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Tag: Tom Malone

The Students God “Led” to Attend Midwestern Baptist College

bruce and polly gerencser 1976
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976

Polly and I were reminiscing the other night about some of the people we attended college with from 1976-1979 at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in 1954 by Tom Malone, pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Both the college and the church were diehard Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institutions. In its heyday in the 70s, Midwestern had 400 or so students. Today, the college has a handful of students, and rumor has it that Midwestern might be closing its doors. At one time, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the United States. Beginning in the 1980s, the church and the college faced precipitous attendance declines, so much so that the church went out of business and sold its campus. While the college remains on life support, its campus was sold to developers, and the dormitory Polly and I called home for two years was converted into efficiency apartments. Currently, Midwestern holds classes at Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. Its website has not been updated since early 2020.

While Midwestern required students to have a high school diploma to enroll, what mattered most was two things:

  • A recommendation from the student’s pastor (often a graduate of Midwestern himself)
  • A testimony of personal salvation

I was a high school dropout. Some day, I will share why I dropped out of high school after the eleventh grade. Midwestern accepted me as a “provisional student.” I had to prove my freshman year that I could do college-level work. My provisional status was never mentioned again. I had a grudging recommendation (another story for another day) from Jack Bennett, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — the church I attended before enrolling at Midwestern. What mattered the most was my personal salvation testimony. Further, I testified to the fact that God had called me to preach at age fifteen as a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio (an IFB congregation affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship).

Outside of the high school diploma requirement, there were no other academic prerequisites. None. No entrance exams, no English proficiency requirements. All a student needed was a good word from his or her pastor and a correctly constructed testimony of faith in Jesus Christ.

The paucity of academic requirements resulted in Midwestern enrolling students that were unable to do college work. What made matters worse was the fact that Midwestern was an unaccredited institution. This meant that students either had to have enough money to pay their tuition and room and board (such students were called “Momma Called, Daddy Sent”) or they had to secure employment to earn enough money to pay their college bills. I did the latter, working full-time jobs during my three years at Midwestern. Polly worked a combination of part-time jobs. We lived — literally — from hand to mouth. While Midwestern had a rudimentary cafeteria, it served one meal a day, lunch. The dorm had what was commonly called the “snack room.” It was here that students “cooked” their meals, not on a stove, but in a microwave. Students were not permitted to have cooking appliances of any kind in their rooms. Cafeteria aside, dorm students had three options: fine dining in the snack room, eating junk food/out of a can in their rooms, or going out to eat at a fast-food restaurant. Most students, if they had the money, chose the latter.

Midwestern enrolled students from IFB churches all across the country. Many of the students came from churches pastored by men who were graduates of Midwestern. Churches within the IFB church movement often congregate along tribal lines — namely what colleges pastors attended. Thus, Bob Jones-trained pastors sent their students to Bob Jones University, Hyles-trained pastors sent their students to Hyles-Anderson College, and Midwestern-trained pastors sent their students to Midwestern Baptist College. (Please see Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps.) Pastors who sent lots of students to their alma mater were often rewarded with honorary doctorates. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor.) Pastor loyalties changed if they had some sort of falling out with the college that trained them. Polly’s uncle, James Dennis, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark, Ohio, was sending students to Midwestern, Hyles-Anderson, Massillon Baptist College, and Tennessee Temple when Polly and I married in 1978. Jim had an honorary doctorate from Midwestern — a candy stick award for supporting the college. He later had a falling out with Tom Malone and stopped sending students to Midwestern. Today, prospective college students from the Baptist Temple typically go to Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, or The Crown College.

As Polly and I reminisced about our fellow college students, we couldn’t help but notice how many students we knew that were not socially or academically qualified to take college classes. Often, such students came from churches where their pastors were pushing people to attend Midwestern. It was not uncommon to hear IFB preachers say that young adults should have a Bible college education. Secular colleges were denigrated, labeled as Satanic institutions of higher learning. IFB pastors believe that men must be “called” by God to be pastors, evangelists, youth directors, or missionaries. If a man said he was called to preach, as I did at age fifteen, his pastor would tell him he needed to attend Bible college. If the pastor was a Midwestern man, he would “suggest” that the young person attend Midwestern. In the IFB church movement, “suggestions” have the force of law.

Sometimes, older single men or married men would feel called to preach and head off to Midwestern to study for the ministry. They would often leave behind well-paying jobs, hoping to find employment after enrolling at Midwestern. Some married students left their families behind, living in the dorm with men who were 20-30 years younger than them. Remember, if God calls, he provides. If God orders, he pays. Or so the thinking went, anyway. As you shall see in a moment, God was a deadbeat dad who didn’t pay his bills.

Several married men lived in the dorm while I was a student at Midwestern. They left their families at home as they chased their dream of becoming a pastor. These men, later labeled failures by Malone and other chapel preachers, washed out after a few months. Loneliness, along with an inability to do college work doomed them from the start. The Holy Spirit was no match for a man’s longing for the embrace of his wife and children. Knowing the Bible was no substitute for actually being able to do college-level work (and Midwestern was NOT a scholastically rigorous institution).

One older student lived with a woman before coming to Midwestern. He had gotten saved and his pastor told him he needed to go to Bible college. Imagine eating ice cream every day at Dairy Queen and then going off to a place where there’s no Dairy Queen. Get my drift? This man had an active sex life, and that allegedly stopped when he started living in the Midwestern dorm. The college had a no-contact rule between couples. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.) I suspect it was difficult for sexually active students to play by the rules. Polly and I were virgins on our wedding day. I know how hard it was for us to stay “pure,” so I can only imagine how hard it was for students who had tasted the sinful fruit of fornication. Some of these “immoral” students quit or were expelled. Others learned how to hide their sin.

One student was developmentally disabled. He was a great kid, but I suspect his IQ was in the 70s. He had suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child. He could barely read or write. He left Midwestern after his first semester. He, too, was labeled a quitter.

Many single and married students worked full-time jobs to pay their way through college. Imagine working forty hours a week, attending church three times a week, going on visitation on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and working a bus route on Sundays. Pray tell, when were students supposed to do their school work? I knew dorm students who were working 60-70 hours a week at one of the local truck/auto plants. Often, overtime was mandatory. Many of these students either washed out or left college and rented an apartment. The money was too good, so they chose their jobs over God’s calling. I know more than a few students who followed this path, spending the next thirty years working for the man before retiring with a good union pension.

Quitters were savaged by Midwestern’s president, Tom Malone, his son Tommy, Jr, school administrators, and pastors who preached during daily chapel services. Quitters were weak, and God didn’t use quitters. Midwestern advertised itself as a “character-building factory.” Most students who enrolled as freshmen never graduated. Is it any wonder why? Sure, I learned “character,” but once Polly became pregnant and I was laid off from my job, all the character in the world wasn’t going to keep a roof over our head or our utilities on. No help was coming from our parents or churches.

I don’t fault these men (and a few women) who failed to navigate the “character” gauntlet. The system was set up to ensure their failure. Of course, those who made it to graduation think otherwise. Unasked is where was God for these students who sincerely wanted to preach and teach others? When they truly needed help, neither God, nor their churches and pastors, was anywhere to be found.

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.

Sermon Illustrations: The Lies Preachers Tell

lying for jesus

From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in 1954 by Dr. Tom Malone, pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Dorm students were required to attend Emmanuel. One Sunday, Dr. Malone made a statement during his sermon that I have never forgotten. Meant to be a joke, Malone said, “I am not preaching now. I’m telling the truth.”

I was twenty-years-old when Malone made this statement. In June, I will turn sixty-four. In the intervening years, I preached thousands of sermons and heard hundreds of other sermons, either in person or on cassette tape. Preaching is an art form meant to convey some sort of spiritual message to hearers. While Evangelicals love to make much of the Bible, preaching is far more than just reading the Scriptures. Following Jesus’ example, many preachers use stories to illustrate their sermons. Story-less sermons are, in my estimation, boring as Heaven. I suspect most churchgoers would agree with me. Imagine going to church on Sunday and hearing a sermon that consists of a droning-fan-on-a-summer-day preacher reading the Bible word for word. B-o-r-i-n-g.

Illustrations help keep parishioners engaged. There’s nothing better than a couple of stories interjected at just the right time. In fact, many parishioners won’t remember anything about their preachers’ sermons except for the fantastical stories they told. Marge, wasn’t that a wonderful story Pastor Billy told today? Yes, it was, Moe. Why, that one story was almost unbelievable. Pastor Billy wouldn’t lie, so I know he is telling us the truth.

Dr. Malone got it right when he said, “I am not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.” Malone knew that preachers love to tell stories, and sometimes their stories are not as factual as they should be. Younger preachers often buy illustration books. These books provide preachers with a ready source of catchy, provocative illustrations sure to get parishioners’ attention. Older preachers often develop a cache of illustrations that can be pulled out of their mental file cabinets and used when needed. These illustrations often come from past experiences, especially for preachers who did a lot of “sinning” before Jesus rescued them. I have heard countless preachers regale parishioners with stories about their lives as drug addicts, drunkards, Satanists, atheists, or hitmen for the mob. These stories often seem larger than life. And they are, because these kinds of stories are often embellished or outright lies.

Several years ago, I posted a video of anti-porn crusader Dawn Hawkins telling a story about seeing a man watching child pornography on an airplane.  Several commenters said that, based on their flying experiences, Hawkins was lying. I believe they are correct. I think the same could be said for many of the stories preachers use in their sermons. Simply put, these men are liars for Jesus.

The late Jack Hyles, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, was a masterful storyteller. I heard Hyles preach in person and on tape. His stories were mesmerizing, especially to a wide-eyed young Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher from Ohio. However, over time, I came to the conclusion that Hyles was a narcissistic, pathological liar.

For many years, Hyles pastored the largest church in the United States. Those raised in the IFB church movement know that for men such as Hyles, it was all about the numbers: church attendance, souls saved, baptisms, and offerings. The ministry was like a bunch of third-grade boys in the restroom playing the who has a bigger penis game. Preachers who had John Holmes- or Ron Jeremy-sized churches were considered men whom God was mightily using. Young preachers and men who pastored smaller churches were expected to sit at the feet of these preachers, learning how they too could have large penises, uh I mean churches.

Due to his church’s number one place on the charts, Hyles was viewed as a demigod by many IFB preachers. Hyles told stories about how many people he counseled, souls he had won to Jesus, and the thousands of miles he traveled to preach at Sword of the Lord conferences and other weeknight meetings. Wow, what a great man of God, I thought at the time. I want to be used by God just like Brother Hyles.

I now know that Hyles’ stories were lies. He simply did not have enough hours in the week to sleep, eat, shit, have an affair, pastor a church, win souls, and fly around the country to preach at conferences. As with all lies, Hyles’ stories had elements of truth. However, when carefully analyzed, Hyles’ sermon illustrations sound too good to be true.  Let me illustrate this with several stories found in Hyles’ book Let’s Go Soulwinning:

So I walked in and said, “Hey! Anybody home?” And there was—thirteen people at home—company all dressed up in suits and fine clothes. There I was. Imagine, Rev. Hyles, a cup in his hand, fishing hat on, split tee shirt, patch in his breeches, and a pair of tennis shoes on his feet! And I said, “Hello.” The lady looked at me, she looked at her company, then announced, “This is my pastor.” I was horrified! I was humiliated! I wanted to evaporate but couldn’t.  Finally I said, “Excuse me; I’m sorry.” Then I got to thinking. Shoot! Just take over the conversation. Just act like you have good sense. So in I walked. “How do you do! How are you? Are you a Christian?” I went around the entire room asking the same question. Then THEY got embarrassed.  (I found out long ago that when a preacher goes to a hospital or gets some place where he feels like a fifth wheel, he should just bluff them and take over the conversation. That will help you, too. It really will. You go to the hospital.  Here is the doctor, the nurse, the family. And everybody says, “That’s the preacher.” You know how you feel, pastors. It’s a terrible feeling. So I walk in, “Hello Doc. How are you?” Make HIM feel bad. Make HIM feel like he’s a fifth wheel.)

So I walked in and asked each person if he or she were a Christian. The last man, a young man, said, “No, I’m not, but I’ve been thinking about it.” Well, I said, “I can help you think about it right here.” We knelt there in that home and opened the Bible. He got converted. He lived at Irving, Texas, forty miles from Garland. I said, “Now, J.D., you need to walk the aisle in the church in Irving tomorrow.” He said, “If you don’t mind, Preacher, I’ll just stay over tonight and come to your church and walk the aisle.” He did, and that night he got baptized in my church. Later he joined the First Baptist Church of Irving, Texas.

You don’t realize how many places you will bump into people. I saw a lady while on vacation just recently. She said, “Hello, Brother Jack. Remember when you won me to the Lord?” I said, “I certainly do.” It happened while I was looking for a Mrs. Marsh. I knocked on Mrs. Marsh’s door—I thought. She came to the door. I said, “Mrs. Marsh?”

“No, I’m Mrs. Tillet.”

I said, “Mrs. Tillet, I thought Mrs. Marsh lived here.”

“No, she lives five houses down the street.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Tillet.” I walked off. Then I said, “Wait a minute, Mrs. Tillet. Are you a Christian?” She began to cry. I led her to Christ right there.

I have won shoeshine boys and fellows on airplanes. I was going to Phoenix to a conference last year. I sat down beside a man seventy-two years old, a wealthy rancher. “Where do you live?” I asked.

He said, “On a ranch between Phoenix and Tucson.”

I said, “Do you and your wife live alone?”

“My wife died a few months ago.”

I asked, “Do you ever think about having anybody else come and live with you?” “Oh,” he said, “If I could find somebody who would come and live with me, a friend to keep me company, I’d give anything in the world.” He had chauffeurs, servants. He owned a big ranch with hundreds of acres, but was as lonely as he could be.

I said, “I know Somebody who would come and live with you.”

“You do? Does He live in Phoenix?”

I said, “He sure does. He lives everywhere.”

He said, “Who is it?”

“Jesus will come.” In fifteen minutes that man had Somebody to go home with him to live.

Oh, if we will just take time to witness. The trouble is, we are ashamed of Jesus. We don’t mind saying, “Isn’t it hot today?” or, “I wonder how the Berlin situation is.” We don’t mind talking about Khrushchev. We’re more eager to talk about him than about Jesus. Isn’t that a shame! Here we are redeemed. He died for us on the cross. We have been made heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. He is building a home in Heaven for us. We’re God’s children and we won’t even tell a stranger that we belong to the Lord Jesus. Be soul-conscious.

Storytelling preachers love to tell stories about people suddenly dying and going to Hell. What better way to drive a point home than to tell hearers about this or that man rejecting God’s plan of salvation and then dropping dead and awaking in Hell. This story can be told in numerous ways with different characters and circumstances. Jesus himself told a similar story in Luke 16. The point is always the same: now is accepted time, now is the day of salvation.

Let me conclude this post with several stories I have heard preachers tell over the years. One preacher told a story about a man God had called to preach. The man ignored God’s call and went on to have a large family and made lots of money. One day, this man’s wife and children were driving down the road when a truck hit them head-on. This man’s entire family was instantly killed. In a quiet moment before the funeral, the man wept over the caskets of his loved ones. And at that moment, God audibly spoke to him, telling him that it was God who had killed his entire family to get his attention. Are you ready to serve me now? God asked the man. The man collapsed on the floor and told God that he would indeed forsake all and follow him.

Another preacher told a story about the people in Hell. One day, a crew that was drilling an oil well began hearing what sounded like people crying and screaming. Where was this noise coming from, they wondered? They soon ascertained that the noise was coming from the oil well casing. One of the workers decided to drop a microphone down the well casing, and sure enough, they heard people screaming about being in the unrelenting, fiery flames of Hell!

Of course, neither of these stories is true. The first story was a legend of sorts – I heard variations of it numerous times. Preacher Bob heard Big Name Preacher John tell the story at a Sword of the Lord Conference. Bob thought, why not use this story in my sermon, impressing on people the importance of immediately obeying the voice of God?

The second story is pure fabrication. But hey, if souls get saved . . . right? The end justifies the means, even if it means telling stories that are more farcical than the miracles of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.

Have you ever heard too-good-to-be-true sermon illustrations?  Please share them 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.

Short Stories: Midwestern Baptist College –1978 Yearbook Incident

midwestern baptist college freshman class 1976
1976-1977 Midwestern Baptist College freshman class. Polly is in the first row, the first person on the left. Bruce is in the third row, the eighth person from the left.

From 1976-79, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College (IFB) in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern, an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution, was established in 1954 by the famous IFB pulpiteer Dr. Tom Malone. More than sixty years later, the college campus has been sold, Tom Malone is dead, and the church he once pastored, Emmanuel Baptist Church, is shuttered, with weeds growing around the buildings and through the cracks in the parking lots.

In the spring of our sophomore year, Malone gathered the student body in the chapel so he could “talk” to them. Students were told to bring the recently released 1978 yearbook with them. As the students settled into their seats, Malone stood up and came to the pulpit. It was clear that he was quite upset about something. We quickly learned that Malone was livid about three of the yearbook pictures. Mike Veach, currently the pastor of First Bible Church, a Fundamentalist church in Staten Island, New York, shot the photographs. Mike was (is) an excellent photographer. A few months after what students would later call “The Yearbook Incident,” Polly and I went to nearby Cranbrook Gardens so Mike could take pictures of us. We still have these pictures, reminders of the youngsters we once were some forty years ago.

What was so offensive about these photographs that a noted IFB pastor and college chancellor would deem it necessary to talk to the entire student body about them? See for yourself.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number one was taken during Founder’s Day. Always held on the Friday after Thanksgiving (students were not allowed to go home for Thanksgiving), Founder’s Day was a day set aside for showing off the college to prospective Fundamentalist high school students. Part of the day’s events included a singing talent show. This picture is of a group from a nearby IFB church.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number two is a picture of Julian Lyons, Emmanuel Baptist Church’s bus pastor. Lyons and I did not get along. He considered me a slacker because I didn’t want to work in the bus ministry after my freshman year. (All students were required to work in the bus ministry their freshman year.) I considered Lyons a racist because he stopped running the buses in Detroit. (The overwhelming majority of the kids from Detroit were poor and black.) One day, as I was exiting the school building, he and I ran into each other and had words, each telling the other what we thought about them. We never spoke again. I was surprised that I did not get expelled from school for what was surely viewed as insubordination.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number three was shot during one of the chapel services. Pay close attention to the student in the middle of the picture.

I am sure you are scratching your head right now, trying to figure out what is wrong with these pictures. Can’t you see it? Look closely. Put on your IFB alternate reality glasses®. Still nothing?

In the first picture, the boys (not Midwestern students) have long hair, and in the second picture, it looks like Lyons’ hair is over his collar. Midwestern had/has a strict policy against men having long hair. Male students were required to keep their hair short, with the college even going so far as to legislate that the back of men’s hair had to be tapered and not block cut. Hair on the collar, ears, or long bangs were forbidden. Men caught breaking the hair rule received demerits and were ordered to get a haircut immediately.

And the third photograph? The student “looks” like he has bushy, long hair on the back of his head. What he really had was the student’s hair in front of him, that student being my future wife, Polly. As photographers know, perspective and angles can do strange things to photographs. Sadly, Malone was only concerned with the “appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22).

Malone was furious over these photos, so much so that he took one of the yearbooks and tore it in two right in front of the student body. What a man, right? He then ordered the yearbooks collected. They were later returned, but not before the offending photographs had been marked-out with black, permanent ink felt markers.

So why do I have an unaltered copy of the yearbook? I refused to turn my yearbook in to prison authorities. Even then, as Fundamentalist as I was, I knew that Malone was acting like a crazed wild man over these photographs. It made no sense to me to mar the yearbook just because three of the pictures showed men allegedly with long hair. If Malone was serious about giving “sins” the black permanent marker of death, why not mark out:

  • The photographs of the man who was having an affair with the wife of the dean of men
  • The photographs of the gay teacher who lived in the dorm

These “sins” were well known by students, yet they were pushed to the deep recesses of the Midwestern closet. Instead, very ‘70s-looking hair became the target of Malone’s “righteous” indignation and wrath.

I know this story sounds bat-shit crazy to some readers, but this is an excellent example of the Fundamentalism I was raised in and a part of for many years. To this day, there are IFB pastors and churches who preach against the “sin of men having long hair.” A man with long hair is considered rebellious and effeminate. If you have not read my post, Is it a Sin to Have Long Hair? please do so. I think it will help you understand the kind of thinking that goes into someone concluding that men having long hair is a mortal sin.

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.

1976-1979: My Midwestern Baptist College Transcript

midwestern baptist college freshman class 1976
Midwestern Baptist College, 1976-77 Freshman Class. Polly is in the front row, the first person from the left. Bruce is in the third row, the eighth person from the left. Seventy percent of the students in the class did not graduate.

I have a college education, of sorts. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — for almost three years. Educationally, Midwestern was inferior in every way. Most classes were either taught by incompetent professors, or the instruction was at a Sunday School class level. Here are the classes I took at Midwestern:

  • Basic Music Theory [or how to wave your arm in 4/4 time]
  • Fundamentals of Speech
  • Homiletics [ignore everything you learned in speech class]
  • Western Civilization [emphasis on the Christian era]
  • American Literature
  • English Grammar [God, do we have to diagram more sentences?]
  • Biology [God did it]
  • Introduction to Missions [awesome real-life stories from an IFB missionary/pastor]
  • Baptist History [think The Trail of Blood]
  • Social Problems [sin is the problem, Christ is the solution]
  • Christian Counseling [psychology bad, Bible-based counseling good]
  • Personal Evangelism [one, two, three, repeat after me, bless God, you are SAVED!]
  • Bus Ministry
  • Physical Education [I aced this class]
  • Major Prophets
  • Bible Doctrines [but only approved IFB doctrines]
  • Life of Christ [Jesus, Jesus, Jesus]
  • Pentateuch [main takeaway: Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible]
  • Revelation [a literalist, dispensational, pretribulational, premillennial interpretation]
  • Pastoral Epistles [never forget what the Bible says about pastoral authority]
  • Hermeneutics [how to read the Bible like a Fundamentalist Baptist]

I had several professors who were top-notch. Larry Clouse and Dr. Tom Malone, come to mind. However, they were the exceptions to the rule. Most of my professors were either pastors or pastor’s wives. Evidently, being a pastor or married to a preacher automatically qualifies you to be a competent professor.

Five professor stories come to mind that I would like to share with readers. I won’t mention them by name, but students who attended Midwestern in the 1970s will certainly know who I am talking about.

One professor believed it was his duty to keep Polly and me away from each other. He was friends with Polly’s father. At the time, Polly’s mom — she wore the pants in the family — had told Polly that she would not permit her to marry me. This finally came to a head when Polly stood up to her mom for the first time, informing her that we were getting married with or without her blessing. Forty-two years later, we are still married, and my mother-in-law still thinks Polly could have married a better man.

Polly was a fast-fingered typist. I, on the other hand, typed with two fingers. Polly, madly in love with the man she called her “bad boy,” typed all my term papers for me. The aforementioned teacher would grade our papers, giving Polly As and me Ds. He would write notes on my papers about my formatting and typos. Polly received no such corrections, even though she was the one typing my reports.

Another professor was a deeply closeted gay man who lived in the dormitory. Early in the second semester of his class, he and I got into a heated discussion over his sexual proclivities. I let him know that I knew exactly “what” he was, as did every man in the dorm. It was the 70s, and I was quite the homophobe. He informed me that I was no longer welcome in his class; that he would give me a passing grade for staying away. Worked for me. More time for basketball.

Another professor was a pastor’s wife. She taught Western Civilization. She made no attempt to interact with students. Day after day, she read the textbook to us. That’s it. The highlight of this class was trying to figure out who farted or who was snoring.

One professor became so enraged at me over dropping his hermeneutics class that he took me to task in his next chapel sermon. While he didn’t mention me by name, he directly looked at me as he railed against a student who dropped his class, a student who was a quitter, who lacked character.

And finally, let me talk about the pastor who taught Biology. Midwestern had no lab. The class consisted of lectures and reading an ancient Bob Jones Press published textbook. What I most remember is this professor’s racist lecture on the importance of marrying your own “kind.” I wonder what he meant?

I was hardly a good student. The reasons for this are many, which I shall explain in a moment. My grades were average, and I had a few Ds and one F. Polly graduated second in her high school class. She was and is one smart cookie — whatever the hell that means. Yet, when I look at her transcript, I see that she struggled in some of her classes too. What happened? It couldn’t have been the difficulty of the classes. I can understand why I was an average student, but Polly? She should have aced her classes. All of them.

Consider my schedule for a moment. I had classes in the morning and then went to work, a full-time job, in the afternoon. I often arrived home after lights out. When, exactly, was I supposed to do my school work? After lights out schoolwork was forbidden. Students would receive demerits for having their lights on after 11:00 pm. On the weekends, I worked in the bus ministry, spending hours on Saturday visiting my bus route. On Sundays, I got up early to drive a bus and then attended Sunday School and morning church. Sunday afternoons, I drove to Detroit to preach at a drug rehabilitation center. And then I would go to church on Sunday night. Throw in going on weekend dates with Polly, fixing my seemingly always broken-down automobiles, playing basketball, attending dorm devotions, and horsing around with my friends; I had little time for school work.

I have long believed that Midwestern used a med school regimen to wash out men they deemed “weak” or “unfit” for the ministry. Tom Malone, the chancellor of the school, may have denied evolution, but he definitely believed in the survival of the fittest. He had no tolerance for weakness. Malone and other chapel speakers frequently railed against quitters. When Polly and I left Midwestern in the Spring of 1979 (she was six months pregnant and I was unemployed), we were labeled quitters. We were told by school administrators and friends alike that God didn’t use quitters. This meant, of course, that if we didn’t graduate, God wouldn’t “bless” our lives and use us in any significant way.

In the mid-1980s, Malone was preaching a conference for Jim Dennis, a 1960s Midwestern graduate and Polly’s uncle. Malone had heard from Polly’s father — also a Midwestern grad and pastor of a nearby IFB church — that I was pastoring a fast-growing IFB church in southeast Ohio. Before beginning his sermon, Malone mentioned me by name, complimenting me on my work. He then admitted, “if Bruce had stayed any longer at Midwestern, we probably would have ruined him.” I guess I wasn’t a quitter, after all.

I didn’t receive much of an education at Midwestern. I met the love of life while there, so there’s that, but preparing me intellectually for the ministry? Midwestern failed miserably at this task. “But, Bruce, you know so much about the Bible and Christianity. How did that happen?” After Midwestern, I went on to get a twenty-five-year education in the privacy of my study. I devoted myself to filling in the massive gaps in my education. I studied hours and hours each week, reading countless theological tomes as I prepared my sermons. All told, I preached over 4,000 sermons.

I refused to wing it, as many of my preacher friends did. One IFB evangelist, Dennis Corle, told me that I was wasting time studying, that 4-5 hours a week of preparation was all I needed, that I should spend the bulk of my time winning souls. I ignored Corle’s ignorant career advice, choosing instead to devote myself to preparing to preach the best sermons possible. My congregants deserved my very best, and with the rare exception, I gave it to 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.

IFB Bullies in the Pulpit

angry preacher

I recently read a blog post on another website that talked about bullies in the pulpit. For those of us raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, we are quite aware of so-called men of God bullying church members under the guise of preaching the Word of God or sharing what God laid upon their hearts. Let me share a couple of illustrations I believe will aptly illustrate my point.

In the early 1980s, my wife and I attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark, Ohio. The church’s pastor was James (Jim) Dennis, Polly’s uncle. Jim graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1960s. Polly’s father would later attend this college, as did Polly and I. Midwestern was known for producing fire-breathing, authoritarian preachers. Tom Malone, the chancellor of Midwestern and pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, took a ” my way or the highway” approach to ministry. Legalistic thinking permeated both the church and the college. Run afoul of Malone, and you were shown the door. I vividly remember someone leaving a church service at Emmanuel and Malone stopping his sermon to address the man leaving. Much to the man’s embarrassment, Malone said, with his Alabamian drawl, “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” The only phrase missing was “on the ass.”

Jim Dennis followed in the footsteps of Malone when it came to being a bully. While Jim could have a winsome personality, cross him and he would quickly put you in your place. The Baptist Temple was his church, end of discussion. God had called him to be its pastor, and as God’s chosen oracle, his word was law.

The church was going through a difficult time financially. Jim decided that he would inspect the tithing records to see which church members were giving and how much. Jim was shocked to learn that many of the teachers and staff in the church’s Christian school were not tithing. Never mind that teachers and staff members were paid pathetically low wages and had few, if any, benefits. Polly taught first grade one year at the school. She made $180 a week before taxes. She also worked in the church’s daycare the previous year. Polly’s total gross wages in 1980-81 were $9,111. I made almost three times as much money working for Long John Silver’s (and had full benefits) as Polly did teaching and caring for the church’s children. Worse yet, women were paid less money than men. Why? Because men were breadwinners, not women. Employees were expected to treat their jobs as a ministry of sorts, the equivalent of a Baptist vow of poverty. It should not be surprising then that many teachers and staff members couldn’t afford to tithe and give offerings. When you are in the poorhouse, it is hard to justify giving money to the church.

One Sunday, an angry Jim Dennis — righteous anger, right?— took to the bully pulpit and savaged his selflessly serving teachers. He demanded that they immediately start tithing, and if they didn’t, he would have their tithes deducted from their paychecks. While I’m sure Polly’s IFB family would wish I didn’t write stories such as this, I think it is important to expose this sort of behavior for what it is: bullying.

Let me share another story before moving on to my own abhorrent behavior. In the 1980s, a fire-breathing Fundamentalist named Mike Lee was the pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. Montpelier Baptist was the first church I worked for after leaving Midwestern in 1979. The pastor I worked for, Jay Stucky, later left and Lee became pastor. My sister and her husband were members of the church both while I was there and after Lee took over the helm. After my sister’s marriage fell apart, Lee would have her followed to see what she was up to. Granted, her behavior didn’t measure up to the IFB standard, but deacons following her to the local bar and grill to observe her behavior? My sister, of course, left the church.

Several years later, the good pastor Lee decided to address the burning issue of church teenagers attending their high school prom. In the minds of Fundamentalists like Lee, attending the prom was among the vilest of “sins.” After his sermon was over, Lee told the congregation that he had something he wanted to talk to them about. Wanting to make sure that no one could leave the church auditorium, Lee had the ushers lock the doors. How do I know this happened? A couple who would later join the church I pastored in West Unity were visiting Lee’s church that day. They were scared witless by his behavior. There’s one word to describe this pastor’s behavior: bullying.

These two illustrations likely seem beyond the pale to non-IFB Christians, but trust me, such behavior is quite normal among IFB pastors and churches. Why is that? Most IFB pastors are anti-culture. I suspect most of them voted for Donald Trump in the last election. Authoritarians love other authoritarians. Many IFB pastors run their churches in a fashion similar to the way Trump ran his businesses and the federal government. IFB pastors, to the man, believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Couple this with a literalistic interpretation of the Bible, a belief that pastors are divinely called by God to speak on his behalf, and that their opinions and personal interpretations have the weight of law, is it any surprise that many of them are bullies?

I grew up in IFB churches and attended an IFB college. My pastors, professors, and colleagues in the ministry all modeled bullying behavior to one degree or another. I heard it at pastor’s conferences in the stories preachers told about their churches, and I witnessed it when I visited other IFB churches. People wrongly assume that Steven Anderson, an IFB pastor in Tempe, Arizona, is an outlier, an aberration. He’s not. The same goes for the late-Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church.

It is not surprising, then, that I was an authoritarian and bully as a pastor. I may have been kind, compassionate, and may have gone out of my way to help church members, but I expected congregants to heed my pronouncements. I expected them to recognize and bow what is called in IFB circles “pastoral authority.” This false notion was reinforced in my sermons, private interactions, and church business meetings. Church members were warned that failure to obey the man of God would lead to judgment and chastisement from the Almighty. And surprisingly, hundreds of people bowed to my authority, believing I was in some way or the other chosen by God to be their “shepherd.”

The good news is that I stopped being a bully long before I left the ministry. I came to see that the church didn’t belong to me. It was “our” church, not my personal fiefdom. Did I totally lose my authoritarian bent? Sadly, no. I learned that many church members were quite comfortable with me making all or most of the decisions. They were fine with me telling them what to believe and how to live. I endured countless church business meetings where I would plead with congregants to share their opinions, only to see them stay silent or let me have the final say. This was frustrating, to say the least, but it is hard for me not to conclude that every church I pastored had cultic tendencies.

After leaving the ministry in 2005 and Christianity in 2008, I have repeatedly apologized to former parishioners for my bullying behavior. While I have been forgiven by those I have harmed, it’s hard for me to live with the damage and harm I caused to others. Sure, I was a product of my environment and training. Sure, I did what was modeled to me by my pastors, professors, and other IFB pastors and evangelists. All that is true and makes for a great psych profile, but the fact remains that I was a bully, that I harmed other people, including my wife and children.

Alas, there are no do-overs in life. All I know to do is tell my story and hope that others will be warded off from authoritarian pastors. Not all pastors are bullies, so I suggest potential church members carefully pay attention to how a preacher conducts himself before committing one’s time and money to a particular church. Bullying behavior can be found in other sects too. In general, Evangelicalism has a problem with bullies in the pulpit, men who are engorged with power and control. The only way to end such behavior is to stop giving these bullies an audience. When all the students stay off the playground, the bully has no one to harm. It’s time for Christians to leave authoritarian pastors to their own devices.

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.

Bruce Gerencser