Baptist Taliban: Part 3

by Cindy Foster

THE CHURCH WE WERE

The Preacher and his wife graduated from Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. At the time he attended there, the college was quite conservative. There were strict rules about dress, dating, curfews, entertainment, music and much more.

The Preacher actually grew up in Springfield and was a member of a church that was not nearly as rigid in its standards as the college was, so in the beginning of his ministry as pastor, he did not have the extreme beliefs that he eventually embraced later in his ministry.

It was several years after the church had started and was established with its own building that the more relaxed climate began to change to rigid. There were several contributing factors.

The Preacher had always extolled the merits of the old-fashioned preachers, past and present. The God-loving, sin-hating ones who cried for a return to the value of unquestioning obedience to all authority, days when it seemed that children respected their elders, women knew their place, homosexuality and other sexual sins were crimes, and preachers were not afraid to preach against sin, name the sins and those who committed them from the pulpit.

He was lifted up by some of these older ‘men of God‘ as one ‘wise beyond his years‘ and ‘called by God‘ to lead a church as a ‘remnant‘ back to the ‘old paths’. He seemed to also believe himself to have some kind of special leadership qualities that would aid him in keeping his church pure. At least one of those factors was us.

There was also an event in The Preacher’s life that became the catalyst for change in our attitude towards him and our position under him in the church.

The Preacher had a procedure done to get rid of kidney stones that had plagued him off and on for months. He had some kind of reaction to the anesthesia or something and it was feared he wouldn’t survive it. It was grave enough that Paul went to see him in the hospital. There were statements made about the care of his family should he not make it, and Paul felt terribly sorry for him for the state he was in. He also felt guilty that he had not treated him with the respect that was supposed to be due a man in the position of ‘pastor’.

So, he made the decision that he would from then on give him the respect he was supposed to deserve as a ‘pastor’. Up until that time, Paul treated The Preacher no differently than any other person. Whenever they ‘got into it’, whether it was concerning work, church, or family–there was no consideration for his position. They would really, ‘get into it‘ not unlike more normal brotherly relationships. But everything changed in that moment.

THE CHURCH WE BECAME

Paul and I began to be much more attracted to the teachings of ‘old-fashioned’ preachers and evangelists who seemed to be having great success in raising ‘Godly’, obedient, adoring children. We frequented camp meetings where these preachers and evangelists could be heard. They were loud, passionate and charismatic pulpiteers who knew how to deliver powerful sermons and lure audiences to surrender.

The atmosphere at those meetings was electrified by talented singers with bass and electric guitars, keyboards, and sound systems amplifying toe-tapping Southern Gospel songs rich with dynamic, spirit-grabbing lyrics. We made friends easily with the people who regularly came. Some were kindred spirits who shared our views about separation and home schooling… also an indirect result of compelling arguments made by those same preachers and evangelists.

It was by the influences that we got ‘convicted about watching television. Paul eventually decided to ‘make a statement’ by taking it outside, digging a hole in the ground, placing the TV in the hole and shooting it to pieces with a shotgun while all the kids watched in shocked amazement.

Since there was no TV, I became an avid listener to Christian talk radio shows as I spent many hours nursing babies. These shows decried the subtle ‘Satanic‘ messages prevalent in such things as toys, fairy tales, secular music, public schools, Disney movies, politics, Promise Keepers–ad infinitum. I wanted nothing more than to protect my children from the lures of ‘the World’, so Paul and I bought into just about all of it–hook, line and sinker and began passing these ideas on to The Preacher, his wife and others in the church.

The Preacher was unimpressed by the camp-meeting styled preaching services we enjoyed so much, and even warned against the appetite for excitement and enthusiasm that was generated by all the sensationalism. But he came across to us as being more jealous of their success in winning our admiration than any real concern that we would over-indulge in camp-meeting sensationalism.

Nevertheless, between his propensity toward extremes and our naive attraction to the ‘old paths’ message, a potent, toxic mixture was formed. A preacher who was a driven authoritarian and who soaked up any support for his authoritarian leadership and praise for his preaching, combined with his ‘second man’ who was willing to accommodate those tendencies. From that mixture arose a toxic camaraderie that was unified and focused towards a successfully controlled, preacher-dominated church.

Then, at some point in all this, The Preacher had become convinced that our church being ‘incorporated‘ by the State was the same as making the State the ‘head‘ of it thus removing Christ’s position of preeminence. He also came to similar conclusions about marriage licenses, so after some special meetings where representatives from a group called ‘The Ecclesiastical Law Association‘ detailed the specifics, we voted to dissolve the corporation. Of course, this action led to making policy that couples who plan to marry in our church, could only do so by covenant. The Preacher refused to even so much as open or close a wedding service in prayer if the couple had a marriage license! To our way of thinking, we were really ramping up the church’s level of commitment to ‘truth’.

The Preacher also decided that para-church organizations were unscriptural and anti-local church, so we pulled out of the Baptist Bible Fellowship meetings, youth rallies, and support of the Baptist Bible Fellowship-run Bible college. Moreover, the practice of sending our young people away to a Bible college to be trained in ministry was likewise deemed to be unscriptural because in the New Testament churches, it was the pastors‘ responsibility to train their young for ministry. So, we eventually started our own institute.

Additionally, the youth camp we had attended for 10 years or so allowed too much ‘liberal’ music and since we no longer permitted our ladies and girls to wear pants, it seemed contradictory to continue to attend that camp. We even stopped fellowshipping with other churches who did not share our standards and beliefs. Instead, we searched out and found a camp that practiced the same level of separation that we did.

Around this time, we also became involved with a very militant church and Bible college in Oklahoma City. This group seemed to share the same beliefs and practices of our growing ‘taliban-istic’ church. In addition to summer youth camp, we took our teens to their week-long youth conferences, which led to our first three ‘preacher boys’ surrendering to enroll in the Bible college under this church’s ministry.

The ‘truth be known’ it was at the youth conference we took our teens to directly following the week at the new youth camp we took them to, that the teens made decisions to sell-out to God. Though it could be claimed that it was the Church that chose the events, that got ‘the job done’, it was still those teens who yielded to the teachings. As soon as we completed those two weeks, they came home and jumped head-first into applying all that they had learned and committed to by getting fully involved in the scheduled vacation Bible school immediately following.

The teens themselves made the decisions to change their already conservative dress, to what I can best describe as a more ‘Pentecostal-holiness’ style of dress. It was only later, when The Preacher began to notice slight changes back toward the more up-dated styles (though still very modest by all reasonable standards) that as a knee-jerk, reaction, he began to claim and own their standards as his and the church’s– regulating lengths, looseness and eliminating even the slightest slit.

He also insisted that boys hair had to be cut military-short and parted. Ties had to be worn to every service (if their parents were in leadership, if they were in any kind of leadership themselves or students in the Institute). The Preacher’s only contribution to the change in dress standards before, was to disallow pants and shorts on women and shorts on men.

For every perceived problem presented, a new rule and accompanying belief was added until it seemed that there was no end to them. But, all these efforts towards regulating our church away from the ways of the world and its liberalizing effects on other churches, seemed to be working. Nowhere was this more apparent than in our young people.

Imagine 50 some odd teens and single young adults actively, willingly attending every service, every youth activity, teaching Sunday school, working bus routes, discipling children and other young people, singing and accompanying specials in church. Sweet-faced girls wearing long, flowing dresses, guys sharply dressed in shirts and ties–sporting military short hair cuts, all cleaning church, working in the Bible publishing ministry, working in the Nursing Home ministry, studying in the church Institute, witnessing to and bringing their friends, yielding to the altar calls, surrendering to be pastors, church planters, evangelists and ministry wives, submitting to a host of unnecessary and oppressive beliefs and surrendering their futures to the religious dictates of their pastor and parents. Who wouldn’t enjoy such ‘fruits’; who wouldn’t enjoy ‘glorying‘ just a bit in such splendid advertisement of efforts? It was intoxicating…….while it lasted.

One would think that the pastor of an ‘on fire‘ group as this would be humbled and gratified to shepherd such a hard-working bunch. One would think that the pastor of such a group would want to commend, encourage and enjoy them. Not so with The Preacher. He preached that easing up on them or the rest of the church, would cause them to “slip”, so instead of preaching sermons praising God for loving and strengthening our young people enough for them to do the work they were doing, he found more to criticize and condemn. Every sermon was full of warnings and rebuke. Every sermon was loud, long and angry. It was as if he was solely responsible for not only the church’s appearance of spirituality but of the actual spirituality of every member in it.

He spent an inordinate amount of time on Moses and the stubborn, rebellious Children of Israel. He identified himself with the character of Moses, while identifying the character of the church with the rebellious, idolatrous Children of Israel.

After about two solid years, three or four hour-long sermons per week, the spirit of the young people began to change in ways ranging from zealous to rebellious. Discouragement led to despair which turned in to cynicism, apathy, frustration and disillusionment.

There had always been a competitive undercurrent particularly between the women, since he continually defined certain behaviors and attitudes such as humility, respect for and unquestioning obedience to authority, submissiveness, contentment, disdain for ‘worldly’ clothes, entertainment and ambitions as well as loyalty to him and the church. These qualities became identifiers for ones truly dedicated to God.

Naturally many of the women secretly desired their children to live up to his definitions. They may not have revealed those desires overtly, but they were manifested as jealousy and contention towards each other and intense pressure on their kids to perform well. There were bickerings and squabblings among the women, particularly the ones in leadership, that trickled down to the daughters causing contention among them. All this was going on while on the surface, the church appeared to be full of love and unity. All that ‘glittered’ there, certainly was not gold.

As the disillusionment of many of the young people mounted, so did The Preacher’s anger. It seemed he saw a demon behind every neutral expression. If he didn’t see eager, smiling, submitted, unquestioning countenances, he suspected pride and rebellion. He even said it to my husband, after suspending almost all the young people (for reasons I will explain later) from participating in music specials. My husband questioned whether this might make them more discouraged, The Preacher said, “They have pride. I can see it.” This was his rationalization for punishing them thusly.

While I am certain he thought he was purging the church of the “leaven” so that his church could passionately pursue the ‘cause of Christ‘ unhindered and unencumbered by the weight of the contentious ones, I have to wonder if had he known how messy and how far-reaching the effects would be, if secretly he regrets what he did. It is now obvious he and the rest of the church have paid a heavy price.

Part 1 | Part 2

Open comments below

Read all posts by Cindy!

Cindy Foster is “Mom” to eight gorgeous, talented, temperamental, noisy, opinionated, alike-but very different kids. She has been married to their daddy, Paul, for 34 years. Cindy blogs at Baptist Taliban and Beyond.

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

About Suzanne Calulu
  • http://sobersecondlook.wordpress.com xcwn

    An interesting story, which has a lot of details that I can relate to. I guess a religious cult is a religious cult, no matter what religion it claims to be representing in its “purest” form.
    But I fail to see what the connection is to the Taliban. I don’t see any indication that The Preacher or his followers were in any way inspired by anything outside of their own rigid interpretations of Christianity, and their reaction to aspects of American culture that they didn’t like.
    While I can understand the lure of wanting to deal with an abusive religious past by disavowing its links to your religion, I don’t know how well that actually addresses the roots of this kind of abuse that you are talking about. Is the idea that Christians caught in such cultic churches will suddenly recognize–”Oh gosh, we’re just like the Taliban!”–fear for their salvation, and find a more sane church?? One thing I do know is that when I was involved in a Muslim cult, we didn’t bother to listen to (non-cult) Muslims who compared some of our practices to Christianity—we just dismissed them as uninformed.

  • http://BaptistTalibanandBeyond. Cindy Foster

    xcwn,

    Thank you for your questions and thoughts!

    The title is strictly metaphorical. While the Taliban is a physical and spiritual regime of oppressive control, churches like the Baptist Taliban is comparable in it’s destructive effects on followers spiritual, emotional and psychological health which also to a far lesser degree subtly affects them physically. I could not address the “roots of this kind of abuse” in this summary of the story because that is a lengthy, multi-faceted subject. I do weave the roots of this kind of belief system all though out my blog.

    I am very conscious of the fact those on the inside will just dismiss what I write, as well we did, but I also recognize the benefit of ‘planting seeds’. The very dynamics of such groups provoke many episodes of dramatic and traumatic events that combined with the ‘seeds’ planted through my accounts have been successful in causing some to re-think–particularly the ones conscientious about the potential harmful effects on their growing children. THIS is my main objective.

    Also, they cannot dismiss me as uniformed because I was ‘one of them’ for 19 years.

    Are you from a Muslim culture, or did you join from outside?
    To give you a better idea of my thinking you can go here:
    http://baptisttaliban.blogspot.com/2010/03/why-taliban-title.html
    health

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    “I don’t see any indication that The Preacher or his followers were in any way inspired by anything outside of their own rigid interpretations of Christianity, and their reaction to aspects of American culture that they didn’t like.”

    And…how is this essentially different from the Taliban? The Taliban are inspired by “their own rigid interpretations” of Islam and are very much driven by their rejection of what they see as Western (particularly American and European) culture and values. The only difference is how much power they have to implement their ideals. The Taliban are more extreme, yeah, but only because they have the power to be so. If the most extremist wing of American Christianity managed to install the theocratic government they want, I really wouldn’t expect any better of them.

  • http://BaptistTalibanandBeyond. Cindy Foster

    Petticoat,

    I am so glad you brought this out. Precisely the message I’ve intended by the title! The Preacher has even told us more than once that he believes Old Testament Civil Law should still be enforced to this day. If these strict literalist extremists really believe that, they would have to support and even promote instituting the OT punishments for all the offenses described in the OT Law. Different religions, same results.

    The Taliban basically believes and practices the same thing albeit a different God. So then the Baptist Taliban churches under theocracy would

  • http://BaptistTalibanandBeyond. Cindy Foster

    Scratch that last two lines. Those were not meant to be published.

  • http://sobersecondlook.wordpress.com xcwn

    “The Taliban basically believes and practices the same thing albeit a different God.”
    Um, no. It’s the same God. God the creator, the God of Abraham and Moses and Isaac and Jacob, from the Hebrew Bible/”Old Testament”. As well as the God who sent Jesus (as a prophet–according to Muslim belief). Which is the problem, I suppose, for those who want to exit conservative patriarchal religion and transition to a more liberal, humane interpretation of their religious tradition: how can any religion ever be made “safe” for women? I have no idea, but I don’t think that the answer is to use images or words that imply that the worst types of misogyny and evil only reside in Others.
    I’m not a Christian, but I have no problem coming up with charged incidents/personalities from history that pretty effectively convey the horrific consequences of conservative patriarchal interpretations of Christianity: The Scarlet Letter. Anne Hutchinson. The Salem witch trials. Or life in John Calvin’s Geneva. I don’t think most people would want to live in a society where women are publicly shamed for adultery. Or where a woman can be tried, convicted and banished because she criticizes the teachings of male ministers to other women, in her own home. Or where supposed witches are executed, or people are punished for dancing or skipping church. So why invoke the Taliban as the symbol of religion gone bad in a Christian blog?
    But whatever. I’ve tried to explain why I find it highly problematic on my blog, but in the end, everyone does what they want to do.

  • http://BaptistTalibanandBeyond. Cindy Foster

    We obviously disagree about the God of the Bible and Allah being one and the same God. There is no use debating that issue. It is precisely in those false, distorted, twisted interpretations that all the problems of this world exist. I departed from that interpretation because I found it to be incongruent with all I understand to be good.

    No “religion” that is based on man- created and proscribed rules and regulations ever will be safe for women. I do not believe that even in the OT account of Creation and The Fall, God ever intended for women to be under man’s rule. It is the distortion of the account that produced the subservience and inequality women have endured at the hands of men throughout the ages. Much is written on that subject.

    I also do not believe that the worst misogyny and evil can only reside in Others but as was stated by Petticoat Philosopher, if the extremists wings of American Christianity (speaking of those who believe OT laws and penalties should still be practiced and I personally know some) had the power, they would eventually get as extreme as the Taliban. This is exactly the point I want to get across to the Independent Fundamental Baptist followers and leaders!

    Of course American history is rife with examples of the horrific consequences of patriarchy, but in the present, no example better illustrates in one word the dangers churchgoers in our country could face than “Taliban”.

    It has never been my intention to diminish the atrocities of radical Muslim extremist on women. You are the first to ever challenge the title from that perspective and I do sincerely appreciate your thoughts and questions though we may never agree!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X