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Women Wearing Pants to Blame for Liberalism in IFB Churches

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Polly Gerencser, Arizona 2004, wearing her first pair of pants. Such a heathen 🙂

Tom Brennan (please see Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Immodestly Dressed Women Are Like a Lit Cigarette at a Gas Pump Says IFB Pastor Tom Brennan) pastors Bible Baptist Church in Dubuque, Iowa — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. As is common among IFB preachers — I should know, I was one — Brennan is obsessed with getting women out of their pants. He has written numerous blog posts about how women dress, especially pants wearing.

Last week, Brennan wrote a post titled Objections Against the Pants Standard Answered. In the post, Brennan lists twenty-four objections to his anti-britches standard:

1) “These are women’s pants.”

2) “There is no specific biblical instruction that a woman should not wear pants.”

3) “Whatever you write doesn’t matter; I’m just not convicted about it.”

4) “I have peace about wearing pants.”

5) “We have thought it through carefully, and we are going to allow pants now. But we will only allow modest pants.”

6) “I only wear pants to work.”

7) “Pants are more comfortable.”

8) “You are wrong; pants as an item of clothing do not belong exclusively to the male gender. That ship has sailed.”

9) “Well, you have to admit, pants are more modest for certain activities. I mean, can you imagine rock climbing at the mall in a dress?”

10) “Say what you want, I don’t have to answer to a man for what I wear.”

11) “That’s Old Testament stuff and we’re under grace now.”

12) “Yes, I wear pants. I am free from the bondage of legalism now.”

13) “It’s just not as important as you make it out to be.”

14) “Everybody knows that men and women wore the same robes in the Bible.”

15) “I can’t wear a skirt or a dress and stay warm.”

16) “Well, my pants are more modest than So-and-so’s skirts and dresses.”

17) “God doesn’t care about how I look; He only cares about my heart.”

18) “You should just stick with teaching the Bible and let the Holy Spirit convict people how He wants.”

19) “Dress standards just breed pride. The Pharisees. Hello?”

20) “You don’t understand, Pastor Brennan. If I require that standard of my daughters they will rebel against me.”

21) “I’m an older woman; ain’t no man going to lust after me.”

22) “What will the lost think when they hear you emphasize such quaint notions?”

23) “Who are you to judge?”

24) “Well, Paul said all things are lawful. So get off my case.”

Please take the time to read Brennan’s responses to these objections.

Brennan thinks that if good IFB women start wearing pants they will go “liberal,” and soon will be wearing shorts, tight jeans, and yoga pants. OMG, the pants apocalypse. 🙂

My wife and I have had this conversation with our own daughter. Why is it that when a formerly conservative independent Baptist family gives up the pants standards it seems to go entirely the opposite direction rather quickly? If they gave up, accepted pants, and wore the (relatively) modest old-lady pants (forgive me, I am sure there is a better term here) I could almost live with that. But they do not. In my experience, never. They say the pants are going to be modest, but inevitably, in a few years, the tight jeans, the yoga pants, and the short shorts show up, if not in the first generation then in the next one.

Brennan’s beliefs are not special or unique. Countless misogynistic IFB preachers hold similar beliefs. I remember losing good church families over my refusal to let church women who served in an official capacity wear pants. I have apologized to several families, but this kind of thinking causes untold heartache and harm, all over a pair of pants.

I am sure some of you wonder why IFB women willingly submit to such nonsense. Perhaps some of the former IFB church members who read this blog will chime in. I do know that women are deeply indoctrinated. They are conditioned to believe that the pastor’s peculiar interpretations of the Bible and social pronouncements are straight from the mouth of God. Little girls, teens, and women are taught to submit to their pastor’s authority and that of their husbands. When this is all you know, you don’t know any better. When you are taught certain items of clothing and fashion are signs of worldliness, is it any wonder you “willingly” comply. This sort of cultic thinking has ensnared countless American women. My wife, Polly, was forty-six years old before she wore her first pair of pants — capris. I encouraged her to buy a pair of pants. She refused, believing God would punish her if she did. We continued to talk about the matter, and Polly finally disobeyed God. What happened next? Absolutely nothing.

I have nothing but sympathy for women trapped in churches such as Brennan’s. Sadly, the only way out for them is rebellion or divorce — which an increasing number of women do. Some IFB churches give in and allow women to wear pants. They do, to a minute degree, become more “liberal.” Brennan sees pants as a red line that must not be crossed. Doing so leads to the incurable disease of “liberalism.” Brennan intends to man the Fundamentalist walls, keeping out the “world.” Brennan will fail, but before he does, he will cause untold harm. Such preaching kills marriages and families, often sending children running for the hills, never to return.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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13 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    The SDA Church had a rule about women at least wearing pants to church services. There was a little conflict with the more conservative members when women and younger women and girls ran around wearing shorts. A bunch of nonsense. (Bruce, I’m on my other laptop and my login might differe.

  2. Avatar
    Darcy

    “…believing God would punish her if she did. ” How do you know when God has punished you? Something bad happens? That can happen regardless of what you do.
    I would like to see men and boys run around in shorts… and not those long baggy things, either!

  3. Avatar
    Troy

    I like where he responds to the item on the list, “GOD DISAGREES”. You can parse Bible verses to get any edict you want, but shouldn’t GOD speak for himself?
    Pants themselves are actually the hallmark of an equestrian, since mounting a horse isn’t practical when wearing a robe, kilt, skirt, dress or anything where the legs aren’t form fitting. And yes both men and women ride horses.

    • Avatar
      Matilda

      I guess this guy might say jodpurs for horse riding are permitted, cos he’s so used to twisting his own ideas and rules out of shape and calling it ‘biblical.’ A similar enforcer said skirts for men are an evil no-no – but Scots kilts are OK cos they aren’t skirts. I replied that I’ve sewn Scots kilts and am still wondering what part of the word ‘skirt’ he doesn’t understand. And what about scrubs pants worn everywhere in medical facilities? I guess in his dystopia, there wouldn’t be any wimin in any workplace, they’d all be home popping out babies. Which reminds me of another nutty QF mum who reported the birth of baby umpteen and praised the male doctor who respected her wish and didn’t lift her long skirt to do essential post-partum checks on her!!!!!!!!!!!!! Don’t you feel sometimes you live on another planet from these crazies?

  4. Avatar
    Angie

    Just my opinion here, but I have always thought of dresses and skirts as rape garments. I think it puts women at an even greater risk of being raped because of the instant access it provides. Also those women have to worry in the modern day of shitheads taking upskirt photos on their cell phones as happen a few years ago to numerous women in town when some weirdo was going around getting his thrills. Dresses are also impractical for active girls and women to play or exercise in. I always thought it cruel and inconsiderate that the preacher expected females to wear dresses when the temperature was below zero even.

    I think church men should have to wear dresses since Jesus and every man in the bible wore dresses.

  5. Avatar
    Kel

    I have to admit that one of my guilty pleasures is to confront my Evangelical mother using extremely conservative IFB and/or Christian dominionist teaching points.

    She (and her churchmates) always pines for the good old days and rants about how, unlike Christianity, Islam is demeaning towards women.

    I usually just laughed internally and proceeded to show her the many many insane and downright cruel things church fathers, theologians, and pastors have believed about women.
    I assured her that if the most conservative Christians get to do things their way, we’ll soon end up with Christian sharia law and she won’t like that either.

  6. Avatar
    hertzlerus

    Wow. It’s been years since I was in the IFB. Your blog has reminded me what it was like. I was curious, so I read parts of Brennan’s post. It sure reminds me of what “Brother Terry” used to preach. So glad I moved on.

  7. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I agree with Angie – skirts and dresses make rape easier.

    Fun fact: my mom and stepdad started attending an IFB church when they moved to a less expensive area. This was the late 90s I think. I had already moved far away to the Heathen Land of New Jersey right outside NYC. My mom, formerly Southern Baptist, stopped wearing dresses because she personally felt more comfortable in pants. She was the only woman in the IFB church wearing pants, and when we visited and had to go to church with them, I would also wear pants, carefully selecting a nice business suit to show “this is how professional women dress”. My mom got upset one week because the pastor mentioned that his mom thought that women who wore pants weren’t “ladies”. I told my mom that if she felt offended she should meet with the pastor and let him know. But who wants to be a “lady” anyway?

    I despise gender-based clothing rules. They are designed to subjugate and restrict women, reminding all of the role that women are supposed to play.

    When we were in the United Arab Emirates, the native Emirati had a dress code. Women wore Ling black robes, and men wore long white robes. Period.

  8. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    The evangelical way is harmful. The guidance to dress a specific way is perhaps the least of these harms in that it merely requires an external uniform-approach to dress. The armed forces use it too in order to remove individualism and the blight of free choice in life. Trust and obey cuz there’s no other way! The whole structure of the sweet little evangelical invitation is based in rape. Enter the open, welcoming doors and feel free to think what you like as you enter but it won’t be long before the rape happens: When the preacher says, ‘God disagrees,’ he ain’t kiddin’. You thought you’d be safe here. You will be made to understand how terrible you are in essence, how you have walked, talked and lived pure evil and crucified Jesus. You will be flogged with guilt, shame, tithes and smiling authority figures who ‘church’. Once you have have been properly churched, the rape is no longer rape at all because you formally seek and agree with it: Harm me father, for I have sinned and deserve pain.
    Sick. Like old Neil Y. we’ve seen the needle and the damage done, a little part of it in everyone… The preachers/pushers llve to give you the first free one and watch what happens. Amen.

  9. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    During my Catholic upbringing, this sort of thing simply wasn’t an issue. Pants were safe. Skirts could get you into trouble with the Gossip Brigade, unless they were at least down to your knees, A-line cut or wider. The gossips happily pounced on anyone who showed a centimeter of cleavage, and your reputation was doomed if the fabric of your top was sufficiently thin that someone squinting could make out your bra, out in bright sunlight. Oh, and God help you if you the effrontery to show up to church not wearing pantyhose (if you were in a skirt) or calf-high hose (if you were wearing pants).

    The priest absolutely didn’t have to worry about a dress code, the Gossip Brigade took care of it for him.

    I went off to college and attended the Newman Center Catholic chapel, which exists specifically to serve students. We showed up in jeans, we showed up in sleeveless summer dresses, we wore sneakers, we never wore hose…in other words, we looked like college students. There was no Gossip Brigade and nobody gave the proverbial rat’s ass how anyone dressed. By that time, I was on the road to atheism, but the music was good (music student band), the sermons were about what we now call social justice, and there was a strong sense of community.

    One Sunday, I missed the Newman Center service, and attended one at the local regular (parish) Catholic church in town. It was just like going to my mother’s church back home. I wore my student “uniform” of jeans and untucked buttondown shirt, nothing tight at all, socks and sneakers. I had older women scowling at me during the entire service.

  10. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I have to admit that, as a transgender woman, I find the pants-skirts issue ironic: IFB and other fundie folk probably would say I am evil incarnate for wearing a skirt or dress.

    Now, I am going to confess something that some of you might have guessed. When I became an altar boy–unaware, of course, that it would make me prey for a particular priest–one thing I wanted so, so badly was to serve at weddings. Why? Well, instead of the black cassocks we wore to regular massses, we wore red ones–with a white surplice. A red dress with a white wrap. What manque trans girl wouldn’t have wanted that?

    Anyway, in case you’re wondering, I’m in shorts and a T-shirt. But my top has some spangly stuff on it that no straignt cisgender male I know would want to be caught dead in!

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Bruce Gerencser