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Why Evangelical Beliefs and Practices are Psychologically Harmful — Part Two

submission

Part One

Evangelicalism is dominated by Bible literalism. God said it, and that settles it. There can be no debate or argument on the matter. An infallible God has spoken, and his infallible words are recorded in an infallible book — the Protestant Christian Bible. Whatever the Bible teaches, Evangelicals are duty-bound to believe and obey. While Evangelicals may argue about this or that doctrine’s finer points, calling oneself an Evangelical requires fidelity to certain established doctrinal truths. Christianity is, after all, the faith once delivered to the saintsJesus is, after all, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Psychological manipulation is a common tool used by Evangelical preachers to get congregants to do their bidding. I hear the outrage of offended Evangelicals now, screaming for all to hear that THEIR church is not like that, that their pastor is different. Maybe, perhaps, but I doubt it.

If their church or pastor really is different, it is likely because they are not really Evangelical. There are many churches and pastors who are really liberals or progressives who fear making their true theological and social identities known. Fearing the mob, these thoughtful Evangelicals hide their true allegiances. I don’t fault them for doing so, but such churches and pastors are not representative of typical Evangelical beliefs and practices.

In particular, women face the brunt of Evangelical preaching against sin and disobedience. What do Evangelicals believe the Bible teaches about women?

  • Women are weaker than men.
  • Women are intellectually inferior, requiring men to teach and guide them.
  • Women are to submit to their husbands in the home and to male leadership in the church.
  • Women must never be permitted to have authority over men.
  • Women must dress modestly so that they don’t cause weak, pathetic men to lust after them.
  • The highest calling of women is to marry, bear children, and keep the home.
  • Feminism is a Satanic attack on God’s order for the church and home.

Think about this list for a moment. Are Evangelical women equal to men? No! Women are, at best, second-class citizens. They must never be put in positions where they have control or power. Such places are reserved for men. We dare not question this. After all, it is God’s way.

Is it any wonder that many Evangelical women lack self-esteem and think poorly of themselves? How could it be otherwise? Everywhere they look, women are progressing, free to live their lives on their own terms. Yet, here they sit, chained to an ancient religious text and a religion that denigrates women and views them as little more than slaves or chattel.

I am sure there are many Evangelical women who will vehemently object to my characterization of how they are treated by their churches, pastors, and husbands. In THEIR churches women are quite happy! They LOVE being submissive to their husbands as unto the Lord. They LOVE being relegated to cooking duty, janitorial work, and nursery work. They LOVE having no higher goals than having children, cooking meals, cleaning house, and never having a headache.

The bigger question is, WHY is it that many Evangelical women think living this way is normal and psychologically affirming — exactly what God ordered for their lives? Evangelical women don’t want to disobey God or displease their husbands or churches. Whatever God, pastors, male church leaders, and their husbands want, Evangelical women give. This is their fate, and until the light of reason and freedom changes the course of their lives, Evangelical women will continue to bow at the feet of their Lords and do their bidding.

Once women break free from Evangelicalism, a thousand horses and one hundred arrogant, know-it-all preachers couldn’t drag them back into the fold. Once free, they realize a whole new world awaits them. With freedom comes responsibility. No more defaulting to their husbands or pastors to make decisions for them. These women are free to make their own choices. They quickly learn that life in the non-Evangelical world has its own problems, and that women are not, in many cases, treated equally there either.

Over the years, I have watched numerous women break free from domineering, controlling Evangelical husbands. I have also watched women flee patriarchal churches and pastors. Some of these women went back to college to get an education. No longer content to be baby breeders, maids, cooks, and sex-on-demand machines, they turn to education to improve their lot in life. Often, secular education provides a fuller view of the world and opens up all kinds of new opportunities for women.

Sadly, this post-patriarchal life often leads to family problems. Husbands who have worn the pants in the family for decades don’t like having their God-ordained authority challenged. This is especially true if the husbands remain active Evangelical church members. Many times, unable to weather dramatic changes, these mixed marriages end in divorce. Evangelicalism was the glue that held their marriages together, and once it was removed, their marriage fell apart.

Some husbands and wives find ways to keep their marriages intact, although this is hard to do. Imagine living in a home where non-patriarchal mothers and wives are considered rebellious, sinful, and wicked by their Evangelical husbands, pastors, and friends. Imagine being considered a Jezebel. Evangelicals are not kind to those who rebel against their God and their peculiar interpretation of the Bible. The Bible says rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. Biblical literalism demands that rebellious women be labeled as practitioners of witchcraft. Once considered devoted lovers of God, the church, and their families, these women are now considered to be pariahs — servants of Satan who walk in darkness.

I want to conclude this post with a bit of personal commentary.

For many years, my marriage to Polly was pretty much as I described above. I was the head of the home. I made all the decisions. I was in charge, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Polly bore six children, cooked, and kept the home. On and off, when finances demanded it, she worked outside the home. And in her spare time, she homeschooled all six of our children, including one child with Down syndrome.

Polly is a pastor’s daughter. Her goal in life was to be a pastor’s wife. She went to Midwestern Baptist College to get an MRS degree. Polly is quiet and reserved, and, thanks to 40+ years of Evangelical indoctrination, she is also quite passive. During the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan, Polly heartily embraced her preacher’s-wife responsibilities. She was a dutiful wife who always exemplified what it meant to be in submission to God and her husband. Polly submitted to those who had authority over her, never saying a cross word or demanding her own way.

Twenty years ago, things began to change in our marriage. I finally realized how abusive and controlling I had been. Granted, I was just being the kind of Evangelical husband and pastor I thought I should be. I tried my best to follow the teachings of the Bible and the examples of pastors I respected. Regardless of the whys of the matter, I must own my culpability in behaviors I now consider psychologically harmful.

In November 2008, Polly and Bruce Gerencser — hand in hand — walked away from Christianity. For the first time in our lives, we were free from the constraints of God, the Bible, and the ministry. We were free to choose how we wanted to live our lives, free to decide what kind of marriage we wanted to have.

In some ways, very little has changed. Polly still cooks, but now she whips up gourmet meals because she LOVES to do so, not because it is her duty. I still manage household finances, not because I am the head of the home, but because I am better with numbers than Polly is. Both of us take care of household chores. I still do most of the shopping, but I no longer make the list. I am the numbers guy, someone who can figure out the price per ounce in my head. By the time Polly finds her calculator in that bottomless purse of hers, I already have the equation figured out. Each of us tries to do the things we are good at.

The biggest difference in our marriage is this: I now ask Polly, What do you think? What do you think we should do? Where do you want to go? On top or bottom? 🙂 We have learned that it is okay to have lives outside of each other; to have desires, wants, and hobbies that the other person may not have. The Vulcan mind-meld has been broken.

Polly recently celebrated 24 years of employment for a local manufacturing concern. Out from the shadow of her pastor husband, she has excelled at work. Her yearly reviews are always excellent, and she is considered an exemplary worker by everyone who works with her. Polly now supervises auxiliary department employees on second and third shift. She even has an office with her name on the door. None of these things would have been possible had we remained within the smothering confines of Evangelical beliefs and practices.

In 2012, Polly graduated from Northwest State Community College with an associate of arts degree. (If her credits from Midwestern Baptist College — an unaccredited institution — had been transferable, Polly would have likely earned a master’s degree.) This was a huge undertaking on her part. Why did Polly go back to school, you ask? Because she could. And that’s the beauty of our current life. Freedom allows us to live openly and authentically. We no longer have to parse our lives according to the Bible. Both of us are free to do whatever we want to do. Having this freedom of spirit has allowed us to experience things that never would have been possible had we remained Pastor and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser.

Polly continues to break out of her shell, and I continue to learn what it means to be a good man and husband. We still have our moments. There are those times when both Polly and I find it quite easy and convenient to fall back into our former Evangelical ways. As those who have walked similar paths know, it is not easy to change attitudes and lifestyles which were decades in the making. I suspect, until death do us part, we will remain a work in progress.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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5 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Thank you for sharing your personal story. I read some of your descriptions of yourself during your pastoring days, and my estimation for Polly grows and grows, mostly because you’re still alive and Polly isn’t in prison for murder. 🙂 She is a much finer woman than I am.

    I was raised to be a ‘lady’. Catholic household, not Evangelical, but my mother totally bought into an authoritarian mindset that said women were Less Than, their purpose in life was to be breeders, and tried to prepare me for that role. (My mother’s biggest regret in life was that she was infertile. I’m adopted.) Fortunately my dad was not into that, and wanted me to be whatever I wanted to be. That made all the difference in the world, and allowed me to get a good education and make my own decisions about having children.

    But my mother did her best to dissuade me from going to a 4-year college and studying engineering. Once I graduated, the pressure to breed didn’t relent for about 15 years. And she found all kinds of fault with my approach to life; I asked for what I wanted, without apology for my existence. I hung out with male co-workers at lunchtime and while we were traveling on business. I expected to be treated as an equal to men, and got cranky when that didn’t happen. Worst of all, I gave up on religion. I was a major disappointment.

    So I think I kind of understand, in a distant way, some of the pressures on Evangelical women. It’s a very ugly situation, and yet very difficult to walk away from. It makes me very sad.

  2. Avatar
    Daniel Wilcox

    Bruce, You wrote, “If their church or pastor really is different, it is likely because they are not really Evangelical. ”

    LOL! Are you a Scotsman;-)?

    Then you wrote, “Once women break free from Evangelicalism…”

    My wife is still an Evangelical, but of the completely different version. She even still teaches Sunday School there, though I wouldn’t go to our former church for a million dollars.
    Her comment to anti-religion me is that she doesn’t care what some Evangelical leaders believe; she knows she doesn’t believe it.

    I remember once some woman she knew gave her a book Me Obey Him. She thought it was trash, completely untrue.

    And you wrote a significant description of Polly and you after escaping from religion.

    I like, especially, “Each of us tries to do the things we are good at.”

  3. Avatar
    Nightshade

    ‘WHY is it that many Evangelical women think living this way is normal and psychologically affirming…?’ Because when we’re there we don’t believe we have any other options. Oh, we could go out “in sin” and live our own lives, but what kind of choice is that when we’re convinced that will result in eternity in hell not only for us but for our children, since their eternal fate is said to be in our hands, and if they don’t make it to heaven it will probably be our fault?

  4. Avatar
    anotherami

    Whenever you write about Polly, the love and admiration you have for her shines through. And I can almost picture her reading your words and blushing deeply while her heart near bursts. And maybe even that mischievous twinkle in her eyes…

    Dammit, now I’m all teary again. I guess meeting my new granddaughter we didn’t even know was on the way has me emotional. (Mom had been told for years she would never conceive and a pregnancy test taken “just in case” came back negative when she was 6 months along. It really was a “whoop, there she is” sort of thing.) I can only hope that my son and daughter-in-law will share as much love as Bruce and Polly evidently do after as many years.

    Blessings all around.

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Bruce Gerencser