Evangelical thinking about sin and forgiveness. There are eight people in the Roberts family. The Roberts are a Christian family, noted for their love and devotion to Jesus. Well, except for Becky. Becky is sixteen and she has a boyfriend who is not a Christian. Her parents demand that she break up with Clint and never see him again. They remind her that the Bible says that believers are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers and God says premarital sex is a sin. Becky continues to see Clint, often sneaking out of the house late at night, meeting Clint at their “special” place. Over time, Becky becomes so angry at her parents and their constant Bible-quoting and judgmental attacks on Clint that she decides to kill her family, all seven of them. Her boyfriend, enthralled with Becky and the sex they shared, says he would be willing to help her kill her mother, father, and six siblings. And one night, that is exactly what they did.

According to people like Bill Boyer and other grace-and-forgiveness Evangelicals, forgiveness for Becky is only a prayer away. She was a love-struck teenager, kinda like Josh Duggar, and even though she did horrible things, one simple, heartfelt prayer will wipe away the blood of her dead family. Isn’t God awesome?

Oh Bruce, such a fantastical story, one that would never happen in real life. Really? Then you have never heard of 16-year-old Evangelical teenager Erin Caffey who is serving two life sentences plus twenty-five years for the slaughter of her mother and two brothers and the attempted murder of her father in 2008. Let me ask you, dear readers, would you or could forgive your daughter for slaughtering your entire family? Yet, according to Evangelical belief, forgiveness is not only just a whispered prayer away, it is demanded by God regardless of the circumstance.

blood of jesus

Erin Caffey’s father Terry, being the good Christian that he is, forgave his daughter and the boyfriend and two friends that murdered his two children and wife. Here’s what Caffey had to say:

“I planned my own suicide. I decided that when I got well enough to travel, I was going back to my property, and I was going to end it. So when that day came, I went back there and stood on the ashes and began to cry to God. I said, ‘God, I don’t understand why you took my family. Why did you do this? I just don’t understand.’

“No sooner than I said that, I looked down and saw this scrap piece of paper from a book. It was burned around the edges. I picked it up, and it read, ‘I couldn’t understand why you would take my family and leave me behind to struggle along without them. I may never totally understand that part of it, but I do know that you are sovereign. You are in control.’ When I read those words, I was like, ‘Wow.’ It brought me to my knees.”

“People ask me, ‘How could you forgive your daughter and how could you forgive those who murdered your family?’ I am not trying to justify anything. This is my daughter.”

Sadly, because of Evangelical indoctrination, Terry Caffey has lost the ability to feel anger and hate. As a father, I understand the love a father has for his children, but every child can cross a line where no love and forgiveness remain for him or her. Evangelicals have had drilled into their heads the idea that they must love unconditionally and forgive any and all who transgress against them. Besides, someday, in the sweet by and by, Terry will be reunited with his murdered children and wife. And Erin will be there too, maybe with her fellow murderers who found Jesus while in prison. One big happy murdered family reunion. Until their reunion in God’s Big House, Terry Caffey travels America telling his story. Caffey has a ministry called A Cross America Ministries: Enabling Today’s Youth to be Tomorrow’s Christian Leaders. He has written a book, been the subject of a People Magazine feature, been on the Dr. Phil Show, and has a new wife and kids.

I wonder, if there were no Heaven, would Terry Coffey be so forgiving? Would Evangelicals be so willing to forgive and forget the crimes of Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard, and uncounted other Evangelical superstar abusers and perverts, if there were no divine payoff in heaven? (Please see Black Collar Crime Series.) Evangelicals are taught that forgiveness is mandatory. As God has forgiven them, so are they to forgive others. Now, in real life, the forgive-everyone requirement is often ignored. As those of us who were in the Evangelical church for many years know, some of the most mean, nasty, vile, unforgiving people can be found at First Baptist Church on Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. And some of them are standing at the pulpit.

Fourth, this post is getting way too long, but let me take some time to point out the hypocrisy of Evangelicals such as Rick Boyer. If two consenting adult men have sex, Evangelicals are outraged. If two consenting adult lesbian women get married, Evangelicals are outraged. From gay sex to non-married hetero-sex to teenage blow jobs, Evangelicals are outraged. Quoting a plethora of Bible verses that many of them secretly ignore, and calling on God to judge America, but just don’t judge them, they demand Biblical justice be meted out to these unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines. What happened to grace and forgiveness? Well Bruce, Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard confessed their sins, God forgave them, and they promised to never, ever, one time, I mean never, never ONE time, touch a little girl or young woman again. Those queers, adulterers, and fornicators refuse to stop their sin, so there is NO forgiveness for them!

Way too many Evangelicals naïvely believe that people such as Josh Duggar, Bill Gothard, Jack Schaap, Geronimo “Pastor G” Aguilar, David Hyles, Jimmy Swaggart, John Paulk, Jack Hyles, Paul Crouch, Douglas Goodman, Ted Haggard, Earl Paulk, Paul Barnes, Lonny Latham, Michael Reid, Todd Bentley, Tony Alamo, Eddie Long, Gilbert Deya, Coy Privette, Joe Barron, George Rekers, David Loveless, Isaac Hunter, Sam Hinn, Paula White and uncounted other Evangelical superstars, have stopped doing what got them in trouble.  Why should they stop screwing church members, abusing children, and acting in ways most respectable people would consider decadent? Just pray, be contrite, promise never to do it again, wink, wink, and all is well.

What these modern-day Elmer Gantrys have learned is that Evangelicals are gullible, always ready to love, forgive, and forget. Perhaps some of them have learned their lesson and stayed on the straight and narrow, but my gut and six decades of exposure to Evangelicalism tells me that what has really happened is that they have learned to be more careful. I am of the opinion that all the Jesus, praying, and forgiving in the world won’t fix a child molester. Those who desire and molest children will continue to do so until they are stopped. Anyone who thinks Josh Duggar’s or Bill Gothard’s behaviors are one-time events, never to be repeated, is either ignorant or fell on his head when he was a kid. This is why I support the incarceration (and treatment) of child molesters. Children will never be safe as long as we treat child molesters as sinners who can be fixed by God, prayer, and forgiveness.

Is Josh Duggar a pedophile? I don’t know. I do know he molested five girls and this is enough for me to say that he should never be allowed near children. Mark my word, in a few years Josh Duggar will write a book and start a ministry that will extol the wondrous grace of God; how that God forgave and delivered Duggar from his sins. And many Evangelicals will embrace him as the father did the prodigal son. All will be forgiven and no one will consider whether Josh Duggar might be a pedophile who should never, ever be allowed to be near children again.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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If You Didn’t See it, It Didn’t Happen

fake church sign first baptist

The late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana — a man considered by some of his followers to be the greatest preacher since the Apostle Paul — made famous the statement:

If You Didn’t See it, It Didn’t Happen

Over the years, at Sword of the Lord conferences and Bible conferences, I heard Jack Hyles make this statement several times.  When Hyles was accused of having an illicit relationship with his secretary, it was this very line he and his followers used. This If-You-Didn’t-See-it-it-Didn’t-Happen thinking was taught to countless pastors at Pastor’s School and Hyles-Anderson College. These Hyles-trained men carried this thinking home to their churches and used it themselves to rebuff accusations of impropriety and immorality.

This is the argument that one commenter used when dismissing Bethany Foeller Leonard’s accusations against Pastor Bill Wininger. Since the abuse occurred almost two decades ago, there is no physical proof that Wininger sexually molested Leonard. While others have now come forward and added their names to the accusations, they too have produced no hard, physical evidence to prove their claims.

According to this commenter, since there is no actual physical evidence, it is likely the abuse never happened. According to him, Bethany Leonard and others are lying and are out to ruin this man of God. In his mind, since there is no semen-stained Monica Lewinsky blue dress, any claims of abuse should be rejected out of hand.

This is the same kind of argument that Ken Ham uses when ignoring the overwhelming evidence for evolution and the age of the universe being billions of years and not thousands of years old. Countless Evangelicals have been swayed by Ham’s Jack Hyles impersonation when he says, were you there? According to Ham, since none of us was there when the earth was birthed into existence, we cannot know how old the universe, earth, and the human race really are. We should accept what God says in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Protestant Bible — that the universe is 6,023 years old. According to Bishop James Ussher, a 17th century Ken Ham, creation began on the “nightfall preceding 23 October 4004 BC.”

While this kind of thinking sounds insane to people who are not Evangelicals, millions of Americans and other Western Christians believe as Ken Ham does. Since none of us was there, we must accept what the Bible says about the beginning of the universe. Never mind the fact that the writers of the book of Genesis weren’t there either. The oldest manuscripts, which are not the originals, are dated thousands of years after the events recorded in Genesis. Even if Moses actually wrote the book of Genesis, and we have no evidence for this other than that the BIBLE says he did, he would have written the book thousands of years after the events recorded in Genesis. In other words, Moses, or whoever the authors were, weren’t there at the moment of creation, so how can they know what happened?

The commenter I mentioned earlier refuses to believe that Bill Wininger sexually abused Bethany Foeller Leonard because there is no physical evidence to prove Leonard’s claims. No one saw it, there is no proof of it, so it didn’t happen.

I wonder if this commenter, and others who think like him, realize the huge problem they are creating for themselves. As Christians, they believe:

  • Jesus came to earth and was born of a virgin
  • Jesus worked miracles in Palestine almost 2,000 years ago
  • Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross
  • Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later
  • Jesus ascended into the clouds and left the earth 40 days after he resurrected from the dead

Every Christian believes these things to be facts, yet there is no evidence for any of these claims. None. Nada. Zip. Using the commenter’s objection to Bill Wininger being considered a child molester, should he not refrain from calling himself a Christian or from evangelizing others in hope that they will put their faith in Jesus? Where is the evidence?

When it comes to Bethany Foeller Leonard and others who are claim they were abused by their pastor, we have living people who can be questioned. Yet, according to one commenter, their claims should be rejected. Their testimony, which Leonard has put in written form, can be read by everyone, yet, because there is no physical evidence, the claims must be rejected out of hand. Why is this same rationale NOT applied to the Bible and the claims Evangelicals make for Jesus?

I can know Bethany Foeller Leonard wrote a letter about Bill Wininger abusing her, however I have no way of knowing who wrote the various books of the New Testament. I wasn’t there, to use Ken Ham’s illogical logic, and I didn’t see it, so it must not have happened, to use Jack Hyles’ illogical logic. Surely this is one of those what-is-good-for-the-goose-is-good-for-the-gander moments.

Please explain to me how it is reasonable and rational to reject Leonard’s claim out of hand, but not apply the same thinking to the claims made for Jesus that I mentioned above? Or, can reasonable people put their faith in Leonard and others and come to the conclusion that they are telling the truth, just as the Christian would do concerning the historic witness of the Christian church concerning the claims the Bible makes for Jesus Christ?

Why are people such as the commenter mentioned above so willing to accept what they are told about Jesus, a Jesus they have never met, never seen, and for which there is no physical evidence, yet when a few women say, this man abused me, their claims are rejected out of hand?

Simply put, you can’t have it both ways

For further information about Bill Wininger, please see UPDATED: IFB Pastor Bill Wininger Outed as Sexual Predator

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Churches That Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things and Why Bad People Do Bad Things — Part 2

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

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In the first part of this series I dealt with Churches That Abuse: Why Bad people do Bad things. I wrote:

Churches attract all kinds of people with varying motivations for being part of a particular religion. I spent fifty years in the Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical church. When it comes to other religions, I only know what I read in the media. The experiences and observations I share in this post come from the fifty years I spent in those churches, first as a parishioner, and later as a pastor. I spent twenty-five years in the pastorate, pastoring churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas.

The Christian church often attracts people with ulterior motives. Generally, Christian people are very trusting. When someone gives a testimony of redemption, most Christians readily embrace the lost sheep that is now found. Tales of addictions, sexual immorality, prison, violence, and the like find a sympathetic ear with most Christians. The worse the sinner, the greater the testimony of God’s wonderful, saving grace.

There is no doubt that many sinful, fallen people have found deliverance through what they believe is the saving work of Jesus Christ. Many vile people now live productive, grace-filled lives as born-again Christians. They are to be commended for the changes that have taken place in their lives. While I no longer embrace the Christianity and its message of saving grace, I willingly admit that religion transforms and changes multitudes of people.

Because Christian people are trusting and accept people at face value, they are an easy mark for people who have evil intentions. In among the sheep are criminals, thieves, child abusers, and sexual deviants, to name a few. These people make an outward show of Christianity, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves seeking sheep — often children — to devour. This is true not only in the local church, but also in Christian camps, group homes, and Christian schools.

Churches make it easy for deceivers to set up camp in their midst. The deceivers quickly embrace the church family, begin to regularly attend services, and even give money to the church. They are soon embraced as brother or sister. Before too long they are given access to places of responsibility within the church. They now have access to the treasures of the congregation, be it monetary, physical, or spiritual.

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

How does a good person — a pastor, deacon, or Sunday school teacher — go from a life as a devoted follower of Jesus to one of engaging in acts of abuse and perversion? It is easy to dismiss them as people who secretly were always abusers, but what if they weren’t?  What caused them to turn from being a follower of Jesus to being an abuser?

I will not offer any iron-clad answers to this question. I do want to suggest that there are teachings and ideologies within many Christian groups, especially those of Evangelical or Fundamentalist persuasion, that are instrumental in turning good people into abusers. They become Good People who do Bad Things.

My focus is on Evangelicalism — the sect I am most familiar with. I could spend the next hour detailing the heinous acts of people I personally know; men and women considered to be devoted followers of Jesus who became abusers of the very people they were supposed to love and care for. If the Black Collar Crime Series has exposed anything, it has exposed the ugly reality that Evangelical churches have a big abuse problem.

I do not want this post to come off as a justification for the behavior of abusers. When 9-11 happened, our focus was rightly on the terrorists who murdered thousands of people. Over time, a few people tried to raise questions about WHY the terrorists did what they did. Sadly, many people have no interest in pondering or answering the WHY question. “Who in the hell cares WHY they did it. We know they did it, and that is all that matters.” I understand this sentiment, but refusing to ask the WHY question leaves us open to a repeat of 9-11. Understanding the terrorists’ motivations just might reduce the number of terrorist attacks going forward. Motivations matter.

Multitudes of people have gone through their own personal 9-11.  They have been attacked, abused, and often emotionally and spiritually destroyed by people they trusted. Their tales of abuse are heart-wrenching, and I have no problem understanding their hatred for those who abused them. What I want to gently do is try to understand WHY the abuse happens. I will understand if you say, “Let them all rot in hell. I don’t care what their reasons were, or why they did what they did.” I have not walked in your shoes, so I have no right to tell you how you must respond to these issues. But I do think answering the WHY question is very important when it comes to reducing emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual abuse.

I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Evangelical church. I believe I can give some answers to the WHY question. I want to look behind the abuse and see what led good people to become abusers. I am convinced there are things within the DNA of Christianity that lend themselves to breeding and growing abusers, especially within the Evangelical church.

Every church and denomination has its own orthodoxy and its own orthopraxy.  When trying to determine why good people do bad things, we must first look at what a particular church or denomination believes and practices. This is essential to understanding why people, in the name of God, people who are committed followers of Jesus, abuse other people, often doing despicable things to those they are supposed to love and protect.

Most Evangelical churches teach:

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

When we add these things together, we end up with sects and churches that believe everything that is written in the Bible; sects and churches that expect members to live by teachings of the Bible. They believe the most important thing in the world is to be obedient to God. They also believe that God has given them pastors to teach them and guide them in the teachings of the Bible. The pastor is the linchpin of the church. He is the main cog upon which the machinery of the church turns. It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance the pastor plays in what people believe and practice. The amount of power that a pastor has is astounding.

How do pastors gain such power over people?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Church members are taught to NOT trust their own reasoning, nor are they are to trust the vain philosophies of this world. Out in the world, Satan walks to and fro seeking whom he may devour. This is why church members are discouraged from reading books or magazines that are not written by approved Christian authors. They dare not open their mind to the world, and by living this way, they ultimately lose their ability to rationally think and, over time, to spot error and contradiction. Skeptics do not make good Christians. The Bible, or should I say, the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible, becomes the only thing that matters. This is fertile ground for the seeds of abuse to grow and mature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this post helps to explain how good people — specifically pastors — can do bad things. I hope I also adequately answered the WHY question. If not, please ask your questions in the comment section and I will do my best to answer them.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Churches That Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things and Why Bad People Do Bad Things–Part One

elmer gantry

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Churches attract all kinds of people with varying motivations for being part of a particular religion. I spent fifty years in the Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical church. When it comes to other religions, I only know what I read in the media. The experiences and observations I share in this post come from the fifty years I spent in those churches, first as a parishioner, and later as a pastor. I spent twenty-five years in the pastorate, pastoring churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas.

While I am no longer a Christian or a pastor, I do keep myself informed about Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical Christianity. Just because I no longer believe doesn’t mean that my experiences and observations are now, suddenly, invalid or lack value. Some Christians try to marginalize or invalidate my writing by suggesting that since I am no longer a Christian, or may have never been a Christian (their view), my experiences and observations can safely be ignored or ridiculed. I will leave it to the readers of this blog to decide whether what I write has value. I suspect, knowing my readers as I do, that what follows will resonate with many of them,

The Christian church often attracts people with ulterior motives. Generally, Christian people are very trusting. When someone gives a testimony of redemption, most Christians readily embrace the lost sheep that is now found. Tales of addictions, sexual immorality, prison, violence, and the like find a sympathetic ear with most Christians. The worse the sinner, the greater the testimony of God’s wonderful, saving grace.

There is no doubt that many sinful, fallen people have found deliverance through what they believe is the saving work of Jesus Christ. Many vile people now live productive, grace-filled lives as born-again Christians. They are to be commended for the changes that have taken place in their lives. While I no longer embrace the Christianity and its message of saving grace, I willingly admit that religion transforms and changes multitudes of people.

Because Christian people are trusting and accept people at face value, they are an easy mark for people who have evil intentions. In among the sheep are criminals, thieves, child abusers, and sexual deviants, to name a few. These people make an outward show of Christianity, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves seeking sheep — often children — to devour. This is true not only in the local church, but also in Christian camps, group homes, and Christian schools.

Churches make it easy for deceivers to set up camp in their midst. The deceivers quickly embrace the church family, begin to regularly attend services, and even give money to the church. They are soon embraced as brother or sister. Before too long they are given access to places of responsibility within the church. They now have access to the treasures of the congregation, be it monetary, physical, or spiritual.

Countless churches, after just a short time, readily appoint newcomers to positions of authority. The reason for this is simple. Most churches need a steady supply of new workers. Sadly, many churches practice the four W’s: win them, wet them, work them, waste them. It is not uncommon for Baptist churches to turn over their membership every five or so years. It is common to find new church members quickly appointed as deacons, Sunday school teachers, junior church workers, youth workers, nursery workers, etc. Rarely is the past life of the new church member examined, either through an interview or comprehensive background check. This is especially true in smaller churches. All that matters is that Jesus saved them.

What I have written above also applies to pastors. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I candidated at a number of churches. Not one church did a criminal background check. Several churches did check my references, but the references they checked were those I gave them. Who would ever give a reference from a disgruntled church member or board member?  Every church I candidated at readily accepted the information on my résumé. I found every church to be trusting, and while this is a trait that should be generally commended, it is this same trait that often results in churches hiring men and women who are deceivers.

Bad people are those who become members of a church for ulterior reasons or those who are pastors with a secret past, who go from church to church preying on unsuspecting congregations. Bad people do bad things to trusting children, teens, and adults. They physically and sexually abuse people. They scam people out of their money — sometimes their life savings. They wreak havoc wherever they go. After getting caught, they pack up their wares and go down the road to another church and set up shop. There is no shortage of supply of sincere, trusting, honorable church members.

There are some things that churches can (must) do to keep themselves from being easy marks:

  • Do not allow newcomers to become members of the church for at least one year. Do not allow them to hold any office of authority or responsibility. Time will likely expose them for what they really are.
  • Require federal and state criminal background checks on every person who will be in a place of authority or will have contact with children or teenagers. This must be a “no exceptions” policy. These background checks should be repeated annually.
  • Pastors should have an open-door policy.  Church members should be encouraged to share any concern they might have.
  • When someone reports abuse of any kind, an immediate investigation must be done. 
  • ALL criminal activity should be reported to the police. ALL abuse should be immediately reported to law enforcement or child protective services. In Ohio, people in places of authority are REQUIRED to report any abuse they are made aware of. They can be held criminally liable if they do not report it.
  • Churches should thoroughly investigate candidates for the pastorate. State and federal background checks should be done. References should be thoroughly checked. Phone calls should be made to the churches previously pastored. I would even go so far as to send people to the churches a candidate previously pastored or is currently pastoring.
  • Candidates for a church’s open pastorate should be just as diligent. Churches are notorious for hiding their dirty laundry. Why did the last pastor leave? What shape are the church’s finances? Churches, as a whole, can be just as abusive as a pastor or an individual church member.
  • Churches must be diligent in their investigation of new church members and prospective candidates for the pastorate. The unasked question is often the very thing that ends up biting the church in the ass. Personally, I would record all interviews, along with ANY meetings the church has. Recordings put an end to the he-said-she-said fights that are far too common in Christian churches.
  • Every church program or class should have a minimum of two workers who are not related. No person should be permitted to teach a class, work with the teenagers, or staff the nursery alone. If possible, every room should have a window in the door or hall wall. This allows people walking by to look in at any time.

Just because someone is a teenager or a pre-teen doesn’t mean he or she should be exempt from the things mentioned above. Many churches staff their nursery, junior church, or vacation bible school with young people from the church (and sometimes from other churches). Churches assume that young people are safe. This assumption can prove to be deadly. Years ago, we had a teenager in our church who was a nice young man. Likable. Easy going. Oh, and, unbeknownst to me, he had spent two years in a juvenile detention center for rape.

The church attracts bad people who do bad things. Unless churches are diligent in protecting themselves, they will continue to be easy targets for abuse. The old adage is true: better safe than sorry. A genuine Christian will not be offended if the church is diligent in its protection of its children and teenagers.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Life: It All Depends on Where You Are Standing

creamery road zanesville ohio
Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

As long-time readers know, I spend a lot of time writing about my past: people, places, and events that are very much a part of the fabric of my life. I try to be as truthful and accurate as possible when I recount the past, but I am ever aware of the fact that I am giving an account of things as I remember them. Having read a good bit about the brain and memories, I know my retelling of my past may or may not be accurate. As best I can remember, I try to give an honest accounting of my life.

I have a younger brother and sister, and it is amazing how differently we each view events that happened in our childhood. Who is right? I’ve come to understand, we all are. The story we tell depends on where we were standing at the time.  As a fifteen-year-old boy and the oldest son, my view of our parent’s divorce is much different from that of my then eleven-year-old sister. The same can be said about many of our shared seminal experiences.

I live with a lot of guilt. I am prone to depression, and I can be quite pessimistic. I have faced long, deep bouts of depression, times where I have felt that death would be too good for me. With my words, theology, and religious practice, I hurt people. I’ve come to have these feelings because I am looking back at my past with the eyes of a sixty-two-year-old man. How could I have been Bruce Gerencser, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher? Who was that man, I ask myself. Thanks be to Loki, he no longer exists, having been slain by reason and maturity, but I still live with the memories of the past.

I am Facebook friends with several of the kids who were members of Somerset Baptist Church — an IFB congregation I pastored from 1983-1994. I was their pastor through the formative years of their lives. Not only did they sit under my preaching at least three times a week, but they also attended Somerset Baptist Academy, a private Christian school I started in 1989. I often feel I hurt them and let them down. I think back to how narrow I was over things like certain kinds of clothing, music, physical contact between the sexes, movies, and TV. If these children hated me, I wouldn’t blame them. Thankfully, they don’t.

When I talk to these former students, I hear their perspective on our shared experiences. All of them are in their late 30s and 40s now, and many of them are married and have children. Several of them are gay. Their religious persuasions run from atheism to liberal Christianity. None of them retained the IFB Christianity of their youth. From their vantage point, they recall things quite differently from the way I do. Several of them recall my wife teaching them to read. One man mentioned going back to the old church grounds and playing another game of kickball for old time’s sake. Again, what we remember depends on where we were standing at the time.

I recently re-read several posts I wrote about IFB evangelist Don Hardman and his wife Laura. (Please see Book Review: Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman and Book Review: The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman.) As I read these posts, I felt twinges of guilt and sadness. When I was a pastor, I had no closer friends than Don and Laura Hardman. I loved them like they were family. When they came to our church it was the highlight of the year. For fifteen days and seventeen services, we would focus on God and his Word. Every day, Don and I would go out evangelizing and street preaching. The church loved the Hardmans and graciously gave of their money and food to help them.

From my vantage point as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I have nothing but good memories and feelings when I think of Don and Laura Hardman. I never saw them fight, and I never had a cross word with them. Even when we parted company for a few years over my Calvinistic beliefs, we remained friends. In the early 2000s, the Hardmans came to Grace Baptist Church (later named Our Father’s House) in West Unity, Ohio, a church I was pastoring at the time, and conducted a week-long meeting. We had a great time, but I knew that I could not have them back. While they remained right where I met them in 1987, I had changed. My view of God, the Bible, politics, culture, and other Christian sects was evolving. Yet, we remained friends until 2008, when my deconversion permanently fractured the relationship. Laura wrote me a scathing letter after hearing of my deconversion, letting me know that I never was a real Christian.

Here I stand in 2020, no longer a Christian, and now an atheist. My view of the past is clouded with the tincture of time. While I still have fond memories of evangelist Don Hardman’s protracted revival meetings, I have come to see that the preaching and the theology behind it was psychologically controlling and damaging. This is how I view much of my preaching as well, especially the first 15 years or so. Over time I matured. I began preaching expositionally, and I turned from a Bible-quoting, hellfire-and-brimstone-preacher to more of a teacher of the Bible. Oh, I was still quite passionate about God, the Bible, and how we ought to apply it to our lives, but I was much more careful about using the Bible in context and letting the text speak for itself. While the Hardmans remained steadfast and unmovable throughout our friendship, my understanding of them changed. Again, my vantage point changed, resulting in me viewing the Hardmans differently.

My wife and I have known each other for almost forty-four years. This coming July we will celebrate our forty-second wedding anniversary. Several years ago, I uploaded a bunch of old pictures to Facebook: family pictures; pictures from Somerset Baptist Church, and pictures from Our Father’s House. As I uploaded these photos I began to weep. The memories of years gone by flooded my mind; memories of the people I pastored and the children I taught at Somerset Baptist Academy; memories of my wonderful wife and our little babies. Good memories. Wonderful memories.

Now that I have a different perspective, I view the events recorded in these pictures differently. Is this maturity? I don’t know. Time changes how we view the past.  What were once wonderful memories are now clouded by what I now know about the emotional and mental manipulation I perpetrated on those who called me Pastor. As I have shared before, I am in a unique position. I am both a victim and a victimizer. I followed in the footsteps of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers who emotionally and mentally scarred my life. Victimized by their manipulation, I in turn victimized those who were members of the IFB and Evangelical churches I pastored. It’s an ugly cycle of abuse, one that I was fortunately able to put an end to during my latter years in the ministry and subsequent post-Jesus life.

So it is with Polly. While she and I walked side by side through the years we spent in the ministry, Polly’s viewpoint is very different from mine. I was the leader of the churches I pastored, the center of attention. People, for the most part, respected me, loved me, and supported my work as a pastor. For Polly it was different. Like many pastor’s wives, she was my gofer. She did what others didn’t or wouldn’t do.  No one in the nursery? Polly filled in. Entertain people every Sunday for twenty years? Polly did it without a complaint, even when her pastor husband forgot to tell her so and so was coming over for dinner. She quietly submitted to a life as the helpmeet of a poorly paid, Type A, constantly-working, never-home, Baptist preacher.

Polly did without. Our entire family did without, but Polly more so than the children and I. She never said a word. She quietly lived in ramshackle houses and drove cars that were better suited for demolition derbies. She made do with what she had. This much I know, I do WISH there were a Heaven, because Polly deserves a huge mansion right next door to Dottie Rambo’s Log Cabin.

Video Link

However, since there is no Heaven, all I can do is make sure that Polly has the best life possible for the rest of this life. She deserves it! 

It should come as no surprise then that Polly remembers the past much differently from what I recall. One time I said, wouldn’t you like to go back to __________church? Immediately she replied, No I wouldn’t. I was surprised by her quick and negative response. I asked, why not? I then quickly learned, from where Polly was standing, that her view of this church was very different from mine. Who is right? We both are.

I have written a good bit about the abuse that went on and continues to go on in IFB group homes. (Please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls, Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sin and The Dogma that Followed Me Home.) The stories that some people share from their time in these facilities break my heart. I want to personally find these abusive miscreants and beat the shit out of them. They deserve to have punishment heaped upon them. They hurt people that I love and respect, and the fact that these dear friends of mine still suffer from the abuse received from men like Mack Ford angers me to this day. Every once in a while, someone will come along and leave a glowing testimony from their time in the same facilities. They loved their time there. They were helped and their life is the better for it. How can this be? Surely, someone is lying, right? Not at all. While it is possible that someone is lying or they are living in denial, more often than not, the difference is simply a matter of where the person was standing in relation to the person, place, or event.

Time shapes how we view the past. For me, I am finding that the further a person, place, or event is in the past, the fonder my memories are. I suspect that’s how we as humans cope with life. The tincture of time often brings healing, and it also allows us to gain enough distance from the negative things in our past that they no longer feel harmful or threatening. While time rarely heals all wounds, it does allow us the space and distance necessary to be at peace with those things that cut us to the quick. Perhaps that’s the best we can hope for.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor John McIntosh Charged with Sexual Abuse of a Minor

Pastor John McIntosh

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

John McIntosh, pastor of Cedarville Baptist Church in Cedarville, Illinois, stands accused of sexually assaulting a minor.

McIntosh’s church bio page states:

John McIntosh has been our pastor since December of 2018. Serving the Lord at Cedarville Baptist is the joy of Pastor John’s life.  Prior to coming to Cedarville, he has pastored in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. In addition, he has served on the board of directors of a Crisis Pregnancy Center, has been involved in rescue mission ministries, has been a regular contributor to the “From the Pulpit” section of local newspapers, as well as worked many summers for a Christian camp.  

He has earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, WI. He also has earned a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies as well as a Master of Divinity from Trinity Theological Seminary in Newburgh, IN. Furthermore, he is an accredited Christian counselor through the American Association of Christian Counselors.  

Prior to coming to Cedarville Baptist, McIntosh pastored Winneshiek Evangelical Free Church in Freeport, Illinois.


Black Collar Crime: Convicted Sex Offender Darrell Gilyard Pastoring Evangelical Church

darrell gilyard

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In 2009, Evangelical pastor Darrell Gilyard admitted sexually molesting two children and was sentenced to three years in prison. After his release from prison, Gilyard became the pastor of Christ Missionary Tabernacle Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Christ Missionary, at the time, was affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. While I was unable to find out how long Gilyard pastored Christ Missionary, news reports today say the registered sex offender is now the pastor of Mount Ararat Baptist Church in Jacksonville. Shockingly, because Gilyard is not on probation, he is free to work wherever he wants, including churches filled with potential victims.

News 4-Jax reports:

A man who once served time in prison for sex crimes has become the new pastor of Mount Ararat Baptist Church in Jacksonville, and some said they’re concerned that he’s leading the congregation.

The Rev. Darrell Gilyard admitted to molesting two girls and was sentenced to three years in prison in 2009 followed by probation. He’s currently a registered sex offender in the state of Florida.

When he left prison in 2012, Gilyard first began preaching at Christ Missionary Tabernacle Baptist Church, which also made some upset.

After Gilyard became the new lead pastor at Mount Ararat Baptist Church, some people posted their concerns on the church’s Facebook page.

Tiffany Thigpen Kilgannon, who said she was a victim, wrote in short:

…God doesn’t need predators in the pulpit, no matter how great a speaker or the truth of God’s word being spoken…”

She continued, “…Please keep your young girls and ladies safe. It is a painful thing to recover from, give them the gift of safety…”

News4Jax visited Mount Ararat to talk with Rev. Gilyard. A staff member said, “No comment.”

James Andrews, a long time supporter of Gilyard, said he prayed about it, and he trusts the good pastor. When asked if he trusted Gilyard around children, Andrews said, “Yes I would. I wouldn’t have any problems at all trusting Pastor Gilyard around children.”

Gilyard was accused of molesting other children, but he was never arrested.

For the life of me, I cannot understand how men such as James Andrews and the leaders of the two church Gilyard has pastored since his conviction can turn a blind eye to his crimes. Plenty of prospective pastors available, yet the best you could find is a convicted felon and a registered sex offender?

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Logan Wesley III Accused of Sex Crimes

pastor logan wesley iii

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Logan Wesley III, an Evangelical pastor in Texarkana, Texas, was arrested in November 2019 on a charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14.  The Texarkana Gazette reported at the time:

Logan Wesley III was taken into custody last month by Texarkana, Texas, police on a charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14. The offense is punishable by 25 to 99 years or life in prison and there is no parole from any sentence imposed.

Wesley, 56, allegedly began molesting the girl when she was 12 and continued to sexually abuse her for many years. The alleged victim, who is now 38, reported the alleged abuse to investigators in mid-November. The alleged victim reported that she was not believed when she made outcries about the abuse as a child because of Wesley’s status as a pastor.

The woman reported that she provided a recording of a phone call between her and Wesley to investigators. Wesley allegedly confessed to and apologized for the abuse on the call.

After his arrest, Wesley III was released on a $100,000 bond. Today, the good pastor found himself in court again facing additional sexual assault charges. The Texarkana Gazette reports:

Logan Wesley III, 56, was arrested in November on a single felony charge involving one alleged victim. Earlier this month, a Bowie County grand jury returned three indictments involving three different girls which list a total of 18 felony counts.

Following his arrest in November, Logan posted a $100,000 bond. Bail on Wesley’s current charges totals $1.25 million.

….

At a hearing Monday morning, Texarkana lawyer Josh Potter asked 202nd District Judge John Tidwell to lower the total to $100,000 and release Wesley on his existing bond.

“What I’ve decided to do, I’m going to leave the bonds where they are but I’m not going to make you wait for trial until Aug. 24,” Tidwell said. “I’m going to move your trial up to May 4.”

First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp said she has identified 13 alleged victims of sexual abuse by Wesley “on both sides of the state line” whom she might call as witnesses at Wesley’s trial in May. Crisp said the 13 alleged victims include the three named in the Bowie County indictments and 10 others who allege they suffered sexual abuse by Wesley in other jurisdictions.

The court must conduct hearings outside the presence of the jury regarding any alleged victim she wishes to call as a witness in a trial concerning a different alleged victim. The court will determine if the potential testimony is admissible before it can be heard by a jury. Because of the number of such alleged victim witnesses in Wesley’s case, Crisp suggested scheduling those hearings in advance of the trial.

Wesley allegedly used his status as pastor of a Texarkana, Ark., church to sexually abuse young girls.

Wesley is charged with three counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14, three counts of sexual assault of a child under 17 and one count of indecency with a child by sexual contact involving a single alleged victim.

Charges involving a second alleged victim include two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14 and five counts of sexual assault of a child under 17. Charges involving a third alleged victim include a single count of sexual assault of a child under 17 and three counts of indecency with a child by sexual contact.

Wesley faces five to 99 years or life in prison if found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14. Sexual assault of a child under 17 and indecency with a child by sexual contact are both punishable by two to 20 years in prison.

Wesley’s Twitter account describes him this way:

Pastor, Father, Husband and Friend, Chosen to Empower men and women with the uncompromising Word of God…….If God can’t do it, IT CAN’T BE DONE!!

Wesley neglected to add “alleged pedophile.” Based on Wesley’s statement about God, I assume we can conclude that God was behind his sexual molestation of numerous girls.

Witnesses To Abuse

witness

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Thirty-five years ago this month, Paramount Pictures released Witness.

It was tailor-made for the Reagan administration, and for the religious right, in that it depicts the hardworking, pious Amish as virtuous and anyone associated with The City (in this case, Philadelphia) as depraved and corrupt. That said, I will admit that I saw the movie twice and enjoyed it, mainly for some of the acting performances (which were charming or engaging, if not incisive) as well as individual scenes.

One scene that sticks out, in my mind, takes place in the 30th Street station, where Samuel Lapp, an 8-year-old Amish boy and Rachel Lapp, his recently-widowed mother, are transferring from one train to another. Moments before he witnesses a brutal murder, he sees an elderly man wearing a black coat and hat. The boy believes, for a moment, that he’s met a member of his own community; the man’s face quickly turns into a frown of rejection, which the boy mirrors. That man, it turned out, was a Chasidic Jew.

The scene was inserted mainly as a visual comic relief. Were the writing and direction of Witness more sensitive, or simply more conscious, that scene could have highlighted the “so close and yet so far” relationship between the two religious communities and cultures: While the Amish are farmers and most Chasidic Jews live in or near large cities, both reject modern secular society in nearly all of its manifestations, right down to the way people dress.

Oh, and there’s another similarity between them. It came to light only recently, but I’d had an inkling of it for some time.

During my childhood, my family visited an Amish family every summer. Although I enjoyed seeing the countryside and animals, and learning about a different way of life, I was always glad to return home, even with the emotionally unsupportive family I had: I am a city girl at heart. (All right, I was living as a boy in those days.) But I don’t think that I would have liked spending any more time than I did in that bucolic setting for another reason: Even though the people were friendly and generous, something I couldn’t articulate troubled me.

Ironically, it became a bit clearer to me when I was teaching at an Orthodox yeshiva many years later. Of course, my relationship with the pupils was very different from my experience with the Amish children I met. My family’s visits to the Amish farm were “fun” for the kids—and us—in the same way as time spent with cousins or other peers whose company you have, and enjoy, only on holidays and other occasions. While I had to be the literal and proverbial “adult in the room” for Jewish boys I taught, we didn’t have to live with each other: Their expressions of vulnerability were momentary, and we went back to our lives afterward. Still, it was hard not to see that both the Jewish and Amish boys were more vulnerable and felt more like they were failing, in one way or another, than their parents and other adults in their lives might have realized.

I also couldn’t help but notice that in both communities, the women and girls didn’t seem happy. Rather, they seemed dutifully resigned to their fate. Perhaps some even found a way to “make peace” with it, or to find some sort of fulfillment in conforming to the roles their cultures and religions prescribed for them. Even the boys—who, like their counterparts almost everywhere else, enjoyed more freedom than their sisters, mothers, aunts or grandmothers—seemed to be living in a fear that ran deeper than that of simply displeasing, and incurring scorn from, their elders.

A year ago, I wrote about a yeshiva student of mine who was sexually exploited by a rabbi at his synagogue. Around that time, the media were reporting sexual abuse of children in ultra-Orthodox communities. Those revelations came not long after a wave of stories about clergy members and others in positions of authority who took advantage of altar boys and other children in various churches, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon, as well as evangelical sects. Around the same time, the “Me-Too” movement was spreading.

None of those developments surprised me, as I had just recently “come out,” if you will, about my own experiences of sexual abuse by a priest. It was the first time I’d talked about them with anyone besides a therapist or a former partner of mine. Some might say I am “projecting,” but any subsequent revelation of sexual abuse in a religious organization or community has not caught me by surprise. I include one of the most recent, namely, the horrors of sexual abuse recounted by people who grew up in Amish communities.

Although there is much I respect about the Amish way of life, in particular, their rejection of war, it is as rigidly hierarchical — specifically, patriarchal — as just about any other highly-organized orthodox religion. The perceived proximity of the elders, priests, rabbis, ministers — or, in some cases, even the family patriarchs — to God gives them power and authority that is rarely questioned. Challenging the position of such a leader can lead to the loss of a person’s entire way of life, not to mention his or her family and friends. That, along with the suppression of knowledge about sexuality and people’s (especially women’s and girls’) bodies and the insularity of such communities, all but ensures not only that the vulnerable will be victimized, but also that victims will not have the language to express their experiences or the means to escape from the aftermath of their trauma.

So, perhaps, the Amish and ultra-Orthodox communities have even more in common than Witness suggested, though it might not have been what the movie’s makers had in mind.