by Bruce Genercser cross posted from his blog The Way Forward
Imagine for a moment, that you are sitting in the pew of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. You are 16 years old and sitting next to you is your 17-year-old girlfriend. Like normal teenagers, you are sitting as close as possible to your girlfriend and you are discreetly, cleverly holding hands
The pastor is getting ready to preach and he asks everyone to turn to 1 Corinthians 7:1,2. With a thunderous voice, the pastor says, THE BIBLE SAYS:
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:1,2)
and THE BIBLE ALSO SAYS:
Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
All of a sudden, the pastor turns your way, looks at you and your girlfriend, and then slowly turns back to his sermon notes. You feel guilty, so you unclasp your hand from your girlfriends and you scoot a few inches away from her.
Welcome, to just another Sunday morning service at First Independent Baptist Church of Bible Believersville, Ohio.
In the real world, teenage boys and girls hold hands, put their arms around each other, and kiss each other. We also know that some of them engage in intimate sexual activity. But at First Independent Baptist Church, any physical contact between unmarried teenagers or unmarried young adults of the opposite sex is strictly prohibited. (no matter the age, unmarried people are expected to keep their hands off of each other)
The thinking goes something like this. Fornication, the intimate sexual contact between unmarried people, is a SIN. Committing fornication requires touching, so the best way to avoid fornication is to keep unmarried teenagers or unmarried young adults from touching each other.
Over the years, I told countless teenagers that no girl ever got pregnant without holding hands with a boy first. I repeatedly told them that holding hands leads to familiarity and before you know it you’ll be rutting like rabbits in the back seat of a car. So the answer is NO TOUCHING!
When I was a teenager, boys and girls were not allowed to touch each other. Now, this doesn’t mean we didn’t touch each other, it just means that we did our touching away from the sight of the pastor, youth director, deacons, or any other church adult. We turned it into a game. The pastor said we couldn’t touch each other, so while adult choir practice was going on we would find out-of-the-way places to neck. It was almost like a challenge, we dare you to catch us.
From the age of 14 to my wedding day, I kissed a few girls, put my arm around them, and held her hand. But, that’s where it stopped. Both my wife and I were virgins when we married in 1978.
Polly and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac Michigan. The college had a strict no touch policy. The rule was called the six-inch rule. Young men and women were expected to keep 6 inches away from each other at all times. A failure to do so resulted in severe discipline. (even married couples were discouraged from holding hands lest they encourage dorm students to engage in perverse hand holding)
Of course, a dorm filled with normal, hormone raging, heterosexual men and women, made the six-inch rule a real challenge. Most of us learned how to discreetly break the rule, and when we went out on double dates, we learned to double date with couples who were six-inch rule breakers like us.
Sandra, a regular commenter, shared in a comment about her time at Hyles Anderson College:
About the gateway issues with card playing . . .I’m not psychologist but I do believe if you restrict normal human behavior in one way, normal human behavior will come out in another. When at Hyles Anderson we were all told to not touch the opposite sex. I mean, no hand holding (which was fine with me and the IFB church I was in before I left for HAC). But no touching through a pen either, like tapping on a shoulder.
We are social beings and I do believe we need touch to stay alive. When at HAC, since all of the women were not allowed to touch a man on his hand or to tap his back with a pen, guess what happened? The dean of woman (Miss Belinda) said she noticed a LOT of petting going on between the women. In chapel, women would sit next to women and they’d pet each other’s hair, they’d stroke each other’s leg. And she was right – all of that behavior was happening. But my question is why? Probably due to the human need for basic touch. Since the women were not allowed to hug their own blood brother on campus, nor to hold hands for 5 seconds, nor to tap a man on the back with a pencil. . .is it any wonder that the women found a way to get physical touch in their lives? It is normal to want a hug and to rub someone’s bad when they are hurting. By repressing opposite sex touching, they encouraged same-sex touching and it was very evident.
Ponder for a moment being exposed to this kind of environment. Is it any wonder people coming out of the IFB church movement have to deal with emotional, mental, and sexual dysfunction?
When you are constantly told that a normal human desire is sinful it is bound to cause emotional and mental damage. Of course, being normal heterosexuals, our desires could only be suppressed for so long. We found various ways to get around the rules and the ever-watchful eyes of those charged with keeping us from fornicating.
In a chapter of The Fundy World Tales I wrote:
Another time I was written up for breaking the six-inch rule. The six-inch rule was a rule meant to keep unmarried men and women from getting too close to each other. 6 inches is about the width of a songbook or a Bible and unmarried students were not allowed to be closer than a songbook or a Bible from each other.I was on the college basketball team. One day during practice I slapped at a basketball and severely dislocated a finger. I was rushed to the emergency room and the doctor was able to fix the dislocation. I’m left-handed and the dislocation had occurred on my left hand.
Every male student was required to wear a tie to class. I found it very difficult to tie a tie with one hand, so one day I asked my fiancé to tie my tie for me. In doing so we broke the six-inch rule. Someone anonymously turned us in for breaking the six-inch rule and we had to appear before the disciplinary committee to answer the charges against us.
We each receive 25 demerits for breaking the six-inch rule. We were warned that if we broke the six-inch rule again we would be expelled from school. Little did they know that we have been breaking it for quite some time.
Most dormitory students lived for the weekend. Students could only date on the weekends. Double dating was required and no student could go farther away than 10 miles from the dormitory. This was called the 10 mile limit. No physical contact between students was allowed. No kissing. No holding hands. No physical contact whatsoever.
Most students tried to adhere to the rules for a while. Some, like my fiancé and I, kept the six-inch rule religiously until we went home for our first Christmas break. While home on Christmas break were allowed to act like normal young adults who were in love. We held hands, kissed, necked, and pretty much acted like any other couple mutually infatuated with each other.
Once the genie was out of the bottle it was impossible to put her back in. When we returned to Midwestern we realized we could not continue to keep the six-inch rule. So for the next 18 months we sought out couples to double date with that had the same view of the six-inch rule as we did. We had to be very careful. Choose the wrong couple to double date with and you could end up getting expelled from school.
Rules, like the six-inch rule, put the dormitory students in a position where they had to lie and cheat just to be able to act like normal young adults. Many students ended up getting campused (not allowed to leave the campus or date) or were expelled because they broke the six-inch rule.
Illicit sexual activity was quite common among dormitory students. There was always a lot of gossip about who was doing what, when and where. During the spring of my sophomore year many of us rented apartments in the Pontiac area. We were all planning to get married over the summer, and since apartments were hard to come by, we rented them as soon as we found them.
Unfortunately the apartments turned into a big temptation for some couples. They began using the apartments as a safe place for sexual activity. I could give you the names of several well-known preachers and their wives who lost their virginity at one of these apartments. Some of these preachers are now known to rail against sexual immorality. It seems they have forgotten about their own sexual immorality many years ago.
Is it any wonder, that many of us who were raised in this kind of sexually repressed environment need counseling? When you are told over and over that certain basic human needs and desires are sinful, it leads to overwhelming guilt and despair. (and remember masturbation, self-pleasuring, was also a sin)
This is one of the reasons why I think the IFB church movement is emotionally and mentally harmful. My advice to anyone in an IFB church is that they RUN as fast as they can away from the soul sucking insanity they are a part of. Get out before they so fuck up your mind that it requires years of therapy to regain any sense of self-worth and emotional balance.
How about you? Did you spend your teenage years in an IFB church? Did you attend an IFB college? How did you deal with the no-physical-contact rule? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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 35 years. They have 6 children, and nine grandchildren.