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Tag: Six Inch Rule

Short Stories: How a Dislocated Finger Almost Got Me Kicked Out of Bible College

midwestern baptist college freshman class 1976
Midwestern Baptist College Freshman Class 1976. Polly Shope, first person on left, first row. Bruce Gerencser, eighth person from left, third row. Weren’t we cute?

In late August, 1976, I packed up my meager earthly goods, put them in my Plymouth Valiant, and trekked two-and-a-half hours north from Bryan, Ohio to Pontiac, Michigan so I could enroll for ministerial classes at Midwestern Baptist College. I parked my dilapidated car in front of the dorm (which housed two floors of men and one of women) and unloaded my clothing, books, food stuffs, and a few pictures. My first roommates were Toby Todd and an older man named Dale Wilson. Several months later I moved to another room. My roommates were the only Black man in the dormitory: Fred Gilyard, Jack Workman, and Wendell Uhl — who was a rambunctious, thrill-seeking man who would later be expelled from school for writing his unique initials in a school monument’s freshly poured cement.

I had three goals I hoped to achieve while attending Midwestern:

  • Prepare for the ministry
  • Date a lot of girls
  • Play sports

Now, when I say play sports, I am not talking about college sports as most readers think of when thinking about collegiate sports. The enrollment at Midwestern was around four hundred students. The college had an astronomical drop-out rate — over seventy percent. There was a constant stream of new talent for the college’s basketball program. I was one such player. I was six feet tall and weighed one hundred sixty pounds. I loved playing basketball, having played high school city league basketball three years for Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. The team was coached by the chairman of the drama department. He was fired during my sophomore year of college for having an affair with the wife of the dean of men.

The coach was a player-coach. Many of the players were older men, some in their thirties. Midwestern’s basketball team was very much a collection of misfits — at best an intramural team. Regardless of the quality of the team, I very much wanted to play basketball for Midwestern Baptist College. The college’s founder, Dr. Tom Malone, was an avid basketball player. He was in his 60s at the time. I played many a pick-up game with Dr. Malone. He was a hard-nosed player. He sent many a student packing over complaints about fouls. No blood, no foul, was Dr. Malone’s style of play; a style, by the way, that agreed with me. I loved playing rough, physical basketball.

Midwestern’s team was made up of all comers. I expressed my interest in playing and began attending practices. I thoroughly enjoyed playing with my fellow teammates, and I was looking forward to helping Midwestern vanquish other nearby Fundamentalist Baptist college basketball teams. Unfortunately, something happened that would permanently derail my college basketball career.

car I took to college
My 1970 (I think) Plymouth Valiant.

One early evening at practice, I jumped up to block the shot of a fellow teammate. As I forcefully slapped the ball, I dislocated the middle finger of my left hand, jamming the finger into my knuckle. I was taken to the emergency room where the doctor attempted to reset my finger. After several careful attempts to do so, the doctor said, well, this is going to hurt! He made sure the bed wheels were locked, put his foot on the bar along the bottom of the bed, and with my mangled finger in his hand, forcefully yanked my dislocated finger back into place. He was right about the pain. I screamed and said a few Christian swear words (See Christian Swear Words), but I was grateful my finger was back in place. I left the hospital with a splint on my hand. This injury put an end to my college basketball career.

Midwestern had a strict dress code. Male students were required to wear ties to classes. One early morning, I met Polly in the dorm common room and asked her to tie my tie for me. No big deal, right? One fellow Christian helping another one, I thought at the time. I found it impossible to tie my tie with one hand, and I didn’t think anyone would mind if my girlfriend helped me out. Boy, was I wrong. Sitting in the common room was a pharisaical couple who deemed our tie-tying endeavor a violation of the college’s six-inch rule — a decree that said unmarried male and female dorm students couldn’t have any physical contact. (See Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule)

Come the following Tuesday, Polly and I were called before the college’s disciplinary committee to answer for our “sin.” There were three men on the disciplinary committee, Gary Mayberry, the dean of men, Don Zahurance, and another man whose name I can’t remember. Polly and I were excoriated for breaking the six-inch rule. Zahurance, in particular, grilled us, asking if we “enjoyed” touching one another; if we got a “thrill” out of physical contact. Today, I would have said, YES, DUMB ASS, WE DID!  However, not wanting to be expelled, Polly and I endured their intrusive, offensive inquisition. We were given fifty demerits and told that if we had any physical contact again we would be expelled.

Their attempt to put the fear of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) God into us failed. We would spend the next eighteen months finding ways to engage in damnable sins such as holding hands, kissing, and hugging. On weekends, we would double-date with like-minded students. I won’t tell if you won’t, was the rule. We hugged and kissed our way to July 15, 1978, our wedding day. Finally, no more demerits for getting too close to the love of my life!

I know this story sounds almost unbelievable to some of you, but it did happen. Attending Midwestern Baptist College was like living in an alternate universe. Polly and I now laugh about our days as Midwestern students, but there was a time when we feared being exposed for behaving like normal, heterosexual humans. We feared being reported to the disciplinary committee for daring to touch one another. The cruelty of Midwestern’s disciplinary system was that it allowed anonymous students to report offenders. There was a box outside of the dean of men’s office for disciplinary slips. Only certain students were allowed to write someone up. Generally, freshmen were not permitted to write anyone up. Ironically the upperclassmen who reported us for breaking the six-inch rule? It was later rumored that they were going all-in on breaking the six-inch rule and having sex. Hypocrisy abounded at Midwestern. The couple who reported us is now faithfully pastoring an IFB church. I am sure they preach against teens and unmarried adults having physical contact with each other before marriage, conveniently burying their own sexual indiscretion in the dust of the past.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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That Look Your Therapist Gives You When You Tell Her About Your IFB College Years

My wife, Polly, and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. Midwestern, founded in 1954 by Dr. Tom Malone, the pastor of a nearby megachurch, Emmanuel Baptist Church, was known for its tenacious defense of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christianity. Calling itself “a character-building factory,” Midwestern churned out male pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. Women attended Midwestern too, but their educational opportunities were limited: church secretaries or Christian school teachers. Many single female students went to Midwestern to look for a preacher boy to marry. Polly was one such woman. She believed that God wanted her to be a preacher’s wife; all she wanted to do in life was be a helpmeet to her God-called preacher husband.

Both Polly and I came of age in IFB churches. We attended churches that had strict codes of conduct, especially when it came to dating and sex. Physical contact between boys and girls was forbidden. No handholding, no kissing, no embraces. Frequently reminded from the pulpit and in youth group that petting, oral sex, intercourse, and even masturbation were wicked sins against God, teens feared God’s judgment and public exposure of their “sin.” Of course, this didn’t stop teens from breaking the rules. Raging hormones always win over God. 🙂

When Polly and I arrived at Midwestern in August 1976, we were already conditioned and indoctrinated to believe that Midwestern’s Puritannical, anti-human rules were “normal.” Polly never had a boyfriend before me, so the rules seemed normal to her. I dated a few girls in high school and had one serious relationship before arriving at Midwestern. I was definitely the more experienced of the two of us, but that’s not saying much. I was still quite naive about sex. I thought that the rules were just godly older adults looking out for me; that they knew best. Both Polly and I would later learn that not only didn’t they know best, but that their rules actually caused us harm; harm that would carry through into the first decade of our marriage.

Dorm students were required to follow a strict code of conduct. Failure to obey resulted in a student being given a demerit slip. This required a face-to-face appearance at the weekly disciplinary meeting. Students were also allowed to snitch on other students. They could write an offending student up, and then put the demerit slip in a box outside the dean’s office. This led to all sorts of retaliatory snitching.

Virtually every aspect of life was strictly regulated. One time, I got written up for borrowing a unisex parka from Polly. Students were not allowed to borrow from one another. When I appeared before the disciplinary committee, I thought I would use the Bible to plead my case:

[Jesus said] Give to him that asketh thee, and from him. that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. (Matthew 5:42)

That didn’t go very well. I received a stern rebuke and ten demerits.

The most severe punishment was reserved for those who broke the six-inch rule. Couples were not permitted to be closer than six inches to each other. Breaking this rule could result in expulsion. During our sophomore year, Polly and I broke the six-inch rule. I played on the college’s basketball team. Don’t think too much of that. Think intramural basketball. One practice, I slapped at a basketball and severely dislocated the middle finger on my left hand (I’m lefthanded). I had to go to the emergency room to get the finger reset. For several weeks I had a hard time tying my tie for classes. One day, Polly was waiting for me in the dorm common area, so I asked her to tie my necktie for me. Sitting nearby was a couple known for being Pharisees. They secretly turned us into the disciplinary committee for breaking the six-inch rule. Polly and I both received 50 demerits for our “crime.” I had other demerits on my record, so I was close to being campused for the semester.

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977
Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977, Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet, the only time we were allowed to be closer than six inches apart.

As I told my therapist today about my experiences at Midwestern she got that look on her face; you know THAT look; the one that says “this is nuts.” We had a lengthy discussion about how decades of legalistic indoctrination and conditioning affected not only me personally, but also my marriage and children. My therapist appreciated me telling her these things, saying doing so gave her better insight into my past and how it affected my psychology.

However the IFB church movement is labeled — is it a cult? — one thing is certain, long-term exposure to IFB beliefs and practices can and does cause psychological harm, and at times, can cause physical harm. Sexual dysfunction is rife among IFB adherents. Is it any wonder? It took Polly and me years to understand, appreciate, and experience healthy sexual practices. It took kicking God, the church, and the Bible out of our bedroom before we could truly enjoy sexual intimacy. It’s not that we had a bad sex life as much as we had a dysfunctional one; one infected with legalism and Bible prooftexts.

As mentioned above, Midwestern was started by Dr. Tom Malone, a powerful orator who was raised in rural Alabama. In the 1920s, Malone attended Bob Jones College. It was here that he was exposed to rigid, cultic, legalistic Fundamentalism. Many of the rules at Midwestern were imported from Bob Jones. And therein lies the danger of IFB theology and practice. Both are like a virus that spreads from generation to generation, infecting everyone that it touches. I don’t blame Malone and my professors for the harm they caused. They too were indoctrinated in the “one true faith.” They did what they know to do, not out of malice, but because they thought doing so was godly and right. One of the hardest things for me to come to terms with is that not only was I a victim, but I was also a victimizer. Yes, IFB churches, pastors, and professors led me astray, causing untold harm, but I also did the same. I passed on to Polly, our children, and the people I pastored the only things I knew about life, faith, sexuality, and Christianity. What I “knew” was ignorant and harmful, but it was all I knew. It took a crisis of faith for me to realize that what I had been taught and what had been modeled to me was not merely wrong, it was harmful, not only to me personally, but also to the love of my life, our six children, and the people who called me preacher.

This blog is, if anything, an act of penance; my way of atoning for my sins. I may not have known any better, but I still must account for my behavior. And in telling my story, others who were swallowed whole by the IFB church movement, will hopefully hear my words and find them helpful.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Short Stories: Thou Shall Not Touch

I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. IFB preachers are known for their staunch, unflinching views on human sexuality. Only sexual behavior between married, monogamous, heterosexual couples is ordained by God. Some preachers believe that certain sexual behaviors within marriage are sinful too: anal sex, oral sex, and mutual masturbation. In their minds, the primary goal of sexual intercourse is procreation. In this regard, their beliefs aren’t different from those of the Roman Catholic Church.

These preachers, in particular, focus on the sex lives of unmarried teenagers and young adults; no physical contact before marriage, including kissing. Some IFB preachers forbid dating couples from even holding hands or putting their arms around each other. Holding hands is considered the first step on the slippery slope that ends in immorality. As a young IFB preacher, I remember telling church teens that no girl ever got pregnant who didn’t hold hands with a boy first. And unmarried young people better not use their hands to find sexual gratification sans a partner either. Masturbation is considered an act of lust, one in which the person is only concerned with pleasuring one’s self. IFB preachers remind unmarried teens and young adults that the Bible commands them to deny themselves. Of course, many of these preachers didn’t practice what they preach when they themselves were hormones-raging young people.

My wife and I were virgins on our wedding day. Two decades of IFB indoctrination and conditioning made sure of that. We were true believers. Several years ago, I had a discussion with two women who were friends of mine during high school. The three of us were part of the same youth group at an IFB church in Findlay, Ohio. During our delightful time of reminiscing, I quickly learned that there was a whole lot of sexual activity going on among church teenagers; that I may have been one of the few virgins in the youth group. This did not surprise me. Now an old man and having pastored scores of teenagers and young adults over the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I know premarital sex is common; that all the rules in the world won’t staunch raging hormones.

At the age of eighteen, I had a torrid six-month relationship with a twenty-year-old woman from the Conservative Baptist church we both attended. I was naive when it came to sex, whereas she had already had a sexual relationship with a previous boyfriend. We spent a lot of time together, often taking evening drives in the southeast Arizona desert. We would park along back roads and enjoy the clear, star-studded skies. We would, of course, make out. It’s a wonder that we didn’t have sex, but I suspect “fear” of disobeying God and being labeled fornicators by the church kept us from doing so.

In the fall of 1976, I left northwest Ohio and moved to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll in classes at Midwestern Baptist College — an IFB institution. My plan was to play the field, but it was not long before I met a beautiful, dark-haired preacher’s daughter who would later become my wife. Midwestern had strict no-contact rules for unmarried students. Students of the opposite sex were required to stay at least six inches from each other at all times. No handholding, no kissing, no embraces. “Thou shalt not touch the opposite sex” was the eleventh commandment, etched in stone.

For the first five months of our relationship, Polly and I played by the rules. Breaking the no-contact rule was a serious offense that could lead to being campused (unable to leave the college campus except for work and church) or expulsion.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

Christmas 1976 found me driving to Newark, Ohio to spend Christmas with Polly. For the first time, we were not under the watchful eyes of college and dorm leaders and rules keeping, turn-you-in-if they-see- you-breaking-the rules Pharisees. Polly’s parents were living in an apartment at the time. Her mom asked Polly to go down to the laundry room to get their laundry. I, of course, went along with her to “help.” It was in that nondescript, out of the way laundry room that we had our first embrace and kiss. For obvious reasons, it took us a long time to bring the laundry back to the apartment.

A week later, both of us returned to Midwestern and its no-contact rule. The problem for us was that we had enjoyed the forbidden, and putting the genie back in the bottle was impossible. What were we to do?

Students were permitted to double-date on weekends. Some couples were rigid Fundamentalists, keepers of the letter of the law. Others, not so much. We quickly learned which couples were “safe.” We spent the next eighteen months breaking the rules, fearing getting caught and kicked out of school. Love and hormones won the day. Our virginity survived — barely — until our wedding day.

A week before our wedding, I drove to Newark to spend the day with Polly. We decided to go out to The Dawes Arboretum to spend the afternoon before attending church that night at the Newark Baptist Temple. We had a wonderful day, and as a soon-to-be-married couple, we did a lot of kissing and walk here and there arm in arm. Our passion, for two sexually unaware young adults, was palatable, so much so that I feared we were going to lose our virginity before our special day. We didn’t, but we did lose track of time, arriving home late. Boy, did Polly’s mom give us a tongue-lashing for breaking curfew. Here were were a nineteen-year woman and twenty-one-year-old man and we were being treated like children. We said nothing, changed our clothes, and headed to church. Seven days later, we said “I do.”

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Good Baptist Boys Don’t Masturbate — Oh Yes, They Do!

trading eternal life for an orgasm

People raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches have heard countless sermons on what the Bible says about sex. Teenagers are warned about the dangers of petting, and many IFB churches forbid unmarrieds from having any physical contact with each other. Young men are characterized as weak horn-dogs and young women are viewed as gatekeepers who are responsible for any untoward sexual advances made by sexually aware men. Young women are given strict orders concerning how to dress and behave to ward off young men from having sex with them. One thing is certain: if a young IFB woman has sex with a man, it is almost always her fault.

IFB churches often have lengthy and complex rules that are used to keep unmarrieds from having sex. These rules follow young adults to the IFB colleges they attend. Here we have institutions filled with eighteen- to twenty-five-year-old men and women who, with hormones raging, are expected to refrain from physical contact with the opposite sex. This includes: no holding hands, no kissing, no hugging, no putting one’s arm around another, or sitting too closely to someone of the opposite sex. My wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. We were expected to maintain a six-inch distance from each other at all times. Even after we married, we were expected to refrain from public displays of affection lest we cause unmarried dorm students to “sin.” (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.)

One would think that IFB pastors and college leaders would approve of masturbation as a way of dealing with pent-up sexual frustration. Unfortunately, masturbation is also a sin. As an IFB teenager, I heard pastors who warned church teens about the dangers of masturbation, including, — oh yes they did! — warning that masturbation will make you blind. Now lest you think it’s just crazy IFB preachers who have a problem with masturbation, consider this quote by Evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll:

First, masturbation can be a form of homosexuality because it is a sexual act that does not involve a woman. If a man were to masturbate while engaged in other forms of sexual intimacy with his wife then he would not be doing so in a homosexual way. However, any man who does so without his wife in the room is bordering on homosexuality activity, particularly if he’s watching himself in a mirror and being turned on by his own male body.

And then there’s this excerpt from The Village Church’s website:

If one was [sic] to scan the horizon of current evangelical thought he or she would find a number of conclusions on the matter of masturbation. There are some who would claim that it is inherently neutral or even innately good and thus would teach that it is an appropriate way to express gratitude for sexual desire. Others would say that it is a veiled form of homosexuality, or that it is a clear violation of God’s law and thus always sinful. The spectrum is wide and the positions are quite varied.

Scripture never overtly addresses the issue of masturbation and thus any non-careful treatment of this topic must be avoided. If we define sin merely as transgression of God’s law then we might conclude that since Scripture does not explicitly prohibit the particular act of masturbation, it must therefore be non-sinful. However, sin is not merely transgression of the Scriptures, but also a transgression of the character and intent of God. As marriage is the only God-ordained means of expressing sexual intimacy, it would seem perfectly acceptable to declare masturbation a sinful act. This paper will seek to specify some common wisdom regarding masturbation and then commend a few questions which must be considered to faithfully examine the act.

  • Sexual immorality is specifically declared to be sinful.
  • Lust is specifically declared to be sinful.
  • Masturbation does not typically quench sexual desire, rather it intensifies it. As with most things, the more you feed it, the more it grows. In general, masturbation becomes habit forming and enslaves us to desires for greater sexual relief through greater self-indulgence rather than greater self-control. While the Spirit produces in us the fruit of self-control, the flesh desires indulgence and release. Self-control is not ascetic discipline, but is instead the response of a proper understanding of God’s creative design for our bodies.
  • Masturbation is outside of God’s intended design for sexual relations. Sex was created to be experienced between a man and woman who are joined together into the one flesh relationship of marriage; masturbation is taking the sexual desire reserved for this relationship and seeking to fulfill it through our own means. Masturbation sets a very destructive pattern for marriage. It places the emphasis on self pleasure rather than the desire for two to experience the fulfillment of sexual union together.
  • Masturbation is typically lustful – whether that be overt lust direct toward another or a lustful desire for relief.
  • Masturbation does not typically stir our affections for the Lord, rather it robs them.

….

It seems to the pastors and elders of The Village Church that masturbation is prohibited for a couple of reasons. First, we would prohibit the act based upon the provision of marriage as the only appropriate institution in which to express sexual intimacy. If you burn with lust or desire sexual intimacy, get married (1 Corinthians 7:9). Such is the gracious and holy prescription for sexual desire, the only prescription afforded by the Creator of all good desire. Second, we would counsel abstinence due to the overwhelming and innate relationship between masturbation and lust. Lust is extremely serious and not to be taken lightly, dismissed, or played with.

The Village Church is a Southern Baptist megachurch pastored by Matt Chandler. Chandler is also part of The Gospel Coalition — a Fundamentalist group with Calvinistic leanings. Men such as Danny Akin, Alistair Begg, Bryan Chapell, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Kent Hughes, Erwin Lutzer, Albert Mohler, Russell D. Moore, David Platt, John Piper, Philip G. Ryken, and Sam Storms are/were members, as were the infamous Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney. I can safely say that all of these men likely approve of Chandler’s anti-masturbation message. Ironically, Chandler is currently on “leave” from his church for having an inappropriate online relationship with a woman.

Jason DeRouchie, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, also believes masturbation is sinful. DeRouchie, writing for the Desiring God website, says:

Many medical professionals treat masturbation as a natural part of human development, and some church leaders have attempted to supply practical and theological reasons to masturbate. From a biblical perspective, however, I do not believe this approach pleases God, and I have seen the devastation that such a practice brings to both singles and marrieds alike.

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When people reach orgasm outside the covenant-confirming act of lovemaking in marriage, the act becomes solely self-seeking, divorced from its purpose of creating intimacy. Sexual expression through orgasm should be an overflow of a desire for a spouse, not merely for a feeling or experience.

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As noted, orgasm outside the marriage bed removes the relational, intimate nature of sexual expression, which is at the core of its purpose (1 Corinthians 7:2–3, 5). Refraining from masturbation helps to purify one’s appetites (1 Corinthians 9:27). It helps to ensure that a person’s desire to make love with his or her spouse is for nurturing covenantal intimacy through service and honor, and through receiving love from him or her (Matthew 20:28; John 13:14–16). It reminds couples that their spouse is not given as an object to be exploited, but rather as a covenant partner to be provided for, protected, and respected (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 33; see also Genesis 2:24).

….

Masturbation outside the marriage bed does not glorify God because evil desire always fuels it.

Whatever we do — including all forms of sexual expression — we are to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whether tagged as covetousness, lust, or sensuality, misplaced and mistimed desires do not glorify God, and failure to glorify God is always sin (Romans 3:23; 14:23). Paul thus charges, “Glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

In God’s good design, marital love is the only justified context for one to enjoy a sexual craving for orgasm, for only in this sphere does one glorify God by pointing to the beautiful union of Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:31–32). From this perspective, evil desire fuels all sexual expression outside the marriage bed, including masturbation, so we must treat all such acts as sinful and as deserving of hell (Matthew 5:29–30; Mark 7:20–23; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Galatians 5:17, 19–21; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5–6).

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Jesus urged his followers to guard themselves from lustful masturbation, and Paul called Christians to control their sexual parts in holiness and honor.

Only “the pure in heart . . . shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Jesus appears to link masturbation with lust when he declares that looking at a woman with lustful intent is sin, and then charges his disciples to take extreme measures with their eyes and hands, so that they will preserve themselves unto life (Matthew 5:27–30). Similarly, Paul stressed that holiness seen in sexual purity was God’s will for every person, and then he urged believers to control their sexual parts in holiness and honor rather than in lust.

Masturbation outside the marriage bed witnesses a lack of self-control and is therefore sin.

Self-control is a new-covenant fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), a discipline that pleases God, nurtures hope for eternal life, and frees one from fear of future punishment (Romans 8:6–9, 13; 2 Timothy 1:7). Lack of self-control is sin and enables greater influence by the evil one (Proverbs 25:28; 1 Corinthians 7:5). Intentional orgasm outside the marriage bed through masturbation witnesses a lack of self-control and is therefore sin.

….

In light of these realities, I believe that anyone who masturbates outside the marriage bed sins and insults God’s glory in Christ. As men and women of God, therefore, may we not engage in it. Instead, may we look to our Lord for help and seek to honor him with our bodies by allowing our only outlet for sexual desire to be the covenant-nurturing intimacy of marital lovemaking (Job 31:1). May we also intentionally lead our children in such paths of righteousness for Christ’s name’s sake.

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Please look up all the Bible verses given by De Rouchie. I’m sure you’ll want to immediately refrain from masturbating lest God tosses you in Hell for doing so.

ted cruz masturbation

And finally, here’s what Focus on the Family has to say about masturbation:

The point, as we see it, is the larger meaning and purpose of human sexuality. The Bible has two important things to say about this: first, sex is central to the process by which husband and wife become one flesh (Genesis 2:24); and second, sex and marriage are intended to serve as a picture or symbol of the union between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:31, 32). Sex, then, isn’t intended to be “all about me.” Rather, it’s designed to function as part of the give-and-take of an interpersonal relationship.

These theological perspectives should inform and shape our approach to the practical problem of masturbation. It’s important that we avoid heaping guilt on teenagers who find the urge to masturbate almost uncontrollable, and who might be driven to spiritual despair as a result. At the same time, we should do everything we can to help adolescents, young adults and married couples see that self-gratification is inconsistent with the purpose, goal and basic nature of sex. We shouldn’t condemn anyone for masturbating, but neither should we encourage them to continue in the habit. Why not? Because God has created men and women to experience sexual fulfillment on a much higher level – within the context of a marital relationship – and we don’t want anything to jeopardize their chances of knowing that joy to the fullest extent.

In connection with this last thought, it’s important to add that masturbation, due to the powerful hormonal and psychological components of human sexual behavior, can often become extremely addictive. Individuals who fall prey to this addiction may end up carrying it with them into adult married life, where it can become a serious obstacle to healthy marital intimacy. Further, masturbation is frequently involves indulging in sexual fantasy; and fantasy, if we are to believe the words of Jesus (Matthew 5:28), does represent a very serious breach of a person’s mental and spiritual purity.

What can be done to break this pattern? In many cases, masturbation originates as a self-soothing behavior. In other words, it’s a way of coping with pressures and seeking to meet the basic human need for peace, security, comfort and reassurance. If you have a problem with masturbation, you may want to keep this in mind and ask yourself whether it might be possible to replace this negative behavior with a more legitimate method of addressing the underlying need. For example, by talking things over with a friend, reading an engaging book, listening to music, pouring yourself into a constructive project or serving other people. Ultimately, the pain a person is trying to anesthetize through the practice of masturbation is just another manifestation of the “God-shaped vacuum” that exists at the center of every human heart. Only a relationship with the Lord can fill that empty space in a deep, lasting and satisfying way.

….

sin of masturbation

Yet, for all their preaching against the sin of Onanism, virtually all Evangelical teens, young men, and even married men, masturbate. I can’t speak to the level of masturbation among Evangelical women, but I suspect there is a lot more ringing of the devil’s doorbell going on than church leaders think there is.

Being raised in an anti-masturbation church environment caused quite a bit of problem for me as a teen and unmarried adult. Despite all the preaching against touching the opposite sex, when given the opportunity to make out with my girlfriend (or fiancée), I did so lustily. While I was a virgin when my wife and I married, I found myself rounding third and heading for home not only with Polly, but also with a girl named Anita. (The rest of my dating relationships were casual and of short duration.)

I was eighteen years old when I started dating Anita. She was twenty, a college student at a Conservative Baptist college in Phoenix, Arizona. Anita and I, for five short months, had a torrid relationship. She was much more experienced sexually than I was. On more nights than I can remember, we would park along a dark, rarely-travel back road and watch the night sky. Of course, we also did a lot of necking. Our intimacy stirred my sexual passions to such a degree that I would go home after dates and spend time praying to God for forgiveness, thanking him for not allowing us to give into our sexual desires. For me, not giving in included not masturbating. Anita and I later went our separate ways, but I’ll never forget the time we spent together.

Polly and I met as freshmen at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I was nineteen, she was seventeen. I planned on playing the field at college, but meeting Polly changed everything. I was quickly smitten by her beauty and quiet demeanor, and thus began our two-year battle with Midwestern’s Puritanical dating and physical contact rules. We refrained from breaking the rules for a time, that is until I went to visit Polly at her parent’s home in Newark, Ohio over Christmas break (1976). It was there, in Polly’s parent’s apartment complex laundry room, that we had our first kiss. Dating students were expected to keep the rules even during Christmas and summer break. No one, and I mean no one, did so.

Once back at Midwestern, Polly and I were faced with a dilemma. We wanted to continue touching and kissing each other; you know, as dating teens and young adults are wont to do. This meant we would have to secretly break the rules. We sought out couples to double-date with who were not averse to physical contact on dates. The vast majority of dating students — with but a handful of exceptions — broke the rules. Some students even slid into home and had sexual intercourse.

The Midwestern dorm was a den of raging hormones. With masturbation forbidden and touching the opposite sex grounds for expulsion, what were dating students to do? Why, they broke the rules with impunity, causing a repeating cycle of “sin,” guilt, repentance, and promises to God. I don’t know of anyone who successfully stopped breaking the rules once they started. IFB young adults were very much like their counterparts in the world — 1960s-1970s world. We, like our peers, wanted sexual intimacy without fear and guilt.

Masturbation, then, was common among male students in the Midwestern dorm. Each dorm room had two or three students, so “secretly” masturbating was out of the question (and there were enough dysfunctional Pharisees around that doing so would have been reported to the dean of men). With masturbating in their rooms out of the question, many male dorm residents used the privacy of the men’s showers to get sexual relief. More than one IFB luminary suggested quick, cold showers to ward off masturbatory temptations. Each dorm room had a periodic responsibility to clean the dorm bathrooms, including the showers. We used to joke about the sticky, slimy “stuff” in the showers. Yuck, I know, but have you ever been in a male dormitory shower room? You don’t want to go there!

IFB preachers and their Evangelical counterparts continue to preach against the sin of masturbation. Despite all their preaching, masturbation remains widely practiced. Why? Masturbation is a harmless, effective way to find sexual release. Wanting to obey God (and their preachers), Evangelical unmarrieds do their best to refrain from sexual intercourse before marriage. It’s cruel to say no sex before marriage and, at the same time, say masturbating is a sin.

how to stop masturbating

What really should happen, of course, is for Evangelical churches and colleges to begin endorsing safe, responsible sexual intimacy among unmarrieds. With the average age for young people marrying reaching twenty-seven, it is absurd to expect them to refrain from sex for ten to fifteen years before they tie the knot. Bruce, that’s FORN-I-CAT-ION, a horrible sin in the eyes of the thrice holy God.  Whatever “it” is or isn’t, preaching abstinence doesn’t work. Much like non-believing young adults, Evangelical unmarrieds, more often than not, have had sex before marriage. Instead of heaping guilt upon their heads, preachers, how about teaching young adults to embrace their, as you say, “God-given” sexuality? Maybe then, young adults might be less likely to flee the confines of Evangelical Christianity. I know, I know, the Bible says. Perhaps, it is time to rewrite or update the Good Book, striking from its pages all the sexually repressive rules and regulations. Imagine how much more attentive young adults might be on Sundays if they were able to have guilt-free sex the night before. And you too, Preacher Man. Think of how much easier your job will be if you don’t have to spend time railing against normal human sexual behavior — you know the behavior you engaged in back when you were a virile young man.

Were you raised in the IFB or Evangelical church? How did your church/college handle the subject of masturbation? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Just Remember Girls, No One Ever Got Pregnant Who Didn’t Hold Hands with a Boy First

angry preacher

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (I Corinthians 7:1-2)

The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth that unmarried men should not touch women. Touch not, want not, right? If men couldn’t contain their sexual desires, then to avoid fornication, they were to marry. In other words, marriage was a considered a cure for horniness. Countless Evangelicals have been taught that if they cannot contain their sexual desires — remember masturbation is a sin — then they should seek out someone of the opposite sex to marry. Hey Betty, I am horny. Will you marry me? 

Many Evangelical preachers use I Corinthians 7:1-2 as justification for the Puritanical rules they use to regulate physical contact between unmarried teenagers and young adults. I came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s. I was a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF), and First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio, also an IFB congregation. Public displays of affection were forbidden. This prohibition forced church teens to turn to secretive means to show their “love” to their boyfriend or girlfriend. We learned how to hold hands in church or on the church bus so no one could see us. There was something exciting about flaunting the rules, even more so when we spent time necking in out-of-the-way church hallways or in the shadows of the parking lot. My favorite necking time was Wednesday evenings when the adults were having choir practice. Church teens were left to their own devices, and many of us used the time for fornication-lite. One girl I dated for a short time told me recently that I was the first boy who kissed her — in the back of the church while the adult choir was practicing Bill Gaither’s song, He Touched Me. 🙂

I had many such dalliances, but that is as far as they went. I was a true believer, so I limited my physical intimacy with the opposite sex to hand-holding and kissing. I was one of the few summer-of-love children who didn’t get laid before marriage. Conversations in recent years with people who were in the youth group with me have revealed that there was a lot of fucking and sucking going on, but none involving preacher boy Bruce Gerencser. I assumed, at the time, that everyone was on the straight and narrow as I was. I now know that their spirits were willing, but their flesh was weak. 🙂

In the fall of 1976, I entered Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. A dark-haired beauty by the name of Polly also enrolled for classes. Polly’s goal was to find herself a preacher boy to marry. I thought of college as being a place of plentiful dating opportunities, and I planned to play the field. I dated a girl by the name of Peggy for several weeks and then turned my romantic interest towards Polly. We quickly hit it off, even though we had little in common. She was a quiet, shy preacher’s daughter. I was a motormouth with a bit of a rebellious streak. Polly would tell me later that she thought of me as her “bad boy.” Polly’s parents saw me as a bad boy too; bad as in not good for their innocent daughter. They spent the next eighteen months trying to discourage our relationship, even going so far as to tell Polly that she couldn’t marry me. A short time after this papal edict, Polly informed her parents that we were going to get married with or without their blessing. This was the first time Polly stood up to her parents. If my mother-in-law had to sum up her son-in-law in one sentence, I suspect she would say, Bruce is “different” and he ruined our daughter.

Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist institution. Established by Dr. Tom Malone in the 1950s, Midwestern had a strict code of student conduct. Single students were required to live in the dormitory, and every aspect of dorm life was strictly regulated. Students could only date on the weekends and had to double-date. Dating couples were not permitted to touch each other — no hand-holding, kissing, snuggling, or other displays of affection. Keep in mind, most of the dorm students were ages 18-30 — the raging hormones years. And it was the 1970s, the freaking 1970s!

i would rather be fornicating

Single students were expected to keep at least six inches distance from the opposite sex — six inches being the width of a church hymnbook. (Please read Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule.) Breaking the six-inch rule brought severe punishment. Repeated infractions resulted in expulsion. While there were a handful of couples who self-righteously obeyed the letter of the law, most students quickly learned who they could double-date with without getting in trouble for holding hands with or kissing their date. More than a few students rounded third and slid into home, with several girls becoming pregnant — or so it was rumored anyway. Students caught fornicating were immediately expelled from school.

Polly and I married after our sophomore year. A year later, we left Midwestern and moved to Bryan, Ohio — the place of my birth. A few weeks after our move, I became the assistant pastor at Montpelier Baptist Church — a young, growing IFB church. After spending seven months at Montpelier Baptist, I resigned and we moved to the Central Ohio community of Newark. Polly’s dad was the assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. Her uncle, the late James Dennis, was the pastor. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) We joined the Baptist Temple, and when Polly’s father decided to start a new church in nearby Buckeye Lake in 1981, we joined him. I became his pastoral assistant (primarily working with the youth of the church), a position I held until June of 1983.

In July of 1983, I started a new IFB church in Somerset, Ohio — thirty miles south of Newark. I would pastor Somerset Baptist Church until March of 1994. At every stop during my young ministerial career, I was exposed to and worked with men who believed it was a grave sin for unmarried teens and young adults of the opposite sex to touch each other. I carried this belief into my first full-time pastorate. Church teens likely remember Pastor Bruce preaching against all forms of physical/sexual intimacy between unmarried people. I am sure they remember me famously saying — oh how I wish I could forget — “no girl ever got pregnant who didn’t hold hands with a boy first!” (Yes, I really did say this, and I did so many times!)

I viewed hand-holding as a sexual gateway drug. I thought that if I could shame teens and young adults into not touching one another (or not touching themselves), then there would be no fornicating going on and no teen pregnancies. I pastored Somerset Baptist for eleven years. During that time, no unmarried church female became pregnant. Does this mean that none of the church unmarrieds was having sex? Of course not. Having talked with a handful of church teens who are now in their 30s and early 40s, I now know that they were lustily ignoring my preaching. I am grateful that there were no unwanted pregnancies that I knew of, though I suspect several girls might have gotten pregnant and secretly had abortions.

Is it any wonder that so many IFB married couples have sexual dysfunction? What in my preaching taught these couples a healthy, scientific, rational view of sex? Nothing that I can think of. Instead, I used guilt and shame in my attempts to get them to conform to an anti-human, irrational view of human sexuality. Thousands of Evangelical preachers continue to preach the Thou Shalt Not Touch gospel to church teenagers. Ironically, these preachers didn’t heed this gospel when they were teens, and they surely have to know that neither will their church teenagers. Hormones, need, and desire win every time. Wouldn’t it be far better to teach unmarrieds how to own their sexuality, preparing them for the day when they engage in sex for the first time? I know, the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says, but Christians have been trying to live by Puritanical beliefs about sex for centuries. How is that working out? Perhaps it is time to shelve the Bible with its archaic sexual prohibitions and embrace a healthy, natural view of sex. Sorry preachers, but everyone IS doing it. You can live in denial all you want, but the fact remains that by age twenty-one, eight out of ten teenagers have had sex, including teens in your congregation. And now that people are waiting until their mid-twenties to marry, I can safely say that most of the singles listening to your antiquated sermons have likely engaged in some form of sexual activity.

Were you raised in an Evangelical/IFB church? How did your pastor handle I Corinthians 7:1-2? What do you remember your pastor saying about necking and premarital sex? Did you feel shame and guilt when your pastor preached about sex? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Is it a Sin to Kiss Your Boyfriend?

kissing

Every day, without fail, women somewhere in the world search for “is it a sin to kiss my boyfriend?” Thanks to the post, Hey Girlfriend: Is it a Sin to Kiss Your Boyfriend?, this blog is the number one Google search result. I can’t remember the last time I looked at search logs and didn’t see a handful of visitors coming to this site to find out whether it is okay to swap spit with their boyfriends. I say female visitors, because I’ve never seen a male come to my site as a result of a “is it a sin to kiss my girlfriend” web search. It seems that women have a lot more angst about kissing their boyfriends than boyfriends do about kissing them. I’ve often wondered what it is that drives women to seek out anonymous Internet advice about boyfriend-kissing. Are these women being pressured by their boyfriends to be physically intimate? Probably. Kissing is very much a part of the human experience. Sadly, as with most things that are pleasurable, Evangelicals have deemed kissing between unmarried men and women to be a sin. Let me explain how Evangelicals come to this “Biblical” position.

First, Evangelicals believe that, thanks to Adam and Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden 6,024 years ago, the human race is, by nature, sinful. Born into sin, every human being is at variance with God. The Bible says that infants come forth from the womb speaking lies. We don’t become sinners, we are sinners. The Bible says human hearts are deceitful and wicked, so much so that none of us can truly know our hearts. Because of our fallen nature, we desire to fulfill the lusts of the flesh. At the top of the Evangelical lust list are a variety of sexual sins: fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, masturbation, petting, spooning, and looking at a woman with lust in your heart. Believing that inappropriate physical contact with the opposite sex (there are no gays in the Evangelical church) is a gateway to serious sexual sins such as fornication and adultery, many Evangelical sects, churches, pastors, and families adopt strict rules governing physical intimacy between unmarrieds. For those not raised in Evangelical churches, they will likely find the remainder of this post beyond belief, but rest assured that what I share next can be found in countless Evangelical churches and homes.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s — the era of free love. While hippies were smoking marijuana, listening to rock music, and exploring their sexuality, the unmarried students at Midwestern were expected to maintain a six-inch distance from each other at all times. If you have not read the post, Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule, I encourage you to do so. It goes into great detail explaining how the puritanical leadership at Midwestern made sure students kept their distance from each other. Most of the students at Midwestern came from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches that also had some sort of prohibition against physical contact. During my teenage years, I was a member of Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio, and First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio. Both churches frowned on teenagers and young adults touching one another. Violating the no-touch policy resulted in scoldings and separation during church services from your boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes, the pastors would spend time during their sermons rebuking sexually aware unmarrieds for their inappropriate touching. Time was also spent during youth group meetings drilling it into the heads of teenagers that God did not approve of them intimately touching each other. It should come as no surprise then that when unmarrieds were unable to abstain from acting on their normal, healthy sexual desires, they were often filled with guilt and fear. And I’m not talking about having sexual intercourse. More than a few teenagers found themselves ridden with guilt over holding hands with their girlfriend during church services or putting an arm around their boyfriend when no one was looking. Of course, there was certainly plenty of rounding-third and sliding-into-home sexual activity going on. In recent years, I’ve had the privilege of becoming reacquainted with several friends from my high school days. The stories they tell about their own sexual experiences during our youth group years are certainly different from mine. I’ve concluded that pretty much everybody in the youth group was sexually active except me. I was a good Baptist boy who played by the rules. While I certainly held hands with girls, put my arms around them, and kissed them, I (barely) maintained my virginity until my wedding day.

There are several verses in the Bible that Evangelical preachers use to justify their hands-off rules. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 states:

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

It is good for an unmarried man to NOT touch a woman, God says. Didn’t Jesus himself warn that just an inappropriate look at a woman can cause men to commit adultery in their hearts? From these verses, Evangelical preachers justified their no-touch rules; rules, by the way, that most of them didn’t keep when they were young unmarrieds.

Preachers also used what I call the kitchen-sink verses to prop up their preaching against sexual sin:

Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:15,16)

Neither give place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:27)

Those raised in Evangelical churches know that these verses (and others) were often used by preachers to label virtually anything and everything “sin.” (Please read The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook and An Independent Baptist Hate List.)

Young women in particular were psychologically abused by Evangelical preachers who felt it was their duty to make sure that the women were virgins on their wedding day. Preachers shared horror stories about women who engaged in premarital sex. Virtually all the preaching was directed towards women. After all, they were the gatekeepers. It was up to them to keep their legs closed when horn-dog young men came sniffing around. Men are weak, the thinking goes, so it is up to Susie to make sure that both Johnny and Susie are virgins on their wedding day. And the best way to do this is to not have physical contact with each other before marriage. Just remember, the preacher says. No girl has ever gotten pregnant without holding hands or kissing a boy first! I kid you not, handholding was viewed as some sort of gateway, a gate which, once unmarrieds walked through, would lead directly to them being given over to fornication. I know this sounds crazy, but this line of thinking is still quite prominent today. This is why so many unmarried women do Google searches for “is it a sin to kiss my boyfriend?” They likely attend churches that prohibit physical contact between unmarrieds. Yet, when they are away from the prying eyes of their pastors and parents, these sexually aware young adults engage in various forms of sexual intimacy. Fear and guilt follow, so they seek out “help” for dealing with their “lustful” desires.

Here’s my advice to those who are psychologically and spiritually troubled over holding hands with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Your feelings and desires are normal. Sexually aware people naturally desire physical intimacy. The key is to embrace your sexuality and act responsibly. This means you will have to ignore what your windbag preacher is telling you. It’s highly unlikely that any of the adults who are telling you that physical contact is a sin practiced what they preach. These hypocrites should spend their time teaching unmarrieds sexual responsibility. Most young adults will have sexual intercourse before they are married. While your church may consider this a sin, those outside of the Evangelical church view sexual intimacy as a normal part of the human experience. Educate yourself about sex and make sure you always use birth control. I realize your preacher likely has said that using birth control is you preparing to sin, but I think we would all agree that unwanted pregnancies are a bad idea, and the only way to avoid them is to use birth control. Don’t allow the puritanical sexual standards of others to dictate what you will do. It’s your body, your life. And as far as kissing your boyfriend is concerned? Kiss away. A kiss is just a kiss. It can lead to more intimate behavior, but it also can be just that — a kiss. Remember, you — not your church, parents, or preacher — are in control of what you do sexually. Those who demand that you maintain your distance from the opposite sex are stunting your development.

Part of growing up is the exploration of our sexuality. This includes masturbation. Anyone who tells you that masturbation is a sin is someone you need to stop listening to. Much like the desire for physical interaction with the opposite sex, masturbation is normal, healthy behavior. I guarantee you that most of the married adults in your church masturbated before they were married. And I think I would be safe in saying that many of them still do. Masturbation is a great way to release sexual tension, especially when one is not ready to have sexual intercourse. What I’m saying here is that it is all good. Sexual want, need, and desire are very much a part of the human experience. I encourage you to embrace your sexuality and enjoy all the pleasure that comes from doing so.

Please see Hey Girlfriend: Is it a Sin to Kiss Your Boyfriend?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Short Stories: 1976: My First Christmas with Polly

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977
Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

In August of 1976, I packed my meager belongings into my dilapidated, rust-bucket of a car and moved two hours northeast to the Midwestern Baptist College dormitory. Midwestern, located in Pontiac, Michigan, was a small, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college. I planned to study for the ministry. Well, that, and chase girls. I thought, at the time, that Midwestern would provide me an ample supply of Baptist girls to date. Playing the field, was my goal. However, “God” had different plans. By the end of September, I was in a serious relationship with a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter named Polly. To say that I was smitten is a gross understatement. In February of 1977, we became engaged, and in July 1978, we tied the knot at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio.

Forty-five years ago, I met a young woman who altered the course of my life. How we got to where we are today requires a book-length telling, but for today, let me share with you the story of our first Christmas.

Polly’s family gathered for Christmas on Christmas Eve. On a snowy Christmas Eve afternoon, I left my mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio, and traveled four hours south to Newark, Ohio — the home of Polly’s parents and aunt and uncle. The family gathering that year was held at the home of Jim and Linda Dennis (both deceased). Jim, married to Polly’s mom’s younger sister, was the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple — an IFB congregation. Both Jim and Polly’s father were graduates of Midwestern Baptist College.

Prior to the family gathering, a short, dutiful Christmas Eve service was held at the Baptist Temple. Jim, ever the jokester, pointed out to the congregation that his niece, Polly, had a guest with her. “They have a shirttail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirttail is.” Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed. No one in Polly’s family, at the time, thought our relationship would last. I was Polly’s first boyfriend, so her family thought I was just a fad that would quickly pass.

After church, we drove to the Dennis’ home. Polly’s mom had her sister and cousin ride with us, just in case we did something nefarious; you know like hold hands or kiss. We safely arrived to the Dennis’ home with our virginity intact.

Until my arrival in Newark, Polly and I had never kissed. That’s right, we had been dating for four months and had not yet kissed each other. The reason for this was simple. Midwestern banned, under threat of immediate expulsion, all physical contact between unmarried dating couples. Called the six-inch rule, this ban caused all sorts of psychological trauma for dating couples. You see, it is normal for couples to desire and have physical contact with each other. “Normal” at Midwestern, however, was determined by the Bible, sexually frustrated preachers, and arcane rules imported from Bob Jones University — the college where the founder of Midwestern, Tom Malone, received his ministerial training.

Getting caught touching a member of the opposite sex was a sure way to get yourself “campused” (grounded from all outside activities, including dating). Repeat offenders were “shipped” (expelled). Polly and I both received demerits for breaking the six-inch rule. Our sin? I played on the college basketball team (not a big feat — think intramural basketball). One day at practice, I slapped at a basketball, severely dislocating a finger. I went to the local ER and oh-so-painfully had the finger put back in place. It remains crooked to this day. I had to wear a finger splint for several weeks. Male students were required to wear ties to classes. The splint hindered my ability to tie my tie, so one morning I asked Polly to do it for me. Keep in mind we were standing in the middle of dorm common area when Polly tied my tie. If we had plans to break the six-inch rule, this would not have been the place we would have done so. Unfortunately, a couple sitting nearby turned us into the disciplinary committee. The next week, we appeared before the committee and were shamed for our licentious, immoral behavior. I suspect the only reason we weren’t punished more severely was because of who Polly’s uncle and father were (Jim Dennis was a college trustee at the time).

As you might imagine, by Christmas, our hormones were raging. We looked forward to getting away from the college and its rules so we could privately and intimately express our love to one another. College administrators warned unmarried students that the six-inch rule still applied while they were home for Christmas break. I thought, at the time, “yeah, right. Catch us if you can.”

Polly’s parents lived in an upstairs apartment on Union Street. I spent a total of twenty-four hours with Polly that first Christmas. Our first kiss came when Polly’s mom asked her to go to the apartment complex’s laundry room to do some laundry. Seeing an opportunity for some old-fashioned necking, I went along, and it was there we had our first kiss. We did a lot of laundry that day. 🙂

Come Christmas Day, it was time for me to go home. Polly begged her mom to let me stay one more day, but she refused. Polly’s mom would spend the next fifteen months doing all she could to destroy our relationship — including forbidding us to marry — which we ignored, telling her we were getting married with or without their blessing. Needless to say, she and I have had an on-and-off-contentious relationship for 45 years. Our relationship has improved in recent years. Polly’s dad died last year, but I suspect Mom will always believe “Polly could have done better.”

Many kisses would follow that first kiss on Christmas Eve, 1976. After our return to Midwestern after the break, Polly and I had a real problem on our hands. You see, we had crossed a physical line, and once that line was crossed there was no going back. We spent the next nineteen months breaking the six-inch rule, only double-dating with dorm couples who had the same “moral” standards we had. Summer breaks allowed us the freedom to act “normally,” but while classes were in session, we had to sneak around to just kiss one another. While we both were virgins on our wedding day, we both knew that if we waited much longer to get married, we would likely have given in to our passions. A week or so before our wedding, Polly’s mom let us go to The Dawes Arboretum south of Newark without a chaperone. We spent several hours enjoying one another’s embrace, coming oh-so-close to rounding third and sliding into home. As it was, Polly was on a strict curfew, and we were late. Boy, did we get a lecture when we arrived home. Here we were, 19 and 21, getting married in a matter of days, and we were being treated like children.

One memory about our first Christmas stands tall in my mind. Polly and I were sitting on the couch, close enough to touch one another, but not so close as to arouse her eagle-eye mom’s attention, watching a TV special starring Captain & Tennille. One of the songs they sang was their 1975 number one hit, “Love Will Keep Us Together.

Video Link

Forty-five years later, that song is still true. Love, indeed, has kept us together.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

How Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Churches Deal with Unwed Mothers

fornication is a sin

If you are unfamiliar with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, please read the following posts:

The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook

What is an IFB Church?

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Lingo, A Guide to IFB Speak

The IFB River Called Denial

An Independent Baptist Hate List

Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps

How to Start an Independent Baptist Church

Tony Soprano Would Make a Good Independent Baptist Preacher

If I were to ask you what Independent Fundamentalist Baptists value most, many of you would say things such as: Jesus, the B-I-B-L-E, hard preaching, and potlucks. However, these four articles of the IFB faith pale in comparison to the one thing valued above all others: the virginity of teen girls and never-married women. Valued above Jesus? Yes, even above Jesus. Intact hymens are the holy grail of the IFB church movement. This fact is best illustrated by a dating couple who came to an IFB pastor and asked if they only had “butt sex” would that mean the woman was still a virgin? The pastor, of course, told them that anal sex was the same as vaginal sex. But why would this question even be asked? Why would anyone think that anal sex (or oral) was not “real” sex? Because in IFB churches, the only hole God made for sex is judiciously protected against the insertion of anything besides tampons. No penises, fingers, vegetables, or battery-operated devices are allowed. (And on the extreme end of the IFB church movement, some pastors believe that married couples should only engage in vaginal sex — missionary position — while thinking how wonderful it would be if Bro. Billy Bob’s sperm hooked up with Sister Mary Lou’s eggs.)

abstinence

From their teen years forward, IFB girls hear repeated warnings about having premarital sex and losing their virginity. These girls are told that only whores have premarital sex and that those who let boys score with them are like dirty rags fit for the trash. I have heard countless sermons — and preached a few myself — that focused solely on causing teen girls and unmarried women fear, guilt, and shame. While the young horn dogs of IFB churches, along with their wandering-eyed fathers, hear purity sermons from time to time, most of such sermons are directed at what IFB churches believe is the weaker sex. Women are reminded that they are the gatekeepers. It is up to them to protect not only their own holy virginity, but that of the boys and men. This is why there are so many rules about how women dress. The goal is to destroy their visage and beauty, those things that cause teenage boys to have wandering thoughts about youth group girls instead of their pastor’s weekly Biblical tirade.

Despite the Baptist burkas, hot-and-heavy sermons, and puritanical rules governing dating and male/female interaction and physical contact (there are no gays in IFB churches), unmarrieds do have sex. And thanks to Just Say No sex education, some girls do become pregnant.

In IFB churches, there’s nothing worse than one of the church girls getting pregnant (especially the preacher’s daughter). Whether the girl is fourteen or twenty-three, it matters not. Becoming pregnant without the benefit of marriage is a deep black stain on the mother-to-be and the church, the girl’s parents, and her pastor. By spreading her legs before marriage and “allowing” Deacon Noah’s son to plant his seed, she has repudiated everything her church, parents, and pastor believe about the sanctity of sex.

With such extreme thinking, wouldn’t it be best for all sexually aware IFB girls to be put on the pill? That way, the threat of embarrassment and scandal for IFB churches, pastors, and parents is eliminated. Makes sense, right? Why not take preventive measures, especially since any honest IFB preacher knows that more unmarrieds than not will eventually do the “dirty” deed. When I was asked this very question years ago, I told the questioner that allowing girls to use birth control was akin to saying that it was okay to have sex. This same logic was used for drinking alcohol, using drugs, and other behaviors deemed sins. JUST SAY NO was the only proper response to temptation and sin. It didn’t matter that most married adult IFB church members failed to just say no when they were single. (Ask your pastor or his wife if they were virgins on their wedding day.) All that mattered was maintaining the virginal illusion that when young IFB couples walked down the aisle, their lives were living testimonies to the rightness of IFB doctrine and practice.

I want to conclude this post with several anecdotal stories from my days as a student at Midwestern Baptist College and as a young IFB pastor.

As many of you know, the college I attended in the 1970s had (and still has) a strict no-contact-with-the-opposite-sex policy. If you are not familiar with this policy, please read Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule. While an infinitesimally small number (I knew of four) of unmarried students kept the six-inch rule, the rest of us broke the rule with gusto. While some students could keep their virginity intact, other students scampered around the bases and slid into home. Those caught breaking the six-inch rule were usually campused (not permitted to leave campus) on a first offense. Further offenses, pregnancy, or whispers of sexual romps in cars, motel rooms, or the dormitory laundry room were harshly met with immediate expulsion. Not only were offenders shamed in front of their fellow students, many of whom were guilty of the very same sexual “crimes,” they were shipped home to their IFB churches, parents, and pastors to face further humiliation.

fornication

My first ministerial position post-college was as the assistant pastor of a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) congregation in Montpelier, Ohio. During my seven-month stay at Montpelier Baptist Church, one of the girls in the church became pregnant. The pastor decreed that she and the father of the baby were to wed immediately. (My sister went through a similar circumstance, marrying at the age of fifteen.) Not only were they to promptly wed, but only immediate family could attend the wedding, and the girl would not be permitted to wear a white dress. The pastor told the pregnant girl that the color white was reserved for girls who were virgins on their wedding days. Her mistake was confessing her sin. Had she quickly and quietly run to the altar as other church women had done, she could have worn white and maintained the virginity illusion.

Years later, I attended a church service where a “loose” pregnant teen was brought before the church congregation and made to profess her wickedness publicly. Once she was sufficiently shamed, church members came to the weeping, shaking girl and embraced her, praising God for cleansing the girl from her sin. I do not doubt that many of these hugging super saints were guilty of the very same sin years ago. Sufficiently distanced from their own mortal sins, these holy saints of God likely felt no irony or guilt as they continued the shaming ritual.

Some IFB churches choose to make pregnant teens disappear. IFB parents who find out their daughters are pregnant will usually immediately (and frantically) contact their pastors to find out what they should do. Knowing that their daughters’ “sins” will sully their churches’ testimonies (and abortion is not an option), parents often choose to ship their pregnant teens to IFB group homes. These homes, which are frequently little more than prisons or reeducation camps, purportedly turned whores, sluts, and fornicators into blood-washed, white-as-the-driven-snow lovers of Jesus, the King James Bible, and the IFB way. Often, their babies are given up for adoption.

I hope readers raised in IFB churches will share their own experiences in the comment section. I have written here sounds out of this world to many people, but these stories and practices are repeated daily in countless IFB schools, colleges, churches, and homes. Since the IFB church movement prides itself on being the same today, yesterday, and forever (if it was good enough for Jesus and Paul, it’s good enough for me), the shaming rituals and abuse of years ago are often practiced today.  As long as church teenagers keep having sex, there will be bastard children and women to ritually humiliate. Indeed, the IFB deity is an awesome God.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Short Stories: The Preacher Goes to the XXX Movie House

xxx

I grew up in rural Northwest Ohio. We didn’t have XXX movie houses or strip clubs. In Bryan, Ohio, only two establishments sold adult magazines. I was nineteen and a student at Midwestern Baptist College before I perused my first pornographic magazine. I suspect many of the young men studying at Midwestern had similar experiences. Our rural, small-town cultures sheltered us from the perversity found in big cities, as did the hellfire and brimstone preaching of the churches we came from. Sexual naïveté ran wild at Midwestern, and the college’s answer was to regularly preach against sexual sin, hoping that doing so would keep students from sexual temptation.

Pontiac, Michigan was a dirty, dying industrial town. Its downtown area had numerous adult entertainment establishments, including a XXX movie house that played the latest pornographic movies and hosted amateur night stripper contests. It was not uncommon to see a dozen or more prostitutes plying their trade on downtown Pontiac street corners. One woman who comes to mind was a rather large woman with huge DDDDDDDD breasts. She would briskly walk the streets braless, breasts bouncing chin to belly button. It was quite a sight to behold.

As you might surmise, downtown Pontiac was a magnet for young, virile, horny Baptist boys. The personal contact rules (please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule) at Midwestern forbade physical contact between dating couples. No hand-holding. No kissing. No hugging. No nothing. Students were required to stay six inches away from their boyfriends/girlfriends at all times. Of course, students broke the six-inch rule with impunity, causing all sorts of guilt and fear. The good news was that Jesus was only a prayer away. That’s the Baptist way: sin, ask for forgiveness, promise never to sin again — wash, rinse, repeat. It’s a great way to live.

One night, after much prayer and temptation, I decided to check out the fine art films at the XXX movie house. I parked away from the theater, thinking that if anyone who knew me drove by, they wouldn’t see my car. As I walked from my car to the movie house, I could “feel” the “Holy Spirit” telling me, Don’t do it, Bruce. God says it’s a sin. The Bible says it’s a sin. Your pastor says it’s a sin. Your dorm supervisor says it’s a sin. Your preschool Sunday School teacher says it’s a sin. All these voices in my head, but one voice stood above all others — mine. I wanted to do this. I was curious about what was behind the theater’s doors. And so I made my way to the theater’s entrance, paid my admission, and found a seat at the back of the theater.

The first act of the night was an amateur stripping contest. Local young women — some of them prostitutes — stripped and paraded back and forth on the stage. This was the first time I had ever seen a woman naked. I battled conflicting emotions. On one hand, I felt guilty. I was breaking the law of God, and I was violating college rules. On the other hand, I felt excitement — sexual excitement. It was my first time seeing a woman’s body in all its glory — as naked as Eve in the Garden of Eden. What more can I say? After all of the women had performed, judges determined the first, second, and third place winners. The winners were given cash prizes.

Then it was time for the feature film. As with the amateur contest, the movie definitely exposed me to sexual things I had never seen before. Needless to say, I was fascinated by what I saw. I am sure some readers of the Evangelical persuasion are thinking, Oh my God Bruce, you were taken in by Satan’s greatest temptation — lust. I bet you couldn’t keep from doing this again, right? Sorry to disappoint you. This was my first and last trip to the XXX movie house in downtown Pontiac. I would later marry a beautiful dark-haired girl who was a wonder to behold in her own right. Why look from afar when you can see, touch, and well, you know . . .

The highlight of the evening came not on the stage, but as I was leaving the theater. As I exited and turned my head to the right I saw, much to my surprise, a graduate of Midwestern and deacon at Emmanuel Baptist Church (the church college students were required to attend). Our eyes met, and then both of us quickly turned away, pretending that we had never seen the other. This man and his wife were good friends of Polly’s parents. When their names came up in family discussions years later, I so wanted to say . . . boy do I have a story to tell!

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Hey Girlfriend, When You Feel Tempted to Hug Your Boyfriend . . .

christian side hug

Hey girlfriend, when you feel tempted to hug your boyfriend, hug your dad, brother, sister, or an old lady in the church instead. Nothing quenches sexual desire like hugging a male family member or ancient Sister Bertha, right?

Paula Hendricks, a writer for the Lies Young Women Believe website, had this to say to young women who doubted an invisible Jesus could meet their sexual longings and desires:

 Apparently I’m not the only one who has wondered how God can satisfy when all I want is a pair of strong arms to hold me close. Here’s what Rebecca wrote me:

“The biggest thing I think my crush can give me that God can’t is his strong arms wrapped around me. Although my crush has yet to hold me in his arms, his physical closeness sends shivers throughout my body. I know that God is always there for me . . . but sometimes my feelings get the better of me, and all I want to do is be wrapped up in my crush’s arms and attention.”

Grace added:

“I think what always gets me is that God isn’t physically there like a guy is. He can’t wrap his arms around me. Sometimes I just want that.”

And finally, Isabella said:

“I have often thought, I wish God could come down here and give me a big bear hug. Then I would really be in love with Him.”

But here’s the thing . . . He has come down! And while He was here, He picked up kids and cradled them in His arms. (You have to admit, that shows a tender heart—few guys walk around doing the same thing!)

I know He’s not physically here now…But one day soon, we will see Him. We will be with Him.

When Christ comes again to “marry” the Church, His Bride, He will likely hold us too…

…Now that is something to look forward to! Jesus Christ is not an idea; He is a Person. A Divine Person with arms and legs and beautiful probing eyes. He loves you. Enough to spread His arms wide in order to bleed so you might be healed. And if you have put your trust in His death and resurrection on your behalf, you will soon see and know Him fully.

So in the meantime, as you wait for Him, by all means, hug! No, not your crush. Hug your dad. Hug your mom. Hug your brothers and sisters. Hug your friends. Hug those old ladies at church…

I wonder if Hendricks has heard about the Christian side hug, a type of hug sexually aware, virgin Evangelical young people can give one another without causing sexual stirring or lust?

Video Link

Rational Wiki describes the Christian side hug this way:

The Christian side hug is a means by which young Christians can show affection for each other without engaging in possibly tempting and impure front-to-front contact.

Instead of hugging face-to-face, the huggers stand side-by-side, and can be facing either the same way or in opposite directions. Unlike frontal hugging, side hugs minimize the risk of an eternal damnation which could result from possible incidental contact with a boob or penis of somebody to whom one is not married.

For extra affection, the side hug may be accompanied by a few non-contact blessing pats. If even the side hug is too intense, you can work up to it coyly with this elaborate sequence of gestures. There’s even a Christian side hug rap, which attracted the attention of The Young Turks. The degree of parody and satire intended in the rap version is unknown, but that doesn’t make it any better.

Several years ago, I wrote about the Six Inch Rule, a regulation used at Midwestern Baptist College — the college Polly and I attended in the 1970s — to keep young adults from touching one another. It proved to be a dismal failure. I don’t know of one couple who lived in the Midwestern Baptist College dorm when Polly and I did who didn’t violate the spirit and the letter of the six-inch rule. Something tells me — oh like common sense — that teenagers and young adults are still failing at keeping the touching prohibitions of Evangelical moralizers such as Paula Hendricks. Why, you ask? Simple. We are sexual beings and we desire physical, intimate contact with others. All the sweet, sexy Jesus in the world won’t quench human sexual desire. When it comes to choosing between sexual intimacy and Jesus, my money is on sexual intimacy.

jesus hug

What makes writers like Paula Hendricks so harmful is that they encourage teen girls and young women to act against their nature. They encourage them to repress their sexual desires. Sadly, when these girls later marry, they often bring a warped view of physical intimacy and sex into the marriage (and men can do the same).  Marriage is tough enough without starting life with sexual dysfunction. Instead of teaching teenagers and young adults to repress their sexual desires, they should be encouraged to responsibly act on their desires, starting with a hug or a kiss. If there is more to the relationship, then they can determine where to go from there. There are three bases between the batter’s box and home. Hendricks wants unmarried teens and adults to stand in the batter’s box, never moving or swinging when the pitch comes their way. No running to first, rounding second, sprinting around third, and sliding into home. Not a very fun or interesting game, yes?

Contrary to Paula Hendricks’ horrible advice, hugging is not a gateway to sexual intercourse. Teenagers and young adults can sexually experiment without having intercourse. And if they decide to slide into home base, the best advice to give them is on how to be sexually responsible and use birth control. Of course, this advice must be given to them BEFORE they are rounding third and heading for home. In fact, before they even get to first base, wouldn’t it be better to prepare single teenagers and young adults for their sexual future?

Hendricks now sports the last name Marsteller. She’s married, and I suspect is regularly playing baseball with her husband. I wonder if she touched her husband before they married?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser