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Tag: Sexual Predator

IFB Preacher Mack Ford is Dead

mack ford new bethany home for girls
Abuser and molester Mack Ford is dead.

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Notorious child abuser and molester, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher Mack Ford died February 11, 2015. Ford, for many years, operated New Bethany Home for Girls in Louisiana, along with group homes for boys in other states.  If you do not know anything about Ford, please read Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls.

I have mixed feelings about the death of Ford. On one hand, I am glad the son of a bitch is dead. Others like him: Olen King, Ron Williams, and Jack Patterson, to name a few, are getting old, and death will soon come calling for them too. Lester Roloff,  the man who taught these abusers everything they know about establishing and operating IFB re-education camps, died in a plane crash in 1982. Death will someday come for all of these abusers and the world will be better off without them.

I feel sorry for the dear friends of mine who were abused by Mack Ford and the staff at New Bethany. Like hound dogs on the trail of a rabbit, they did all they could do to bring Mack Ford to justice. Now, he is beyond their reach. Like Bob Gray, a lifelong child molester and pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, Ford died before he could know what it was like to be locked up with no hope of escape. I want my friends to know that I appreciate their doggedness, their willingness to continue to go after those who abuse and molest in the name of God.

There is still much work to do. As long as there are unregulated, unlicensed Christian group homes open for business, we must continue to expose their evil work. We MUST convince state and federal legislators and regulators that these types of homes are dangerous, and are a threat to the safety and welfare of anyone sent to them. While no one would suggest that licensing and regulation is a cure-all, it is the first step in cleansing the land of abusive group homes. We can do better, and we must!

Rebecca Catalanello of the Times Picayune had this to say:

The man who founded New Bethany Home for Girls, where some former students said they were victims of abuse, has died.

Mack Ford, 82, was found dead inside his home shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 11) by a relative, Bienville Parish Coroner Don Smith said.

Ford’s death appears to be from natural causes, but Smith said his office will be conducting an autopsy.

Ford, a high school dropout turned Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher, opened New Bethany in 1971 on a former penal farm turned convalescent home off Louisiana Highway 9 in Arcadia, La., about 50 miles east of Shreveport.

Over three decades until it closed its doors in 2001, New Bethany took in sometimes hundreds of girls a year, according to newspaper accounts and court documents. Ford marketed the school as a home for wayward youth — “a mission project to the incorrigible, unwanted rejects,” he told attorneys in 1997. “Destitute, lonely, prostitutes, drug addicts.”

But many of the former residents who found themselves behind the barbed wire gates of the compound have relayed — to police, media, social workers and others — stories of harsh, physical and mental abuse that included beatings, solitary confinement, and, more recently, sexual abuse…

…Simone Jones, 47, one of the women who said Ford molested her when she was a teenager, said that she learned of his death late Wednesday from Michael Epps, the Louisiana State Police investigator who spent a year looking into the sexual abuse allegations that he took to a grand jury.

“I’m angry,” Jones said. “No justice … There are hundreds of people who are never going to see any type of justice be done.”

Ford’s death comes four days after the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office began investigating whether there may be a connection between New Bethany and an unidentified woman who was found on Jan. 28, 1981, in a wooded area stabbed to death.

The woman, now known as “Bossier Doe,” was wearing shoes and socks not unlike those required of New Bethany residents at the time. A name, “D. Davies,” was written inside her shoes with marker, just as former residents say they had to do.

State officials attempted to close the school in 1980 after Ford refused state inspection. They later raided New Bethany in 1988 and again in 1996 following complaints of abuse at the home — efforts that Ford fought in court, maintaining the state was violating his civil rights because it opposed his fundamentalist Christian views.

“The bureaucrats don’t want us to teach them our faith,” he said in a 1988 sermon following the state’s removal of 28 residents from the home.

But neither he nor anyone else at the girls’ home was ever prosecuted for any of the reported abuse, despite numerous confirmed reports documented by state social workers.

In addition to the girls’ home, Ford opened several boys homes, including in Longstreet, La., and Waltersboro, SC. In both of those locations, abuse allegations resulted in criminal charges, though not against Ford.

In 1981, Longstreet school manager L.D. Rapier was arrested and charged with cruelty to children after four boys ran from the home and told authorities they’d been beaten. The charges were eventually dropped.

In 1983, South Carolina authorities closed the Waltersboro home after they found a 14-year-old sleeping in a windowless padlocked cell, where he had been for several days. Two employees there were charged with unlawful neglect of a child and kidnapping, and they eventually pleaded to a lesser charge of false imprisonment.

Ford continued to live at the former New Bethany compound, located at 120 Hiser Road, in Arcadia, until his death…

…Ford’s estranged son-in-law, former Louisiana College vice president Timothy Johnson, said that Ford’s wife, Thelma Ford, resides in a nursing home.

Thelma and Mack Ford would have been married 66 years this year, according to court documents. Together, they had seven daughters, and adopted two more children, a boy and a girl.

Johnson said that Ford’s family members are unlikely to speak publicly about Ford or his legacy largely because of the great backlash they may face by former New Bethany residents and other critics.

“To do so gets you written about as being complicit or protecting a rapist,” Johnson wrote in an email message…

…Teresa Frye, 47, a resident at the home in 1982, said she was still processing news of Ford’s death on Thursday morning.

For years, Frye has been involved in an ongoing effort to help reconnect former New Bethany students and to raise awareness about the conditions so many children faced in similar boarding homes.

“I’m numb,” Frye said. “But I’m starting to get angry.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Questions: Are There Any Famous Evangelical Pastors Who Have Not Fallen Into “Sin”?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Tammy asked:

Are there any famous/successful pastors who have not had affairs, committed crimes, been guilty of fraud, etc? 

They’ve fallen one after another like dominoes . . . 

Tammy, along with her husband Jim, has been my friend for years. When Polly and I walked away from Christianity in 2008, Tammy and Jim walked the path with us, providing love, kindness, and support.

I suspect there’s a bit of sarcasm in Tammy’s question. That said, rarely does a day go by without me receiving a Google Alert about this or that preacher committing a crime — usually sex crimes. In 2017, I started the Black Collar Crime Series. This series primarily focuses on crimes perpetrated by Evangelical preachers. As of this date, I have published 800+ articles. I also have 200+ stories that I have not yet posted.

While most Evangelical preachers, famous or not, do not commit crimes, thanks to the Internet, we now know that Evangelicalism has a huge problem with sexual assault, rape, and other predatory behaviors perpetrated by pastors, evangelists, youth directors, missionaries, deacons, worship leaders, parachurch leaders, college professors, and other church leaders. When I first started the Black Collar Crime Series, Evangelicals told me that predatory preachers were just a few bad apples. Four years later, it’s evident that there are more than just a few bad apples in the proverbial apple barrel. We now know Evangelicalism’s sex scandals are every bit as pervasive as those found in Roman Catholicism.

Are Evangelical churches “safe”? Maybe. If I were a member of or visiting an Evangelical church, I wouldn’t let my children out of my sight. I would NEVER allow my teen children to attend youth-focused classes or ministries. If the Black Collar Crimes Series has taught me anything, it is this: predators hide in plain sight. The same goes for seeing a pastor for counseling. I wouldn’t recommend ever being alone with a pastor. Sadly, way too many pastors “prey’ on vulnerable church members, using their positions of authority to engage in sex with “consenting” adults (which is illegal in most states, but rarely prosecuted).

I know some Evangelical preachers will be butthurt over me painting with such a broad brush. I also know most preachers are decent, thoughtful, caring people. However, there’s an awful stink coming from the apple barrel, and little is being done to eliminate the smell. Everywhere we look, we see coverups. The largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), has an alarming sexual abuse problem. What has the SBC done to address this problem? Nothing outside of referring the “problem” to a board for study.

Most clergy sex crimes go unreported; thus, we can’t know the percentage of Evangelical preachers committing crimes. Famous, big-name, megachurch pastors surround themselves with handlers. It is common for megachurches to have security forces. In addition, pastors have personal handlers/assistants. Often, when church members report misconduct by their pastors, these handlers make the “problems” go away. Brave is the person willing to go public about their pastor’s misconduct. Such people often have their lives ruined by the defenders of predatory preachers. That’s why when people contact me and share stories of abuse, I believe them.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Beware of Deacon Bob

child abuse 2

The following is loosely based on a true story recounted to me by a Baptist pastor’s daughter.

Every church has a Deacon Bob — a Jesus-loving man who loves getting close and personal with children. Deacon Bob is a hugger. He loves intimate physical contact. Deacon Bob goes from person to person, handing out hugs and warm embraces. Everyone loves Deacon Bob. Knowing no boundaries, Deacon Bob embraces everyone. Deacon Bob focuses his “love” on children. Children love Deacon Bob. He is known for always having candy in his suit coat pocket.  Sunday after Sunday, church children run to Deacon Bob, begging him to give them candy.

Every night, without fail, Deacon Bob and his wife — both lifelong members of Calvary Baptist Church — had their Bible devotions and prayed together. Afterward, Deacon Bob’s wife retired for the night. Deacon Bob told his wife that he would be to bed soon, but first, he needed to study his Sunday School lesson — Deacon Bob taught the fifth-grade girls. Soon his wife was fast asleep, and Deacon Bob sat down in the computer room to study his lesson — a place where he would commune with God undisturbed. Done with studies, Deacon Bob got up from his chair and locked the computer room door. Safe from interruption, Deacon Bob sat down, put on his headphones, and typed in Netscape the internet address for one of his favorite child pornography websites. Soon, Deacon Bob began pleasuring himself as he viewed children being sexually molested and violated. Once he was finished, Deacon Bob felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. Oh, Jesus, I am so sorry for what I have done. Please, Lord, forgive me. I claim the promises found 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. Thank you, Lord for forgiving me of my sin. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Night after night, year after year, Deacon Bob repeats this ritual — seeking self-gratification and then asking Jesus to forgive him. Deacon Bob started each morning with prayer, reading that day’s entry in Our Daily Bread, and a silent promise to God that he would never look at child porn again. Deacon Bob’s resolve lasted for a day or two, maybe a week, but soon, with deviant passions stirred by church children unaware of who and what he really is, Deacon Bob returned to the internet to seek out images and video sure to satisfy — for a moment — his perverse sexual desires.

Deacon Bob is a sexual predator hiding in plain sight. His church family thinks he’s wonderful — a lover of Jesus and children. He’s just like Jesus, Pastor Billy was heard saying. Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:16) Deacon Bob just wants to minister to children, sharing with them his love for Jesus. We need more Deacon Bobs in this church! Clueless to Deacon Bob’s true nature and desires, Pastor Billy and the church “trust” Deacon Bob with their children. Sister Eatmore was overheard saying, Why Deacon Bob sure does love children. I would trust him to take my children anywhere.

The whole church thinks Deacon Bob is their very own Mister Rogers — everyone except Margie Buttermore, that is. Sister Buttermore told her husband one Sunday after church, That Deacon Bob sure is friendly with children. I am worried that he might be a sexual predator or a pedophile. Just today, I saw him hug Julia, and as he did, his hand slid down to her buttocks. I think he did that on purpose. Brother Buttermore replied, Oh, Margie, Deacon Bob is a fine man. He teaches Sunday School, sings in the choir, and just last year, he gave a large donation to the building fund. I would KNOW if Deacon Bob is a pervert. Men KNOW these kinds of things. Deacon Bob is NOT a pedophile. Sister Buttermore said nothing more, but she decided to pay attention to how Deacon Bob physically interacted with children.

Week after week, Sister Buttermore watched Deacon Bob, becoming more certain each week that he was not the kind of man everyone thought he was. One Sunday evening after church. Sister Buttermore decided to talk to Pastor Billy about her concerns. And just like her husband months before, Pastor Billy assured Sister Buttermore that Deacon Bob was a fine, upstanding Christian. Years ago, Pastor Billy told her, we had a man in our church who really was a pedophile. Everyone knew he was a child molester. I ran him off before he could hurt any of our children. Deacon Bob is nothing like this pervert.

Several years later, Deacon Bob took his fifth-grade girl’s Sunday School class out to eat — a reward for winning the Sunday School Perfect Attendance Award. Most families dropped their girls off at the local Chuck E. Cheese. Sister Eatmore had something come up at the last minute, so she called Deacon Bob and asked him if he would pick up Julia for the party. Deacon Bob told Sister Eatmore that he would be glad to pick Julia up and safely return her home after the party. Thanks! Deacon Bob. There’s no one I trust more with our children than you. Deacon Bob replied, no problem, Sister. I love our church’s children. I want to help every child come to know Jesus as their Savior.

Just as planned, Deacon Bob picked up eleven-year-old Julia and took her to the party. On the way home, Deacon Bob told Julia to slide over close to him. With nary a thought, groomed for this very moment, Julia complied. Deacon Bob had been hugging her for years. Everyone loved and trusted him.

Several miles away from Chuck E. Cheese, Deacon Bob took his right hand and put it on Julia’s thigh. Julia didn’t seem to mind. Julia, Deacon Bob said, you know Jesus loves you, and so do I. Julia replied, I know, I love both of you too!

Years later, Julia told her therapist what happened the night Deacon Bob drove her home from the party. Twenty years had passed, and Julia had never told anyone about what Deacon Bob had done to her. When Julia graduated from high school, she left home, moving three thousand miles away to San Diego. Julia would travel home to visit her parents from time to time, but she always planned her visits so she wouldn’t have to go to church. She couldn’t bear to go to church — any church.

One year, Julia returned home for her parent’s wedding anniversary. Calvary Baptist wanted to recognize the Eatmores for being faithfully married for fifty years, so they held a party for Brother and Sister Eatmore. Julia’s mom said, Julia, I hope you will come to church for our anniversary party. Please, honey! I know you don’t like going to Calvary, but won’t you do this for us?

Guilted into submission, Julia relented. As she entered the church, Julia looked off in the distance, and there was Deacon Bob — in his eighties now — hugging a young girl. Overcome with grief, guilt, and homicidal rage, Julia ran from the building and walked back to her parent’s home. Brother and Sister Eatmore finally came home and found Julia, tears streaming down her face, packing her bag. What’s wrong, Julia? Sister Eatmore asked. Julia told her mom what Deacon Bob had done to her when she was eleven. Oh honey, surely you must be mistaken. Deacon Bob loves Jesus, and he would never, ever do such a thing. And with that, Julia called Uber for a ride to the airport, never to return to her parent’s home.

Deacon Bob died several years later, leaving behind the testimony of a man who loved Jesus and children until the end.

Did your church have a Deacon Bob? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Pastor Jeffrey Forrest Sentenced to 99 Years in Prison

jeffrey forrest

Jeffrey Forrest, a youth pastor, daycare worker, and camp worker at Abilene, Texas churches and camps, was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison after he was convicted on two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. According to news reports, Forrest worked for Pioneer Drive Baptist Church from 1990 to 1998. According to the church, Forrest was an intern in the church’s Child Development Center, Pre-Teen and Recreational Ministries.

KTXS-12 reported in 2015:

Jeffrey Winston Forrest, 43, is accused of molesting a boy while working with children in the 1990s. The specific case occurred in 1993.

Police say at least one other victim has come forward. They are asking other victims to come forward as well.

….

A spokesman for Pioneer Drive Baptist Church has said Forrest worked at that church from 1990 to 1998. Forrest was an intern in the church’s Child Development Center, Pre-Teen and Recreational Ministries.

The church spokesman recently said the church has had no affiliation with Forrest since then.

Forrest was arrested April 3 for having sex with a boy who attended the daycare where he worked in 1993.

Abilene police say at least three victims have come forward saying Forrest abused them.

KTXS-12 recently posted a timeline detailing Forrest’s crimes (1990s), indictment/arrest (2015), failure to appear for trial (2016), and subsequent arrest in Mexico in 2020.

In May 2020, the U.S. Marshals Office released the following statement:

The manhunt for a U.S. Marshals 15 Most Wanted fugitive ended Friday with the arrest in Mexico of Jeffrey Winston Forrest, 47, wanted by the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department in Abilene, Texas, for two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, bail jumping, and failure to appear.

According to a Zapopan police release, Forrest was arrested Friday afternoon by members of the State Attorney’s Office, Zapopan Police Department, and the National Institute of Immigration (INM). He was located in a drive-through store in Zapopan, Jalisco, after his presence and identity were confirmed with the existing alert in the U.S.

Forrest was deported today and brought back to the Northern District of Texas, where he will answer the charges against him.

Forrest’s capture in Mexico is a direct result of information that was developed from a tip that was provided to “In Pursuit with John Walsh” on Investigation Discovery after the show profiled the case.

In 2015, charges were filed against Forrest when four victims came forward and accused him of sexually assaulting them. The victims stated Forrest repeatedly assaulted them from the ages of 8 to 15. Investigators believe he used his position as a youth minister at several different churches to gain access and groom his victims. On April 2, 2015, Forrest was arrested on two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Following his arrest, Forrest was released on bond and a trial date was set for Aug. 29, 2016. Unfortunately, he failed to appear for his trial, and after an investigation into his disappearance, authorities determined he never intended to.

While investigators found credible evidence of his travel to Mexico, his trail had grown cold due to his use and knowledge of the dark web and communication software such as Tor to mask his digital footprint.

Let this story be a reminder of the fact that sexual predators often hide in plain sight, often wolves among sheep.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Ravi Zacharias Scandal and the Billy Graham Rule

jesus alone with a woman

Recently, William Thornton, a semi-retired Southern Baptist pastor, wrote a post about the Ravi Zacharias scandal and the Billy Graham Rule (BGR). Zacharias, a darling in the Evangelical apologetic community, has been exposed as a sexual predator.

Regarding Zacharias, the New York Times reported:

The influential evangelist Ravi Zacharias, who died last spring, engaged in “sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape,” according to a report released on Thursday by the global evangelical organization he founded.

After initially denying accounts of his misconduct, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries announced that an investigation had found credible evidence of sexual misconduct spanning many years and multiple continents.

The announcement was the result of an investigation by a Southeastern law firm, Miller & Martin, which RZIM hired in October to investigate accounts of sexual misconduct by Mr. Zacharias.

“We believe not only the women who made their allegations public but also additional women who had not previously made public allegations against Ravi but whose identities and stories were uncovered during the investigation,” the ministry’s board of directors said in a statement accompanying the report. “We are devastated by what the investigation has shown and are filled with sorrow for the women who were hurt by this terrible abuse.”

When Mr. Zacharias died of cancer in May at age 74, he was one of the most revered evangelists in the United States. Former Vice President Mike Pence spoke at his memorial service in Atlanta, calling him “a man of faith who could rightly handle the word of truth like few others in our time” and comparing him to Billy Graham and C.S. Lewis.

Though the report adds shocking new details, accounts of Mr. Zacharias’s sexual misconduct had arisen in recent years. In 2017, he settled a lawsuit with a Canadian couple whom he had accused of attempting to extort him over intimate text messages he had exchanged with the wife.

Then last fall, several months after Mr. Zacharias’s death, the magazine Christianity Today reported on allegations that Mr. Zacharias had groped and masturbated in front of several women who worked at two day spas he co-owned near his ministry’s headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga. After initially denying those claims, RZIM acknowledged in December that an interim report from Miller & Martin confirmed that he had engaged in “sexual misconduct.”

The full report paints a stark portrait of that misconduct. The law firm interviewed more than a dozen massage therapists who treated Mr. Zacharias. Five of them reported that he had touched or rubbed them inappropriately, and four said he would touch his own genitals or ask them to touch him. Eight said he would either start the massage completely nude or remove the draping sheets during the treatment.

….

The law firm also found a pattern of intimate text and email-based relationships with women. In reviewing his electronic devices, they found the phone numbers of more than 200 massage therapists and more than 200 selfies, some of them nudes, from much younger women. Mr. Zacharias also used the nonprofit ministry to financially support some of his long-term therapists. The report also reveals that he owned two apartments in Bangkok, where he spent 256 days between 2010 and 2014. One of his massage therapists stayed in the other apartment.

Mr. Zacharias said in 2017 that in 45 years of marriage, “I have never engaged in any inappropriate behavior of any kind.”

….

In 2014, Mr. Zacharias met a Canadian couple, Brad and Lori Anne Thompson, at a fund-raising luncheon in Ontario. They stayed in touch, and eventually Mr. Zacharias invited Ms. Thompson to correspond privately on BlackBerry Messenger. The evangelist was 30 years older than Ms. Thompson, and she saw him as a “spiritual father,” she has said. After she confided in him about her history of abuse and trauma, she has said, Mr. Zacharias began soliciting sexually explicit messages.

When Ms. Thompson told Mr. Zacharias that she needed to tell her husband about their relationship, Mr. Zacharias threatened suicide, according to leaked emails first published by the blogger Julie Anne Smith.

….

After a lawyer for the Thompsons approached Mr. Zacharias privately in 2017, he sued the couple, portraying them publicly as serial extortionists and saying that Ms. Thompson had sent him the explicit messages against his will. The suit ended in private mediation, and all parties signed a nondisclosure agreement.

RZIM’s board expressed regret on Thursday for its response to Ms. Thompson’s allegations. “It is with profound grief that we recognize that because we did not believe the Thompsons and both privately and publicly perpetuated a false narrative, they were slandered for years and their suffering was greatly prolonged and intensified,” it said in the statement accompanying the report.

Mr. Zacharias co-owned two day spas near RZIM headquarters between 2004 and 2015, an unusual venture for an evangelist but one he made no attempt to hide. At the grand opening of Jivan Wellness at a strip mall in 2009, speakers included the comedian Jeff Foxworthy; Sonny Perdue, then the governor of Georgia; and the pastor Johnny Hunt, who was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention at the time.

As they are wont to do, Evangelicals are busy removing Zacharias’ visage from the Mt. Apologetics Rushmore. Some self-righteous Evangelicals are even saying that Zacharias was never a True Christian® Which makes one wonder about the lack of discernment among Evangelical pastors. Thousands of pastors attended Zacharias’ apologetics conferences and read his books, yet not one of them “discerned” that he was a sexual predator. Even J.D. Hall, the editor of Protestia (Pulpit & Pen) — a site known for its muckraking reporting on Evangelical sexual peccadilloes and alleged heresy — failed to sniff out Zacharias’ perverse behavior.

ravi zacharias
Ravi Zacharias

As of today, only Zacharias’ son, Nathan, thinks he is innocent:

First, RZIM does not speak for me. They have formed their own opinion. But it does not dictate mine. I do not agree with them for legitimate reasons. I will not, however, debate those differences publicly.

…Regarding some specific individuals who were once my colleagues, how “brave” you are to aggressively take on a man who can’t even defend himself, as well as attack his grieving family who is far more blindsided and hurt by this situation than you can ever be. And how “righteous” you are to think that we must continually pile on our punishment AFTER he has already faced the ultimate judge.

…God chose to spare Dad from all this by calling him home when he did. But how “virtuous” of you to insist that you hand out the relentless punishment and humiliation that God saw no place for in dad’s lifetime.

Even *if* these allegations are true, there is no doubt that God actively blessed my dad and did so right up until he passed. His impact was only getting greater. So what these individuals are saying – along with any person or organization that wants to cancel my dad – is that God was wrong to do so, so we must now correct God’s blessing/mistake by erasing my dad and his voice. To that I say, “That’s a bold strategy, Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for him.”

Finally and most importantly, nothing could change how much I love my dad and miss him. I am still proud to be his son.

Now back to Thornton’s post. Thornton used the Zacharias scandal to talk about how male pastors should handle their interactions with women — especially privately. Thornton also discussed what is commonly called in Evangelical circles the Billy Graham Rule (BGR).

Here’s an excerpt from Thornton’s post:

One aspect of it that has arisen is that the BG Rule, the man of God (pastor, evangelist, or other male Christian figure) will not be alone with any woman not his wife, Billy Graham and his team establishing that practice early on in his evangelistic ministry.

The rule has been adopted by many of the brethren (it was recommended to me as a ministerial standard when I was ordained decades ago) and is held up as a shield against the wiles of the devil and all those devilish women who would “take a pastor down.” The phrase with quotes is the way I’ve often heard it described.

If a brother wants to pattern his relationships and interactions with females in this manner, he may do so. But he might be apprised that such is highly sexist, presumes all women to be potential steamy seductresses, and makes it appear that he, the pillar of male rectitude, is powerless to resist; thus, the hard and fast rule about ever being with any woman alone other than his beloved wife.

Zacharias, as you probably know, was a BGR follower, except when he needed those medical massages. One can see how that played out with numerous victims, accusations of rape in some cases, and a lifetime of ministry totally undermined by his own decisions and choices.

I’m curious if the rule which is in its seventh decade now, is still applicable, useful and practical. The changes since the 1940s are considerable: females in the workplace, including church staffs; the manner business is conducted; the ubiquitous use of social media for relationships and contacts.

I was a single staff guy most of my ministry. If my church had an administrative assistant, always a woman, it was impossible to always have a third person at the church at all times. It’s also a brazen and thoughtless insult to all women to be treated thus.

In 2018, I wrote a post titled, The Absurdity of the Billy Graham-Mike Pence Rule.

Here’s what I had to say on the matter:

Embedded deep into the thinking of Evangelical pastors is the notion that women to whom they are not married are dangerous creatures who must be kept at a distance, lest they tempt men of God to commit sexual sin. As a young ministerial student, I was taught that there were Jezebels in every church, and that I must never, ever allow myself to be alone with any woman who was not my wife. According to my professors and chapel speakers, there would always be women lurking in the shadows of the steeple, ready and willing to “steal” my sexual purity. Men, including pastors, were, by nature, weak-kneed, visually stimulated horn dogs. Allow the doors of your office or study to be shut with you and a woman alone, and, why, anything could happen! This kind of thinking, of course, teaches men a warped view of women and human sexuality. While I agree that humans are sexual beings — a trait necessary for our species’ propagation — it does not follow that every time two people of the opposite sex are alone with each other, sexual intercourse is a real and distinct possibility. Common sense tells us otherwise.

This view of women and human sexuality found its nexus with Fundamentalist Baptist evangelist Billy Graham. Graham had three rules he lived by when it came to women who were not his wife. Graham would not travel alone with a woman, meet alone with a woman, or eat alone with a woman. These rules, over time, were called “The Billy Graham Rules.” While Graham was viewed as a liberal by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers, his three rules were taught and preached in IFB churches and colleges alike. Simply put, stay away from women who aren’t your wife. Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!  Abstain from the very appearance of evil, the Bible says. Eating a meal with a woman who is not your wife, offering her a ride in your car, or counseling her alone with the door closed, all give forth the appearance of evil. I knew of some pastors who wouldn’t even counsel female church members out of fear that their ministry could be compromised.

Most non-Evangelicals had never heard of the “Billy Graham Rule” until Vice President Mike Pence let it be known that he, too, avoided being alone with any woman who was not his wife. Moderns were astounded by the Vice President’s Puritanical view of women, but to my ears his words were what I had heard over and over again as an Evangelical pastor.

….

According to Ellis [Can Men and Women be Friends], all men should live according to “Billy Graham-Mike Pence Rule.” I say all, and not just married men, because Ellis, who describes himself as a conservative Christian, likely believes that it is a sin for unmarrieds to have sex. Thus, not only should married men abstain from being alone with women who are not their wives, so should unmarried men. Women, for married and unmarried men alike, are the problem. If married men want to keep themselves morally pure, then they must never, ever put themselves in positions where they are alone with women. For married men, the wife of their youth awaits, legs spread wide, ready and willing to satisfy their sexual needs. Unmarried men have no such fire extinguisher awaiting them — the Apostle Paul said it is better to marry than to burn — yet they, too, are implored to avoid being alone with the opposite sex. So what are these young men to do? Many of them, if they marry at all, do not marry until their late twenties. This means that they must wrestle with unsatisfied raging hormones for twelve to fifteen years. And remember, masturbation — lustful self-gratification that leads to homosexuality — is verboten too. (Please read Good Baptist Boys Don’t Masturbate, Oh Yes, They Do!)

This kind of thinking breeds immature, juvenile men; men who are weak; men who are not in control of their sexuality; men who see women primarily as objects of sexual gratification. Ellis, Graham, and Pence would likely object to my characterization of their beliefs, but it seems clear, at least to me, that women are treated as dangerous, seductive beings who must be avoided lest being alone with them leads to intercourse on office and study floors. This kind of thinking objectifies women, turning them into chattel used for male sexual gratification. Since the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God condemns all sexual behavior except married heterosexual vaginal intercourse, (preferably in the missionary position, and primarily for human propagation), any relationship or circumstance that could, even remotely, lead to moral compromise must be resolutely avoided. (A separate discussion is whether consensual adult sex with someone other than your wife or sex between unmarrieds is necessarily “wrong.”)

As I have stated time and again on this blog, Evangelical men need to grow up and own their sexuality. If they can’t control themselves when around physically and sexually attract women, the fault is theirs. Plenty of men are around women publicly and privately, yet they, somehow, keep themselves from having sex with them. These men have learned how to control their thoughts and behaviors. I have viewed countless women whom I have found attractive. My wife and I, now that we no longer concern ourselves with thoughts of God, judgment, and hell, are free to say to the other, that’s an attractive man/woman. Both of us have found it interesting the type of people the other is attracted to. Men I thought Polly would consider hot often elicit a meh from her — she really likes gay guys. Similarly, the kind of woman Polly thinks I would be attracted to often elicits a shrug from me. It’s liberating to be able to express my thoughts, interests, and desires without worrying that it could lead to adultery — a sin, according to the B-i-b-l-e, that lands offenders in the Lake of Fire.

While I generally agree with Thornton’s sentiments, many of the Southern Baptist pastors who commented on his post didn’t.

One commenter wrote:

The BGR isn’t just useful because there might be certain unholy women after the man of God. It also helps the man of God [pastor, elder, brother] avoid his own internal temptations to act unbecomingly with a younger woman.

More often than not, at least lately, I hear of the minister grooming the younger lady.

The BGR helps him by helping him “flee” from lusts and sexual immorality.

Ah yes, Baptist preachers need to watch out for those younger women who are out to seduce and fuck them. These “men of God” must battle their “internal temptation” to give in to these temptations or take sexual advantage of young women who come to them for help. (For the record, I only had one woman try to seduce me in the twenty-five years I spent pastoring Evangelical churches.)

If you can stomach it, take a gander at the rest of the comments. My conclusion? If you are a young woman, I advise you not to be in the same zip code as a Southern Baptist pastor. These horn dogs can’t be trusted around women.

Thornton, to his credit, took issue with such comments:

Makes all the females in your church to be latent seductresses. Care to find out which is the greater problem? pastors preying on women on their church or women who seduce or falsely accuse their pastor? When men, especially clergy, discuss this, why does it end up being so degrading and demeaning to women in general and women in the church specifically?

We don’t have a huge scandal in the SBC of women falsely accusing their humble and selfless pastors but of pastors abusing women and children.

The absurdity and lack of awareness of some of these comments is astonishing.

And to that, this atheist preacher says, AMEN!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser