I was recently contacted by an friend who asked if I might write a few words of support and love for people who have survived life inside the horribly toxic world of the Independent Fundamental Baptists. If you’re unfamiliar with the beliefs and practices of the Independent Fundamental Baptists, some of them are:
→ The King James Version is the only true Word of God; all other translations of the Bible are the work of the devil. Meant to be taken literally, the KJV is inspired, inerrant, infallible, and the supreme and final authority in all things. It is therefore literally true that God created the world in six 24-hour days; Satan is real, the enemy of God, and the instigator of all false religions; the theory of evolution is unscriptural and therefore without merit; hell is a real place where all who die without having accepted Christ as their Savior suffer consciously being roasted alive for eternity, and so on.
→ Each IFB church (the mothership of which is Bob Jones University) is wholly autonomous and free from any outside governance. Its pastor is divinely appointed and accountable to no earthly authority. He speaks for God, and God alone may judge him. To question the sovereignty of the pastor is to disturb God’s order and invite upon oneself separation from the church, and therefore from the very source of salvation and hope.
→ Men alone are suited to be the head of home and church.
→ For a woman to be pleasing to God she must always and in all things remain perfectly submissive, first to her father and then to her husband. The primary function of a woman is to have children, who then become her mission field.
→ It is sinful for a woman to dress in any way that might cause a man to spiritually stumble by having even the slightest lustful thought.
→ Human life begins at conception. Every abortion, without exception, is murder.
→ Homosexuals are evil perverts who despise God and should be kept away from society generally and children especially. There is no appreciable moral distinction between homosexuality and bestiality, incest, child molestation or rape.
→ Black people bear the indelible and wretched curse of the “mark of Cain.”
→ Christians are called to remain steadfastly separate from the world and its sinful practices and temptations, such as movies, dancing, and any music with an addictive rock beat.
→ Educating children at home or in IFB K-12 schools is necessary in order to protect them from the knowledge and ways of a fallen and corrupt world.
IFBs also generally believe that the will of a child must be broken before it ever has a chance to develop: a fussing or crying baby is exerting its selfish will. That will needs to be eliminated, since wherever human will is God’s will cannot be.
By way of justifying infant “training” and the continued “submission of the will” of children, IFB parents point to these lines in The Book of Proverbs:
- Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. (Pr 23:14)
- The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. (Pr 29:15)
- Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Pr 22:15)
- He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes [early on; speedily]. (Pr 13:24)
- Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. (Pr 19:18)
- The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil. (Pr 20:30)
To Train Up a Child, by fundamentalist Christian minister Michael Pearl and his wife Debi, is very popular within the IFB. This guide to “consistently rewarding every transgression with a switching” (from the book’s introduction) has sold over 670,000 copies. Here are some quotes from the book:
These truths [of this book] are . . . the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules, the same technique God uses to train his children.
If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.
If God’s love is expressed by the “whippings” He gives, then can we not love our children enough to chasten them unto holiness? I have heard a rebellious teenager say, “If they only loved me enough to whip me.”
But what of the grouch who would rather complain than sleep? Get tough. Be firm with him. Never put him down and then allow him to get up. If, after putting him down, you remember he just woke up, do not reward his complaining by allowing him to get up. For the sake of consistency in training, you must follow through. He may not be able to sleep, but he can be trained to lie there quietly. He will very quickly come to know that any time he is laid down there is no alternative but to stay put. To get up is to be on the firing line and get switched back down.
She then administers [to a three-year-old] about ten slow, patient licks on his bare legs. He cries in pain. If he continues to show defiance by jerking around and defending himself, or by expressing anger, then she will wait a moment and again lecture him and again spank him. When it is obvious he is totally broken, she will hand him the rag and very calmly say, “Johnny, clean up your mess.”
On the bare legs or bottom, switch him eight or ten licks; then, while waiting for the pain to subside, speak calm words of rebuke. If the crying turns to a true, wounded, submissive whimper, you have conquered; he has submitted his will. If the crying is still defiant, protesting and other than a response to pain, spank him again.
One particularly painful experience of nursing mothers is the biting baby. My wife did not waste time finding a cure. When the baby bit, she pulled hair (an alternative has to be sought for baldheaded babies).
Select your instrument according to the child’s size. For the under one year old, a little, ten- to twelve-inch long, willowy branch (striped of any knots that might break the skin) about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger tree branch is effective.
IFB takes the “I” in its title extremely seriously; they are nothing if not independent. For this reason, IFB churches vigorously renounce the idea that IFB constitutes a denomination: each church, they hold, is a kingdom unto itself and obliged to cooperate with exactly no other church body, IFB or otherwise.
The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life puts IFB members at 2.5% of Americans. This means that there are approximately 7.85 million IFBs in America today. It’s unlikely there isn’t an IFB church within a half-hour drive from your house.
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To anyone struggling against the onerous legacy left to them by their time spent within the IFB:
Our characters are forged in the crucible of what we survive. In surviving the worst survivors of IFB have become the best. The writings that I’ve read from former IFBs are some of the strongest testimonies to the strength and decency of the human spirit that I’ve ever come across. I appreciate being asked to offer you guys a word of support, but you should be offering support to me and anyone else lucky enough to hear what you have to say. You’re the power. You’re the strength. It’s you who are singing the songs that need to be heard.
The one thing I do want to say for anyone just making their way out of the darkness of IFB is this: that you once so thoroughly bought into IFB is a sign of your strength, not your weakness. Beside the fact that you were likely born into IFB and so never chose to believe anything about it one way or another, your allegiance to IFB means nothing more than that you love. You love passionately, deeply, and inexorably. And like everyone else in the world you want that love to mean something, to be incorporated into and desired by something worthy of it. And what can possibly be more worthy of a person’s love than God and family?
You brought the goods to the table. You showed up, ready to play. You brought the best of yourself. You brought all of yourself.
You gave. You trusted. You loved, and loved, and loved some more. You loved when you had no more love to give.
You loved when the cost of that love was to negate the best parts of yourself.
You did what you were supposed to do: you sacrificed yourself.
It was they who didn’t truly commit to the truths upon which they claimed to be basing their lives. It was they who lied—first to themselves, and then to you.
They didn’t sink deep enough. They didn’t give over their will over to God. They didn’t sacrifice who they were.
They kept what they wanted. They kept what they needed. They kept what worked for them.
They pretended to be something they weren’t. They insisted upon that ignoble facade despite the too-clear harm it was causing. For their own dark reasons they kept that wicked dance going.
They lied, they lied, they lied.
And they used the best of who you are, and the best of what you have to give, to feed those lies.
They used you as fodder in the war between themselves and everything they fear.
And because of your trusting love for them, you let them. You served them that way. You loved them in that (and a million other) ways. And in a real and important sense you will always love them. And out of that love you gave them the best of who you are to do with whatever they felt they needed to. And if they failed to treat that greatest of gifts with the sacrosanct respect it deserves, then shame on them.
If they really loved God they would have loved you and everyone else in a manner befitting that love: properly, carefully, consistently. It really is that simple.
And despite all you’ve been through, here you are now! Dented, maybe, a little—but definitely not broken.
Slightly wobbly, but still on your feet.
Shaken, not stirred.
You were right; they were wrong; and no sane person in the world would say otherwise. And screw ‘em if they do.
You have left them now to themselves, and stepped into your own world. A world where you say what is and isn’t good. Where you write the rules. Where you claim what’s true.
Finally, now, it’s time for you to dance to your own song.
And how marvelous will be your dance.
How you will soar.
Thank you for being so strong.
———–> The letter above as a downloadable pdf <———–
→ In its January 2013 issue, Chicago Magazine published Let Us Pray: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church.
→ In April of last year, 20/20 aired the results of its year-long investigation of IFB. (You can read ABC’s condensed print version of the show here.) Among those featured in the report are Tina Anderson, very recently in the news. (Researchers digging into the Tina Anderson story will appreciate finding her original testimony to the Concord, NH police department.)
→ Last spring Anderson Cooper 360° aired Ungodly Discipline, a show about the child abuse within IFB. (Part 1; Parts 2 & 3.) Part 1 looks at To Train Up a Child and includes an interview with its authors. Featured in Part 2 is Hephzibah House, one of the many private IFB-operated homes across the country to which IFB families send their “troubled” teens to live and be disciplined back into obedience to God. Because they are owned and operated by churches, such homes are typically exempt from any sort of licensure or government oversight. Introduced in Part 2 of Ungodly Discipline is former Hephzibah resident Susan Grotte. Ms. Grotte’s website is Hephzibah Girls; her personal testimony about her experience at Hephzibah House is here.
→ Jocelyn Zichterman is featured in both the 20/20 and Anderson Cooper 360° episodes referenced above. Founder of the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Cult Survivors Facebook page, her website is Freedom From Abuse. Her book I Fired God: My Life Inside—and Escape from—the Secret World of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Cult is a must-read for anyone seeking comprehensive knowledge of what goes on inside the the IFB.
→ Paradise Recovered is a superb independent film about a young woman tentatively making her way in the world after being kicked out of her IFB home. Highly recommended.
→ StopBaptistPredators.org takes seriously its mission of “shining light on Baptist clergy sex abuse.” You’re likely to share that mission once you visit this site.
→ Blog on the Way is one of the best online resources for assisting victims of church abuse in Christian Fundamentalism. (Note its heart-stopping sidebar, The Christian Fundamentalist Roll Call of Shame: Child Abusers in Christian Fundamentalism.)
→ Chucks Travels keeps an ever-vigilant watch over nefarious IFB pastors.
→ Why Not Train Up a Child is just what it claims to be: a clearinghouse of information and arguments refuting the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl.
→ Vyckie Garrison’s exemplary blog No Longer Quivering, is a gathering place for women escaping and recovering from spiritual abuse. Garrison offers a wealth of sensitively presented information and insight about the Quiverfull movement, popular and growing amongst Christian fundamentalists, which posits that truly godly families should “trust the Lord” with their family planning.
→ Though not particularly brief A Brief Survey of Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches, by IFB enthusiast Cooper P. Abrams III (whose literally very colorful website is Bible Truth), offers insight into IFB’s history and mindset.
→ Contradicting IFB’s claim of not being a denomination is IFB umbrella organization Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International (FBFI). Though the bulk of FBFI’s website is unsurprisingly closed to outsiders, its available constitution is a comprehensive expression of IFB beliefs. Another great overview of IFB beliefs is the What We Believe page on the website of Sword of the Lord, a main and influential IFB publication.
→ Here is a map showing links to more IFB churches than you can shake a Bible at.
→ Finally, if you’re looking for an alternative Christianity to IFB, consider Unfundamentalist Christians.
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The lead-in image is And Jesus Wept, by photographer Scott Moss.