Image by Ryan Ashton
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” Albert Einstein
This is a story that needed to be told and kudos to Sarah Smith of the Star Telegram for doing so. Shortly after starting this blog, I had an opportunity to meet Jeri Massi who wrote a book that gave me nightmares. That book, Schizophrenic Christianity: How Christian Fundamentalism Attracts and Protects Sociopaths, Abusive Pastors, and Child Molesters. That book has since been updated.
Before I go any further, for you Dr Who fans, this is THE Jeri Masse of Dr Who fandom. She has a blog Blog on the Way: Information and resources to assist victims of church abuse in Christian Fundamentalism
What is the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement/church?
Wikipedia says it this way.
Independent Baptist churches (some also called Independent Fundamental Baptist, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist or IFB) are Christian congregations, generally holding to conservative (primarily fundamentalist) Baptist beliefs. The term independent refers to the doctrinal position of church autonomy and a refusal to join any affiliated Baptist denomination, convention or hierarchical structure.
The Independent Baptist tradition began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries among local denominational Baptist congregations whose members were concerned about the advancement of modernism and liberalism into national Baptist denominations and conventions in the United States and the United Kingdom.
In response to the concerns, some local Baptist churches separated en masse from their former denominations and conventions and reestablished the congregations as Independent Baptist churches. In other cases, the more conservative members of existing churches withdrew from their local congregations and set about establishing new Independent Baptist churches.
Let me tell you two stories that happened at an IFB church in my area to give you an idea of the *rules* of the IFB.
- A girl went to a concert at the church wearing pants. She was not allowed inside the church. In the IFB, women must wear skirts/dresses which are defined as women’s clothes. Men must wear shirts and ties (often with jackets) in the church because that is what men wear.
- A boy was expelled from school for listening to country western music.
There is a blog called Baptist Deception which exposes the strange beliefs of this group of churches. KJV stands for the King James Version of the Bible which is the only real translation in this group.
My name is Steve Sorenson. I was born and raised in the Independent Fundamental Baptist church. I was part of their abusive traditions for over 25 years. My family went to church every time the doors were open. We were there for Sunday school, Sunday morning service, Sunday evening service, Wednesday evening prayer meeting/youth group, and Thursday evening evangelism. I grew up believing that I had to act, dress, behave, talk and sing a certain way in order to be accepted by God. I had to sing their music, read their books, study their literature, play the sports they deemed were appropriate, and use only the KJV or else I was considered a rebel unworthy of the title Christian. Nothing I did was ever good enough. I believed that I had to be perfect in order for God to like me.
We went to a big church that also had a Christian school so I received the same messages about myself and God at school from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. I was physically and emotionally abused by teachers, class mates and church staff for many years. I was called names and paddled for almost no reason at all. I felt like I was walking on egg shells the whole time. I was never allowed to explore the real me. I had to be who they wanted and expected me to be, basically a robot. I’m still struggling with who I am and who God made me to be.
In my opinion, this group of churches is cult-like, seemingly ignoring grace while imposing *biblical* rules that are made up by the leaders.(I sure can’t find them in the Bible.)
The IFB appears cultish but are admired by men like John Piper who support them.
It is the silence of men like Piper that gives the IFB a pass. Piper wrote Praise God for Fundamentalists in 2007. Here are some things he had to say as he responded to their criticism of his compromise of the *fundamentals.*
What I want to say about Fundamentalism is that its great gift to the church is precisely the backbone to resist compromise and to make standing for truth and principle a means of love rather than an alternative to it. I am helped by the call for biblical separation, because almost no evangelicals even think about the doctrine.
So I thank God for fundamentalism, and I think that some of the whining about its ill effects would have to also be directed against the black-and-white bluntness of Jesus.
Piper’s response is classic. He, along with many other Christian leaders, appear to have ignored the serious issues within this group just like they ignored the problems in Sovereign Grace Ministries, extolling their supposed virtues and ignoring the blatant problems.
Here he defended them again in 20 Reasons I Don’t Take Potshots at Fundamentalists.
- They are humble and respectful and courteous, and even funny (at least the ones I’ve met).
- They believe in truth.
- They believe that truth really matters.
- They believe that the Bible is true — all of i.t
- They know that the Bible calls for some kind of separation from the world.
- They have backbone and are not prone to compromise principle.
- They resist trendiness.
But Piper either didn’t do his homework or he ignored the reports that had been coming out of the IFB for years.
Sex abuse and the IFB: When my eyes opened.
In 2011, I wrote a post: Is The Independent Fundamental Baptist Church Any Different Than the Southern Baptist Convention and Sovereign Grace Ministries? Here is what I had to say 7 years ago.
Last year I read Schizophrenic Christianity: How Christian Fundamentalism Attracts and Protects Sociopaths, Abusive Pastors, and Child Molesters by Jeri Massi.
I was dumbfounded at the reported number of pastors accused and convicted of child molestation. What is shocking is that many of these men continue to be involved in positions of leadership. The pastors, seen as specially anointed, are shielded from blame. Instead, the victim, who is under the age of consent, is usually censured for pursuing justice and there is a concerted effort to isolate and shun the victim of abuse.
The book also discusses the extreme patriarchal views that are taught in the IFB. Men are seen as the head of the church and family while women take a distant, secondary role. In this system, when there is a man and a woman at odds, the male “head” gets protected while the women are thrown to the wolves.
The following quote from the above link at Amazon tells the story. (Pastors)
“…hold themselves above accountability by merging into a system that refuses to police itself or institute rules of behavior for its clergy.”
Here are my impressions of the IFB after I read Massi’s book.
- It’s led by authoritarian pastors
- Teaches a belief that disobeying the pastor could lead to serious punishment by God.
- Outward appearances are used to disguise inward perversity
- There is a refusal to deal with serious sin, often letting it be hidden to *protect the church.*
These factors contributed to a group of churches which attracts child molesters, abuser and sociopaths. Hmmm that sounds a lot like Jeri Massi’s book title. I told my husband that Schizophrenic Christianity was one of the most disturbing book I had ever read. It opened my eyes to the evil which resides within the IFB.
I know there are some nice people in the IFB but far too many of them close their eyes to the vile actions of leaders. It is my hope that Sarah Smith’s report will force them to deal with the depravity in their midst.
Here are some numbers of abuse allegation in the IFB from Sarah Smith’s report in the Star Telegram.
- The Star-Telegram discovered at least 412 allegations of sexual misconduct in 187 independent fundamental Baptist churches and their affiliated institutions, spanning 40 states and Canada.
- 21 abuse allegations were uncovered exclusively by the Star-Telegram,(ed. Thank you for your work!) and others were documented in criminal cases, lawsuits and news reports.
- At least 45 of the alleged abusers continued in ministry after accusations came to the attention of church authorities or law enforcement.
The report brings to light disturbing revelations.
- Victims said the number of abused is far greater because few victims ever come forward.
- For many alleged offenders, the statutes on the crimes have expired.
- Many of the allegations involve men whose misconduct has long been suspected in the independent fundamental Baptist community.
- Even pastors have for the first time — in interviews with the Star-Telegram — acknowledged they moved alleged abusers out of their churches rather than call law enforcement.
Why victims say the IFB churches are cult-like.
- Constant pressure not to question pastors
- People cannot leave the church
- IFB leaders rule by fear
- If one disobeys the pastor, punishment, presumably from God, would occur.
- Description by (ex)members of IFB pastors: The “man of God” is chosen by God and is the church’s direct link to him. To question the pastor is to question God.
Two examples of how pastors rules by fear
- The photo was of the son of a Windsor Hills family who told Vineyard they were going to leave the church. Vineyard warned them: If they did, God would punish them. They left, and the son died in a car crash.
- Scripture is misused to control.even children. Children learn the story of Elisha and the she-bears: As the prophet Elisha walks up the path toward Bethel, a group of children surrounds him and makes fun of his baldness. Two she-bears emerge from the woods and maul 42 of the children. The lesson: Don’t challenge the man of God. (Ed. For those of you unfamiliar with this story, here is one thought.)
The authority of the pastor is pervasive.
According to Smith, the pastor can have a say in who members date, where they vacations, and which house to buy.
The problem with *worldly* separation when it comes to reporting abuse to the authorities.
The insistence of separation from the world means that IFB members will not interact in any meaningful way with nonbelievers as well as with other Christians who do not see things they same way they do. But it goes even deeper than that. Members are instructed or encouraged to bring reports of criminal behavior to the pastor, not to the police.
Those who coverup abuse by pastors rarely experience repercussions while the victim of abuse is the one who must confess to the church. In fact, many abusive pastors are merely transferred to other churches.
One young woman, Lisa Messier was assaulted by her youth pastor, Mark Chapelle, when she was 16.
At 17, feeling like she had no other way to get out of the situation, Lisa Meister tried to kill herself.
Sitting in the hospital room, she told her pastor, Stephen Baker, why she did it.
Ultimately, Meister’s parents and Chappell were asked to appear before the church to repent for their sins.
“It wasn’t said, ‘This man preyed on this girl,’ ‘This man violated this girl,’” Meister said. “It was put out before the church as two people who sinned together. Like I was just as guilty as he was in the eyes of the church.”
When Chappell moved to a new church, Baker said he made the leadership in the new church aware of the allegations.
“I worked very closely with our leadership, and we felt we had tried to do what was in the very best interest of really, two situations,” Baker said. “The church and both parties.”
…In retrospect, he said, he should have taken more time to decide what to do and let Lisa Meister’s parents know that there were options besides church discipline.
Chappell now pastors Freeway Baptist Church in Phoenix, Arizona. He is part of one of the most prominent families in the movement
The Star Telegram likened (correctly, in my opinion,) the IFB to the Roman Catholic Church which routinely moved their priest abusers from church to church.
The cover-ups are reminiscent of the scandals of the Roman Catholic Church, but distinctly different.
Decisions in the Catholic Church are made within a hierarchical structure that governs all churches. Independent fundamental Baptist churches operate with no oversight or structure outside their own walls.
One thing does bind the churches that face abuse accusations: a culture that uses fear to control and gives men in power the role of unquestioned and ultimate authority. In that environment, abuse has visited scores of fundamental Baptist churches.
And many abusers have escaped consequence-free, often with the help of the pastor in charge.
The Star Telegram outlined three responses by IFB leaders and pastors to abusive pastors/leaders.
- Pastors ship suspected abusers to other churches or church-affiliated schools led by one of their friends from Bible college or the speaking circuit. Both have full knowledge of what happened
- Pastors recommend a suspected abuser for a new job without informing the church or school about the allegations.
- Pastors pressure victims to keep quiet, telling them they’ll ruin the alleged abuser’s ministry or the pastors simply don’t believe the accusations. They can also bring in a law firm that specializes in the independent fundamental Baptist movement
The Christian Law Association is devoted to helping pastors fix *problems.*
The Christian Law Association has been involved in at least a dozen cases of alleged church abuse, according to court documents and interview.
….In a 2012 newsletter, the association recommended that church leaders talk to their attorney, conduct an internal investigation and contact their insurance carrier before considering a call to authorities.
According to the Star Telegram, David Gibbs III who worked with his father to defend IFB churches, left the group and started a new firm to help the victims!
Gibbs III represents victims of church abuse, although many women remain skeptical because of his earlier work. He said, in his experience, pastors often protect the church over the congregation.
Ashely Easter tells her story.
Here are several article that TWW has written about the IFB.
After all of this information, you will be on overload. However, I know you will want to join me in giving thanks the Star Telegram and Sarah Smith for an incredible exposé of the IFB.There are more exposes to come and all of them are needed.If the church will not police itself, social and news media will.