How Evangelical Preachers Sexually Demean and Harass Female Congregants

god is a woman

Cartoon by David Hayward

Many Evangelical churches are hierarchical in nature: male God, male pastor, male church leaders, married men, and then women and children. God, of course, comes first. God, of course — because it says so in the Bible — is a HE, not a she. God, of course, determines the order of all things, including the church and home.

God created man first, and then woman. He commanded that men are to be the head of their homes, and women are to submit to their husbands in all things, as unto the Lord. God commanded that women were to be keepers of the home, submitting cheerfully and without complaint to their husbands. Children are commanded by God to joyfully obey their parents in all things.

God commanded that men, as pastors, elders, and deacons, are to rule the church. Only men are permitted to preach and teach during public worship services. Women are permitted to teach other women and children, but they must never, ever usurp authority over men. In some Evangelical churches, women are expected to be quiet during worship services. I knew of one church (Mennonite) where women were not permitted to sing the first note or two of any song lest they are guilty of “leading” men. I attended a number of their services, and the men would start the singing and then the women would join them a note or two later. I knew of another church (Sovereign Grace Baptist) where women were not permitted to speak during the services. If a woman had a prayer request, she was expected to whisper the request to her husband or another man, and he would make the request known. This same church would not allow women to ask questions during business meetings. If a woman had a question, she was to, again, whisper the question to her husband or another man, and he could then ask the question.

In many Evangelical churches, women working outside of the home is frowned upon, if not outright prohibited. In such churches, married women are expected to bear children, cook meals, do laundry, clean the house, teach the children, and submit to their husband’s sexual advances — all without complaint or question. Unmarried girls and women are expected to learn domestic duties from their mothers, preparing them for marriage. In some churches, girls are discouraged from having college or career ambitions. Their future was sealed the moment they were born — a life devoted to husband, children, and domestic duties. Some churches do permit young women to attend church-approved Bible colleges, but only for the express purpose of getting an MRS degree.

I can safely say that Evangelicalism, in general, is anti-woman. While it is encouraging to see some churches abandoning complementarianism for egalitarianism, millions of Evangelical women and girls are members of churches that treat them as subservient, inferior, second-class people. Their lives are dominated by the male species, first as daughters, and then as wives. Attempts to break free from male dominance is viewed as rebellion against God and rebellion against the men He has set as rulers over them. In some instances, rebellious women are brought under church discipline, which leads to shunning until they confess their sin and bow in submission to male authority.

People not raised in Evangelical churches will likely read this post and say, Bruce, surely this is satire. It’s 2017 and women are free to be whatever they want to be. It may be 2017 where you live, but for many Evangelical women and girls, it is the 1940s, or the 1840s for that matter. The driving belief behind the anti-abortion, anti-birth control movement is that God has commanded women to marry, spread their legs when asked by their husbands, and bear lots of children. Women who chase dreams of higher education, athletics, or careers are living lives contrary to God’s plan and his divine order for families and societies. According to more than a few Evangelical preachers, much of what is wrong with the world can be traced back to women not accepting their God-given role as mothers and keepers of the home.

Imagine, for a moment, being raised in churches where women are treated as I mentioned above. Week after week, month after month, year after year, you are reminded of your second-class status before God and man. Sunday after Sunday, your preacher reminds you of your place in the home and church, and your duty to submit to your husband and male church authority. Imagine being a bright, inquisitive girl who has great ambition, only to have these things stomped into the ground by men who say they know God’s plan for your life, and that plan does not include college, athletics, or a career. Even worse, imagine when one of these “godly men” sexually harasses, molests, or rapes you, and if you dare report it, you are blamed for the man’s perverse behavior.

biblical submission

Outsiders rightly ask, why would any woman willingly submit herself to such psychological abuse? Why don’t they stand up against patriarchal thinking and demand equality? Surely, these women want more for their lives than babies, casseroles, and watching the church nursery? Unfortunately, for many women, they were raised in churches that devalued women and it is the only thing they know. Imagine being repeatedly threatened with judgment and chastisement from God if you dare to demand the same opportunities in life as men. Being told over and over that God wants you to live a certain way and living otherwise could lead to pain, loss, and even death, is sure to result in obedience and conformity.

Preachers are God-ordained keepers of divine order. Through their preaching and modeling, women are shown how God wants them to live. Using a plethora of Biblical proof texts, women and girls are frequently reminded of their place, and that not accepting that place means they are being sinful and disobedient to God. These preachers literally demean and harass female congregants with their sermons and Bible quotations. Girls come into this world rebellious against God’s constituted order, and it is up to preachers to use the Bible to beat the rebellion out of them. Countless effervescent girls have been turned into dowdy, rarely-smiling, obedient women who no longer have dreams of life beyond the bed, cradle, or kitchen. Such preaching can and does suck the life out of women, turning them into servants of the male God, their husbands, and male-controlled churches.

The good news is that many Evangelical women are tired of being treated as doormats. They are tired of having their ambitions drowned out by their husbands’ wants, needs, and desires. Evangelical teen girls are increasingly rebelling against their fathers and pastors, demanding that they be treated with decency and respect and afforded the same opportunities as boys. I know of a number of women who demanded the right to take college classes. Many of these women, once they graduated from college and figured out they could live on their own, left their churches and divorced their husbands — proving to Evangelical troglodytes that women must be tethered to the home lest they overthrow God’s order.

My wife and I grew up in churches where complementarianism was frequently preached from the pulpit; churches where women were expected to be married, barefoot, and pregnant; churches where women were expected to do menial labor while the men sat in the gates and did the “real” work of ruling nations, churches, and homes. It should come as no surprise, then, that when Polly and I married, we had what was commonly called a “traditional” marriage, with me being the patriarchal head of the home, and Polly devoting herself to domestic chores and children. Fortunately, both of us saw the light, resulting in fundamental change to our marriage and home. Some of this change was driven by my health problems. I worked for much of our marriage and Polly quietly and happily maintained the home. When fibromyalgia, pain, and neurological problems forced a change of roles, our marriage changed too — for the better, I might add.

The girl I married in 1978 was quiet, soft-spoken, and content to let me be the boss. The bad-ass woman I am now married to is still quiet and soft-spoken, but that boss thing? That ain’t happening. Both of us will admit that we have struggled with our changing marital dynamic. It wasn’t easy at first. It has taken years for the bad thinking from our patriarchal past to be transformed into egalitarian thinking that values and respects people regardless of their sex. Even now, both of us can, on occasion, fall back into our former way of life. I still, at times, want to be the boss, and Polly is content to let me make decisions, especially those that could have negative outcomes. Our new, ever-evolving relationship has taken a lot of conversation, arguing, and forgiving. I can honestly say that our marriage today is better than it ever has been. I love and respect Polly more than ever, even when she still refuses to know what she wants to order when we pull up at a fast-food order window. Each of us recognizes the other’s strengths and weaknesses and our divisions of labor are determined by expertise and not some verses from an outdated, ancient religious text. It’s unlikely that we will ever have the “perfect” marriage, but I can safely say that what was begun almost forty years ago continues to blossom and grow.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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6 Comments

  1. Connie

    Bruce – a ‘perfect’ marriage doesn’t exist except in the minds of authoritarians (who love to define all sorts of ‘perfects’). I believe the word (the ‘perfect’ word in fact) which best describes a good marriage is Balance. To achieve the Harmony of Balance one must employ Communication.

    Like all things that sound simple living in Harmony and Balance with ample Communication is easier said than done. Old habits are tempting… Well, because they were habits, so yeah. Not always easy to let go; if they were the self help industry wouldn’t exist.

    I read a couple of blogs written by amazing ladies who escaped the Patriarchal Sand Pit of Death. Their stories are inspiring as are the comments. These ladies are not only helping themselves but others too.

    For 2018 there is much to worry about. I’m not focused on that now, my focus is on the bright lights scattered throughout the country. I imagine their brilliance supported by friends and family. I imagine ‘villiages’ within cities dedicated to the raising the next generation. I imagine a lot.

    I’m a bit scattered. Hope you get my point.

    Closing – Bruce your efforts in battling the misinformation spewed by evangelical zombies deserves a higher pay grade in my opinion. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. ObstacleChick

    Bruce, you nailed it. The Southern Baptist church where I grew up started teaching this submission complementarianism in the late 80s. A lot of men and women took seminars on it. I guess the church leadership thought they were helping people’s marriages. Some of my teen friends andIi took the single person’s version. Listening to my friend’s mom teaching us that we must submit our entire lives to our husband’s will made me literally nauseous. I sat there thinking I was an aberration as a logic-driven science and math student – something was wrong with how I was “created” as I didn’t fit the emotionally-driven mess as females are portrayed. I vowed to remain single. It also helped that my grandfather who was a deacon didn’t buy any of that either. He taught me that I should never be dependent on a man for my support. My grandma tried to do complementarianism because she thought her god demanded it but my grandpa wanted his wife to be the strong and smart woman she was. My grandpa’s biggest regret was his brilliant daughter dropping out of college to marry a guy and divorce after a year; to marry a worse guy, have a child (me) and end up a single mom with no child support and no degree to use in the workplace. He did everything he could to see to it his granddaughter would pursue a different path. (I did get married and we have a partnership not a dictatorship – he wasn’t raised evangelical and thinks complementarianism is misogynistic). So thanks to my grandpa for seeing beyond what his church taught. It is hard for women to get out of this submission when they don’t have a support system.

    Reply
  3. Admgator

    You can trace the subservience of women back to Judaism and the two religions that sprang from it, Christianity and Islam. Those wonderful patriarchs are alive and well. Christopher Hitchens was right when he said that the world will never change until women have the same freedom as men.

    Reply
  4. violet

    I’m not sure about evangelicals, but catholic women are told that to be bold and assertive means the devil is attacking you with sins of pride, arrogance, and rebellion. Anything outside the norm (ie: subservient, domestic women) could be considered of demonic origin. Pair this with violent images of burning in the lake of fire, and do it from the time the girl is very young, and you will definitely get subservience. It’s a shame outsiders can’t understand this kind of indoctrination and will simply assume the women is “weak.” Weakness is not a factor. It’s brainwashing.

    Reply
  5. Daniel Wilcox

    You wrote, “The girl I married in 1978 was quiet, soft-spoken, and content to let me be the boss. The bad-ass woman I am now married to is still quiet and soft-spoken, but that boss thing? That ain’t happening. Both of us will admit that we have struggled with our changing marital dynamic. It wasn’t easy at first. It has taken years for the bad thinking from our patriarchal past to be transformed into egalitarian thinking that values and respects people regardless of their sex. Even now, both of us can, on occasion, fall back into our former way of life. I still, at times, want to be the boss, and Polly is content to let me make decisions, especially those that could have negative outcomes. Our new, ever-evolving relationship has taken a lot of conversation, arguing, and forgiving. I can honestly say that our marriage today is better than it ever has been. I love and respect Polly more than ever, even when she still refuses to know what she wants to order when we pull up at a fast-food order window. Each of us recognizes the other’s strengths and weaknesses and our divisions of labor are determined by expertise and not some verses from an outdated, ancient religious text. It’s unlikely that we will ever have the “perfect” marriage, but I can safely say that what was begun almost forty years ago continues to blossom and grow.”

    Wow, such a powerful statement of the worth of a humanistic, egalitarian view of men and women and marriage!

    Writing of this sort, with its honesty and ethical emphasis is why I keep returning to your blog.

    You also wrote, “I knew of one church (Mennonite) where women were not permitted to sing the first note or two of any song lest they are guilty of “leading” men.”

    Shocking. Yes, I know that some Mennonite women wear coverings on their hair, BUT in the Mennonite churches I and my wife were involved in, the emphasis was on egalitarianism.

    This just shows how varied and contradictory denominations are. Heck, recently I’ve discovered that some Mennonite leaders are even turning Calvinist. Very disconcerting for me, who in my previous life for a while though Anabaptism was the truth.

    The debacles of religion never cease.

    Reply
  6. That Other Jean

    What a sad waste of the potential of half the human race. Women are as intelligent, able, and ambitious as men; why should they be prohibited from putting their brains, abilities, and ambitions to use, except in carefully male-directed channels? Certainly, many women are happy to have and care for their children and their homes–but many of them, and many others, would not choose those things as full-time careers.

    How do preachers square the Proverbs 31 woman, whom many of them idolize, with the housewives they demand their married women become? The Proverbs 31 woman, in addition to caring for her family, including the servants that today’s housewives do not have, carried on a profitable business, bought and sold property in her own right, and was trusted by her husband as a wise, capable woman—not as a subservient “helpmeet,” forever subordinate to her husband’s wishes and direction. It seems impossible to me to make the Proverbs 31 woman into the obedient, uncomplaining wife that today’s complementarian marriages demand.

    Reply

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