IFB. Independent, Fundamental, Baptist. A Bible believing, God-fearing church. A place where you can get old-fashioned preaching, learn about God, find out how to know you’re on your way to heaven, and have more happiness than you ever dreamed possible. A place where you will want to go every time the door is opened, where you will find the secrets of finding a spouse with whom you will have a blissfully happy marriage, and you will know all the important facts about being a good parent. A place where you will find deep friendship with other believers, feel joy that you’re spreading the word, and learn what’s really important in life. A place where you will feel an abject horror at the thought of being “worldly”, and strive to live solely for God.
Oh yes. It’s also a place where almost everything you do is dictated by the church. Did you use to like to go to movies? Well they’re out now. So is alcohol, dancing, pants for women (at least in church), public school, most tv shows, a lot of books, anything but the King James Bible, any music but old-fashioned hymns (contemporary Christian is frowned upon), and any physical contact, even kissing, before marriage. You are expected to be in church three times a week, minimum, and thank God for the blessing you have in doing so. You will tithe 10% of your income, minimum, and of course you will feel incredibly happy to do so. It will enable God’s work, and heap blessings upon you. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t been on vacation in years, you’re doing what’s right for eternity. You will support missions, church camp, evangelists, birthday and Christmas presents for your pastor and his family above and beyond tithing.
When people such as coworkers think you’re strange you’re to take that as a badge of honor. You are living for God, not for the world! Rejoice! You’d better raise your children the Biblical way too. Spare the rod and spoil the child! The man is the head of the household…women should stay home and raise the children…make sure your children go to the Christian academy, and then to Bible college, where they will meet a Godly spouse at a young age, marry before they have a chance to explore the world, or themselves, and therefore carry on the fundamental faith.
Speaking of coworkers, you are to evangelize to them. It doesn’t matter if that’s prohibited by your employer, you are living for a higher power. When revivals come, you are to bring newcomers, and feel extreme pressure to do so.
You are to never consider going to another church. If you love God you will stay in the IFB, because theirs is the only true church. You will get Bible preaching you won’t get in other places, and you will be around other saved people. If you leave you are condemning future generations to being lost, and going to hell.
When presidential elections come, 99% of IFB’ers vote for the conservative candidate. They’d sooner cut off their arms than vote for an evil, liberal candidate. They are brainwashed into believing the conservative choice is the only Godly one. By and by you find out your own capacity to think, to be your own self, to have your own ideas, is gone. You live totally for the IFB, and embrace its ideology 100%. If you did disagree with something you’d keep it to yourself, and feel bad that your heart “isn’t right”. You’d lament whatever sin is in your life, preventing you from feeling as you should.
If you have any mental health issues…depression, anxiety, what have you, you regard that as a personal failing. It’s been preached so many times that if you are in church every time the doors are opened, if you’re reading your Bible daily, if you’re tithing, going on visitation, having devotions, avoiding what you should be, etc., etc., etc., you’ll be incredibly happy. Depression and other mental health problems are a definite sign that you’re not right with God. Consequently most people who struggle with these issues in the IFB never get the help they need.
Eventually there is a chink in the armor. Something happens, unexpectedly, and it makes you question things. Maybe they’re not right about everything. Maybe, in fact, they’re right about very little. You start seeing your pastor as less than an all knowledgeable and infallible “man of God”, and instead as someone who rules through fear and intimidation. Someone who must receive unquestioning respect and complete authority. Someone who can bring up a grievance from many years before, and have an entire sermon on how horrible it was that he had to remove snow from the parking lot, and publicly flay the deacons for how wrong that was, then smilingly talk about love and forgiveness.
By and by more chinks appear, until there are more chinks than structure. You miss the music you used to listen to, you don’t believe that when the Bible referenced wine they meant grape juice, you don’t think your children had a good education at the academy. You don’t believe they’re the only true church. You think many others are saved, even–gasp–Catholics! You realize that you have wasted years, or even decades of your life in a lie. You think of the verse in Matthew 11:30: “For my burden is easy, and my yoke is light”. Life in the IFB is anything but easy or light. It’s perhaps one step above being a Hutterite, not trying to disparage them, but to illustrate it, it’s an apt description.
You stop going to Wednesday night and Sunday night services, then by and by Sunday morning ones. It is incredibly liberating. You are starting to discover yourself again, what you like and what you don’t. You are realizing how you don’t have any friends, because all of your friends were in the IFB, and you’ve alienated yourself from other people. You have a lot of healing, and an incredible amount of change and growth to go through. It’s almost as if your life hit a pause button when you joined the IFB, and now you have years of catching up to do.
You join an online support group, and it’s so amazing that you know that God led you to it. It’s filled with people who love God, who are still Christians, but who had years, or decades in the IFB, and the horror stories accompanying them are enough to chill your blood. It is shocking to realize that these supposedly independent churches are so very alike, and everyone can relate to everyone else’s stories. Being able to vent and share is healing. It is worth noting as well that several people on the group are former pastors or deacons, not just members of the church, and even they saw the light. You feel the years of trauma slipping off you, and your heart becoming lighter. You are becoming who God wants you to be, not the clone you were in the IFB.
I guess I wrote this for two reasons. First for anyone who is still in the IFB and who wants to get out, there is life afterwards. Abundant, and better life. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love God if you leave, nor that your children or future generations are condemned. These are IFB lies, and ways that they hold you. Secondly, I wrote this for those who can’t quite understand how someone can change so much in the IFB, and just what this environment is like for them. It’s basically like being kidnapped, and undergoing Stockholm syndrome. It’s all so slow that you don’t even realize it’s happening, and there comes a time that you realize you’re fully IFB. If things have gone right, per the church’s perspective, you will shudder thinking of your “former life” and you will desire nothing more than to be IFB forever. If you are starting to see the problems and lies of the IFB, it will be the opposite. You will look with horror and dismay at the person you’ve become. You will realize that you need to get out, and yet that possibility, and process, is extremely daunting. It takes tremendous strength, because believe you me they won’t let you go without a fight. Furthermore, leaving it means surrendering your identity, your friends, sometimes leaving family, and enduring numerous visits from the pastor and deacons, trying to encourage you to “get your heart right” and embrace the IFB again. Some fold under this pressure, but some are able to find the strength they need, often with help from support groups, and extricate themselves.
I am one of those people. I was involved with the IFB for ten years, and while it did have some good things about it, I definitely believe the bad outweighed the good. I look at the policies there as religious brainwashing, and it is not too strong to say that it is a cult. This, by the way, is popular wisdom among those on support groups. One common theme in the groups is extreme joy that the IFB is behind them, that they will never be subject again to the extreme rigidity and fear tactics of the IFB. We all consider ourselves, at this point, very blessed.
I welcome questions, comments, or assistance to anyone who wants to get out. I realize some might read this, who are happily ensconced in the IFB, and think it’s hateful and heretic. I think most, however, would agree that this cult, masquerading as a church, is very dangerous. Wishing love, joy, and healing to all of my friends who have gotten out, and more importantly…to all who remain.