The 'I FIRED GOD' discussions

Circle the Wagons (a discussion inspired by I Fired God)

John Nelson Darby
“Hit that cheek again and see what ya’ got comin’!” 

Fundamentalist history is very subjective. I Fired God by Jocelyn Zichterman is good evidence for that. It’s not that she is wrong. Bob Jones University was so central to her young adult life it’s no wonder she believes that fundamentalism began with Bob Jones, Sr.

The word ‘fundamentalist’ has been around since before the civil war. The IFB fish first developed legs and crawled upon the sandy beach and announced to the world, “My name is John Nelson Darby!

I could talk about other religious movements happening during that era, but John Nelson Darby’s teachings affect us even today. The financial backers of American religious movements were often in real estate, military/industrial, and/or oil. After the Civil War, as in most wars, people were tired of bloodshed and wanted to beat their swords into plowshares. This does not bode well if you are in the sword business.

America was in the midst of a great social and religious explosion. People were reading the bible for themselves and breaking off into different societies and religious orders. Most of them tended to be pacifist with their biblical interpretations. Those bozos actually wanted peace! That’s no way to run a nation!

Darby’s spin on things allowed for the belief in dispensation: different ages where God had different rules. Whenever you read Jesus saying anything like, “Turn the other cheek.” A Darbyist could say, “Well, that was during a different dispensation. Not ours! Hit that cheek again and see what ya’ got comin’!

The military, of course, benefits from not having their swords turned into plowshares. Industrial companies practically controlled their people in those days. Teachers had to live apart from society and adhere to a rigid code of conduct. Tycoons of industry, since the days of Henry Ford, were the defacto kings. It’s not a surprise that the great evangelists, D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday were financially backed by strong military and industrial concerns whose best interest was financial success and absolute obedience.

Women got the power to vote and things began changing. Consequently, it was in the best interest of the military/industrial/oil and real estate concerns to encourage a philosophy of obedience and willful subservience.

They were first called fundamentalists in Los Angeles! Actually, that’s not true, I just like writing the sentence. The word fundamentalist had been used at prophecy conferences on the east coast for quite a few years prior to 1909. 1909 is when R.A Torrey, founder of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles helped compile The Fundamentals, which was financed by Lyman Stewart of Union Oil. Stewart’s money and Torrey’s scholarship gave fundamentalism its juice. Torrey’s articles would be published and republished in Sword of the Lord and other fundamentalist papers and anthologies.

Bible Institute of Los Angeles

Los Angeles was an American mecca. Robert ‘Fighting Bob’ Schuller put fundamentalists in their attack mode by harassing Aimee Semple McPherson in his sermons. Street preachers from the Bible Institute of Los Angeles weren’t exactly an unsubtle presence either. In fact, one of them attacked Queen Silver, a child skeptic who challenged a BIOLA street preacher in public. He touched her and Queen’s mother, Grace, physically attacked him. In court, young Queen represented her mother and won the case against the BIOLA street preacher. You can read about this in Wendy Mcelroy’s Queen Silver: The Godless Girl.

It was after Billy Graham’s famous Los Angeles crusade when some of the Los Angeles fundamental personalities had enough of Hollywood tinsel and moved to Texas. Specifically, Waco since that was the home of religious organizations like Baylor University. Zondervan (although based in Grand Rapids, Michigan), and a number of Christian publishers and universities, once called Waco home before they would get bought out by Rupert Murdoch in the early 90s.

zimmerman001J. Frank Norris, the Texas pastor with two churches (one in Michigan the other in Fort Worth), took fundamentalism to new heights by attacking his enemies, publishing vitriolic sermons against those who didn’t see things his way, instigating lawsuits, and winning a famous court victory after shooting an unarmed man in his office. His attitude rubbed a lot of fundamentalists wrong and a split happened where George Beauchamp Vick, and other preachers (including Wendell Zimmerman, teacher of Jerry Falwell) split from Norris’s World Baptist Fellowship and formed the Baptist Bible Fellowship in Springfield, Missouri.

Jerry Falwell wrote the book, The Fundamentalist Phenomenon/the Resurgence of Conservative Christianity. Whether you accept Jerry Falwell as a fundamentalist or not depends on what fundamentalist college you’re affiliated with. Most of the hardcore fundamentalists regarded Jerry as a sellout, but some affiliated with the late Falwell’s Liberty University weren’t too quick to acknowledge the school’s transition to a Southern Baptist University. Here’s what I was told: “Liberty didn’t join the SBC, they just send them money!”

Picture 15

Jack Hyles

Jack Hyles had been involved with both the Southern Baptist Convention and the General Association of Regular Baptists before going independent. Hyles is mentioned in I Fired God by Jocelyn Zichterman, but it’s Bob Jones University that is first and foremost in the book.

This is not to say that Jocelyn is wrong about fundamentalist history. If you read her book like an oral history, it works! It reflects the BJU-centric world of her elders. In fact, the last place you would ever learn about fundamentalist history is at a fundamentalist church! I never understood the roles of Wendell Zimmerman, J. Frank Norris, R.A. Torrey, or Robert ‘Fighting Bob’ Schuller until I was out of fundamentalism.

Your history of fundamentalism is largely determined by what college is affiliated with your church. I’m sure students in all the bible colleges are taught a thorough history of the people discussed in this article. Visitors to the campuses, on the other hand, will get a slightly sanitized, and even different version of fundamental history.

Those who visit BIOLA will learn about R.A. Torrey and Billy Sunday but not necessarily Bob Jones or Jack Hyles. BJU’s fundamentalist history for its visitors will claim Billy Sunday but might bypass J. Frank Norris and ignore Jack Hyles. Visitors to the late Jack Hyles church, First Baptist of Hammond, Indiana, will probably hear about all the people discussed in this article.

Bob Jones University certainly has a more colorful past than reflected in I Fired God. If Jocelyn had availed herself of the vast research of former Bob Jones University professor, Camille Lewis, she could have included material indicating that Bob Jones, Sr, acquired his money through his marriage to Mary Gaston.

Picture 16Agnes Moorehead, who played Endora on Bewitched, was a good friend of Bob Jones, Jr, and left her estate to the university. Morehead Manor, for awhile, was the place fundamentalist preachers would be sent for ‘r&r’, usually if they got in trouble with sexual or financial crimes.

Picture 12Kathryn Helmond, from the tv classic, SOAP and Brazil, starred in BJU’s Wine of Morning. This BJU classic credits Peter Ruckman for ‘additional dialogue’. It also is notable for featuring Jesus eating with rich publicans and sinners. Other bible epics have Jesus breaking bread with poor people. Not BJU! Jesus is a rich man’s friend!

Picture 8Jane Halliday, a character on L.A. Law, was written as a graduate from BJU.

BJU was also mentioned in an episode of ‘The O.C.’

Check out this piece of dialogue from The Return of Nana:

Bible Beater Boyfriend: …but her best friend told me she entered some contest down here. Immodestly revealing her body for money.
Ryan: Well, Spring Break. That does happen.
Bible Beater Boyfriend: Doesn’t where we’re from.
Ryan: Where’s that?
Bible Beater Boyfriend: Bob Jones University. If they find out what she’s doing here, she’ll be expelled. Which won’t matter when she’s burning in hell.
Ryan: Mm. Yeah, that’s rough.
Bible Beater Boyfriend: Worst part is, I think she’s cheating on me with whoever her partner in sin is.That’s why I brought my boys with me.
Seth: Oh, yeah? Your frat brothers?
Bible Beater Boyfriend: Bible Study Buddies.

The most controversial thing about Jocelyn’s book is her use of the word ‘cult’. Every religious organization has had a problem with child abuse and its resulting cover up. What makes the IFB different is the control it exerts over members regarding everything from dress, choices in friends and marital partners, and how to spend your free time. Most religions are content with just your tithe. The only thing that makes the IFB different from other ‘cults’ would be that they don’t live on the same property. Of course, since most everybody (students and faculty) lives on the same property at BJU, I’ll give the word ‘cult’ a free pass!

The main reason I don’t use the word ‘cult’ is because it gives tacit approval to the so called mainstream religions. It implies they have their act together, especially regarding issues of abuse. That’s not necessarily the case! The Southern Baptist Convention has a serious problem with child abuse and collusion. The Presbyterian Church (USA) had some notorious cases of cover up and inaction.

What would happen if someone from Jocelyn’s current church was arrested on charges of abuse? Would she call her church a cult? While I’m hopeful she would take the high road, this passage from page 242 of I Fired God gives me pause:

A single mom who had been a member of the church he pastored came forward to confirm (and was prepared to testify) that as of 2010 he was still promoting beating children with one-inch-thick wooden dowels in his church. The night before our depositions, this woman received a call from Social Services saying that an anonymous report had just been filed against her for abusing her own children, which was a preposterous claim. We sure it was an attempt by the IFB leaders to discredit and intimidate us and our witness although we could never prove it. I called Social Services and told them what we were all up against with this cult and, thankfully, no action was ever taken against her.

Jocelyn, that’s not your call to make! This is the strangest paragraph in the book. The stakes were high for Bart Janz and his co-horts, so it’s conceivable they, or their sympathizers, might have wanted to throw a monkey wrench into Jocelyn’s plans by accusing one of her helpers of abuse. The problem is how Jocelyn reacts by immediately calling the claim ‘preposterous’.

There really needs to be some etiquette addressing how advocates react when one of their own is accused of abuse.

Look at how Pastor G (not an advocate but the pastor of Richmond Outreach Center) is conducting himself after being credibly accused of molestation. Any other pastor would have been arrested by a mere phone call. Not Pastor G! His influence with other IFB leaders (like Jonathon Falwell of Liberty University), even though G is non-IFB, is pretty impressive. He loudly proclaims the charges to be false and attempts to bring the church to his side.

Contrast that with Trinity Baptist in Jacksonville, Fl. After the arrest of Bob Gray, leaders repeatedly said they were praying for the victims (even as they fought against them in court). Trinity’s pastor, Tom Messer, for the most part, didn’t tell the church the charges were preposterous. Trinity leaders knew they were in a bad spot. They didn’t make it worse by defending themselves in blogs or anyplace outside the court room.

Picture 14Advocates and like minded organizations should respect the system enough and resist the temptation to ‘circle the wagons’. Advocates have the same rights as everyone else, so they should avail themselves of a defense lawyer. They cannot use the same tactics as their adversaries without compromising their standing with victims. If a victim of IFB abuse is accused by church leaders of making a ‘preposterous claim of abuse’ and finds herself with an advocate whose co-worker is also charged with a ‘preposterous claim of abuse’, who does she trust?

This is not a unique situation! There are other instances where child advocacy opened itself to outright pedophiles and opportunists.

It’s not a good sign when advocates circle the wagon! Yes, everybody has the right to a defense and is innocent until proven guilty. If you are on the side of abuse victims, you should not discriminate against the charges if the finger points back at your organization. If you circle the wagon why shouldn’t the IFB?

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7 thoughts on “Circle the Wagons (a discussion inspired by I Fired God)

  1. “A single mom who had been a member of the church he pastored came forward to confirm (and was prepared to testify) that as of 2010 he was still promoting beating children with one-inch-thick wooden dowels in his church. The night before our depositions, this woman received a call from Social Services saying that an anonymous report had just been filed against her for abusing her own children, which was a preposterous claim. We sure it was an attempt by the IFB leaders to discredit and intimidate us and our witness although we could never prove it. I called Social Services and told them what we were all up against with this cult and, thankfully, no action was ever taken against her.”

    I remember something about this. Awhile ago! And never did I once think of the harm it may have caused this woman for Jocelyn to have claimed to be on her side, and then react to it totally in the way of the IFB in defense of their own. 

    Does anyone know where this woman is now, and what her current position is in all this? I mean, surely Jocelyn would have known the history of retaliation perpetrated by the IFB, and along with that, know that they wouldn’t stop with just an anonymous phone call to DSS. 

    I distinctly remember Jocelyn posting very explicit instructions for those wanting to leave the IFB. I certainly hope that, considering this woman helped Jocelyn, that Jocelyn reciprocated. Does anyone know? 

  2. Your article has some good information but does not provide any references (Wikipedia maybe??). Your reasoning seems erratic and the piece lacks a central thesis. After I finished reading it, I was more confused than when I started it.

  3. The FourSquare church (dunno the official name) started by McPherson is also where Pat Boone and his family were saved. They are like the official “Hollywood Christians”, or something.

    • Pat Boone was also born in Jacksonville, Florida, where Trinity Baptist Church is located. I remember hearing stories about him meeting family members in hospitals, grocery stores, etc. Dyan Cannon used to have a ‘church’ that met in the CBS building. Never visited it, unfortunately! Don’t think she’s doing that anymore.

  4. I know this is an old post, buuuut….

    I grew up in IFB churches, and I did not know about John Nelson Darby! With his place on the ‘family tree’, I can see how it shook out.

    And I was confused about Robert Shuller — I didn’t think he was that old! Wikipedia cleared it up, tho. There were two Robert Shullers preaching in California, one of them “Fightin’ Bob” and the other “Hour of Power.” (Ohhhhh I get it)

    • In the script for Bible Madness, Roger Bunyan has this monologue about fundamentalist history. He eventually concludes, “Real men are named Bob!” I cut the whole thing out! Although, there are a lot of Bobs in fundamentalism!

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