I just want to thank you for the ministry of the RFP. It has challenged to pursue growth beyond the limitations that the IFB placed on me years ago. I was born into the IFB world as you all were, only I am a female. I thank you so much for your recent interview with Lois McNair. I cried through her interview because I knew the words that were going to come out of her mouth before I even heard them. Here’s a little of my story, and I chose to have it not posted online because some parts of it aren’t just mine to tell, but it is necessary for you to see the full depth of hurt and scarring that the IFB has caused me.
Like I said, I was born into the IFB in the early 80’s. My father was a deacon, songleader (because he could not be called a minister of any sort according to our Pastor), and teacher. Our church had a school, so as you can imagine, I was at our church at a minimum of 6 days a week, most weeks 7 days a week. As a very young child, I sat under the preaching of the one and only Peter Ruckman. As I got a little older, I was regularly in the congregations of Sammy Allen, Bob Gray Sr., Phil Kidd, and others. I was raised, as you can imagine by the above list, in one of the strictest sects of the IFB. My heart grieved with Lois as she talked about those darn culottes with the flap, because the only thing that flap was good for was wiping sweat off of my face as I worked outside.
My dad had wanted a house-full of boys, and he ended up with “three lousy girls” as he so often put it. Because of that, he determined that we would be able to do anything a boy could do, but in a skirt. I can’t wish away this part of my past, because I am now the woman that can change her own tires, oil, roof a house, install drywall, take care of a farm, etc. But somewhere in all of that hard work, there was always an attitude of being inferior because of my gender. We were to be seen and not heard. We were to cook and clean and wait on the men hand and foot. We were not permitted to speak up in church, ever. There was never a female that prayed if a man was anywhere within hearing distance, and certainly a woman never taught any man anything. They were even selective about letting women teach Sunday School and Children’s church for kids because of not letting a woman usurp the authority of a man.
My dad and I did not have a good relationship. He was a controlling individual that we were never allowed to question. For every one of my good memories from childhood, I have a bad memory that goes hand in hand with it. One of my earliest memories was the day he taught me to ride my bike. I was so ecstatic to have learned the new skill, but immediately following, he decided that I had committed some act against him that I honestly did not do. But because of the culture, I wasn’t allowed to disagree with him and met the business end of his belt. After each round of the belt, he would ask me to admit my wrongdoing, but I would not, because I didn’t do it. Eventually, I faked a broken spirit and lied to him, falsely confessing to the wrong doing. It made the beating stop.
Our small circle was entirely based upon our Pastor. He controlled everything — what clothes you could or couldn’t wear, the length of your hair, the jewelry you wore, your makeup, the music we listened to, the places we went, even where our family could vacation (Our vacations had to be pre-approved through him, and we had to bring back a signed bulletin from a church that he had also approved of).
I remember once after our youth group returned from a mission’s trip to Mexico, there was one service where our pastor decided to tell us all the things God had told him we were doing wrong. So many decisions were made in the wake of that trip, and sadly very few of them are holding to those decisions today. That was the beginning of me realizing that something didn’t add up. It was in that service, (I was 12 at the time) that our Pastor declared it wrong to have cable television. We went home, and my dad promptly unplugged the cable box and told my mom to cancel the service. We lived without cable for 2 full years, until one day my dad plugged that same box (yes, we still had it) back into the wall to find the cable company had never discontinued the service. Cable was back at our house. I was SO confused. If cable had been sinful for 2 years, what made STEALING it not sinful now? I was just turning 15, and it was at that point that I declared silently that as soon as I could get out, I would, and would never come back. Oh, if only it were that easy.
My oldest sister had married my youth pastor when I was just 13, and by the time I was 16, he was our Pastor. He was far less legalist that any other Pastor I had been under, but I had always disliked the man. In fact, when he and my sister got engaged, I had a nightmare that he was trying to kill my entire family, and I begged her to not marry him.
My other sister married our associate pastor when I was 17 years old. Our associate Pastor was like the brother I have never had. We were incredibly close, and he had such an influence on my life in the fact he told me to find out what I believed for myself rather than relying on what I had been told my whole life.
I graduated high school at 17 years old, and my dad gave me two options. I could either attend a Bible school that he picked out for me, or I could not attend college at all, and he could find me a husband. Yes, my dad did attempt to arrange marriages on multiple occasions for my sisters and me. I chose the college route in order to leave home, and grew more spiritually while there than I had ever before. It was while I was in college that I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder. I attribute this due to being a people pleaser and rule follower, which is the perfect recipe for an IFB-er, and constantly held to an un-achievable standard. I learned very quickly to not let anyone in my world see my anxiety, because one of the preachers I had been under had said that I “clearly wasn’t saved because if I had ever met the Prince of Peace there was no way I could be harboring any anxiety.”
It was while I was in my senior year of college that my world started to fall apart. One day, my parents showed up on campus. They had driven 3 hours to get there unannounced, so there was no way this was a good visit. My father demanded that we go somewhere that no one could hear us. I suggested the cafeteria which was mostly empty, but he decided the cemetery was best. We drove out to the cemetery and it was there that my parents began to tell me a story about my oldest sister’s husband. My dad was outraged and looked like he wanted to slap me when I said, “He’s gay, right?” My dad thought that I was privy to some knowledge that he had only just found out. He explained that my sister had found out during her pregnancy with their 4th child, and had demanded he step down from the pastorate. She stayed with him for 2 years after that believing that he would repent. During that time, she sought counsel from another pastor in the IFB who of course did not hold confidentiality in any regard. He shared it with a “trusted” member of our church who then blabbed it to everyone else. Eventually it got back to my dad. That was 18 years ago. My dad hasn’t stepped into a church since then.
Less than a year later, it was revealed that my two brothers-in-law, both ministers, we having an ongoing romantic relationship. Overnight, my family became the shunned. My sisters were called names and were gossiped about so much that the younger of the two couldn’t even go into town to buy groceries without hearing whispers. Both of my sisters lost their jobs in the church, their husbands, and most of their friends over this.
From early on, due to the less-than-stellar relationship with my father, and the constant scream-o preaching, I ended up with a really screwed up perception of God. Added to that, the treatment of my family over the sin of two men embittered me against the IFB movement.
I graduated from college, got married, and have to say I thought it would all be behind me. I am now 39 years old, but still struggle to this day to maintain an accurate representation of who God really is. He is not an angry being waiting for me to mess up. I have lived for years with a “waiting for the other shoe to drop” mentality, waiting for God to be so disappointed in me that He takes away someone I love, etc. It is a daily struggle to remember that the God I was taught about as a child is not a true representation of God.
I am still in an IFB church. What?? I know. My current pastor and his wife hold to a lot of the old standards, but are the least judgmental people. They live by a lot of the dress, music, hair, etc. standards, but do not preach them as doctrine. They love and accept me even though I wear pants, have tattoos, and multiple piercings. My husband has known them since middle school, and they are truly like family to us. We serve in the church working with the youth, and I am the financial director for the church and school. It is tough for me some times, because things are a little too similar to how I grew up that it triggers feelings that I am still working through. Your podcast serves as a reminder to me that the things I was taught when I was in my formative years are a lie. I don’t have to check the boxes, and look like a cookie-cutter Christian in order to be used and loved by God.
That’s my story… I know it was long, and if you are still with me, props to you. There are a couple of other things that I thought I would throw in just for your enjoyment. The craziest rule we had to follow? Well, I was called a Jezebel by Sammy Allen himself for chewing Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum. He declared that because of its color, apparently I was trying to draw his preacher boys’ attention to my mouth in order to draw them into sin.
I was called a disgrace to my family and faith because my dad found a Steven Curtis Chapman CD in my car when I was in college. He didn’t speak to me for 3 weeks after that. My first pair of blue jeans garnered the same result. By the way, although my dad still doesn’t attend church, he did read a book called “Grace Walk” years ago, and now my mom is allowed to wear pants and has short hair! 🙂 In addition to that, when our church shut down for COVID, my dad actually started watching our live streams, and hasn’t missed a week since. It was a great way to get our pastor to realize that through technology he is reaching people that would NEVER step foot in the building.
Also, you asked Lois what it was like to be a female teenager sitting under the preaching of some of these men. I had to stop and ask myself the same question. My answer: It was normal. I didn’t know there was anything wrong with it. I thought they must be right. If a woman was sexually assaulted, she must carry some of the responsibility. If a man lusted, the woman was at fault. Looking back, I find it disgusting and horrid. But back then, I felt nothing except guilt that maybe my clothes weren’t baggy enough. It makes me so sad to know that there are still women experiencing the same “normalcy”, and my heart aches for them.
Anyway, thanks again for your ministry. You are making a difference!