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A Moment of Kindness Remembered for a Lifetime

kindness

It’s early spring in Northwest Ohio, the year is 1972.

A fourteen-year-old boy is playing with his Lionel trains in the basement of a rented house on Cherry St. in Findlay, Ohio.  He loves playing with the trains, a love picked up from working at his dad’s hobby store, G&B Trains.

The boy hears footsteps coming down the basement stairs. It’s his dad.

His dad says, I need to talk to you.

This is strange, the boy thought. Dad never talks to me about anything.

Your Mom and I don’t love each other anymore, says the boy’s dad, and we are getting a divorce.

And just like that, whatever shred of family the boy had was destroyed.

It wasn’t long before the divorce was final.

The boy is in ninth grade, and it is graduation time. His parents both want to come to his graduation but the boy says, I am not going to graduation, and that was that.

Tenth grade. High School. All the ninth graders from Central, Donnell, and Glenwood would join the older students at Findlay High School, making the school one of the largest in Ohio.

The boy’s friends would all be there, his school friends, his church friends, and the boys he played baseball and basketball with.

The boy’s dad remarried — a 19-year-old girl. She has a baby. In a few short years, the boy would be dating women the age of his dad’s new wife. She was never more than dad’s new wife to him. The boy had a mother, and he only needed one of those.

Fall turned to Winter, and then one early Spring day the boy’s dad says, we are moving to Arizona.

What? the boy thought. You can’t do this to me. All my friends are here. You promised, no more moving. Two and a half years, the longest the boy ever lived in one place, and now he has to move.

Upset, angry, bitter, and no one seemed to care.

On a Saturday in March, 1973 the auctioneer’s voice rings out, and everything but essentials are sold to strangers who came to gawk at household goods.  And with auction proceeds in hand, the Gerencsers pile into two cars and move to Tucson, Arizona. Later the finance company would track down the boy’s dad and repossess the cars. When the boy became a man, he then understood why he had to move so suddenly and quickly 1,900 miles from his home.

The boy, despite hating his dad for taking him away from his friends, is excited about the prospect of traveling across the country. So many things to see, so many new experiences to be had.

The first thing the boy does is find a new church to attend. Isn’t it amazing, the boy thought, right in our backyard is the Tucson Baptist Temple, a Baptist Bible Fellowship church! Just like the church in Findlay, this must be God working things out, the boy quietly hopes.

The Tucson Baptist Temple is a large church pastored by Louis Johnson, a preacher from Kentucky. The boy joins the church and starts attending youth group. But, try as he might he can’t make friends. It isn’t like his church home in Findlay where the boy had all kinds of friends, and even a few girl church friends. He feels very much alone.

With the move, the boy has to ride a city bus to his new school, Rincon High School. Right away he notices that some of the kids from the youth group attended Rincon, but they pretend they don’t know him. He feels quite alone.

Rincon has what is called open lunch. Every day the boy would go outside and sit on the grass and eat his lunch. One day, a beautiful Asian girl comes near the boy and sits down to eat her lunch. She is warm and friendly, and treats the boy like she has known him for years. And for the next ten weeks, on most days, she eats lunch with the boy from Ohio. Outside of the fat boy everyone made fun of who rode the bus, this would be the only friend the boy would make.

And then came summer, and the boy hopped a Greyhound bus and moved back to Ohio. With the help of his church and friends, the boy is able to go back to his old school, his old church, with his old friends. Life for the next year is grand, just as if he had never left.

Unfortunately, the boy would have to move to his mom’s home at the end of the school year. This move brought great unrest and turmoil to the boy’s life, but that is a story for another day.

The boy is an old man now, and as he watches a musician on a reality show, he sees a girl that brings to his mind a time long ago, when a beautiful young woman took the time to befriend a friendless boy from Ohio. It reminds him that moments of kindness are often remembered for a lifetime.

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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Should a Christian Date an Atheist?

unequally yoked

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

Several years ago, a woman emailed Paula Hendricks, a writer for the Lies Young Women Believe website, and asked her whether it was okay to date, love, and marry an atheist. Hendricks, a Christian fundamentalist, replied

Dear “I’m falling in love with an atheist,”

I am so glad you wrote. Please don’t read this letter with a harsh, condemning tone, but with an urgent, pleading one. I am deeply concerned for you. If this letter feels like I’m dumping a bucket of cold water on your head, it’s because I want you to wake up!

Let’s start with who a Christian is.

An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible.

A Christian is a person who is now one with Christ. A Christian has been rescued by Jesus out of the darkness of sin and has been brought into His marvelous light—transformed from the inside out. A Christian has the spirit of Christ living inside of them! A Christian is someone whose entire identity has been refashioned around Christ. Christ is their life. Christ is the reason they are now accepted and beloved by God the Father.

An atheist, on the other hand, denies that God even exists. An atheist hates the very idea of there being a God.

An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible . . .

You will have to choose between God and this man. You can’t have both. James warns “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Let me be clear about this, though. If you choose God over this man, God will not love you any more than He already does. It won’t earn you extra points with God. If you truly trust in Christ Jesus as both your Savior and your Lord, you are already His 100% dearly loved child.

Does that mean that you have the freedom to date this man? No way! Besides, why would you want to, when Christ has revealed Himself to you as the greatest treasure there is—both in this life and for the life to come?

I get it that you have strong feelings toward this man. I’ve been where you are. And if you’re anything like me, my guess is that what you’re feeling isn’t true love, but something closer to romantic desire . . . and even maybe lust . . .

These atheists, they must be scary people. I suspect they hang out at dance halls, lurking in the shadows, hoping to find virgin Evangelical girls they can entice with thoughts of love and draw them away to the dark side. As every Christian knows, atheists are child molesters, sexual deviants, Satan worshipers, and eat BBQ babies on Fridays. According to Hendricks, atheists hate “the very idea of there being a God.”  In one sentence, like most Evangelicals, Hendricks reveals that she doesn’t really know any atheists or hasn’t really thought about what it is atheists (and humanists) believe. All she has to go on is the bigoted stereotype she was taught in church. If she actually knew any atheists, she would know that atheists don’t hate the thought of the existence of God. How can they since they don’t believe there is a God? Not a Christian God. Not a Muslim God. Not a Jewish God. No Gods, period. What atheists do hate is what Christianity DOES in the name of its God. What atheists do hate is when Evangelicals such as Hendricks misrepresent and lie about what atheists actually believe.

Pity the poor girl who sent Hendricks the email. She’s fallen in love with her dance partner, and according to Hendricks she shouldn’t act on this love because God says such love is a sin. Besides, what she may really be “feeling” is lust. Ah yes, the ever-present lust that lurks in the heart of Evangelicals. You’d think with God living inside of you that there would be no room for lust, but it seems that Evangelicals lust just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. In fact, it could be argued that Evangelicals lust more than their counterparts in the world. Why do preachers preach so many sermons against sexual sin and lust if these sins are not a big problem in Evangelical churches?

One atheist commenter challenged Hendricks’ statement about atheists. Here’s Hendricks’ response:

Hey, Caitriona, You’re welcome here. While my statement may have been a bit broad and might not perfectly characterize all self-professed atheists, Romans 1 tells us that we’re ALL God-haters (whether we claim to be atheists or not), and we suppress the truth about Him in our unrighteousness.

I was a God-hater, too, until God revealed His lovingkindness to me in Christ Jesus paying the penalty for my sin so I might be set free from being a slave to my own selfish passions and might become His beloved, adopted daughter.

This is a bit off-topic, but would you be bold enough to ask God to reveal Himself to you if He really is real? And . . . would you be open to picking up a Bible and reading the book of Romans, or John?

And then someone named Becca chimed in:

Hey Caitriona, thanks for your input, I appreciate you taking time to comment:) I don’t want to get into any arguments by any means, but I would like to just give you some food for thought: if there isn’t a God, then that would mean that there really is no purpose for anyone’s life, right? I mean, if we’re all just here by accident, what does it matter? when you take God out of the equation, there is no longer value in anyone’s life, or in the world. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to kill anyone I don’t like? because the government says so? But if we’re all just an accident, with no real purpose, it’s “just” another person with no eternal value. How CAN anyone have true value without God?

On the flip side, we know for a fact that every human being (unborn or not), has value. Everyone has value because they were created in the image of a Holy God, and he loves us SO much! More than you could ever imagine! God cares about us so much that he even collects every tear we’ve ever cried and He keeps them!

Typical Evangelical drivel, right? But here’s the thing, I actually agree with Hendricks. Generally, it is ill-advised for anyone to marry someone who does not share their religious, ethical, and moral values. More than one marriage has been brought to ruin by clashing worldviews. Better to seek out a life partner that hasn’t been taught that you are a hater of God, the enemy of God, a tool of Satan, and a sexual deviant.

Atheists and Evangelicals alike think they can win over their boyfriend or girlfriend to the cause. Rarely, does it work out. And couples who ignore religious differences and marry anyway often end up in divorce court.

The Evangelical church emphasizes the need for every person to have a personal, born-again salvation experience. Countless young men have made what I call – excuse the bluntness – a pussy-driven salvation decision. They want the girl and they can’t have her, so they start going to church, make a profession of faith, and viola the girl agrees to date him. Later, they marry, and then the girl finds out that the boy she married feigned faith so he could date her. More than a few of these marriages end in divorce.

Atheists and non-Christians alike have completely different ways of looking at the world. Evangelicalism is a world filled with Bible verses, commands, and thou shalt nots. It is a world that will surely frustrate the non-Evangelical. It’s a world where obedience to authority is demanded at every corner and freedom of thought is often discouraged and condemned. It is a place fun-loving, free people go to die — and yes, I am painting with a Bruce’s Wide Ass Brush®.

Over the years, I have corresponded with a number of atheists who are in a mixed marriage. While most of them have found a way to make peace with their Evangelical spouses, their emails speak to the great pain and disconnect that comes from such a relationship. The believing spouse wants his or her unbelieving husband or wife to go to church and at least “act” like a Christian. More than a few of the people who have corresponded with me go to church every Sunday to please their spouses. Some of them are secret atheists. Their spouses don’t know that their significant other no longer believes. They go to church, sing the songs, and listen to sermons, all the while thinking it’s all bullshit. Why do they do this? Love. They love their believing spouses and children and they want there to be peace on the home front. All would agree that it would have been better for them if they had married a person who shared the same worldview, but they are willing to do all they can to make the marriage work.

Sadly, some of those I have corresponded with are now divorced. The reasons are many, but religion played a part in every divorce. The prophet Amos was right when he posed the rhetorical question, Can two walk together except they be agreed?

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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Is Jesus the Only Reason Christians Succeed in Life?

god gives us all things

Evangelicals are taught that without Jesus their lives are “nothing.” Jesus said to his followers in John 15:5: I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. The Apostle Paul testified in Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. The negative inference is this: as Christians, without the strength Jesus gives us, we can do nothing. Speaking to a group of unbelievers, Paul said this about the Christian God: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; (Acts 17:28)

Tonight, LSU plays Clemson in the college football title game. Regardless of who wins, players and coaches will praise the Christian God for their victory; believing that without God, they could have never accomplished what they did on the field.

Yesterday, I read a blog post written by Kristen Welch titled, It’s Because of Jesus. Here’s what Welch had to say:

There’s only one reason we’re still together,” I told my husband quietly as we were cleaning up the kitchen after dinner one night.

He stopped loading the dishwasher and looked at me, “What?”

“There’s only one reason we are still married and our home is semi-functional,” I said louder, over our kids arguing about what to watch on TV.

“And happy?” He said sarcastically with a laugh. “Honey, what are you talking about?”

I reminded him of the week of bad news we’d heard in our circle of community. There were just too many announcements of friends our age divorcing, and destructive behavior from their defiant kids and one too many defeated leaders in the same kind of work as us, throwing in the towel.

“There’s nothing really different from us than from this family or that one. There’s only one reason it’s not us divorcing, dealing with wayward kids or dropping out of the non-profit world.”

I had his full attention.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. The answer made me want to weep right there in the kitchen.

“It’s Jesus. He’s the only reason,” I said softly and handed him another plate to load.

We were quiet for a moment–chewing on the truth hanging in the air between us. We have had plenty of reasons over the years to give up on each other; to call it quits on Biblical parenting, to find jobs that were easier. More than once, it would have been easier to just walk away than stay and fight.

But we didn’t survive those seasons because we made good choices or because we were good people. And it’s important to acknowledge that our sacrifices, self-denial and sad attempts to hold it all together–didn’t somehow work.

No, we are defying the odds because of Jesus. Simply. Profoundly. Because of Jesus. And we both knew it.

According to Welch, the ONLY reason for their successful marriage is Jesus. Not their good choices, just Jesus. Not their sacrifices, self-denial, or attempts to hold their marriage together, just Jesus.

Welch’s post is a good reminder of the effectiveness of Evangelical indoctrination. Starting when Evangelicals are children, and continuing Sunday after Sunday through adulthood, they are reminded by their pastors and teachers of their worthlessness without Jesus. Worse yet, Evangelical preachers tell their congregants that Jesus is the only thing keeping them from a life of debauchery. Why, without Jesus, a life filled with booze, drugs, sexual immorality, divorce, and voting Democrat awaits them. Jesus, supposedly, is a prophylactic against the “world.” He alone keeps Christians from contracting STDs — Secular Transmitted Diseases.

If there’s one Evangelical doctrine I despise, it is this one. My wife and I wallowed in the pit of helplessness most of our lives. Daily we pleaded for Jesus to give us strength and guidance. We prayed that every decision we made was according to his perfect plan and will. (Romans 12:1-2) When the pit turned into a shit-filled, overflowing septic tank, we blamed ourselves for ignoring the leadership and direction of the Holy Spirit. “Wait a minute, Bruce. I thought the Bible said that Christians couldn’t do anything without Jesus. Why are you to blame when things turn out bad?” Ah, Good question, Obi-Wan Kenobi. If God is the sovereign Lord over all and controls everything, how can anything happen that is not according to his purpose, plan, and will? If it is in Jesus that humans have their strength, movement, and being, is he not culpable when things end up a disaster? Either God/Jesus is who Evangelicals say he is, or he’s not. God is either omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, or he’s not.  Evangelicals say that God is the Creator of the universe and holds the earth in the palm of his hand. Yet, science and just paying attention tells us that these claims are false. Either God is a shitty project manager, has given his workers control over his projects, or he doesn’t exist. My money is on the latter.

I do a lot of sports photography. Right now, it’s basketball season. I typically attend three or four high school basketball games a week. I have shot games at almost every school in rural northwest Ohio. I’ve seen good, bad, and average players and teams. Having played basketball myself into my early thirties, I have a good eye for spotting not only exceptional talent but also deficiencies — defensive, offensive, ball-handling, shooting. I am particularly interested in how players handle adversity; say, when their opposition puts on a full-court press or puts a pesky, physical defender on them the whole night. Anyone can make shots or free throws when shooting around before the game. It’s when the game is on the line when the mettle of a player is revealed.

When players succeed, is their success due to the most awesome three-point shooter ever, Jesus? I mean, can anyone slam dunk the basketball better than God? Ugh. Their success comes not from their faith in the triune God, but from a combination of genetics, drive, practice, and natural talent. Players who excel at a given sport do so because they work day and night at becoming the best player possible. A player need not have Welch’s Jesus to succeed. If a player wants to praise Jesus, fine. But, make no mistake about it, it’s their hard work and effort that made them into a successful athlete.

Welch, oh-so-humbly, believes that the only reason she and her husband are still married today is because of Jesus. I have no idea what kind of marriage the Welches have, but this I know: their marriage’s success rests on their shoulders, and theirs alone. Countless Evangelical couples who love and follow Jesus just as much as the Welches do end up divorced. Why is that? Perhaps the truth about marriage is that it really is a crap-shoot; perhaps successfully living with one person for years, having children together, and facing suffering and loss together is due, not to Jesus, but to luck. Yes, luck. How else do we explain two couples with similar marital resumes, one married for decades, another divorced?

Polly and I have been married for going on forty-two years. We started dating when we were seventeen and nineteen. Here we are, all these years later, still blissfully and happily married. We should write a book, right? Maybe we could title the book: Seven Steps to Keep from Murdering Your Spouse. That’s right. You see, Polly and I both know that we are lucky to still be married. Both of us can point to circumstances that could have destroyed our marriage. Was it Jesus that kept us from divorce? Of course not. If anything, we are fortunate we didn’t divorce because of Jesus. Polly would likely say that Jesus and I carried on an illicit affair for decades. It got so bad that Jesus even slept in our bed — a threesome. (Please see It’s Time to Tell the Truth: I Had an Affair)

The list of marital pressure points is endless, from health problems to children to loss of faith. Polly and I know we are lucky to still be married, and happily so. Sure, we took the vows we made seriously. We genuinely love and like one another. However, lots of “loving” couples end up divorced. Where Welch sees Jesus, I see a plethora of things that keep married couples together. I know of one couple who was married for over sixty years. Wow, they must have really loved one another, right? Nope. The husband was a violent, skirt-chasing rapist. The wife endured because she planned on outliving her wretched husband so she would get all the money. She succeeded, by the way, only to end up in a nursing home with dementia. Too bad she will never remember how she outlasted that asshole husband of hers.

Some marriages last because of children. I suspect we all know couples who stay married for the sake of their children. Why is it some couples divorce after twenty or twenty-five years of marriage? Often, they waited until the children were out of the house before they decided to call it quits.

What I am saying is this: the success or failure of a marriage rests on numerous factors. To suggest, as Welch does, that having a successful marriage and steering clear of divorce court is solely due to Jesus is, at the very least, lazy thinking. When asked to make a list of the reasons for their successful marriages, the Welches and other Evangelical couples write one big word: JESUS. I want to believe that Welch knows better; that deep down in her heart of hearts she knows that she is still married today because of hard work and a healthy dose of luck.

Sometimes, marriages fail. How many Christians do you know who are in miserable marriages, helplessly waiting for Jesus to come through for them? Instead of cutting bait and admitting that they married the wrong person or no longer love their spouse, Evangelicals will suffer in silence, believing that doing so is what Jesus, the Awesome One, wants of them. On my About page I answer the question, If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be? Here’s what I wrote:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Forget whom “Jesus” says matters or what the Bible says, the only ones who matter are those whom you and you alone think matter. Life is too short to spend it trying to shore up a house built on a rotting foundation. You are not a “nothing,” and any preacher or religion that tells you differently is out to cause you harm. My advice? Run. Seek out people and relationships who value you as a person; people who see your work and effort; and yes, people who see how lucky you are.

Were you taught that without Jesus you were “nothing?” How did this affect you as an adult? Your marriage? Your relationships with your children? If you have been married for a number of years, to what do you attribute the success of your marriage? Please share your wisdom in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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What IFB Churches Believe About Divorce

god hates divorce

Churches and pastors who identify with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement generally believe that marriage is for life and that divorce is a sin. While you will find a variety of interpretations among IFB churches and pastors, I can safely say they hate divorce. The Bible says in Malachi 2:14-16:

Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he [God] hateth putting away [divorce]: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

The Bible says that God hates divorce. IFB adherents often say they “love what God loves and hate what God hates,” so it should come as no surprise, then, that the sin of divorce is roundly hated. Not as hated as, say, homosexuality, liberalism, or sleeping during the pastor’s sermon, but definitely a top-ten sin.

There are generally four IFB positions on divorce.

Adultery is the Only Ground for Divorce

First, many IFB churches and pastors believe that there is one ground for divorce: adultery. In Matthew 19: 3-9, Jesus purportedly said:

The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

Jesus is clear: the only valid reason for divorce is adultery. I should note in passing that only men were permitted to divorce their wives.

Adultery and Abandonment are the Only Grounds for Divorce

Some IFB churches and pastors believe that there are two grounds for divorce: adultery, and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 states:

And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.  But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that if a congregant has an unbelieving spouse who abandons him, the congregant has two choices: reconciliation or living single the rest of his life. Many IFB churches and pastors believe this passage of Scripture teaches that abandonment is also grounds for divorce. However, this passage only applies to mixed marriages; marriages where one spouse is a Christian and the other is not. Further, Paul makes it clear that if an unbelieving female spouse leaves her Christian husband, he is NOT to divorce her; that he must either be reconciled to her or remain single all the days of his life.

blood of jesus

Divorce for Any Reason is Permitted Before Salvation

Some IFB churches and pastors believe that divorce for any reason is permitted as long as it occurred before a person is saved. The thinking goes something like this: The moment a person prays the sinner’s prayer, he or she becomes a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. Salvation gives the believer new life. Past sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus and cast into the sea of God’s forgetfulness to be remembered no more. Thus, pre-Jesus divorce — and murder, sexual assault, and spousal abuse — doesn’t count against the new Christian. I remember one evangelist who came regularly to one church I pastored that had a divorce in his past; in his pre-Jesus life. He hid this from me and other pastors, knowing that many of us believed that the Bible taught preachers must be the husbands of one wife, not one wife at a time. Years later, I found out that his first wife was a thirteen-year-old girl he impregnated. They later divorced, but his ex-wife believes her preacher ex-husband still has an appetite for younger girls. When I questioned this man about his former marriage, he replied, “It’s under the blood, brother, it’s under the blood!” In other words, he refused to be held accountable for anything he did BC — before Christ.

There are No Grounds for Divorce

Some IFB churches and pastors believe there are no grounds for divorce; that the exceptions granted by Jesus and Paul were given due to the hardness of man’s heart; that God’s standard is “marriage until death do we part.” While allowance was made for women leaving their husbands if they regularly beat them, separating spouses were told that under no circumstances could they divorce and remarry. They were reminded that Jesus said: Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. In other words, remarry and you are an adulterer.

IFB luminary John R. Rice was asked, “Should A Divorced Woman Remarry Her Husband, Who Wants Her Back, Or Marry The Other Man She Is In Love With?” He responded:

She should remarry her husband. You see, when she was married first, she took a solemn vow to love, honor and obey . . . until death do us part. And the Bible clearly teaches that divorce is wrong. Even if the husband mistreated the wife (and of course all husbands and wives are human and fail in some degree), still she was his wife, she had promised to be with him until death, and God wanted her to obey her husband and love him and be true to him.

I think that if a wife will set out to obey her husband, she will find that love will increase. She will have to confess to God her sin of loving another man, and if in her heart she will honestly turn from that in repentance, then God will help her to love her husband and help the husband to forgive and love her. If things are not always easy, still the only way to happiness is to do right and have God’s blessing.

Satan always has some very attractive ways in sin. Sin is always attractive at first, but it always ends bad. The Bible says, ‘The way of transgressors is hard’ (Prov. 13:15). And, again, the Bible says in Numbers 32:23, ‘Be sure your sin will find you out.’ And Romans 6:23 says, ‘The wages of sin is death.’

First Corinthians 7, verses 10-13, says, ‘And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.’”

Now the thing to do is to believe that God will restore happiness and that He will help straighten things out. So give Him a chance to do that.

Rice’s answer was typical of what I heard as a long-time member and pastor of IFB churches.

In 1994, I was between pastorates and Polly and I and our six children attended an IFB church pastored at the time by my best friend. One night, I went with him on a visitation call to a church family who was having marital problems. They were seriously contemplating divorce. My preacher friend made it clear to them that God hated divorce and that there were no Biblical grounds for divorce. He said, “You have two choices. Either reconcile or separate and remain unmarried.” In his eyes, getting a divorce and then remarrying was a grievous sin and grounds for excommunication. He went on to say, “God says, if you remarry, both you and your new spouse are adulterers.”

Later, on our way home, I questioned him about his position on divorce. I asked, “if they remarry, what is it that makes them adulterers?” He replied, “the sex act.” I said, “So, every time they have sex, they are committing adultery?” My friend paused for a moment — thinking this was another one of Bruce’s famous theological traps — and then said, “Yes.”  And sure enough he walked into one of my traps. I replied, “So, no one who is divorced and remarried is a Christian? And anyone in your church who is divorced and remarried (I mentioned several couples by name) will spend eternity in Hell?” As he pondered my questions, I reminded him that the Bible said in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

“If, as the Bible says, adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God,” I said, “then doesn’t that mean that divorced-remarried people — whom you say are adulterers — will NOT inherit the kingdom of God?” After a seemingly long period of silence, my friend said, “well, maybe I need to rethink my position.” Ya think?

Conclusion

Is it any wonder that divorced people feel out of place and marginalized in IFB churches? Worse yet, the aforementioned positions on divorce and remarriage can lead to women in particular enduring all sorts of abuse at the hands of their husbands. In October 2015, I wrote a post titled, Domestic Violence in the IFB Church. Here’s an excerpt from that post which illustrates the danger of taking a no-divorce position:

Years ago the church I was pastoring joined together with other IFB churches to hold a joint revival meeting. The speaker was Bill Rice III. (I am almost certain it was Bill Rice but it could have been Pete Rice, both were associated with the Bill Rice Ranch.) One night, Bill Rice preached on  the subject of marriage and divorce. Rice did not believe there were any grounds for divorce. He said that even if a husband was beating on his wife, the wife should stay in the marriage. Perhaps she would win her husband to Jesus by her willingness to stay in the marriage. Rice intimated that saved husbands don’t beat their wives.

By the time of this meeting my views had already begun to change and I pulled our church out of the meetings. I was incensed that Rice was advocating a woman endure her husband beating on her, implying that God wanted her to do so.

The teachings of the Bible on marriage and divorce reflect a time when women were viewed as chattel; as little more than property. There’s nothing in Jesus’ or Paul’s teachings on marriage/divorce that suggests they moved beyond the beliefs and practices found in the Old Testament. Jesus, being God, hated divorce; and the Apostle Paul? Well, he had a real problem with women in general. I have long asked, Why Would Any Woman Want to be an Evangelical Christian? I wrote, at one time:

Why would any woman want to be an Evangelical Christian? If the Bible is the inspired Word of God and every word is true, why would any modern, thinking woman ever darken the door of an Evangelical church?

Over the past hundred years women have continued to gain rights and privileges kept from them by men, law, and social propriety: the right to vote, equal pay for equal work, the right to use birth control, the right to have an abortion, the right to divorce. While women do not yet have equal rights and privileges in this country, huge progress has been made toward that end.

Why don’t women have true equal rights and privileges in America? Don’t deceive yourself into thinking they do. There are still places in our society where the signs say Men Only. The primary reason women are denied basic civil rights and social privileges is that Christian patriarchal thinking still permeates our society.

Evangelical Christianity teaches that women are inferior to men. The Bible calls women a weaker vessel. The Bible teaches that women are to be married, keepers of the home, bearers of children, and sex partners for their husband (unless the husband goes Old Testament and has multiple wives and concubines). Simply put, the Bible teaches that the world of women revolves around husband, food, children, and sex.

If the Bible is meant to be taken as written, women have no part in the governance of society or the church. Women are relegated to teaching children, and as women age they are given the task of teaching younger women how to be good wives.

….

I am of the opinion that many women embrace Evangelical Christianity and continue in the church because of the social and family connection they have with others in the church. They are willing to put up with being considered second-class citizens as long as they can maintain those connections. I suspect this is due to the maternal instinct that most women have. Others have been so indoctrinated by the men in their life that they actually think they are inferior to men and meant to be their slaves. I’ve had more than a few conversations with women who cannot or will not see that they deserve a far better life than they now have.

As long as there are marriages there will be divorces. Sometimes, people marry the wrong person or find out their spouses were not the people they thought they were. The issues that can derail a marriage and lead to divorce are many. As a humanist, I desire peace and happiness for everyone. Sometimes, the only way for a married couple to find peace and happiness is to divorce. Yet, IFB churches and pastors would rather have couples spend their lives living with people they do not love. Years ago, an older woman began attending the church I was pastoring at the time. After a few visits, I stopped by her home to get to know her a bit a better. I found out that she was married, but her husband was nowhere to be found. Later, a church member who knew her well told me, “Yes, she is married, but her husband lives in the second story of the house. They don’t speak to each other.” Come to find out, they had been living this way for twenty-five years. Why? The Bible says . . . The Bible says NO DIVORCE, so for twenty-five years this couple had lived in the same home, but apart from each other; much like boxers in the ring retreating to their respective corners. Sorry, but this is no way to live.

The good news is that Evangelical churches in general are becoming more accepting and tolerant of divorces. However, in the far-flung edges of the Evangelical universe, there are still churches and pastors who take a no-divorce position, demonize divorced people, and promote policies that can and do cause physical and psychological harm to women and children. (Yet, many of these same preachers support Donald Trump. Talk about hypocrisy.)

Are you a former IFB/Evangelical church member? What position did your church/pastor take on divorce? Did you get divorced while still a member of an IFB/Evangelical church? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Does Loss of Faith Lead to Divorce?

grieving-the-loss-of-faith
Cartoon by David Hayward

Over the past twelve years, I have corresponded with numerous Evangelicals who find themselves in “mixed” marriages after their loss of faith. Having entered marriage according to the Biblical principle found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

these unbelievers find themselves at odds with still-believing spouses. “What will become of their marriages?” these former Evangelicals ask. Having grown up in a religion that condemns mixed marriages AND divorce, they fear the consequences of losing their faith. Many of the Evangelicals who contact me suffer in secret, keeping their deconversions to themselves out of fear of hurting their spouses, children, parents, and close friends. I know a number of atheists/agnostics who attend Evangelical churches every Sunday because they fear what might happen if they dared to testify publicly that there is no God.

In April 2015, I wrote a widely read post titled, Consider the Cost Before You Say “I am an Atheist.” Here’s some of what I said:

If I had to do it all over again would I do it the same way? Would I write THE letter? Probably. My experiences have given me knowledge that is helpful to people who contact me about their own doubts about Christianity. I am often asked, what should I do? Should I tell my spouse? Should I tell my family, friends, or coworkers?

My standard advice is this: Count the cost. Weigh carefully the consequences. Once you utter or write the words I AM AN ATHEIST you are no longer in control of what happens next. Are you willing to lose your friends, destroy your marriage, or lose your job? Only you can decide what cost you are willing to pay.

I know there is this notion “Dammit I should be able to freely declare what I am” and I agree with the sentiment. We should be able to freely be who and what we are. If we lived on a deserted island, I suppose we could do so. However, we are surrounded by people. People we love. People we want and need in our life. Because of this, it behooves (shout out to the KJV) us to tread carefully.

This advice holds true today. Saying to believing spouses, children, and friends, I AM AN ATHEIST, can and will bring immediate negative responses. I always caution people to carefully and thoroughly weigh the costs and consequences of coming out of the proverbial closet. The Bible in Luke 14:28-30 gives some pretty good advice when it says:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

Many unbelievers conclude that it is better for them to be closeted atheists than risk blowing up their marriages. But even then, these atheists/agnostics run the risk of being exposed; they run the risk of their spouses finding out the truth about who and what they really are. One man I know attended an IFB church with his wife and children every Sunday. To his spouse, family, pastor, and fellow church members, he was still a Jesus-loving, sin-hating, Bible-believing Christian. Outwardly, he was a good example of someone who loved Jesus. (Despite what Evangelicals say, it is possible and easy to fake being a Christian.) His deception could have gone on forever had his wife not found his secret stash of books by authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Needless to say, the shit hit the fan. This man remains married, but it is doubtful his marriage will survive once his children graduate from high school. The chasm between him and his wife is so large that it is unlikely they can find a way to bridge the two sides.

I know several couples who have been in mixed marriages for decades. They found ways to make their marriages work, choosing to compartmentalize their lives for the sake of their significant others. Several years ago, I ran into the spouse of one these couples at Walmart. I had been her pastor for a number of years, and her atheist husband — a delightful man — would attend church with her from time to time. I asked her about her marriage, “if you had it to do all over again, would you have married Bob?” She quickly said, “NO!” I asked her, “Why?”  She replied, “My faith is very important to me and there’s a whole side of my life I can never share with Bob.” Viewing their marriage from afar, I see a couple who stills love one another, but I also see a relationship where each of them has a life separate from the other.

I also have corresponded with atheists/agnostics in mixed marriages who quickly found out that their spouses loved God/Jesus/Church more than they loved them. One close family member went through a divorce several years ago. At the time of their wedding, he was a faithful, Jesus-loving Evangelical. His wife, on the other hand, was a nominal Christian. Over time, he moved away from his Evangelical roots, eventually embracing unbelief — at least when it comes to organized religion. His wife, however, ran headlong into the arms of what is best described as emotional, touchy-feely, syrupy, gagme-with-a-spoon Evangelicalism. While he would admit that the reasons for their divorce are many, one man, Jesus, played a central part in their breakup. Given a choice, his wife chose Jesus over him.

Evangelical apologists have all sorts of explanations for why people deconvert. Few of their reasons, however, match what really goes on when a devoted follower of Jesus begins the process of deconversion. Most atheists/agnostics will tell you that their losses of faith were long, arduous, painful processes. I know mine was. The moment I wrote my coming-out letter, Dear Family, Friends and Former Parishioners, my entire life came tumbling down. Emotionally, I was a wreck. I knew walking away from Christianity was the right thing to do, but I grossly underestimated the carnage that would lie in its wake. I had followed the evidence wherever it led, and despite attempts to stop my downward slide on the proverbial slippery slope, I had concluded that the central tenets of Christianity were untrue. My unbelief forced me to rethink and rebuild my life from the ground up. What did I really believe? What were my moral and ethical values? What kind of husband and father did I want to be? The questions were many, some of which linger to this day. So, to Evangelicals who believe former Christians, without suffering, pain, and agony , just woke up one morning and said, “I am an atheist,” I say this: “you don’t know what the fuck you are talking about.”

This rebuilding process, of course, does not take place in a vacuüm. People who are married when they deconvert wrestle with questions about the future. They ponder what kind of marriages they will have if their spouses are still Christians. They wonder how being in a mixed marriage will affect their children. No longer believing that there is life after death can and does alter how one views the world. If a former Christian’s marriage was already troubled before his deconversion — yet he stayed married because of what the Bible teaches about divorce — he often questions whether he wants to remain married to his Evangelical spouse. Since there is only one life to live and then you are d-e-a-d, it’s fair and honest to ask yourself as an unbeliever: “If my Evangelical wife remains a devoted follower of Jesus, do I really want to spend the rest of my life married to her?” Many times, the answer is no and divorce soon follows.

I know a handful of Evangelicals-turned-atheists who took a wait-and-see approach to their spouses and marriages. These former Christians believed their spouses were, at the very least, open to discussing the reasons for why they deconverted. Taking a low-key approach allowed them to have non-threatening, honest discussions about God, Christianity, and the Bible. More often than not, these discussions bore fruit, leading to their spouses’ later deconversion. Sometimes, it took years of discussions (and book recommendations) before their spouses came to see the light, so to speak. These former Evangelicals believed that their marriages were worth saving if at all possible. This is more likely the case for couples who have been married a long time. It is a lot easier to walk away from a marriage of two or five years than it is to walk away from a marriage of twenty or thirty years.

People often look my forty-year marriage to Polly and think that we are some sort of shining example of what is possible post-Jesus. I warn them, however, that our journey from Evangelicalism to unbelief is ours alone; that far too often believing spouses remain so despite the deconversion of their husband or wife. Quite frankly, Polly and I were lucky. Just the other day we were talking about what might have happened had either of us stayed true to Jesus. We both concluded that our marriage might not have survived such upheaval and disunity had one of us still believed. Fortunately, as has been the case for most of our marriage, we walked hand in hand as our former lives as followers of Jesus went up in smoke. While there was a time when I was the out-and-proud atheist and Polly was the secret agnostic, we are closer now when it comes to the extent of our unbelief. Our personalities are different, so it stands to reason that how we live out our godlessness in public and around family is dissimilar too.

Are you in a mixed marriage? Did you go through a divorce after you deconverted? Are you a closeted atheist who still attends church with their spouse/family? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce Gerencser