Tag Archives: Marriage

Abortion, Euthanasia, Hell, Marriage, and the Problem of Evil

question

A regular commenter by the name of Scott asked me to comment on:

  • Abortion
  • Euthanasia
  • Hell
  • Marriage
  • The Problem of Evil

Scott describes himself as:

Spoken by a closet unchristianising (??) Reformed doubter (sorry believer) of 40+yrs, who still gets something out of Christianity although I never tell those around me where I’m really at….

Those of us who have deconverted from Christianity can readily understand where Scott is right now. It’s like standing in the middle of a busy highway with traffic coming at you from both directions. Do I go this way, that way…if I go the wrong way I am sure to be hit by the traffic. The good news is Scott understands where he is and he continues to read, ask questions, and consider carefully what direction he should go.

While I will certainly not be able to give each of these subjects the time they deserve, I do want to take a stab at them. If I have written on the subject before, I will link to the appropriate post.

Abortion

I have written on abortion previously, Abortion Facts, Lies, and Contradictions.  At one time, I was an ardent life begins at conception, abortion is murder, pro-lifer.  As my politics became more liberal so did my view on abortion. While I agree with the pro-lifer that we should protect human life, I disagree with them on when that life begins. Does life begin at fertilization? The pro-lifer says yes and I say no. At the moment of fertilization potential life is created and if left undisturbed it may grow into a human that can exist outside of the womb of its mother.

The line for me is viability. Once a fetus reaches the point that it can live outside of the mother’s womb, then government should regulate when an abortion is permissible. This would mean that 1.5-5% of abortions would be regulated by federal/state government.

The bigger issue is making sure that there is no need for abortion, and here the United States we must put an end to the Christian/Political right’s incessant war on abortion. They want to prohibit all abortion, yet they are also against woman/teens having free access to birth control. Their religious beliefs get in the way of what should be sound government policy; free birth control, including morning after drugs, for all.

Euthanasia

My position on euthanasia (physician assisted suicide) is quite simple. I think a person who is mentally competent should be able to determine how and when they die. I do think the government should regulate the who, what, and why of the discussion, but every person should have the right to say, I don’t want to live anymore.

This subject became a real topic of discussion recently when we had to have our cat euthanized. I decided to let Polly and our youngest daughter handle Salazar and his declining health. For several weeks, I reminded them that he was suffering, that it was “time.” They just couldn’t bring themselves to make to the call. Finally, I realized they never were going to make the call so I said, call the vet, it is time. Once I made the decision, they were relieved and quickly acted upon my decision.

This taught me an important lesson and it caused me to rethink my end-of-life plans. If Polly can’t make the hard decision to euthanize a cat, how can I expect Polly to make the right call when it comes my time to die? (and I am not criticizing her here. I am simply being a realist)  While I have an advance directive, I have decided to add my two oldest sons to the list of those to be involved in my end-of-life decisions. Polly knows what I want, she knows at what point I no longer want to suffer with pain, but I don’t know if she can or will do what I want her to do. So, I think having my two oldest sons as part of the process will be a great help for Polly when the end of life comes for me.

I see no value, in fact I think it is cruel and inhumane, to require someone to suffer until the bitter end. I think Christian teaching on suffering, which permeates our society,  promotes needless pain and suffering, and vilifies those who want to end their own life. It is my life not God’s or the church’s, and, as a free moral agent, I should have the right to determine when, where and how I die. Because I write about chronic illness and chronic pain from time to time, there are a lot of sickies who read this blog. I suspect most of them want when, where, and how they die to be in their hands. They don’t want the government or religious do-gooders to get in the way of them negotiating their own death.

Hell

I have written several posts on the subject of hell, Do You Still Fear Going to Hell?, Dear Christian, If You Believe There is a Hell, Learning to Face Death.

The only hell is the hell that human beings and nature causes. Since I don’t think there is an afterlife, I have no thoughts of eternal life in hell or heaven. We live, we die, end of story.  The only hell and heaven we have is in this life, so my goal is to lessen the hell and expand the heaven.

I know that shaking thoughts of hell can be very hard for someone who no longer believes. Remember, these thoughts are just vestiges from your religious past. I call them a fundamentalist hangover. Over time, as our minds are cleared of mythical and harmful religious beliefs, thoughts of hell, heaven, and the afterlife fade away. What matters is now, this life, and the future of our children and grandchildren.

Of course, you need to decide this for yourself. I don’t want to be in hell someday and have a reader of this blog come up to me and say, So much for listening to you, Bruce!

Marriage

Polly and I will celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary in July. I am a happily married man 99% of the time and I think Polly and I are a great match for each other. I love her dearly and I don’t regret for one moment asking her to marry me. Our marriage is quite traditional, not much different from the marriages of our parent’s generation.

That said, what I may like about marriage or what I think is a good marriage might be different for someone else. So, from a legal and social perspective, I think marriage is a legal contract between two people. The government regulates the legal parameters of marriage. Culture, religion, and personal beliefs regulate the moral and practical structure of a marriage. I don’t think the government has any business, outside of setting the age for marriage and determining whether a person can marry someone they have a familial connection with, determining who can and can not marry.

35 years ago, Polly and I stood before our family and friends and said our vows. We made a commitment to each other and we expect each other to keep the terms of our commitment (contract). (though how we define these commitments has changed over the years) But, our commitment should not be the standard for anyone else. Each couple must decide what the terms of their contract is. Polly and I committed ourselves to a monogamous relationship, as I suspect most Americans do. But, different strokes for different folks. Some couples have an open marriage or their marriage is bound by economic, social, or political terms rather than physical/sexual terms.

The Problem of Evil

I think Bart Ehrman’s book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer, is an excellent read on this subject.

The problem of evil (theodicy) is one of the primary reasons I deconverted. I came to the conclusion that, according to the Bible, God  created/allowed evil and that he capriciously holds humans accountable for what he alone is responsible. He could have created humans so they couldn’t sin. He could step into human history and stop evil from happening. If God is all that Christianity says he is, then he is quite the monster if he refuses to stop evil. Everywhere I look I see evil. I see sickness, disease, suffering, violence, starvation, and war. And what does God do? Nothing.

Of course, the reason God does nothing is because he does not exist. It is up to humans to stop evil and to help those who are afflicted. God is not coming to rescue us. There is no miracle fixing to happen if we just believe. It is up to us, as thousands of years of human history clearly show us.

Does evil exist? Sure, evil exists in the bad actions of humans, whether they act alone or as a political, social, or corporate body.  For our own sake and the sake of our species future, we must stand against evil.

Scott asks whether we should kill people who are mad or bad?  It depends. We must first decide what is mad or bad. All of us agree that getting drunk and then driving an automobile is a bad thing to do. Sometimes, people die because inebriated people cause an accident. Should we be proactive and kill every person that is inebriated? After all, if we did this we would put an end to people being killed by drunk drivers. I doubt many people would advocate preemptive strikes against people who drink too much.

But, what about the drone strikes that are now routinely carried out by the Obama administration? We know that terrorists can and do commit evil acts, but should we preemptively kill all suspected terrorists? Some might say yes, but I say no. Why? Because I think drone strikes are too subjective and they lead to innocent people being killed. (and I think they do little to decrease the threat of terrorism)

I strenuously oppose both the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, but I would have supported the government hunting down and killing the men responsible for 9-11.  Punish those who are responsible for the evil, thus eliminating their ability to commit evil acts again.

I realize this is a complex issue and there are many nuances and shades of gray to consider.  While I am a pacifist, I am not so naïve to think that the US government can/should sit by when evil men do whatever they want. Unfortunately, the US government has often perpetrated their own evil, like the nuclear bombing of Japan, the fire bombing on Dresden, and the indiscriminate use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Like an evil Dr. Jekyll, the US government has conducted evil experiments on blacks and the mentally handicapped. They have rounded up Japanese Americans and put them in concentration camps. They supported and profited from the subjugation of an entire race when they supported or turned a blind-eye to slavery.

I think the US government is quite hypocritical when it decides what evil it goes after. Evil terrorists, yes. Genocide in Sudan and Rwanda, no. As an aging man, I have come to realize that the US government can be evil and it can be good and often it can be evil and good at the same time.

Here’s what I know. Few people would object if we could go back to 1933 and put a bullet in the head of Adolph Hitler. In fact, I would abandon my pacifistic principles to do so myself.  Every one of us have the obligation to root out evil and promote good. Unfortunately, most people don’t give a shit, think they are powerless, or have a warped, shallow understanding of evil and good. (i.e. the people on Faux News who think Christians being persecuted in America, you know the “war’ on Christians, is evil. Their ideology keeps them from understanding what evil really is. We all need to be aware of this.)

Have I said enough in this post to piss everyone off? :) Hopefully, I adequately answered Scott’s questions. I am sure he will let me know if I didn’t.
 

Published: March 14, 2014 | Comments: 15

Evangelicals, Porn, and Premarital Sex

the bible and fornication

According to a recent article in The Atlantic, 90% of white Evangelicals think watching porn is morally wrong, yet many of them watch it anyway. In 2005, World Magazine reported:

  • A 2003 survey from Internet Filter Review reported that 47 percent of Christians admit pornography is a major problem in their homes.
  • An internet survey conducted by Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in 2002 found 30 percent of 6,000 pastors had viewed internet porn in the last 30 days.
  • A Christianity Today Leadership Survey in 2001 reported 37 percent of pastors have viewed internet porn.
  • Family Safe Media reports 53 percent of men belonging to the Christian organization Promise Keepers visit porn sites every week.
  • One in seven calls to Focus on the Family’s Pastoral Care Hotline is related to internet pornography.
  • Today’s Christian Woman in 2003 found that one in six women, including Christians, struggles with pornography addiction.

According to a 2008 Christianity Today article, 50% of Christian men reported watching porn recently. One pastor thought the 50% was too high, so he decided to survey his church about their porn viewing habits.  He found out that 60% of the men in his church had viewed porn in the last year, 25% within the past 30 days.

In a  2013 Christian Post article, Evangelical apologist Josh McDowell had this to say about pornography :

“This is destroying pastors, youth pastors and more Christians than anything by far in history. The number one demographic is 12- to 25-year-olds, there’s no difference in and out of the church.”

He added that 50 percent of fundamental, evangelical pastors watch porn while 80 percent of youth pastors have a problem with porn as well. McDowell pointed out that porn provides only a momentary satisfaction and porn addicts often seek other opportunities to satisfy their sexual desires.

“The average person starts with heterosexual sex then after a while, that no longer satisfies, then there’s anal, from anal there’s oral, from oral to homo, from homo to bestiality then to children. The sad thing is, after child pornography doesn’t satisfy, where do you go? Pornography is why sex-trafficking, sex abuse and rape are major issues, they (addicts) end up living it out, it becomes a reality.”

According to a 2011 Loyola University Chicago study titled An Examination of Internet Pornography Usage Among Male Students at Evangelical Christian Colleges:

Frequency of Internet pornography viewing was the next background question and was important in answering the first research question, “To what extent do undergraduate male students at Evangelical Christian colleges access Internet pornography?” Of the responses to this question, 79.3 percent acknowledged accessing Internet pornography at some time during the previous year with a slight plurality (29.3 percent) accessing it at least once a month. The responses to this question, overall, were evenly distributed with 20.7 percent reporting never accessing Internet pornography, 21.7 percent reporting accessing it at least once a year, and 25 percent reporting accessing it at least once a week. The outlier is the 3.3 percent of students who reported accessing it daily.

The data results for a background question asking about the frequency of the number of hours, on average, per week viewing Internet pornography were also important in addressing the first research question. A plurality of students, 46.2 percent, reported less than one hour of Internet pornography use each week and 38.9 percent reported zero hours on average of Internet pornography usage each week. However, 12.8 percent of students reported accessing Internet pornography between one and five hours each week and 1.4 percent reported accessing pornography between five and 10 hours each week while .7 percent reported more than 10 hours a week of access…

…The result of the descriptive statistics demonstrated that 79.3 percent of male undergraduate students at Evangelical colleges reported accessing Internet pornography at some point in the previous year and that 61.1 percent reported accessing Internet pornography at least some amount of time each week on average…

(The Loyola study report is 207 pages long)

Every Sunday, Evangelical pastors stand in the pulpit and preach that faith in Jesus and his finished work on the cross gives the Christian victory over sin. Yet these same pastors spend an inordinate amount of time preaching about sexual sins like fornication, adultery, homosexuality, prostitution, masturbation, and pornography. Why all the preaching about sexual sin? Surely, according to the Bible, greater is he that is in the Evangelical than he that is in the world? Come to find out, Evangelicals aren’t much different from atheists or non-Christian religious people.

abstinence

Just remember this the next time an Evangelical tries to take the high moral ground with you…they don’t practice what they preach. They talk a great line but behind closed doors they are having premarital sex, watching porn, and engaging in the very sexual activities they condemn the world for.

Bible literalism, coupled with a Puritanical/Victorian view of sex, causes untold guilt among the Evangelical faithful. We know from the above articles and studies that Evangelicals watch porn. Imagine the guilt people must feel when their pastor rages against porn. Imagine the guilt the pastor has over his own secret porn viewing habits. It’s the guilty preaching to the guilty and the result is more guilt.

According to a 2011 CNN Belief article, 80% of unmarried 18-29 year old Evangelical adults say they have had sex. In other words, despite all the preaching against premarital sex, the vast majority of Evangelical teens and young adults have sex before marriage. According to a 2012 The Daily Beast report, 30% of Evangelicals who unintentionally get pregnant have an abortion. (these articles mention several studies that are no longer available on the internet. It seems that Evangelicals got into quite a squabble over the results and many sites pulled their stories/blog posts) And, finally, a 2008 Center of Disease report on teenage (ages 15-19) pregnancy reveals that the states with higher or significantly higher teen birth rates are mostly in the South where Evangelical belief is the strongest.

In a 2012 blog post, Evangelical Matthew Lee Anderson,a sexually active married man,  vociferously opposed Evangelicals who support unmarried Evangelicals using contraceptives:

There is a strong pragmatic streak that runs through evangelicalism, an ideology that postures as a rejection or marginalization of ideas and theology..

…contraception as a pragmatic concession actually contributes to the conditions where Christians can sin without consequences for themselves or their community. Paris suggests that “abstinence absolutism” simply has not worked. Which is to say, unmarried Christians are still having sex and sex (surprise!) still makes babies. The implication is that the proclamation of abstinence in our churches has been tried and found wanting, when in fact it has not yet been properly tried at all, either from our pulpits or throughout our communal structures.

In short, the problem is both our failure to proclaim the ideal beautifully and our failure to cultivate communities that can uphold it with grace and truth. Which means the failure of chastity in our churches is an occasion for everyone to repent, not only the unmarrieds. For it is a symptom of a community disease, a disease that contraception simply cannot solve and will almost certainly make worse…

…At its best, then, an unmarried who uses contraception has failed to grasp the nature of the goods of sexuality—and a church that encourages him to use it has doubtlessly done the same.

It is well known, or at least frequently stated, that evangelicalism’s public witness has been frequently undermined by our lack of integrity and our hypocrisy, especially on sexual issues. I fail to see how more contraception for our unmarrieds will do anything except deepen such a culture of hypocrisy by making it more comfortable and convenient to sin sexually while remaining in unbroken communion in our churches.

At the heart of this discussion is a question about whether the church will pursue integrity as a body or whether it will not merely accommodate sin among its members, but encourage the conditions for it.  Like advocating, for instance, risky investments that have minimal negative consequences that would appeal to people’s greed…

…This is, for me, a hill that is worth dying on. And I am not prepared to die quietly…

Anderson sees the church approving of the use of contraceptives by unmarried Evangelicals as pragmatically endorsing behavior the Bible calls sin. While his theology is correct, the Bible does call premarital sex a sin, his unwillingness to be pragmatic in light of the overwhelming evidence about Evangelical sexuality is the real issue. The hill Anderson is dying on is called Denial Hill. Instead of embracing reality, Anderson continues to advocate for teaching and preaching that clearly does not work. (ironically, Anderson is anti-abortion, yet his view on contraceptives and his just say no approach to premarital sex directly results in more abortions)

Evangelicals have a huge dilemma on their hands. Bible literalism has forced them into a corner on matters of human sexuality. They can’t admit the Bible is wrong about sex,nor can they come out in support of contraception and responsible sexual activity. Doing so would cause a furor among older Evangelicals who are the money backbone of Evangelical churches. We can’t have the unmarried teens and young adults of the church “sinning,” right? Never mind the fact that older married Evangelicals were sexually active themselves when they were young. Never mind the fact that older married Evangelicals have affairs, get divorced, watch porn, etc just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. The only difference is that the Evangelical gets to go to heaven despite their sexual “sins” but the non-Christian is banished to hell because of theirs.

This would be a great comedy show if it weren’t for the fact that countless unmarried Evangelicals are mentally and emotionally harmed by the moralizing and sexual strictures of Evangelical churches, pastors, and para church leaders. On Saturday night they are out with their girlfriend and one thing leads to another and they engage in sex.  Their biology and their hormones tell them that they want and desire to have sex. But, they aren’t prepared to have sex because their church and pastor refused to preach and teach any other message but Just Say No! They are discouraged from using contraceptives because Evangelical churches and pastors naïvely think that no contraceptives=no sex. Contraceptives or not, biology and hormones usually win, and if the young Evangelical girl is lucky she won’t end up pregnant. And if she ends up pregnant? No morning after drugs, no abortion. Either she gives her baby away or she begins her new life as an unmarried mother. The boy will probably be pressured to “do the right thing.” (my years in the ministry taught me that the only thing worse than a teenage pregnancy is a teenage marriage. It is a recipe for failure and is rarely a good idea)

Is it any wonder that many Evangelicals live lives filled with guilt and desperation? Instead of being human and responsibly acting upon normal, healthy sexual desires, the Evangelical is forced to live a lie. As many of the former Evangelicals who read The Way Forward can testify, the guilt over “secret” sins can be overwhelming, driving some people to thoughts of suicide.

sex ed

As long as THE BIBLE SAYS is the sexual standard for Evangelicals, the lies, guilt, and mental/emotional damage will continue. Healthy, mentally and emotionally well-adjusted church members should be the goal, and the first step in reaching this goal is admitting that the Bible is wrong about human sexuality. The second step is teaching unmarried Evangelical teenagers and young adults how to have safe, responsible sex. The third step is making sure that Evangelical teenagers and young adults have access to contraceptives. (and this means Evangelicals need to stop their wrongheaded opposition to The Affordable Care Act’s required contraceptive coverage)

Published: March 11, 2014 | Comments: 7

Is Fundamentalist Christianity Bad for Marriage?

christian marriage

“The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government program. It’s called marriage.” Florida Senator Marco Rubio

In the February 10, 2014 issue of The Nation, Michelle Goldberg had this to say about Fundamentalist Christian marriage and divorce:

We’ve long known that, in general, the parts of the country most obsessed by family values are also the most beset by family breakdown. Crimson-red Southern states like Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas have the highest rates of divorce, while the liberal, decadent Northeast has the lowest. People have tried to explain this phenomenon in a number of ways. Some conservatives argue that the Northeast has low divorce rates only because it has low marriage rates, too. Others suggest that it’s all about class—in addition to being conservative, the South is poor, and poverty is linked to family dysfunction. “It’s a puzzling paradox,” says Jennifer Glass, a sociologist at the University of Texas. “These are places where you would expect the reverence for marriage and social disapproval for divorce to keep couples together.”

Working with Philip Levchak of the University of Iowa, Glass set out to investigate this paradox. Examining America county by county, they found that, even controlling for income, education and rates of nonmarital cohabitation, the link between conservative Protestantism and divorce remains. It looks as if right-wing Christianity itself undermines modern marriage.

“Conservative religious beliefs and the social institutions they create, on balance, decrease marital stability through the promotion of practices that increase divorce risk in the contemporary United States,” Glass and Levchak write in a new paper, “Red States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding the Impact of Conservative Protestantism on Regional Variation in Divorce Rates,” which will appear in the next issue of the American Journal of Sociology. Ironically, the very practices meant to shore up marital security in conservative communities end up sabotaging it. By promoting abstinence until marriage, these communities encourage people to marry young. Poor sex education and limited access to contraception for teenagers lead to unintended pregnancies and shotgun weddings. Gender-role traditionalism leads to single-earner families with precarious finances.

Further, Glass and Levchak write, “the effects of personal and community-level conservative Protestant affiliation are additive, meaning that conservative Protestants in strongly conservative Protestant counties have higher divorce risks than conservative Protestants in mainline dominant counties.”

These findings are surprising, since other social science research suggests that couples who attend church together are more likely to stay married. Glass doesn’t dispute this: “Religious belief in general is a good thing for married couples as a shared activity,” she says. But her work suggests that the positives of shared faith fail to outweigh the negatives of fundamentalist culture.

According to their paper, it’s not just believers who are affected—simply living in an area with lots of right-wing evangelicals makes divorce more likely, because the prevailing community norms and institutions affect everyone. The more powerful Christian conservatives get, the worse the problem becomes. “One plausible interpretation of the results is that as conservative Protestant presence increases, elite conservative Protestant influence grows stronger, which results in policies and programs that do little to reduce divorce, but only increase early marriage,” write Glass and Levchak.

“One of the things that happens is that early marriage and parenthood in particular are bad times for very young women to be entering the labor force,” says Glass. “They withdraw from the labor force and withdraw from schooling to take care of their kids.” Meanwhile, she says, “it’s become very, very difficult for young men to support an entire family. Families that are formed early have a really difficult time making ends meet with the human resources they have at their disposal.”

 

 

Published: February 19, 2014 | Comments: 21

Marriage is a Threesome: Man, Woman, and God

According to Roman Catholic Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), heterosexual (there is no other kind according to Huelskamp) marriage is a threesome between man, woman, and God.

Huelskamp said:

I just want to speak again to moms and dads and spouses. Marriage can be tough. It really is. But God is calling you to do everything you can. It’s just not you and your spouse. There’s a third person in your marriage. And God would like to bless and protect that marriage, and give you many fruitful days ahead.

Published: February 12, 2014 | Comments: 7

Polly Answers Your Questions Part Six

In a post titled, Questions for Polly, I asked readers to submit questions for my wife, Polly Gerencser, to answer.  If you have any follow-up questions, please leave them in the comments.  If you wish to contact Polly personally, you can contact her on Facebook.

This post is the last in the series. I appreciate Polly’s willingness to answer your questions.

Steve asked, How has your freethought affected your relationship with your parents and family? Is it as rough as Bruce writes? How do you all function at the holidays?

My parents don’t talk about it at all. I suppose they think I am brainwashed by Bruce or at the least “once saved always saved”!  Our immediate family has also gone through their own transformations/changes, so I have a live and let live attitude.

The relationship with my family is as Bruce says it is. The holidays are as dysfunctional as any other family’s holidays! When my Mom and Dad come up for a holiday or event, we get along (politely). I am their only daughter now, since my sister died 8 years ago in a motorcycle accident.  They don’t want to push me any farther away but there will always be the elephant in the room!

Renoliz asked, I wonder if your faith conflicted with your personality? Or did the faith suit you and then your world fell apart when Bruce changed? (You were a great preacher’s wife and now you didn’t know what to think?)

My faith and personality fit hand in hand. So yes, the faith suited me well and when it fell apart I didn’t know how to handle it. I felt like I lost my identity, preacher’s wife to nothing. But, I am now learning who I really am.  I am me, wife, mother, daughter, friend, and lover! I am what and who I am!

Jada (fellow introvert) said, this fellow introvert is interested in hearing your answers.

If I was a wallflower, I would be painted in the most obscure space or corner, ever. Kind of like “where’s Waldo”, only where’s Polly…oh, there she is!

Ivan asked, My question is: how other people treated you once you decided not to follow any religion?

With the religious side of the family, it is mostly “poor Polly”, look where Bruce is leading her now! They have always thought I was brainwashed and don’t have a mind of my own. (Bruce adds, I suspect they think this way because I am so outspoken and Polly is so introverted and quiet) There are a couple of people at work that know; they read Bruce’s blog. They are fine with it.  Others? Let’s just say I don’t discuss this publicly. The place I work  is/was based on Mennonite Christian principles. So being an agnostic/humanist doesn’t go along with their beliefs. I am sure some know, because they get the local newspaper and have read some of Bruce’s editorials. Some have even questioned my oldest son or my son Nathan’s father-in-law, both who work at the same company as I do, about Bruce’s blog or newspaper editorial. It is easier to believe gossip than to ask for the truth, at least in small town Ohio!

Angiep asked, Please express how freeing it felt to start wearing pants, cut your hair, wear jewelry, and perfume etc.

Wearing jeans is the most recent change. The restrictions about cutting my hair, wearing jewelry, or using  perfume restrictions  came and went during our time in the ministry. As Bruce became more liberal and progressive, his views on things like this changed. Sometimes, I was the one that still hung on to the old standard. When Bruce told me that it was okay if I wanted to wear jeans to work and then bought me a pair, I thought God was going to strike me dead. (as you can tell, he didn’t)  Now, as Bruce wrote in a not so recent blog post, I wear them about all the time. I do dig out my skirts or dresses for special occasions or to wear in the summer. (and this gave me a reason to buy a strapless bra, an undergarment never worn in the churches I was a part of)) I was allowed, remember Bruce was the head of the home and my pastor so he set the dress standard, to wear jean dresses, jean skirts, and jean jumpers, just no “men’s”  jeans! I love my jeans!

I was always allowed to cut my hair, that is until we started going through the quiver full stage. I have always preferred it short. These days, Bruce doesn’t care unless it is too short and definitely not long again.I know when Bruce says I am starting to look like my Mother that he thinks my hair is too short.  My ears have been pierced since I was in the eighth grade, longer than I have known Bruce. When Bruce began thinking women shouldn’t pierce their ears, I did have to stand my ground, and since they were already pierced, I could keep them that way. As far as Bruce was concerned, our girls were never going to get their ears pierced. Our youngest daughter Laura was allowed to get her ears pierced for her 16th birthday! Bruce has bought me several necklaces in the last year or two! (a first) I am still hoping for diamond studs (hint hint)! Perfume is another matter. Bruce is allergic to so many different scents that I rarely wear perfume. So, I am good with scented body wash and scented body lotion. I am not a big makeup fan, never was. I was told, in my early teenage years, that if the barn needs painting, then paint it. But, Bruce told me early on in our marriage that if I didn’t want to paint the barn I didn’t need to, so natural it is. When Bruce and I go out for date night, I use mascara and lip gloss, that’s it.

Published: January 28, 2014 | Comments: 4

Our First Apartment and Christmas

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Polly’s Grandfather, Polly’s Dad, Polly, Bruce, Polly’s Mom, on the street in front of our apartment, a few weeks after we were married. Who are those children?

Our first apartment was on Premont Street in Pontiac, Michigan (Waterford Township). It was a 3 room and a bath upstairs apartment. The heat was controlled by the people living downstairs. We rented this apartment in May before Polly went home to Newark, Ohio to prepare for our July wedding. I lived in the apartment by myself until we were married. I worked at Felice’s Market, located a few blocks away from our apartment.

I furnished the apartment with a load of furniture I bought at a nearby yard sale. Polly did not see the “wonderful” furniture I bought until we returned from our honeymoon. Needless to say, she wasn’t happy. No worries. We started getting credit cards in the mail from companies like Sears, JC Penny, Montgomery Ward, and Hudson’s. We said yes to all of them and bought a new couch, bed, and furnishings. We had no clue how to manage money or set up a household. Saying yes would, a short while later, be a big problem for us.

Our apartment had green and white carpet in the living room. One day I came home from work and there was a huge white/rusty stain on the carpet. Polly had spilled tea on the carpet and used bleach to clean it up. Yes, we really were that dumb. Both of us were. So naïve, so ill-prepared for life in the real world. Prior to moving into the apartment, neither of us had ever lived by ourselves. Polly was 19 and I was 21.

Our first Christmas arrived and we went out and bought a tree from the Boy Scouts. I hauled the tree up the stairs and put  it in the cheap tree stand we had bought. No matter what we did, the tree would not stand up straight. Finally, I got so angry that I opened the upstairs window and threw the tree out of it.  We then went out and bought another tree.

The new tree wasn’t much better. Every time we let go of it it would pull the tree stand over. Again, I got quite angry, but this time I fixed the problem. I nailed the tree stand to the floor.   What a blessed first Christmas we had.

We lived in the apartment for seven months. Six weeks after we were married, Polly said, I am pregnant. Later in the year, I lost my job, and in February of 1979 we dropped out of college and moved to Bryan, Ohio. We were ignorant and life was hard, but here we are 35 years later, we are survivors.

And we finally learned how to get the damn Christmas tree to stand up straight.

Published: January 8, 2014 | Comments: 4

Polly Answers Your Questions Part Five

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Questions for Polly

In a post titled, Questions for Polly, I asked readers to submit questions for my wife, Polly Gerencser, to answer. If you have any follow-up questions, please leave them in the comments. I appreciate Polly being willing to answer your questions. If you wish to contact Polly personally, you can contact her on Facebook.

Lynn asked, Did you have any rules for Bruce, as far as how he could use you or the children in his sermons? And did you ever have any “words” about such things?

I would never have given Bruce rules to preach by. Bruce and I discussed this question before I answered it.  I don’t think Bruce ever used us as “bad” illustrations. Sure, he would mention us, but I don’t remember anything negatively. Sometimes his personal illustrations embarrassed me because I don’t like being pointed out, for good or bad. We never had “words” about his sermons. They were given to him by “God”, who was I to say otherwise? It is certainly strange-looking back and wondering how we ever came away from all of our religious training, and not be totally insane.

Zoe asked, What is your favorite color? (Something easy…)

Thank you, thank you! My favorite color is blue! Ask anybody. When it comes time to paint a room, Bruce will say, “as long as it’s not blue”! We have one blue room, our bedroom; a dark blue, not quite navy. It will be navy the next time I paint. The trim is a very pale blue. I love waking up in that room! Bruce’s favorite color is blue too.

Texas Born & Bred asked, Why do women convert to super-conservative faiths that are obviously degrading to women?

Hmmm! I know Bruce has written about this not too long ago, but my excuse is, I was born and raised this way. (did that sound a little Lady Gaga-ish?) I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know I had a choice. I was never exposed to any other way or religion! I knew ours was the right religion and the others were wrong because my parents, pastors, college professors, and husband said they were.  I was taught that the woman’s place was in the home, barefoot and pregnant, constantly cooking. (that was mostly tongue in cheek) I honestly don’t know why any women would willingly choose such degradation.

Guest asked, Are you a closet Christian?

How to put this nicely…??? Hell No! Although, my parents probably wish it were so!

Guest asked, What specifically drove you from Christianity?

I know I have answered something like this before, but one reason was the insincerity of people in the church. Another reason was that churches, no matter the name above the door, were the same. I have met a few people (I can count on one hand, maybe two if I think hard about it) that I would consider true Christians. Then, there was the things I read and the discussions that Bruce and I had. It wasn’t one specific thing but an accumulation of things or reasons that eventually led me out of Christianity.

Coming soon: Bruce Interviews Polly

Published: January 7, 2014 | Comments: 4

The Secret to a Successful Marriage: Not Really

bruce and polly gerencser_0006Those of us raised in the Evangelical church have seen countless books titled like this post. Authors think that they have figured out a part of life and are qualified to write a book about it.  Every book takes the same approach; follow these steps, follow this formula, do what I did,  and you will have success.  After all, isn’t it the American dream to be considered s-u-c-c-e-s-s-f-u-l?

Looks can be deceiving. One woman who attended a church I pastored had been married for 40 years. That’s a long time. Surely this woman and her husband had a successful marriage, right?

One day I decided to pay a visit to this couple’s home. When I got there the husband was nowhere to be found. I said, your husband isn’t home? The woman replied, oh no, he’s here, and she hollered up the stairs for her husband. Come to find out, he had been living in the upstairs for 25 years and they RARELY spoke to each other. Their marriage was anything BUT happy and successful.

But, then again, maybe it was.How do we even define what a happy or successful marriage is?  What is the objective standard for happiness or success? Should we even try to judge whether a person or a couple is happy or a success?

When we look at a marriage from the outside it is almost impossible to judge whether the couple is happy and the marriage is a success. Recently, my counselor told me that most everything he learned in college 35 years about marriage was wrong. For example…he was taught that couples who fight a lot are unhappy and have a troubled/bad marriage. He said, this is completely untrue. Now researchers are finding out that the level of arguing plays very little part in the happiness of the couple or the success of the marriage. He told me that some of the most happy and successful marriages are ones where the couple frequently argue.

As Evangelicals, Polly and I were taught to NEVER argue. After all, the Bible says, never let the sun go down on your wrath. Anger is a sin and a person who is a devoted follower of Jesus never gets angry, right? Or if they do it better be the classic Christian anger ass-covering, RIGHTEOUS ANGER. You know the anger displayed by the preacher when he is angrily shouting and railing against sin in his sermon against this or that sin.

The truth is…we all get angry and we all argue. Some couples argue more than others, but they all argue. The style, length, and level of arguing is different from couple to couple, but every couple argues. (and anyone who says they NEVER argue or gets angry is taking way too much Prozac or lying)

polly and bruce gerencser 1978

Polly and I have been married for 35 years, 5 months,10 days, 14 hours, and 37 minutes. During this time, we have had a fair number of fights and arguments. I am hotheaded and bullheaded. Polly is quite passive, yet inwardly defiant. Every so often, almost always over nothing, we will have an argument. For a few moments, our marriage becomes like heating a cup of water with a blow torch. It heats up quickly but with a quick turn of the blow torch knob off goes the flame and the heat quickly dies down. Our arguments tend to last a few moments, maybe for a few hours, but NEVER for a day. Neither of us hold a grudge and we usually realize quickly that what we are fighting over is stupid. (even if we mentally think the OTHER is MORE stupid)

We both recognize that arguments are about two people wanting to be right. Sometimes, Polly and I argue because we have a difference of opinion. Other times, one of us is right and the other is wrong. If someone who didn’t know us stumbled upon us having an argument they would “think” that we had a troubled marriage or that we needed marriage counseling. Their judgment of the quality of our marriage would be dead wrong.  We argue, and just like that it is over. We may be arguing at 5:00 P.M. and sitting in a restaurant 3 hours later having a wonderful time. The arguments mean little to us. (and there seems to be no cumulative effect)

Here are some observations I have made about my marriage to Polly. These observations are not a road map to marital success or a blueprint for a long, happy marriage. I recognize that Polly and I being married for all these years took a lot of work AND luck. We know more than a few happy and successful couples who are now divorced and married to someone else. In the first few years of marriage, Polly and I could have easily become a statistic, thus proving Polly’s mom’s right, that divorce is hereditary. (a commonly held belief among their generation)

Polly and I did not marry for love. In fact, we had no idea what real love was. Oh we told ourselves we were in love, but what we really were was mutually infatuated with each other. We had romantic feelings for each other, but LOVE? Love came over time. As we grew and matured, so did love.

Americans have many foolish notions about love. They think the proof of love is expensive gifts, jewelry, flowers,special nights out at fancy restaurants, and/or hot sex. Yes, all of these things are nice, but they have little to do with love.  Love is all about commitment and endurance. True, lasting love takes time to plant and grow. I think the writer of 1 Corinthians 13 got it right when they wrote about the lasting qualities of love; things like patience, kindness, and being long-suffering.

Polly and I deeply love one another, yet we know that we still have the capacity to love each other more. We know that every marriage has its exciting moments and it also has long dry, monotonous spells. (and dry takes on a life of its own after menopause) Married life can become boring or predictable and this is not necessarily bad. No marriage can survive every day and night being like the first night of their honeymoon. Understanding this has kept Polly and I from having unreasonable expectations and making demands that the other person can not fulfill.

In the midst of normalcy, we try to have some unpredictability. Some times it is small things like Polly buying me a king size candy bar and leaving it in the desk. Other times, it is me tying a big dildo to the front door knob so it will smack Polly when she comes home from work at 1:30 A.M. Since we have left Christianity, our banter has become more sexual and Polly is mastering the art of the double meaning. We have fun this way…and o-t-h-e-r ways. (and all my kids are saying TMI)

Every year, we try to do a couple of big things like take a weekend trip or go on vacation. Now that our children are grown and 5 of them are out of the house, we are free to travel and do a lot more things as a couple. And here is the key for us…we LIKE each other. We like being together and doing things together. We like each other’s company. We have, over the years, become best friends. This was not the case when we were first married.

Both of us have annoying character traits that drives the other nuts. And guess what…35 years later those traits are still there. When we first married we ignored these traits or thought they would go away in time. Now we recognize that these irritating character traits are part of who we are. We STILL fight about them and we STILL irritate the hell out of each other, but we recognize that both of us are flawed and we are not going to change. I will still want perfect order and Polly still won’t be able to figure out where we are going even with a map, a Google map print out and a GPS. We fuss, fume, and then laugh.  We are who we are.

bruce and polly september 2013

We now know that we are not completely compatible. We each like things the other dislikes. And…that’s OK. While in many ways we are very different from one another, we do share many of the same likes, wants, and desires. Polly knows that when she makes a gourmet meal and then asks me what I think…that when I say, please don’t make THAT again…it is not a personal attack.  I know that when I buy her a gift and she doesn’t like it that it is not Polly rejecting me. She just doesn’t like what I bought her. End of story. Then we go get her want she wants and she writes in her cookbook, don’t make again.

We both have our own space and we are free to do our own thing. We don’t need the approval of the other. Polly reads fiction and I don’t. There are certain shows on TV that I love and Polly rolls her eyes every time I watch them. We still care about what the other thinks, but we have learned that each other’s approval is not needed. So much of life is made up of things that don’t matter, so why spend a lot of time fussing and fighting over inconsequential things? Accept each other as they are and learn to keep your distance when they are driving you nuts.

We are becoming more and more comfortable in our skin. We no longer let others, including our family, define for us, what a “good” marriage is. We stay married because we love each other and like each other. I may not be the most demonstrative of husbands, and this irritates the hell out of some of my children, but I more than make up for it when and where it matters. All those noises in the night are Polly singing out her approval. (our daughter Laura now knows that there is NOT an owl living outside our house, an explanation I gave her when she was a child)

Here’s the bottom line. It works for us and that is all that matters. We are not our parents and we don’t want our children to emulate our marriage. Each couple must find their own way.  Maybe their marriage will last a lifetime…maybe it won’t. For Polly and I, we have come too far to turn back now.

Published: December 26, 2013 | Comments: 16