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 homeschooled. Our youngest three children were homeschooled from kindergarten through grade twelve, including our daughter with Down syndrome. 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 homeschooled 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 homeschooling. 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 in 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 schools:
. . .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 22:6, Deuteronomy 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 also 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 homeschool, 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 Schools, Northeastern 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 continue to sail into the sunset years of life, 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 of 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.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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