First, let me give readers the definition for domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence as:
Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.
Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender. It can happen to couples who are married, living together or who are dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.
Does the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement have a domestic abuse problem? The short answer is Yes!
The IFB church movement is built on a foundation of emotional and mental manipulation and abuse. We see this in how parents discipline their children and how husbands lord over and control their wives. These behaviors are often modeled by IFB pastors, deacons, and church leaders, as they manipulate, control, and dominate church members.
I know IFB readers are howling, and, perhaps, even cursing, over what I have written here. How dare I suggest that the IFB church movement has an abuse problem. How dare I suggest IFB pastors and church leaders emotionally and mentally manipulate and control people. Child abuse? Domestic violence? Where do such things happen, says the IFB church member. I have never seen it.
And therein lies the problem. The abuse and violence is institutionalized to such a degree that it is considered normal. People are so used to seeing it that they never consider whether such behavior is appropriate.
IFB church members are used to having their “toes stepped on.” They are used to fire and brimstone, naming names, calling sin sin, sermons. They are used to aggressive behavior from their pastor. It seems quite normal to them.
Those of us who were raised in the IFB church movement understand this. It took us getting away from it to see how manipulate and abusive it was. The waiting rooms of mental health professionals are crowded with people whose mental wellness and self-esteem were ruined by Fundamentalist religion.
For those of us who spent decades in the IFB church, we know that the deep mental and emotional scars left by our time in the IFB church never go away. We learn to come to terms with our past and try to do the best we can going forward. We are marred, even broken, yet, somehow, we find a way to pick up and move forward.
This is why some of us speak so openly about the IFB church movement and its manipulative and abusive tendencies. We don’t want ANYONE to experience what we experienced. When we see someone gravitating towards Fundamentalism we try to warn them like we would warn a person who is driving towards a cliff. Stop! Turn around! But, many don’t…and they often pay a heavy emotional and mental price and some pay a heavy physical price.
Domestic violence in the IFB church movement is widespread. Unfortunately, it is often not seen as domestic violence by those who are in the IFB church movement. Instead, domestic violence is often seen as being true to the Bible or being a faithful follower of Jesus.
To understand domestic violence in the IFB church movement we must first understand the theological underpinnings of the violence. Domestic violence often happens because husbands (it is almost always husbands who perpetrate the domestic violence in the IFB church) want to be obedient to the Bible, Jesus, and the pastor’s dictates. Remember, in the IFB church, the voice of God sounds an awful lot like the voice of the Pastor.
Here is what many IFB pastors preach to their church members:
- Christ is the head of the church and the pastor is God’s man in the church.
- The Bible is an inerrant, inspired text that should be literally interpreted and explicitly obeyed.
- The husband is the head of home.
- The wife is to to submit to her husband.
- The highest calling for a woman is to bear children and be a keeper of the home. Many IFB pastors discourage women from working outside the home and discourage women from getting a college education. (unless they go to college to get an MRS degree)
- The husband is the authority, the disciplinarian, and the king of the home. God holds him, like he did Adam, responsible for everything that goes on in the home.
- The Bible sanctions using violence when children disobey. To not spank or whip them means the parent is not willing to obey the teachings of the Pastor and the Bible. The rod of correction is meant to be used to drive the wickedness out of a child’s heart.
Now none of these things, in and of themselves, necessarily lead to domestic abuse. However, add to this the IFB church preoccupation with sin and their portrayal of God as a violent deity who will whip them if they disobey, you have a recipe for not only domestic abuse but also child abuse.
I have watched more than a few IFB church members and pastors beat the hell out their children with a belt, switch, or paddle. I remember hearing of one parent who picked up a 2×4 and beat his two teenage girls with it. Why? They deliberately disobeyed him by riding the church bus home instead of going home with him.
I have admitted my own violent, abusive methods of correcting my three oldest children. (fortunately I abandoned these practices with my three youngest children) My oldest sons routinely got thrashed for disobeying their mother or I. I corrected them this way because I thought that is what God wanted me to do. The books I read said this was the proper way to discipline children, and every big name preacher I heard preach said I was doing right by my kids when I whipped them.
Is it any surprise then…with Bible-sanctioned violence against children and a violent God who uses violence to chastise disobedient IFB church members, that violent behavior spills over into the relationship between the husband and his submissive wife?
I can’t say that I know of very many instances where a husband physically beat his wife. It happened, but not very often. I know of a few pastor’s wives who were physically abused by their pastor husband. The pastor was the man of God in the pulpit, but at home he was a violent, disciplinarian who ruled over his wife and children with a rod of iron.
Most of the abuse I saw was more of the mental and emotional type. If the woman wasn’t submissive enough or didn’t put out sexually, she would hear about it. If she dared to have ambition, want to work outside the home, or go to college, she would be put in her place and reminded of God’s divine order for the home.
I have often said, I don’t know how ANY woman stays in the IFB church. Well, I do know. Women are afraid. They fear disobeying God, their husband, and their pastor. They fear God will chastise them if they dare step outside the role God has ordained for them. And so they stay and suffer the abuse.
Again, theology plays a big part in this. Many IFB pastors think that there are no grounds for divorce or that there is only one ground for divorce, adultery. Having a husband that is abusive, especially if it is emotional or mental abuse, is not grounds for divorce.
Years ago the church I was pastoring joined together with other IFB churches to hold a joint revival meeting. The speaker was Bill Rice III. (I am almost certain it was Bill Rice but it could have been Pete Rice) (associated with the Bill Rice Ranch) One night Bill Rice preached on the subject of marriage and divorce. Rice did not believe there were any grounds for divorce. He said that even if a husband was beating on his wife, the wife should stay in the marriage. Perhaps she would win her husband to Jesus by her willingness to stay in the marriage. (and intimated that saved husbands don’t beat their wives)
By the time of this meeting my views had already begun to change and I pulled our church out of the meetings. I was incensed that Rice was advocating a woman endure her husband beating on her, implying that God wanted her to do so.
As my wife and I moved beyond the IFB church movement, we had to relearn what it meant to have a healthy marital and family relationship. Ultimately, it took getting away from Christianity altogether for us to find wholeness.
I am not suggesting that every husband in the IFB church movement is abusive or that every father abuses his children when he disciplines them. I am suggesting that IFB theology encourages manipulation, violence and abuse, especially of the mental and emotional variety.
Personally, I don’t think the IFB church movement is good for anyone. The extreme Fundamentalism found in the movement is emotionally and mentally harmful and people are better off finding other Christians sects to be a part of; sects that don’t view women as being inferior and don’t see children as chattel. I am of the opinion that the best thing that can happen is the IFB church movement dies a quick death. (It is dying but it is dying slowly. I am all for smothering the movement in its bed)
Over the years, I have watched a number of women break free from domestic violence. They decided their own personal self-worth and happiness was more important than obedience to God, the Bible, the pastor, and their husband. Most often, gaining their freedom required them divorcing their husband.
Let me head off someone who might suggest that the reason there is domestic abuse and child abuse in the IFB church movement is because they misinterpret the Bible, I don’t think this is the case at all.
I think they are being consistent with their beliefs and they accept the Bible as written. After all, the Bible does command a father to beat his children with a rod. The Bible does command the wife to be submissive to her husband and to be a keeper of the home. And let’s face it, the Bible is a written record of the violence God pours out and will yet pour out on all those who do not worship or obey him.
The good news is, many Christians ignore or explain away vast parts of the Bible. They know beating kids is wrong. They know demanding a wife submit to her husband and only aspire to be a keeper of the home and having children is demeaning . They wisely reject such things.
Do you have a story to tell about domestic violence? What did you experience growing up in the IFB church? What went on in your IFB home when the doors were closed? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
(Editor’s note: If you’re suffering from domestic violence there is help. Just a few options are Ending Violent Encounters (EVE) and most communities have local domestic violence resources like EVE or SAFE available to anyone in an abusive situation. For international help please visit HelpGuide.org)
Comments open below
Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates The Way Forward blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 32 years. They have 6 children, and five grandchildren.
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