On loving and leaving the IFB movement
It’s been almost two years since I left the denomination I spent the good majority of my life in. The last two years have been filled with a lot of questions, as well as a lot of quiet reflection. I haven’t said much up to this point, but a lot has changed for me.
I’ve received worried phone calls, hateful anonymous emails, and engaged in discussions with people on numerous occasions over social media and privately in person. I needed time to heal and process what I went through, but I’m sure that many people have questions. A great many of the people I once called friends are no longer in my life because of the decisions I have made, but for those of you who are still around, I hope the following helps you understand a little. I invite you to share this with others who are now beyond my reach. It is my hope that this message finds the people who need it most. A lot of you only know me from beyond this previous life of mine, so maybe this post will give you some insight into my past.
Growing up IFB
I grew up in the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement from about the age of eight years old. I have memories of attending other churches before that, but much of my formative conscious experiences occurred in this context. I memorized Scripture from the King James Version. I read my Bible every day. My family was deeply involved in the church. We were there Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and Saturdays for outreach as well as special conferences and meetings in between. My home life was an extension of this as I was home schooled and we also operated a family ministry that we poured countless hours into. I lived and breathed the IFB movement. I believe we were genuine in trying to live Christian faith the best way we knew how.
All I ever knew and heard of the rest of Christianity was loud denunciations from men in pulpits who decried the heresies and rebellion of other churches. Those churches listened to Christian rock music, let their women wear pants, and read from corrupt versions of the Bible. There was nothing good to be found in those other churches. And when they got started on the traditional churches such as the Catholic church, well let’s just say, they were known as the whore of Babylon (this is a whole other conversation for another day). Better to be an atheist than a Catholic was the message I heard growing up. Everyone was going to hell except the people who believed the same way we did.
I was encouraged to learn the teachings of the movement that are applicable to women: how to be a homemaker, how to be a good wife, and how to convert lost people. I learned every argument to defend the King James Version of the Bible against its attackers and considered myself an authority on what music should be deemed secular and sinful. I never engaged with materials outside of my own worldview, and asking questions seemed to be taboo. I internalized a lot of the messages I heard about purity and sexuality in tragic ways that led me down a spiral of self-hate and anxiety. When I finally did start asking questions, it got me into a lot of trouble and I discovered that the leaders were either just as uninformed as I or were outright lying to me.
I saw abuse get covered up routinely. Eventually, I saw my own abuse also get dismissed. My own integrity was brought into question and my reputation tarnished once I no longer fit the given mold. There are pastors preaching in pulpits to this day that are totally disqualified from being there—their entire ministries are built on years of deceit and systematic twisting of the truth. Lies were told. Truths covered up. Meetings held behind closed doors (it still amazes me the things people will say off the record behind closed doors). People spirited away in the wee hours of the morning to avoid difficult questions. Threats made. Tears cried. Prayers said.
I have seen the best of the IFB movement, and I have seen its worst. I lived, taught, and breathed its teachings, and I experienced the hurt of having those very teachings turned against me. What I say, is not to seek revenge from the movement. If I wanted that, I would take a very different path. I simply want people to know a few things:
YOU CAN LEAVE
Let me say it loud and clear, you can leave. You don’t have to stay. If you are being abused, if you are being hurt, if your voice is being silenced, you can leave. Even if you are not being actively hurt or dismissed, if you have questions and feel unsure, you too can leave. You are free to explore other options.
One of the most insidious teachings of the IFB movement is that by leaving you necessarily forsake your faith and Jesus. This is not true. There are plenty of other Christians committed to the practicing of faith outside the small circle of the IFB movement. You are being told a lie. Christianity is a tradition that has spanned centuries. The IFB movement is a product of 1950’s America, not Jesus. They don’t have an exclusive claim on Jesus, and they never did. Much of their teachings are not found by proper interpretation of the Bible, but are propped up by their own misreading and passed-on tradition.
Especially to those of you, who grew up in the movement, let me sit straight with you for a second. I know that it seems scary, to question the things you have been raised in and been taught to believe. It’s your whole world. Let me promise you, you don’t have anything to lose by exploring Christianity. There’s a reason why you are only supposed to read certain authors. There’s a reason why you are kept so busy serving that you have no time to ask important questions. There’s a reason why most of Christianity is demonized from your pulpits. That feeling inside you—that one you’ve been squishing down for years, that sense that something is not quite right—is there to guide you not hurt you. Those questions that you have that you won’t even allow your mind to utter because they are so off-limits, they hold the key to locked door that is keeping you stuck. That’s right—you hold the key to your own freedom. No one can stop you from leaving. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, go deeper, and explore. God is not affronted by your questions.
USE CAUTIOUS DISCERNMENT WITH AUTHORITY AND POWER STRUCTURES
A lot of churches thrive off powerful authority structures. The attitude of “what I say goes”. One need look no further than the mainstream news and the constant scandals that have shaken the religious world to know that predators love authority and power. Power has been used for centuries to violate the bodies of the vulnerable, both physically and mentally.
Red flags with figures in authority might look like this:
-gas lighting you
-putting on a “caring” and “protective” facade
-yelling at you
-denying your inherent worth
-questioning your words/not believing your story
-accusing you of being the problem for asking questions or having problems
-refusing to be held accountable for the things they say
-closed door meetings with no support
-enlisting others to put pressure on you
-bad mouthing your reputation so your credibility is lost
In the IFB movement I have personally witnessed and experienced all of the above. Pastors and people in positions of authority will go as far as to say such things as women should remain in abusive relationships, problems with their teaching equates to lack of spirituality on your part, and that God gave them authority over you. Hear this from me right now: no one in this world has ultimate authority given by God over you. You are your own. You are not required to hand over your life to anyone. You are your own unique person, made in the image of a loving God, with a will and a conscience. You shouldn’t hand that power over to anyone (and certainly shouldn’t be forced to). Not a partner. Not a friend. Not a spiritual authority. You should use the wisdom you have to live a life of discernment and goodness. True spiritual leaders will point you to God, not their authority—leaving you the space to take that journey for yourself. Authority can function to protect, but when authority simply protects one’s own interests, it is no longer good for anything.
To some degree these behaviors are human behaviors, and you will encounter them many places in life, not just the IFB circles. But make no mistake about it; these power structures are the backbone of the IFB movement. The IFB movement cannot survive without this top-down hierarchy that squashes those with whom it disagrees. I’m going to come out very strongly and say this: if your religion enables abusers and silences the oppressed, God is not well pleased with this. Friends, I cannot emphasize this enough: this approach to Christianity is deadly, does not bear good fruit, and is not the vision God has for us. If the way you are moving through the world leaves you in pieces rather than peace, you should know that there is another path, beloved one.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE US VS THEM NARRATIVE
The us vs them narrative is the one that causes camaraderie and helps people to stay. This is actually a well-studied psychological phenomenon. Many words are used to describe it; community and belonging being chief examples. As humans we are wired for connection and community. We thrive off it. We have a deep sense of needing to belong and being part of something greater than ourselves individually. I believe that this could very well be a reflection of the Creator and the relational love and communion that occurs within God. There are many positives to being part of community, and this has always been one of the defining features of the Christian church—the formation of a community around a cross, a table, and an undying hope.
However, this has also historically been the church’s greatest downfall because it is so easy for community to become an exclusive membership club. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in modern fundamentalist movements. Every single thing is a hill to die on. The music, the clothing, the services, the extra-biblical doctrines, and every other possible thing you could think of. Every difference becomes a reason to draw another line and make the circle even smaller. It’s very easy to immediately other those with whom we disagree or have difference. It is much harder to stay in relationship and have conversation around these differences and why they exist in the first place.
Rather than allowing our differences to divide us into an us vs them mentality, what if we learned to listen to others? I think this is precisely why early Christianity wasn’t a formal gathering of the academic elite that all thought the same way, but rather a group of people from all walks of life coming together around a table to remember by breaking bread and drinking wine the inauguration of the kingdom of God. Think about just how radical it was for that day that Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, soldier and zealot, rich and poor all came together rallied around a singular hope. That’s why for me, the shared practice of coming around the table to partake in Eucharist is a practice that has become very meaningful to my faith. It’s not shared beliefs that make us the church (as much as they are also vital and have their place), but the shared practices that unite us with God and each other in love, vision, and mission.
So why is this a big deal though? I believe it is a big deal because in spite of often occurring in the context of community, this practice is actually totally isolating. This is why this is always one of the tactics you see cults use regularly. You lose touch with reality, and become blind to your own faults. You cannot reason with others, and every difference becomes a reason to demonize. All counter views or push back is seen as persecution or an attack on God. This is not the way it should be. We need each other. We need diversity. We need to be held accountable. We cannot just go off with our Bibles, find those who agree with us, and merrily go on our way. This is a recipe for disaster. It leads to poor Bible interpretation and the shunning of people who do not or no longer agree with us. It also has more sinister consequences. Since you learn to believe that no one outside of the movement is trustworthy, you don’t have anyone to tell you when something is not okay. Since you are not open to outside perspectives, you often lack the education necessary to advocate for yourself and your own needs. If you grow up in this movement, it’s even worse. Your entire worldview is conditioned and the only things you learn about it are what is approved for your consumption. This means that anyone can groom you any way they want to be that for good or for bad. Anyone who tries to help you or offer another perspective is seen as the enemy. Abuse runs rampant in the IFB movement for this very reason.
BE AWARE OF THE LOGIC JUMP FALLACY
An example of a logical jump would be, someone is preaching from the pulpit passionately emphasizing the importance of being “biblical” and living by “the truths of the word of God”. Then in the next breath they are ranting against some cultural phenomenon. The logic jump occurs when they conflate the two as one and the same.
Specifically this might look something like this: a preacher will quote 1 Timothy 3:16 and then in the very next breath say “that’s why it’s biblical to use the King James Version of the Bible”. See the problem here? Massive logic leap to go from the apostle Paul talking about the function of the sacred writings of his day to you making an argument for the superiority of a 16th century translation. They are not one and the same thing. And pretending that they are is at best insincere, and at its worst is completely deceitful.
No matter how strongly you might believe something to be true, you cannot use a compilation of random Bible texts warped out of their placement and devoid of their context. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using the Bible as a book that guides us towards wisdom, in fact I would argue that this is its primary purpose. However, conflating your interpretation and application of derived wisdom with Biblical prerogatives and commands is quite another thing.
These logic leaps are dangerous because literally anyone can use the Bible this way to back up their own arguments. You see, it’s biblical to build a wooden boat. It’s biblical to whack a nail in someone’s temple. It’s biblical to walk on water. And it’s biblical to ride on white horses in the sky. It’s biblical to eat pork. It’s biblical not to eat pork. It’s biblical to kill. And it’s biblical not to kill. Ok, I think you can see my point. See what we are actually referring to when we say biblical, is a whole systematized theology that is believed and then applied. This is not wrong, but we must be honest about this process. You see, the Bible is a little more complicated than a neat compilation of sayings that we can boil down into a prescription of what is “biblical”. The stories that the Bible tells are not meant to be used as weapons to declare whether someone is biblical or unbiblical. Especially when for the most part, those throwing around the label of biblical are using it in contexts which are totally foreign to the original audience and intention of the writings.
The Bible is valuable, trustworthy, and an indispensable part of Christian faith. It is precisely for this reason that asking questions, engaging critically with the text, and yes even having different understandings of the things contained therein is important! Welcome to Christianity 101. We would all do well to approach the mystery of infinite goodness, love, and justice that is God with a little more humility, wonder, and awe.
The IFB movement is notorious for these logic jumps, and it is to their detriment. People cannot grow and learn this way. And don’t get me started on how emotionally manipulating the preaching is. The only reason you would ever yell at someone is to assert yourself as more powerful than them. It is an effective intimation tool, but a poor discipleship one. A typical IFB preacher will spend 40 or so minutes (sometimes longer) breaking you down, only to then invite you to an altar to repent of your sins. And it works every time. Mostly because people’s psyches have been decimated to the point where they feel unworthy and they are told that this will make them worthy again. It is playing mind games and it shouldn’t be happening in the church.
I love theology. I am fascinated by discussions about God and religion. I spend hours every week listening to and interacting with others who also enjoy these conversations. However, not all theology is equal. And some is honestly downright harmful.
I’m not going to take the time to break apart each of these statements (maybe this is another post for another time), but I want to list out a few of the theologies (and implications of held theology) that I encountered in the IFB world that I find very problematic.
-King James Onlyism (read more about this here)
-the obsession with people’s sexuality, as seen in purity and modesty culture (read more about this here)
-the need for constant sin management
-the endless narrative of controlling women and children
-the idolization of power and authority
-the refusal for accountability structures
-the systematic cover up of abuse in the name of forgiveness
-the racism and classism that exists in the movement
-the dismissal of mental health and oftentimes other physical health conditions
-the distrust of science and holding to conspiracy theories
-the total disregard for the environment and the need to take better care of it
-the apocalyptic view of the end times taught in a way to increase fear and anxiety
-the view that only the IFB are truly saved, while everyone else is going to hell
-the disrespect for other Christian denominations, as well as other religions
You may agree or disagree with me about items on this list. There are other concerns and disagreements that I have so this is not even a full list. The point is not what is on this list or not. They are examples I give to quantify my statement that IFB theology (or the lack of it) is traumatizing people. I believe with all my heart that the theology and the practices that come from the application of them in the IFB movement are incredibly harmful to your relationship with God, with others, and with yourself. And I am not alone in feeling this way.
The well is poisoned, and maybe it won’t end your life today, but it is slowly killing you. It is killing your relationships, your family, your children, and your faith. I say this as no exaggeration. Hurtful praxis, poorly informed theology, and the enabling of abuse are serious issues that those within the IFB movement need to reckon with.
There is life and healing on the other side of life inside the IFB movement.
I found it.
And I hope you will too.
To the one who wants to leave:
If you want to leave and feel afraid or have questions, please reach out. Regardless of where you are on your journey, I would love to point you in the direction of resources or just be a voice in your life encouraging you to walk the road to freedom. Sometimes leaving means facing hard things, including not having shelter, food, necessities, or people to turn to. There are people who can help you! You are not alone, and you will bloom on the other side of this long night. You are, and always have been, beloved and worthy. The choices you have made to survive may no longer serve you, and it’s time to be free.
Would you like to share your story?
If you have a story to tell about your experience with the IFB movement, please reach out to me (you can reach me through any of my socials, contact page, or by email if you prefer to be anonymous). I would love to discuss this further as I am compiling stories to be used at a later date for a project I’m working on. If you want your voice to be heard or you want to collaborate, this may be your opportunity.
Would you share this message?
Finally, if this meant something to you, please consider sharing it with someone else. There are many still in the IFB movement that are beyond my current reach, and many that I don’t personally know. They need to hear this message too. You can share this message on any of your socials as well as privately in messages and in person. The further it spreads the better chance it has of finding the ones who need it. Thank you!
I am moderating all comments and will exercise discretion in allowing comments to post here. The reason being that I want to guide the conversation in this space in a certain way that is helpful to all and matches my specific purpose for this article. If you have a comment that doesn’t post here, you can reach out to me personally or we can have a discussion elsewhere, but not here on this thread. If you are a fellow survivor and would like to leave a word of encouragement for those who are trying to leave, please do so! I know people personally in this process and I know that it would be greatly helpful to their journey. If you know people who are survivors, or are trying to leave, please feel free to share this with them or my contact information—I am a safe space no matter where someone is on their journey and I will never share, out, or shame anyone who contacts me. Two important things to note since reactions or comments along these two subjects are likely:
1. There are many people in these types of churches that I know and love dearly, and still do–regardless of theological and ideological differences. This is not an attack on people, but on dangerous and corrupt systems.
2. I speak as someone who was intimately involved in the movement, but I recognize that this does not mean that my experience is everyone’s experience. It is likely that you will have a different experience with the movement given certain factors such as your age, location,gender, and whether or not you opted to join the IFB movement in the first place (as opposed to being raised in it). HOWEVER, I will say that even one story like mine is too many. And there are plenty of people with the same story to tell. Are you listening? Truth sometimes makes us uncomfortable, but it’s important that we reckon with its implications.