Why and How I Started Christian Schools Part One

exposechristianschools

As devout Evangelicals, Polly and I strongly believed in Christian education. Outside of our two oldest sons attending public schools for two years when they were young, our six children either attended church-operated Christian schools or were home schooled. Our youngest three children were home schooled from kindergarten through grade twelve. Our oldest two children attended Licking County Christian Academy (LCCA) in Heath, Ohio for two years, attended Somerset Baptist Academy in Mt. Perry, Ohio for five years, and then were home schooled through grade twelve. Our third son took a similar path, except that his stint at LCCA took place his senior year, the result of him trying to run away from home. LCCA was, and still is, owned and operated by the Newark Baptist Temple (NBT). Polly’s uncle, Jim Dennis, pastored NBT for almost fifty years. Polly taught third grade one year at LCCA in the early 1980s, and worked two years in the church’s daycare “ministry.” She was summarily fired after church leadership determined that all church employees had to be members of the church. At the time, Polly and I were members of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, a church that I started with Polly’s father.

I recite the above historical sketch to impress on readers that I was a big proponent of Christian education, be it church schools or home schooling. In 1989, after having a falling-out with Polly’s preacher uncle, I started a church-operated Christian school in southeast Ohio. I served as the administrator of this school until March 1994, at which time I packed up my family and moved them to San Antonio, Texas, so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. While at Community, I started Community Baptist Academy in Elmendorf, Texas. Once the school was up and running, I moved on to other duties. The school had 55 students its first year. I left the church later that year (Please see the series, I Am a Publican and a Heathen.) The church later shuttered the school.

Ohio and Texas were similar when it came to regulations governing church schools. Simply put, there were no rules outside of fire and safety requirements. When I say NO rules, that’s what I mean – no curriculum or teacher requirements. Both states minimally regulated home education, but when it came to controlling schools owned and operated by churches, it was hands-off. In Ohio, schools such as Somerset Baptist Academy were called non-chartered nonpublic schools — institutions that objected to state oversight for religious reasons. Many Ohio parochial schools, however, were considered chartered nonpublic schools. Such school:

. . .holds a valid charter issued by the state board of education and maintains compliance with the Operating Standards for Ohio’s Schools. These schools are not supported by local or state tax dollars and require the family to pay tuition. Chartered Nonpublic schools are eligible for the Administrative Cost Reimbursement Program, Auxiliary Services Program and Transportation services for students.

As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor and later as a Calvinistic Baptist pastor, I vehemently opposed public education. In southeast Ohio, I was well known for letters to the editors of local newspapers I wrote decrying the damage “government schools” were causing to American children. I saw public schools as tools of Satan, little more than places where children were indoctrinated in socialistic, humanistic, atheistic, liberal, anti-American ways of thinking. I publicly went after school superintendents and teachers, the former for refusing to give Christianity its rightful place in their schools, and the latter for refusing to teach creationism and Christian-centric curriculum.

When I started Somerset Baptist Academy in 1989, the superintendent of Northern Local School District gave me old desks for our school. He was a gracious man, but I wondered at the time if he was actually quite glad I started a school, and the desks were a parting gift. I am sure he was tired of my visits and letters, thinking that my starting a school would put an end to the attacks. It didn’t. There were parents in the church who refused to put their children in the church’s school. This irritated me, but I still felt a pastoral duty towards them, so I continued to monitor and publicly harass public school officials when it was warranted (from my narrow uber-Fundamentalist point of view). I remain surprised that these families, for a time, stayed on as members. I routinely preached against public education and teachers’ unions, and argued that parents were commanded by God to raise their children up in a Christian environment — complete with proof texts such as Proverbs 22:6Deuteronomy 6:6,7, and 2 Timothy 3:14,15. There were even two public school teachers who attended the church for a while. For the life of me, I don’t know how they weathered my frequent and brutal assaults on their livelihood. Eventually, everyone who saw things differently moved on, leaving me with a congregation committed to my singular vision of Christian education.

As I ponder my past, I can see how hatred and mistrust of government fueled my desire to educate my own children and those of the people I pastored in distinctly Christian schools — institutions that were anti-government and totally separate from the “world.”  My worldview, at the time, was anti-cultural, not counter-cultural. I was closer, thinking-wise, to the Amish or Mennonites. In my mind, the world was “evil” and I was duty bound to be separate from the world and protect my children and those who attended the churches I pastored from Satan and his wicked emissaries. The Christian school, then, was a way to limit the influence of the “world.” As I will share in a future post, try as I might to shield students from the “world,” kids were kids and they found ways to drink in the culture of the day.

As I think back over my motives for starting two schools and sending my own children to Christian schools and homeschooling them, I have concluded that I sincerely wanted what was best for my four sons and two daughters and for the children of the families who attended the churches I pastored. I believed, at the time, that immersing children in a Christian environment and sheltering them from the “world” was the best way to protect them from sin and prepare them for adulthood. I now know that such thinking is not only naïve, it harms children and cripples them as adults. Later in my pastoral career, I realized this and made sure that my children were exposed to the world. Yes, we continued to home school, but we did so for pragmatic reasons — mainly continuity due to our frequent moves. If Polly and I had it to do all over again, we would send our children to public schools, especially now that Ohio allows open enrollment. All of our school-age grandchildren (ten) attend local public schools (Defiance City SchoolsNortheastern Local Schools, and Stryker Local Schools). Their schools and teachers aren’t perfect, but on the whole, we are pleased with the education they are receiving.

As I age — I will draw my first social security check in June — I lament past actions. I have spent countless hours in counseling lamenting choices made because I thought God wanted me to do something. I hurt a lot people trying to “help” them. That said, on balance, our children and those who attended the schools I started did well educationally. The reasons for this are many. I will share those reasons in my next post.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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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5 Comments

  1. ObstacleChick

    Bruce, thanks for sharing your story regarding Christian schools. I always knew that our Christian school educators and the parents thought they were doing the right thing. But it still doesn’t take away the knowledge that things could have been different- that so much valuable class time was spent on teaching us that we were miserable sinners in need of enslaving ourselves to a life of servitude to Jesus.

    Reply
  2. Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    You may not know this Bruce but I worked very briefly at a Catholic school. I’d had a private Catholic school education and it served me well…. but by the late 90s things had changed drastically in Catholic education. I worked 3 months as the school social worker at a place I like to call ‘The Brothers of Perpetual Confusion’ school and abbey. Local people overpaying for a substandard education in a fucked to death place! The day after I started the state showed up and it came out that the school had no fire safety plan, not an evacuation map, not a tornado drill policy, no emergency policy and a plethora of other things you must have. St. Anne’s policy book was handed to me and I was told ‘Quick! Write up our policy and evacuation charts! Buy the emergency exit signs, NOAA all hazard radio, warning sirens, etc, etc, etc!’ I ended up taking over the executive functions of the school instead of doing what I was hired for, student testing and counseling. They fired me after 3 months for “Overstepping your bounds” which was comical because I’d managed to bring the place up to code, do academic testing of all students, collect all the back tuition, straighten out the school finances and on and on. The church ended up having to close the school ten years ago for various shenanigans. School churches are rarely safe or consistent to a great education.

    Reply
  3. mary g

    bruce,thanks for writing your story. I agree that homeschools and Christian schools need oversight. any school can be quality or not. it is up to the parents to get involved. in the south, most of these schools were started in response to desegregation. parents did not care about education, just keeping their kids isolated. now I am meeting more parents who are homeschooling for a quality education and not religious reasons. so that does give me hope. I see religion fading more each year. even among homeschool and private school parents. we have private schools in our area that do not teach religion of any kind. our public schools here are caught up in teaching to the test. they have books they have never opened. kids are misbehaving because they are bored with all day test drills. if parents could put a stop to the test mentality, I believe more private and homeschool kids would be in public school. but we have too many politicians who are profiting from the testing.

    Reply
  4. Dave

    I went to a Christian school up until 6th grade. In later years I realized how this had set me back in many ways. The school was outside of my public school district so I was unable to become friends with kids who lived nearby and the friends I did make in school lived far from me so I was unable to have real childhood friendships. When I finally entered the public school system I was like a new kid in school. The Christian school lacked the facilities and resources of the public schools so I didn’t learn a musical instrument or get the physical education I craved in my younger years and never caught up when I entered public school. I always resented being sent to this school and wondered what I might have achieved if I could have grown up in the public school system

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  5. MJ Lisbeth

    I never attended a Fundamentalist school. I did, however, attend Catholic schools and, years later, taught in an Orthodox yeshiva. (That’s a story for another time!) I’d say that, academically, my schooling was good, though it contributed to some of the time I would later spend with therapists and counselors. On the other hand, I was surprised–no, shocked–at how poor a secular education the yeshiva kids were getting. It had to do with the resources and that , in spite of their Talmudic learning, the rabbis who ran the place weren’t the best. Also, I believe the kids didn’t learn English (which I taught) or science or world history or other subjects as well as they might have is that they spent five hours–from seven am to noon–every day on Hebrew and Judaism. By the time they got their secular education, after lunch, they were exhausted!

    Aside from having a religious affiliation, the Catholic school I attended and the yeshiva in which I taught had at least one other thing in common: Parents were as likely to enroll their kids in them to keep them away from “bad” (a.k.a., ones they didn’t like) influences. As a matter of fact, my Catholic school opened right around the time the local board of ed started bussing black and Hispanic kids from another district into ours which, while blue-collar, was almost entirely white. Ironically, the school closed nearly four decades later because the area around it changed its complexion and religious affiliations!

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