First of all, I am thankful that my IFB experience was not to the degree of others' accounts I have read and seen, ....my story is not about sexual abuse, extreme corporate physical abuse, or separation from or loss of family and friends. Nevertheless, I had my own set of problems to deal with, which I won't go into full detail here with, other than what I'll mention below, but I'm sure you can put two-and-two together and fill in the blanks.
To start out with, I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, to the point I was seeing a school counselor/psychiatrist in elementary school. As a child, I was withdrawn, introverted, and had issues with gender identity, not fitting in with the boys who had sports on-the-brain, nor was I any good at it, and as such, I was the one who always got picked on, beat up, or bullied all the time. I seemed to get along with girls much better.
Due to some friendly neighbors, we ended-up in and attended an IFB church and christian school for several years when I turned 13 years old in the mid 70's. At the church we attended, the true basic gospel was taught and preached for the most part. However, the rest of the doctrine and rules, and what was never expressed specifically to newcomers, was very toxic and the whole experience has affected me severely to this day. It is a form of extreme peer-pressurization and control, and even though I'm sure there may have been some true believers in Christ with the best-of-intentions there, everyone was entrenched into way-over-the-top legalistic thinking taken to its extremes, combined with a constantly over-emphasized doctrine of hell and a lot of dramatic preaching and yelling. It wasn't apparent when we first started going there, but after several weeks, it was like being put in a "time machine" and thrown back to the 50's. As nice as everyone acted initially, the "outward" appearances of everything are all that seemed to matter to anyone, and everyone focused on this so much that, in all seriousness, there wasn't any time to reflect on anything else, with the exception (of course) of getting people "saved", winning souls to Christ, and denouncing the scriptural errors of every other denomination out there. With a laundry list of things they could have picked and chose from, for whatever reason they stressed in countless sermons and focused on the following six things pounded into our heads over and over again, seemingly more important than anything else, that:
* ALL modern-day music and any music that has a "beat" (other than old-style hymns and classical music) are inherently evil and are "of the devil". (no more music)
* All modern movies playing in any movie theater were considered inappropriate and also "of the devil". (no more movies)
* Television was treated the same way, but somehow that was somehow okay for watching the news, very old TV shows, or religious programs. (no more TV)
* long hair of "any" length on a male was sinful, slothful, an embarrassment, effeminate, and disrespectful to God and to others.
* short hair (anything shorter than shoulder length) on a female was sinful, rebellious, masculine looking, and disrespectful to God and others, yet women with long hair that were attractive were chided as being too provocative and not modest "enough". However, in their hypocrisy over time, they started allowing adult women to get their hair cut short, as long as it looked old-fashioned, "prudent", or more modest.
* anything other than dresses or culottes on females that didn't go below the knees were considered provocative and disrespectful to God and others. Pants for women in any form were not even tolerated and considered sinful and masculine. Males were expected to dress in appropriate attire and jeans were discouraged.
My mother didn't seem to be having any problems in her new found faith and integrated into their way of thinking very quickly over the following month. I still was trying to figure out what was going on and make sense out of everything. I've already related my background, so I don't even want to try and describe the "war" and confusion that was going on inside of me as a 13 year old barely hitting puberty. In the early '70s, most men and boys had long hair back then. Being a kid, you don't really think about it, I had long hair not-quite-down to my shoulders for about 5 years. That was the style mom had allowed, that was part of the culture everywhere at the time, most boys had long hair, and it was the norm, so ...I felt "normal", and comfortable with who I was.
It goes without saying, within a month, there was much pressure on me to get my hair cut, and people kept approaching my mom about it, who in turn would talk to me about it. Then they started approaching me one-on-one. They used and twisted one verse out of the bible (1 Cor. 11:4) to make me feel like I was in sin and and wrong. I held out for as long as I could, which wasn't very long, but the worst was yet to come. Someone in my family offered to my mother to pay the cost for me to attend the Christian school there. Even as a kid, I loved Jesus and I "wanted to do the right thing" and please God, but now I'm looking at losing what few friends I had in public school. And of course it got even worse. I was then informed after I had been enrolled in the school, and according to their "regulations", I was forced to get a very short tapered "military-style" haircut. I never showed it on the outside, but going through this moment at a "barber shop" completely shocked and traumatized me, more than I would had ever anticipated, and in hindsight, I think I would have rather chosen to be spanked, beaten or whipped. I felt like I had completely lost my identity or who I even was. I felt completely humiliated and punished, and wondering why this was happening to me and why I was having to go through all this. I hated the reflection I saw of myself in the mirror and felt ugly and worthless, but it never stopped there. I would be taken to the barber to get my haircut every two weeks, a ritual I dreaded going through every time I went.
One of the first noticeable things was that the school classes were a lot harder than it was in public school. It was harder to get better grades and I had a lot of homework and studying to do to try to keep up. My mom had been informed of this beforehand. The school prided itself on having a curriculum that was "better" than the public school system.
Corporate punishment was taught in the church, and I knew kids that would talk about the spankings and whippings they would get at home. The school also paddled students for breaking regulations, sometimes for something as simple as having too many tardies to class. I would hear about students getting paddled all the time, both boys and girls.
Everyone was constantly pushed into attending all the church services, even the special events, ...and including Thursday night soul-winning by bus. This was very uncomfortable, going to people's houses door to door and trying to "sell" them Jesus with a standard rehearsed questioning "template". It was very impersonal and I felt like a door-to-door salesman.
I remember one time after church one night, one of the teen boys whose family had left the church, decided to drive over and visit and say hi to his old friends from the christian school. The normal response since they hadn't seen him in a long time was being excited and glad to see him and talk to him. These boys were reprimanded later by the one of the pastors for talking to him. Apparently the boy had been suspended or expelled from the school (for who knows what) and we were told not to have anything to do with him.
There was a huge push to try to get most of the graduating students to consider attending Bob Jones University, especially those who were "called to be a pastor or teacher". Kids who were going there and called by God were constantly praised and talked about all the time, while others, who weren't going there or not going to college at all were frowned upon, as if they had made a wrong choice in their life. Being "Called by God" to be a pastor was considered the best thing that could happen to anyone, and they were always held in the highest esteem.
The biggest charade in the church that happened was the head pastor's son apparently got in trouble because the teacher caught him doing an impersonation in class of "Fonzie" from the TV show Happy Days. He got in trouble and got paddled of course, but the worst was that ...they somehow convinced him that he wasn't "really" saved and had to respond to an alter call all over again in church, ...AND go through the whole humiliating charade of being re-baptised again in front of the whole church congregation. Not "saved" for doing a Fonzie impersonation????
I witnessed so much in that environment that happened to other kids and people, looking back, it seems now like some sort of horror movie or a bad dream to me. There was this weird balance of happiness mixed with constantly being afraid of everything all the time. Many of the other kids were either very quiet and then jumped, stood to attention, and did whatever they were told immediately without hesitation. I had some friends, but it seemed like no one really ever got close with one another. The remainder of the kids, who were more relaxed, always seemed sure of themselves and were always "perfect" in everything they did or said. They never did anything wrong ....ever
....my turning point, fast-forward to the following year later, where I guess at some point my mom apparently slipped-up and didn't take me to get my haircut for over a month, and I certainly wasn't paying attention. During "chapel", which was a weekly church service during school hours for all the kids grades 7 thru 12. After the sermon, the principal reprimanded several of the girls for sporting "Farrah Fawcett" wings as bangs in their hair because it was a "worldly fad". He then turned, looked and pointed his finger at me and addressed me in front of all the students and said in a nasty way, "...and DANIEL, GO GET A HAIRCUT". I could have died, I was so humiliated and embarrassed, I felt like the worst person in the world. The sick part about this whole charade was that my hair was still extremely short, but not to their "standards" I guess. In hindsight thinking about this years later, one has to wonder, ....they couldn't come up to me in a loving way one-on-one or discuss it with my mom? ...they had to single-me-out and embarrass me in front of the whole student body?
Needless to say, that was the beginning of the end for me. I became very depressed, my grades dropped, and worse. I was scheduled to be paddled by the principal for being late to my classes and because I was failing bible class (which he taught by the way). Then I started failing some of my other classes, and they approached my mom about holding me back a grade, and (of course) complete with another paddling I knew was going to happen again. I had thoughts of running away. I hated my life, my existence, and I really didn't want to be here anymore.
Another sick tidbit of info: That principal at some point said he was "led and called by God" to take a position as principle and assistant pastor of another IFB church and school somewhere. He and his family prepared for months to transition and leave. One day he made an announcement he was staying and declined their offer. He said that that their schools standards weren't strict enough, and didn't enforce boys to keep their haircuts maintained above their ears or tapered in the back, something which he could not tolerate. ???
.....obsessed with haircuts and short hair anyone??? To be honest, I think that's all these people cared about, and nothing else. Other than God's plan of salvation, it seems like striving to keep one's outer appearance from being as "worldly" as possible is the "only" thing they focused on.
Maybe I prayed and God heard my prayers, not really sure, but unknown to me, my mom had been undergoing the stigma and pressure of being a "divorced woman in an IFB church", and apparently was going through her own trials. I'm not sure when it happened, but that was the time my mom pulled me out of there, we immediately left the church, and she put me back in public school, where I eventually bounced-back and my grades went back to normal.
What I have shared above is bad enough, but the real damage wasn't apparent for a long time. Believe me, I ran away from God and Jesus and never looked back for a long time. People "do" that whenever they go through a life experience that is unpleasant or abusive. This is hard to explain for people who don't really understand OCD, but it forces you to routinely play-out the guilt, condemnation, and pain one has experienced through trauma throughout the course of your life over and over again, in this case through self-abuse in a variety of ways because of my deep-rooted belief that I was guilty and deserved the punishment. One of the lesser undesired results has been in me keeping my hair very short the majority of my life, ...not because I've actually wanted to, but because OCD plays this out and its very hard to fight, combined with some deep-seated subconscious feeling or fear that always seems to be there, "that they were always right". I won't talk about the remainder of the affects. Like I said, you can fill in the blanks.
But there is a much greater danger that I would assume a lot of us don't realize that happens. Remember, the IFB holds to what even now many consider or agree is correct "theology" in their statement of faith as far as salvation goes, "Grace through Faith Only". That's why they are so DANGEROUS. Let me explain. Their statement of faith "says one thing", but their preaching, teachings, actions, words, and culture completely reflect something else entirely, most of it in such a twisted subtle psychological way that people don't pick up on it or even question it. They say "Salvation by Grace Only", ....but they are actually using worse tactics than most "Calvinistic" and "Lordship" salvation doctrines push, and it's enough to make anyone go insane. It makes people constantly question their salvation and their relationship with God, keeping individuals in constant fear and torment. This is why the condemnation, and it gets pushed under the surface into our subconscious. It's a constant feeling of "separation from God" no matter whether you actually try to come back to Him or not, you are always in fear, and self-loathing and a feeling of utter worthlessness. The brainwashing drilled into you over time is so bad that even later in life, you somehow still keep believing and accepting what was programmed into you ....somehow thinking they are still "right", even though your logical mind is telling you otherwise. The IFB places all the condemnation and guilt on its adherents....
But everyone forgets that "that" is what Christ was suppose to have died for in the first place ...to take all of our condemnation and guilt. It's supposed to be nailed on the cross with Him. "He" takes it. It's not for us to hang onto, ...unless we "choose" to. It's supposed to be the "Good News" that sets people FREE, and releases them from bondage, ...not put them in "worse" bondage. Even now in 2022, I am shocked to see the number of churches, online ministries, and YouTube videos that play the "twist-game" with the definition of the word ..."FAITH", turning "Faith by Grace Only" into "Faith by Grace Only, but somehow also ..by Works". ??? I'm not trying to be facetious or even state or push doctrine of any sort on anyone reading this. It really doesn't matter what I believe, but I am intelligent enough to know one simple thing ...the difference between "Freedom" and "Bondage", and the immense strength that bondage actually has, and especially with someone like myself with OCD. I'm only bringing it up to make a point....
Even other religions, beliefs, and even cults come out and "state" what they really believe somewhere, and if you "dig" deep enough, you will usually find it in plain sight documented in their statement of faith, dogma, or creed. But you see, the IFB documents one thing which looks great, and then turns around and psychologically preaches and indoctrinates it's adherents with something else entirely, another gospel.
I don't think I fully snapped-out-of-it and realized the full extent of what had happened all those decades ago, until I had heard in 2018 the stories of the more serious abuses and what people had been through, and researched it more. Reading these accounts and stories literally threw me into cognitive dissonance, shock, and my heart literally broke in two. I had a nervous break-down on the spot and cried. Now we see how evil this sick Sanhedrin-styled cult is, using the core tenants of the faith and scripture to operate a sadistic cult of control in every sense of the word, and adds their own rules and laws that no one can "keep", and that affects people later down the road no matter whether they try to run away from it or not.
...and we wonder why Jesus greatest anger was against the Pharisees, so-called "men of God" who convinced everyone else they could never be as close to God as they themselves were unless they were in their "inner circle" and as holy and pious as they were. Jesus called them out as "the Sons of Hell" who work tirelessly to make converts who (if successful) end up being "twice" the sons of hell" as their own selves. Sadly, I think the abuse, scandals, and demise that have occurred since my time in the IFB have proven just that.
I'll end this on a positive note. I'm doing a lot better now. Although I will "never" set foot in another church again, I do support several worthwhile online ministries and YouTube channels. I am much closer to God these days than I have ever been, because I know who He is, and I understand Him and His love better. I even know that not every church out there is bad in and of itself, and that it is "people" that make up these institutions. Even now though, many decades later, I still harbor a lot of hurt, bitterness, and resentment, and I'm still on an ongoing path or direction trying to figure out how to feel alive and live again.
However, for anyone who is a mess and extremely confused about the whole concept of "Salvation by Grace through Faith Alone" and the proper definition of the word "Faith" as it is used through all scripture, ....one of the resources that has helped me greatly over the past several years has been a simple YouTube channel by someone named Renee Roland, whose whole ministry is completely about and centers on this whole critical topic. Hopefully it can help anyone out there who still struggles with extreme guilt, condemnation, and separation from God.
- Daniel H.
Note: Some of the names have been changed or altered to protect the anonymity of the author.
IFB Overcomers is an online resource for those who have left Independent Fundamentalism and are looking to heal and discover themselves. With a podcast, webinars, forum, blog and resources, we hope to help retrain your heart and mind from the mindset of the IFB and help you not only survive but overcome and then thrive!