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Family Driven Faith — Part One

bruce-and-polly-gerencser-1981
Bruce and Polly Gerencser with son #2, 1981, at Bruce’s mother’s home. Gotta love that porn stache. 🙂

This article was first published in 2011 on the blog No Longer Quivering. Corrected, revised, and updated.

For seven months in 2004, our family attended Faith Bible Church in Jersey, Ohio, a vibrant, growing, family-oriented church in central Ohio. We thought we had finally found a church to call home. One Sunday, after the morning service, Polly, my wife, was talking with a group of women who were trying to get to know her a bit better. One of the women asked Polly what she did during the day, and she, without a moment’s hesitation, said “I work.”

In a split second, everything changed.  You see, in this church, none of the women worked outside the home. The pastor taught that it was a violation of God’s divine order for women to work outside the home. They could have home-based money-making enterprises, but they were not to work outside the home. From that day forward, the women of the church were stand-offish towards Polly. Never mind that Polly had to work due to her husband’s disability. Never mind her job was the only thing that stood between us and living on the street. All that mattered was that our family was not ordered according to God’s divine plan. We stopped attending this church a short while later.

In the 1990s, I co-pastored Community Baptist Church, a growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church in Elmendorf, Texas (please see I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part One). A young woman in the church professed faith in Christ and desired to be baptized. Customarily, candidates for baptism were asked to give a public testimony of salvation before being baptized. This posed a problem for this particular woman because her husband not only believed that the Bible taught a divine order for the sexes and the home, he also believed women should be silent in church. (His wife also wore a head covering.) She wanted to give a public testimony, but she didn’t want to disobey her husband. This standoff went on for weeks until, one day, the woman came to my office in tears, lamenting that her husband was keeping her from following Christ. I agreed with her and counseled her to disobey her husband. She was baptized a short time later.

This church also believed that “church business” was the domain of men. When the church held business meetings, women were not allowed to speak. If they had a question, they had to whisper their question to a man, and then the man could ask the question on their behalf. Women were allowed to verbally ask for prayer and sing, but everything else was the domain of men. Very few of the women worked outside the home.

While I found both of these positions to be somewhat excessive and quite demeaning to women, I also believed that such positions could be proved from the Bible. While I didn’t take things as far as the aforementioned churches, I certainly believed that God had a divine order for the family and the church. I believed that God had ordained men to rule and women were to submit to male rule and authority. The highest calling for a woman was to marry, bear children, and be a keeper of the home. Children were to submit to their parents and obey every command given to them.

I believed the Bible taught a hierarchical system that must be kept to enjoy the favor and blessing of God. God, through his son Jesus, was the head over all things. Of course, what this really meant was that the Bible was the head over all things. Christianity is, above all else, a text-based religion. Without the Bible, there is no Christianity (in any meaningful sense of the word). As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. The Bible was the final rule and authority for everything, the blueprint for life.

IFB pastors say that the Bible is the rule for everything, but what they really mean is that their interpretation of the Bible is the rule for everything. I cannot emphasize this point enough. At the heart of the IFB church movement, the Patriarchal movement, and the Quiverfull movement, is a literalist interpretation of the Bible by pastors. Pastors, the under-shepherds of their churches, under direct authority from God, have the singular responsibility of teaching their churches what the Bible says (or better put, what his interpretations are). These pastors, divinely called by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are the mouthpiece of God.

Practically speaking, the pastor is the final authority in the church. He is the law-giver, and he alone has the final say on virtually everything. The Bible is clear, the pastor is to rule the church, and church members are to submit to his rule. Pastors spend significant time reminding the church that God says he, the pastor, is the boss. The common phrase used to define this is pastoral authority.

Pastoral authority, IFB style, leads to dictatorial autocrats ruling over and controlling virtually every aspect of church members’ lives. Some churches recognize the problem with one man having so much power, so they have a plurality of elders or a board of elders or deacons. Sadly, all this does is make a group of men dictatorial autocrats ruling over and controlling virtually every aspect of church members’ lives

In a hierarchical system, God and the Bible come first. Underneath God and the Bible is the pastor. Church members are taught that submitting to the pastor’s teaching and authority is pleasing to God, and, if practiced, will bring the blessing of God.

As an IFB pastor, I taught church members that God and the Bible clearly defined the roles of men (husbands), women (wives), and children. In my mind, the Bible was clear: the husband is the head of the home and the wife is commanded to submit to the authority and rule of her husband. Much like the pastor in the church, the husband is the final authority in the home. It matters not if he is worthy of such responsibility. A husband is disobedient to God if he refuses to be the head of the home. The wife, if she refuses to submit to her husband’s authority, is a Jezebel and risks the judgment of God.

I taught women that God’s highest calling for them is marriage, having children, and keeping the home. I discouraged women from going to college. After all, why waste money going to college if you are going to be busy having children and keeping the home? I taught men that God’s highest calling for them is to be a leader. Men are called to lead the church, home, and government. In my mind, the strength or weakness of any culture, church, or home depended on whether men were fulfilling their divine calling to lead. Children, of course, are at the bottom of this hierarchical system. They are under the authority of God, the Bible, the pastor, their father, and their mother (and according to my three younger sons, their oldest brother). 🙂 Children have one divine calling in life, obedience!

Polly and I have been married for almost forty-four years. We have grown six children, ages forty-two to twenty-eight. Our older children went to a public or Christian school for a few years, but for the next seventeen years, we homeschooled our children. For the first twenty years of marriage, we followed the hierarchical system detailed above. For the most part, Polly didn’t work and I was the breadwinner. I pastored churches full-time, but, due to the notoriously low pay in IFB churches, I also worked a number of secular jobs. For years on end, I worked sixty to eighty hours a week, and in doing so, neglected my wife and children. Regardless of the neglect, I was still the authority in the home. I was the final answer to every question. I ruled our home with a rod of iron and my family feared me. Of course, I never called their fear fear. I called it a healthy respect for authority. I gave the orders and they obeyed.

For many years, my wife (I don’t like using phrases like my wife and my children. While most people see these phrases as harmless, they are a reminder of the past, a past where Polly and the children were treated like slaves and property. I try to avoid using these phrases, but in some instances, they cannot be avoided) and I followed the general tenets of the Quiverfull movement. In the early 90s, we embraced Calvinism and became persuaded that using birth control was a sin. We believed that God was sovereign and He opened and closed the womb. Who were we to stand in the way of God blessing us with more children?

Our first child born under the “let God have his way” form of birth control was a beautiful redheaded girl with Down syndrome. Two years later, almost to the day,  we were blessed with another beautiful redheaded girl. Twenty months later, our youngest child, a son (should I call him beautiful too? Momma says yes!) was born.

Before we could blink, we had three more children, all in diapers. Polly was known in the family as Fertile Myrtle. I was persuaded that if I looked at her, she would get pregnant. I have no doubt that we would have had twenty children if we had continued to abstain from using birth control.

Fortunately, Polly’s doctor intervened and told us in no uncertain terms that Polly’s last pregnancy had taken a huge physical toll on her and any future pregnancies could kill her. We decided, God’s will be damned, that we were not going to have any more children. I was considered a hypocrite for not trusting God in this matter, but I had no desire to be wifeless with six children. Several years later, Polly had a tubal ligation and no more rabbits died.

In part two of this series, I plan to write about how the thinking mentioned in this post affected the churches I pastored and how it affected my family. I want to detail how this kind of thinking almost destroyed my marriage and how abandoning such thinking transformed my relationship with Polly and our children.

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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4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Kel

    Reading stories like these, I often wonder if every organised religion, at its heart, encourages authoritarianism and hierarchical thinking.

    It does not mean that secular, atheistic, or liberal systems cannot be authoritarian, but that Christianity, especially its conservative forms, is never actually compatible with democracy or minority rights. Falsehood has no rights – it is not supposed to have any voice either. Freedom of religion is never a truly Christian idea: not Catholic, not Protestant, not Orthodox.

    In the Book of Samuel, the Israelites demanded a king. In sermons, their action is always framed as being negative and rebellious towards God. But the reason for their discontent was the flagrant corruption of Samuel’s own sons, under whose authority the people were judged! So, the people are supposed to languish under corrupt theocratic leaders and God did nothing. Their only job was to obey.

    I was once shown a video of a man giving a testimony of his conversion from Islam to Christianity. He said that, in Islam, he is a slave of God but in Christianity, he is a child of God. He found Christianity uplifting and dignifying. Well, he is only partly right, Christians and the members of their bodies are “slave to righteousness”, as Paul said. Unprofitable servants, slaves of Christ – John McArthur even published a book on this. The new convert is in for a shock.

    I feel church/state separation is very important if we don’t want to end up with authoritarians and church leaders who are often very friendly to authoritarians and dictators – just look at Russia. The only people prospering under these systems are the men on the top. I will be lying if I say that I am not extremely concerned and anxious of the state of our world. If there is indeed a Christian God of the conservative flavour, I don’t think he genuinely cares about what many in the West define as freedom and rights.

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I have little tolerance for rules that I deem to be “stupid rules” – even as a child this was true. “Trust and obry” were lyrics from a hymn to which I couldn’t connect. I need to understand the purpose of a rule in order to follow it. Not being in control of one’s reproduction when it’s medically possible just made no sense to me.

    I didn’t grow up on a Quiverfull type of environment. Our Southern Baptist church didn’t have much to say on birth control (they were against abortion, but not birth control). I remember as an adolescent overhearing some women gossiping about another woman who had 4 boys using the rhythm method, and how she’d end up with an army of boys if she continued that. Most families had 2, at most 3, kids. Almost all the women worked – few coukd afford to stay home. This was the 70s and 80s where economically families needed 2 breadwinners. My grandma was one of the few who didn’t work, and boy, did she have comments about women who did work, even her own family members. She saw women working as a failure of the husband, or just greed. She lightened up after my stepdad became disabled and couldn’t work, and my mom, stepdad, and brother fell into severe financial hardship.

  3. Avatar
    Autumn

    Your reference to the rabbit test brought back memories of a MASH episode. Margaret thought she was pregnant and the only source of a rabbit was Radar’s menagerie. They couldn’t kill Radar’s rabbit, so Hawkeye was obliged to perform an oophorectomy(surgical removal of an ovary) on the rabbit. Margaret wasn’t pregnant and the rabbit recovered nicely. Which as I understand it would have been the real trick. Rabbits do not do well under modern anesthesia, much less in the time period the show was set. Administered by someone who wasn’t a rabbit savvy veterinarian with somewhat primitive equipment…. Good thing it was just a TV show!

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Bruce Gerencser