Hang on, it’s a long one. I have been out of the IFB for 20+ years and still find myself carrying baggage. I am leaving my name off this post to protect family still in the movement who could potentially lose support.

My IFB story starts at about age 6 when our family left a Regular Baptist Church and we started driving over an hour and a half to a well-known church (the pastor has a couple of good lines in your opening). Side note here, our pastor used the “long-tonged heifer” line about my mom in a sermon. He never was good at hiding who or what he was talking about, especially on Wednesday nights. It had to do with my mom having a prayer time with some teenage girls without the pastor’s approval.

So from age 6 to about 14 we got up every Sunday morning and loaded up to go to church for the day. My Dad drove a bus for the bus ministry, so we had to be there early and stayed at the church after the bus route until Sunday night service. During this time, we even lived in a “split home” during the school year where Mom stayed in the town with the church with us kids while Dad returned “home” during the week so we could go to the IFB school that was approved by our pastor.

At the age of 14 we all moved much closer to the church and our involvement increased. “Every time the church doors are open”, Saturday morning “bus breakfast”, Saturday youth activities, Saturday night prayer, Wednesday teen soul-winning, Wednesday night teen meeting, and of course all of the extra revivals and special meetings on top of Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night.

Summer Camp at the local IFB camp, Youth Conferences at First Baptist in Hammond. I laugh every time you guys mention getting your Bible signed. I had all the big ones and wish I could find my old KJV 1611 “HAYMAN” to see who all was in it. We even did a summer at Bill Rice Ranch one year as a family.

At about 16, I started having some pretty serious doubts about the whole system. The screaming and yelling and running around the auditorium shouting about the “old paths” while talking about “beating” your kid for “crying like a little girl” when he fell down (at age 4) made me question what the point was. I sat through the TV smashing sermon a couple of times, “Amnon had a friend” was a good standby sermon to yell at the teens about having friends outside the church. He still travels and tells the story about calling all of us up front during a Wednesday night service and almost lit the church on fire by throwing a bottle into a trash can full of gasoline. He then made us all take an “oath” that we would never drink alcohol. It didn’t work.

I watched a “pastor” bully a teenage boy at camp in front of everyone and call him names (bundle of sticks comes to mind) until he broke down and cried because he had a pair of underwear without a opening fly. No, I am not kidding. There was a pretty strong culture of “toughening up boys”. I also remember them putting two boys in a “boxing ring” and letting them wail on each other until someone couldn’t take it anymore regardless of the size differences of the boys.

I was still playing the game as we went through youth pastor after youth pastor. I lied about the numbers on soul-winning just like everyone else and showed up every time I was supposed to show up, dressed in the clothes I was supposed to wear and singing the songs I was supposed to sing. I led bus kids in “1,2,3, repeat after me” and then bragged that I had led the same 10 kids to the Lord that I had last week. I sang in the choir and even sang in a quartet of teenage boys *waves KJV 1611 while shouting HAYYYYYMAN!!

Our rules got more and more extreme for the teens and the worst fate imaginable was being “kicked out of the youth group” for some infraction real or imagined. It was equivalent of being shunned by everyone you knew. There was no other social life, we could have no other friends. Our church hosted a basketball and volleyball tournament for surrounding churches every year and one year a friend and I were wearing t-shirts with some basketball stars on the front. (Michael Jordan for me and Magic Johnson for my friend), our “youth pastor” actually told us that we were rebellious and we were glorifying wicked people and went even further by banning any t-shirts with faces depicted on them by saying “if you want to wear a shirt with a picture of someone on it, it had better be a picture of Pastor XXXXX” (our senior pastor). No sunglasses, no leather coats, no “gawdy” ties (be not conformed and all that) Of course, we all took a great deal of pride being from our church, we were the big church, we were better than everyone else, at camp we were always in Cabin #1, people would ask our pastor for his autograph in their bibles!

By my senior year, I had started pulling back pretty hard and to my parents credit, they remained balanced and I never felt any shame from them. I knew that they loved me no matter what and I “could always come home”. Friends of mine at the time were not so fortunate. One close friend even went to PCC to please his Dad but it was never enough and today he is living an openly gay lifestyle with no contact at all with his dad. He is one of 2 members of my peer group from that time who are openly gay. I guess calling them “sissy boys” and making sermons about “pink underwear” was not the way to reach their hearts….. who knew? Of the 30-40 teens that I knew well during these years I can count those serving God today on 2 hands.

Over the course of our time there, the pastor became increasingly authoritarian and even paranoid. He reportedly installed cameras in the auditorium facing the crowd so he could watch reactions later. (from a credible source) An example that today seems to be absolutely insane is our pastor telling the members that if they skip church, they should not be surprised if their kids die in a car crash, or if you go boating on a Sunday, your kids will drown etc. I recall one of these sermons coming very near the time when a couple in our church had lost a young son in a farming accident. A couple of families left the church around that time including the couple who had lost the child.

As I started pulling back from involvement, I would find other ways to be busy when there were teen activities and I even remember the first time I wore a polo shirt to church!! Friend’s parents started “forbidding” their kids from talking to me. Kids I had grown up with would sheepishly tell me they were sorry, but their parents didn’t want them to talk to me. We were all 16 and 17 years old at this time. I suppose that’s what I deserved for recording Michael W. Smith onto a cassette from the radio.

Part of the reason I was shunned and labeled as a problem child was that even though I had gone to IFB school until 5th grade and A Beka video schooled from 5th to 11th, apparently my parents had thrown me to the devil when I joined the Military at 17 and went to a Mennonite High School my senior year. I needed an actual accredited diploma. Of course, we all know those Mennonites… liberal, lilly-livered, God hating, hell splittin’ heathens.

Although our church barked and hollered about “Murica” and bragged about patriotism when it was appropriate on the calendar or the pastor could make a thinly veiled racist comment about one group of people or another, it was NEVER okay for one of us to actually serve.

All of that to say that when I ran, I ran hard. I decided that the entire “God thing” was not for me. I knew I was saved since I had gone to the altar at least 40 times in several different states to “get born again” including twice in one night under Sammy Allen. (and yes, he even signed my Bible)

I began to live the lifestyle that I thought was expected of anyone outside the movement. I suppose part of me thought that if I was going to be “out” I might as well enjoy it. I drank, smoked, partied, lived with a couple different girls while dating others, and even spent a night in jail. All the while, my parents continued to love me even when they could not support my lifestyle. I could write pages about this time in my life but suffice to say, I tried it all short of hard drugs.

Looking back now, I cringe at the manipulation and mental abuse that was happening. The pastor had so much control that even after I had stopped going to church there for some time and moved away to go to college (not a Bible college) he apparently heard a rumor about what kind of life I was leading and wanted me to come meet with him. No talking to my parents, he was going to get involved and “fix” me even after using me as a sermon illustration. I was not interested in anything he had to say. “Amnon had a friend” I guess.

My older sister had gone to Hyles Anderson College and got her MRS. degree and she and her husband went to work in a teen restoration home before going to the mission field where they still serve God and are still on the road to getting on the road to recovery. (I will leave that story alone.) My younger brother graduated from “high school” on video and also went to HAC where he got a peek behind the curtain and ran from God just as hard as I did, if not harder. He was pretty excited about your interview with Jack Schaap’s son since they knew each other from HAC.

I married an unsaved Lutheran girl who was a pants-wearing law student that I met in a bar. In about the year 2000, a friend of mine in the army invited me to go to a play at his church and I told my wife about it. She had thought that we should probably go to church, though she had actually visited the church I grew up in while visiting my mom. The pastor (no longer my pastor thank God) had screamed about women wearing pants while my fiancé sat next to me in pants. To say the least, she was not receptive to the gospel at that point and asked my why he was yelling the whole time.

We took a chance and attended the play “Heavens Gates, Hells Flames” at the First Assembly of God church near us. Even though I had some fear that I might lose my salvation just by walking into a “liberal’ Jesus loves everybody, dancing, skinny jeans wearing, tattoo having, den of iniquity”, God used that play to totally and completely wreck me and my wife. We found ourselves at the altar in tears and for the first time in my life it was not because I was afraid of Hell. I wanted to know who this Jesus really was. The next Sunday, we attended a “regular” service at the same church and had no idea what to think. I had been told that Pentecostals were just short of devil worshipers and not to be trusted. I had been told that speaking in tongues was a requirement to even be saved (which is not taught) and neither of us had ever seen people having so much fun worshipping together.

My wife decided that it was a bit much to jump right into the deep end and I was not ready to trust any church anyway, so we did not go for a while. My wife visited a couple of other churches but said that they just felt “dead”. We decided to give the First Assembly another try since the pastor always said, “give us 3 Sundays”. I spent the next several years sitting in the balcony and hunting for the cracks in these “church people”. Since it was a large church, I could sneak in and sneak out without having to meet anyone or talk to anyone because I just knew they were all fake, but Jesus had my heart. I cried more in those services than I had in my life and didn’t even know why.

One of the  turning points for me came during a Sunday morning service when our pastor was preaching on forgiveness and said something like “there are people in this building who need to forgive someone” and I watched a young guy get up in the middle of service in front of a thousand people and walk across the auditorium where an older man stood up and they embraced and both wept. I found out it was a father and son later. When this happened, other people started doing the same and the entire service came to a halt as people reconciled with one another and tears flowed throughout the building. At that point I knew that no one could fake this. I knew that these people really were what they seemed and were just wanting to serve Christ, even in their brokenness. These people really just loved Jesus and each other.

I began to really study God’s word (even in the KJV 1611 sometimes) HAYMAN! And God began to break my heart, for the first time in my life I knew that God wasn’t angry with me. I knew that he loved me, I knew that I didn’t deserve it and I just wanted to share that feeling with everyone I knew. My feeling towards those I knew still in the movement changed from anger and derision to one of broken heartedness for them. I remember saying to my wife in tears “they are missing it!”

Today, I still live with the baggage of living for acceptance instead of in acceptance. I spent 20 years in the Military and became a civilian Police Officer. During all this time I was seeking the next great thing. If there was a cool guy badge or medal, I wanted it, if there was a title, I needed it, if there was a special assignment that sounded cool, I volunteered for it. I had a “love me wall” in my basement that wrapped around 3 walls and looked like a museum display. I couldn’t wait to take people to it and listen to them read all the “titles” in awe. I collected Certifications, promotions and titles like they were life itself.  God is still working on me with “great gain in godliness with contentment” in 1 Timothy.

I grew up believing that I was creating distance between myself and God by not following whatever the man in the pulpit said. What I found to be true was that there was no where I could run or distance I could travel that He wasn’t right there waiting for me to fall back into His arms. Your Podcast has made me laugh, it has made me cry, it has challenged me, it has encouraged me, and it has helped expose some of the deep pain that I have kept hidden and has forced me to address it.

My wife and celebrated 21 years of marriage this year and have 2 beautiful daughters who love the Lord. We are still growing and strongly believe “it’s okay to not be okay, but God won’t leave you there”.

Thanks for all you guys are doing!