‘It’s Ruined Me’: Former Members of Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches Describe Their Experiences in the Church in Extensive Investigation by Fort-Worth Star Telegram

Former members of independent fundamental Baptist churches describe a culture and teachings that affect the rest of their lives. The following quotes are taken from interviews.

GETTING IN

Independent fundamental Baptist church members are either born into the movement and grow up knowing nothing else or are brought into the churches through evangelism. The tight-knit community of motivated people is appealing, especially to vulnerable people.

“I was an adult, I was in my early 20s. Our lives were a dysfunctional mess, and we needed support. We didn’t have family in town so we started attending a church because someone my husband worked with invited us. The strict boundaries helped for a while, but over time it seemed pointless: no matter how strict the rules got we couldn’t please anybody.”

— Lisa Bertolini, California

“I liked the sense of belonging I felt, the caring feeling of the communitycommunity, because I didn’t have that before.”

— Karen Rice, Pennsylvania

“There was a lot of positive energy going on. We went to the church, there was lot going on , a lot of activities, great music program — the people just seemed to be, quote-unquote, ‘on fire for the Lord.’”

— Sindye Banko Alexander, Colorado

AT CHURCH

Life in an independent fundamental Baptist church can quickly become insular. Members are held to “standards” both inside and outside the church: modest dress for women and a ban on movies and secular music in the stricter churches. The pastor becomes the ultimate authority, followed by the man of the house. Members are taught to look at the world with suspicion.

“My dad asked me if I were allowed to wear pants, if I would do it. I said, ‘I don’t know’ — as a kid you’re terrified — I don’t know. He said, ‘Because you can’t tell me right now, that means you are not a Christian. You are not going to heaven because a Christian would never hesitate at that question.’ ”

— Leah Elliott, Indiana

“I told her that I was raped and how violent it was and how I was terrified it would happen again. She gave me a five-minute counseling session and told me she would have to tell Pastor Schaap and the nurse, inform the doctor. And not to tell anyone. Anyway, we had our meeting, and they told me my rape was God’s will because it sent me there.”

— Amber McMorrow, Colorado. Former pastor Jack Schaap is serving a federal prison sentence for sexually abusing a 16-year-old congregant at First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. He did not respond to requests for comment via a letter sent to him in prison.

“It was a fire. I don’t remember anything about it. I just remember they told us to bring our pants, and we burned our pants. I remember thinking when I did it, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ My dad’s the pastor. Yeah, so we did it. I was probably 12.”

— Mindy Woosley, North Carolina

“We were told, ‘You can either forgive him like Jesus would or call the police, and they can take you away and put you in foster care like you were before. OK, I don’t want to go to hell, so I do what Jesus would do.’ ”

— Sara Means, Oklahoma, on her alleged abuser

“I was nursing, but the pastor outlawed nursing. No women were allowed to nurse because it kept them from church. I went to the bathroom to cry, and I’m getting engorged — you have to nurse, you get in a lot of pain if you don’t. I’m in the bathroom, and the nursery worker came into the stall with me. I think I was just grabbing toilet paper to blow my nose, she barged in and said, ‘The devil wants you to miss this sermon that’s happening right now. You get back in there.’ ”

— Kara Blocker, Oregon

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Sarah Smith