“Wives should submit to their husbands in everything” is a fundamental command for all those who want to do marriage God’s way. One can never arrive at a point where two have truly become one flesh until the two are in union and harmony with each other. This is not to say that a wife leaves wisdom behind once she takes her vows, nor does it mean she is to follow her husband into sin. Submission is to be the natural response of a godly wife to a loving husband, and when he is not loving her as he should, submission is still the response of the wife who desires to obey her Lord and Savior in everything.
God’s Word is very plain and straightforward but each verse of the Bible is informed by its immediate context and the Bible as a whole. So what are some of those times that “in everything” does not mean “EVERYTHING?”
For the few Christians who are bent on taking a wooden literal approach to this passage. it is important to understand that language and literature are intended to be understood as the common reader would understand it. Imagine all the qualifiers the apostles under the influence of the Spirit would have to give in order to communicate if they were not free to assume that the readers would be reasonable and informed in their understanding of what they are writing.
The twists and excuses that many Christian wives, and too often Christian pastors, use to get around the clear instructions for a wife to submit in everything, often consign the Christian marriage into a structure that God does not intend for marriage. In these marriages a husband leads only so far as the wife allows him to lead, and he must relegate his decision making to his wife’s final authority as to whether he is being loving towards her or meets her test of how she feels about God’s leading her on the matter. Both of these concepts clearly violate the intent of “in everything.” So the fear that any exception to the rule will be turned by a wife into rendering the passage meaningless is not without merit, nor without common day practice in many Christian marriages today.
Even recognizing the proclivity of women to twist and turn a clear passage like this one into meaninglessness, Lori and I are not going to insist that the “in everything” means EVERYTHING when it clearly does not endorse following a husband into sin or abuse. Our job as teachers is not to wrestle wives into a box of submission because it is best for them, especially when married to godly guys, but instead to try and lead Christian women to choose to willingly submit to the one they chose to marry, to love and to lead them. This fear of “give a wife an inch and she will take a yard” is not what should dictate our understanding of God’s Word.
Instead, love demands that a husband patiently wait on his wife to grow up into a marriage where is she is willing to follow him into everything he leads her in so long as it is “as to the Lord” and without sin. She must learn that unless the Bible is clearly against what her husband desires of her she is to submit if she wants to do marriage God’s way. If she is unsure as to whether she should submit or not, she should not rely on her own individual interpretation of the Word, nor on her feelings of what God is telling her, but test if it is sin or not by speaking to an older godly woman or an elder’s wife.
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” 1 Corinthians 6:18
Fornication is defined as a man and a woman sleeping together before marriage. This sin is condemned throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament. We are all sinners, but not all sin is equal. The Bible teaches that fornication is so serious that it can get you thrown out of the church.
If you are saved and sleeping with someone you aren’t married to, you need to repent of that sin. If you are living together, and you’re not married, then you are living in sin. If you plan to keep coming to church, your options are to get married or stop living together.
The Bible teaches that we should only have physical relations within marriage, so if you aren’t married yet, you need to deny that ungodly lust and wait until you get married to enjoy the benefits of marriage. If you aren’t ready to marry the person you are dating, then you shouldn’t be sleeping together. Have some self-control and respect for your body!
People who commit fornication for the first time often do not end up marrying that person but go on to be with person after person. Our bodies were not designed to exchange bacteria with hundreds of different people. In fact, there are infections people can get that are not considered STDs per say but are virtually unheard of in people who got married as virgins and have had only one partner. I realize that people die and their spouse can remarry, but sleeping with more than a few people in your lifetime is very unhealthy. In fact, the Bible calls it filthy.
So many women today are in relationships where they would like to get married, but the guy won’t marry them. These jerks need to do the right thing, but the women are also to blame. Unfortunately, the old adage still holds true: Why buy the cow if you can get the milk free?
— Steven Anderson, Faithful Word Baptist Church, Flee Fornication, January 16, 2017
All of us, virtually every moment of every day, exchange bacteria, viruses, dead skin, feces, urine, dirt, buggers…..shall I go on?….with hundreds of different people. The very act of breathing exposes us to countless bacteria and viruses. I wonder if Anderson is aware of the fact that he has likely been exposed to “atheist” bacteria, even without having carnal relations with atheists.
One Texas lawmaker is trying to make no-fault divorce no more in the Lone Star State.
Texas State Rep. Matt Krause of Ft. Worth filed a bill that would effectively disallow divorce on the grounds of “insupportability,” meaning no-fault divorces.
Currently “all 50 states offer some type of no-fault divorce, (and) in 17 states and the District of Columbia, you can only file for divorce on no-fault grounds,” said a KXAN-TV news story.
Meanwhile, evidence shows that a majority of divorces in Texas are filed on no-fault grounds, and Krause believes this policy will lead to a decline in divorce and family breakdown.
“I think people have seen the negative effects of divorce and the breakdown of the family for a long time. I think this could go some way in reversing that trend,” he said.
Currently, Texas offers six categories of fault-based divorces, including: “adultery, cruelty, abandonment and a felony conviction, living apart for at least three years or confinement to a mental hospital.” Krause said the bill would establish “some type of due process. There needs to be some kind of mechanism to where that other spouse has a defense.”
The idea of re-introducing fault is not about assigning blame as much as it is about treating divorce more seriously and substantively. Krause cited a Heritage Foundation report that said, “A recent University of Texas study of divorced spouses found that only a third of them felt that they had done enough to try to save their marriage. Moreover, children of divorce disproportionately suffer from such maladies as depression, compromised health, childhood sexual abuse, arrests and addiction.”
Whether or not the bill ever becomes law, the policy idea itself raises some important issues for Christians to consider. As Christians, we understand the devastating effects of divorce and have seen it in our own families, neighborhoods, churches and communities.
If we are perfectly honest, we will admit that divorce has become all too commonplace and convenient. We further recognize that “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16) and that, according to Jesus, it was because of the hardness of their hearts, that God permitted divorces among the Israelites, “but it was not this way from the beginning” (Matt. 19:8).
Even though Jesus and the Apostle Paul have outlined some limited Scriptural grounds for divorce, we have institutionalized divorce in a way that would have shocked Paul. We also have lost sight of the fact that divorce is a tragic step. To that end, churches should not leave it to politicians to address runaway divorce and family breakdown.
When it comes to God’s sexual ethic, there’s a clear rationale for what’s commanded. His Word doesn’t so much show us a theology of sexuality or sexual ethics as it does a theology of marriage. Human marriage, we see repeatedly, is to point us to the ultimate marriage between Jesus and his bride, the church. It’s a signpost to the big thing God is doing in the universe—drawing together a people to belong to his Son. That vision explains the contours and boundaries we see in Scripture’s teaching about marriage. Once we unpack it we see why God insists that sex is for marriage (since only in a covenantal relationship with him do we have the ability to be vulnerable and intimate); that marriage is between one man and one woman (since God brings together two unlike yet complementary beings in a union); and why Christians are to marry only those in the faith (since our union with Christ means we cannot painlessly unite with someone who doesn’t also belong to him).
Life isn’t about “following our dreams/achieving our career aspirations” if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. His Lordship over our lives demands that we do what He has asked us to do and give Him the glory, not ourselves. If we are doing anything for our own glory, we are doing the wrong thing. Unfortunately, I fear that most women who pursue the dream of a career are doing so for the things they find are important while ignoring what God asks of them. The Lord God wants women to marry, bear children, and guide the home (1 Timothy 5:14). This is not only His will, but His best for Christian women. Being able to bear children and raise them for the Lord gives glory to the God and insures that another generation of godly offspring is born into the Kingdom of God. There is no higher calling upon a woman’s life, but that is not to say that God cannot or does not have other callings designed for women who never marry.
Getting an education and achieving career aspirations is far too often about giving glory to oneself. “What college are you going to, and what career path will you take?” are the common questions posed to most young Christian women, instead of asking the important question, “Have you given any consideration to what God clearly desires for Christian women?” Certainly if a woman is young and unmarried, she is free to pursue an education but as with everything in life she must count the cost. How many are in bondage to school debt and or feel trapped in careers and can’t quit when they have children? Don’t be at all fooled by the glitz and glamour and pleasures of this world. There is no free lunch, so now is the time to count the cost of a career.
“It seems that, and tell me if I’m wrong, that you’re placing a woman’s sole worth on bearing children and creating a happy marriage for her husband.” Her worth comes from the Lord and not from anything she does. He is the one who wants women to bear children and raise godly offspring. What can be more important than raising the next generation? If she can’t have children or she doesn’t get married, the Lord can still use her in powerful ways in the lives of others since we should spend our lives serving others and giving our lives away. Concerning marriage, the Word says, “She that is married cares for the things of the world, how she may please her husband (1 Corinthians 7:34). The Bible says the greatest of all is the servant of all. All Christian women should find a way to serve others and use their gifts to bring the Lord glory. …. “What is wrong with a woman having those same things even if there is a man or child in the picture?” If she is married, her priority should be to her husband and being the best help meet to him she can. If she comes home every day after working full time and is too exhausted to fix him a good meal, unable to keep the home clean and tidy, and not available sexually, she should either work less or not at all. God calls women to be keepers at home, not men. He also created wives to be their husband’s help meet, not vice versa. This is God’s will for us and when roles are clearly defined, marriage works easier. If there is a child in the picture, she should be with that child full time since he/she needs and wants their mother. …. Most women who just randomly find my blog have no idea why I teach what I teach. They mistakenly believe I am just thinking this all up on my own and sending women back 100 years. No, I am just teaching them to be a woman after God’s heart and not their own.
My wife and I began life quite simply when we married in July of 1978. Our monthly budget included debts such as:
Over time, we added indebtedness to finance companies such as Modern Finance, Beneficial Finance, and several other loan companies. Polly and I had zero understanding about the real world of debt. Neither of us grew up in families that were smart about money. My parents ran up debt and skipped town, whereas Polly’s parents spent every penny they earned and put the rest on credit cards. Neither was a great example for a young married couple. This resulted in us making poor financial decisions. It took us a few years to figure out that if you don’t pay your gas/electric/phone bills you won’t have gas/electric/phone. I wouldn’t, even today, say that we handle money and debt very well. Things are certainly better, but medical bills are slowly choking the life out of our checkbook. That said, we have cellphones now, and it has been 35 years since we found a tag on our door saying that our gas/electric/phone was shut off. Progress, eh?
In the 1980s, our primary form of communication was the telephone. There was one phone company, and phone choices were limited: black, white, pink and rotary or push button dial. That’s it. Per-minute charges for long distance could be as high as 25 cents. In the 1980s, thanks to deregulation, scores of companies entered the long distance telephone market. These companies offered all sorts of incentives for customers to sign up with them. For a couple of years, we received weekly enticements to change long distance companies.
Many of these enticements were cash incentives in the form of checks. Signing and depositing the checks gave the long distance providers permission to change our service. I suspect, all told, we changed long distance providers a dozen times during the days of wild, wild west long-distance shoot outs. At the time, I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. We were quite poor, so the check inducements became a source of extra income. I never had a twinge of guilt about changing companies, I thought, at the time, if you are going to give me free money I am going to take it. The biggest incentive we ever received came from Sprint: $200 to switch to them. I could hardly believe that they were offering us so much money to change providers. I quickly endorsed and deposited the check, worried that Sprint might find out that we had been their customer several times before. Ah, those were the good old days.
After several years of battling for customers, long distance providers realized that giving people large amounts of money to change providers was not financially sustainable. In the 1990s, companies would use similar incentives to attract new internet service customers. I am sure many readers can remember when our mail boxes were filled with offers from AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve, and a slew of dial-up internet service providers. These days, it’s cell phone companies, along with cable and satellite TV providers, who use cash incentives to attract new customers or steal customers away from their competitors.
Do you remember the days of long distance deregulation? Please share your experiences in the comment section.
Several weeks ago, Polly and I bought a brand-new loveseat and couch. This was a monumental decision for us. Prior to this purchase, we had never owned a brand-new couch. Never! Over the years, we bought second-hand furniture or used family castoffs. Our thinking went something like this: there is no need to buy nice furniture as long as you have children. As any parent knows, children are hard on furniture. From spills to flops, children can turn nice furniture into something from a CSI crime scene in a few years. And then came grandchildren, and we repeated the process all over again. Our last loveseat and couch came from a nearby secondhand store. I believe we paid $399 for the pair. Weathering the abuse of our grown children and grandchildren, this furniture had reached what they call in the tech industry its end of life. But even then, after eight years of service, we couldn’t bear to haul the furniture off to the landfill. Instead, several of our sons hauled the furniture out to the curb. We placed FREE signs on the furniture, hoping that someone might haul them away. Less than an hour later, a noisy beat up pickup truck pulled up to the curb and its passengers exited the truck, excited over their new find. They quickly loaded the furniture on the truck and drove away. Mission accomplished!
Polly and I love our new furniture. It’s nice, even at this late date in life, to have something new. Of course, we’ve turned into furniture Nazis, not allowing the cat or dog on the furniture, or allowing the grandkids to get anywhere near the furniture with food or drinks. Now if we can just get our adult children sippy cups for their beer and coffee, all will be well. In time, the new furniture will settle into the rhythm of our home, and then the dog and cat and grandkids too will know it’s okay to sit on Nana’s precious (said with Gollum’s voice).
After Ashley Furniture delivered the loveseat and couch, we decided that we also needed a new end table. We did not buy a new table, choosing instead to go to the used furniture store to find a table that would match the new furniture. The end table set us back $69. After that, we decided that we wanted to replace our entertainment center with something a little more understated, giving us more space in our small living room. For this purchase we bought ready-to-assemble (RTA) furniture from the Sauder Woodworking Outlet Store in Archbold, Ohio. Polly chose a unit with colors that matched the new loveseat and couch. Thanks to a 35% employee discount, the new entertainment center cost $120. I spent time last night and today putting the unit together. Polly helped me finish off the project today. I am happy to report that I successfully put the unit together without swearing and without getting into an argument with the love of my life. My children will know that this is a huge milestone. Our older children likely remember the time Polly and I decided to hang wallpaper — together. Needless to say, things didn’t go well, with both of us realizing that we loved each other deeply, but hanging wallpaper together was a sure way to end up in divorce court. I am glad after 38 years of marriage that we are now able to somewhat work together on household projects. Who knows, we might just stay married.
How about you? Do you have any furniture stories to tell? Do you work well with your spouse or significant other? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
Evangelicalism is dominated by Bible literalism. God said it, and that settles it. There can be no debate or argument on the matter. An infallible God has spoken and his infallible words are recorded in an infallible book — the Protestant Christian Bible. Whatever the Bible teaches, Evangelicals are duty bound to believe and obey. While Evangelicals may argue about the finer points of this or that doctrine, calling oneself an Evangelical requires fidelity to certain, established doctrinal truths. Christianity is, after all, the faith once delivered to the saints. Jesus is, after all, the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Psychological manipulation is a common tool used by Evangelical preachers to force congregants to do their bidding. I hear the outrage of offended Evangelicals now, screaming for all to hear, that THEIR church is not like that; that their pastor is different. Maybe, perhaps, but I doubt it.
If their church or pastor really is different, it is likely because they are not really Evangelical. There are a lot of churches and pastors who are really liberals or progressives who fear making their true theological and social identities known. Fearing the mob, these thoughtful Evangelicals hide their true allegiances. I don’t fault them for doing so, but such churches and pastors are not representative of Evangelical belief and practice.
In particular, women face the brunt of Evangelical preaching against sin and disobedience. What do Evangelicals believe the Bible teaches about women?
Women are weaker than men.
Women are intellectually inferior, requiring men to teach and guide them.
Women are to submit to her husbands in the home and to male leadership in the church.
Women must never be permitted to have authority over men.
Women must dress modestly so that they don’t cause weak, pathetic men to lust after them.
The highest calling of women is to marry, bear children, and keep the home.
Feminism is a Satanic attack on God’s order for the church and home.
Think about this list for a moment. Are Evangelical women equal to men? No! Women are, at best, second class citizens. They must never be put in positions where they have control or power. Such places are reserved for men. We dare not question this. After all, it is God’s way
Is it any wonder that many Evangelical women lack self-esteem and think poorly of themselves? How could it be otherwise? Everywhere they look women are progressing, free to live their lives on their own terms. Yet, here they sit, chained to a ancient religious text and a religion that demeans women and views them as little more than slaves or chattel.
I am sure there are many Evangelical women who will vehemently object to my characterization of how they are treated by their churches, pastors, and husbands. In THEIR churches women are quite happy! They LOVE being submissive to their husbands as unto the Lord. They LOVE being relegated to cooking duty, janitorial work, and nursery work. They LOVE having no higher goals than having children, cooking meals, cleaning house, and never having a headache.
The bigger question is, WHY is it that many Evangelical women think living this way is normal and psychologically affirming — exactly what God ordered for their lives? Evangelical women don’t want to disobey God or displease their husbands or churches. Whatever God, pastors, male church leaders, and husbands want, Evangelical women give. This is their fate, and until the light of reason and freedom creeps in, Evangelical women will continue to bow at the feet of their Lords and do their bidding.
Once women break free from Evangelicalism, a thousand horses and one hundred arrogant, know it all preachers, couldn’t drag them back into the fold. Once free, they realize a whole new world awaits them. With freedom comes responsibility. No more defaulting to their husbands or pastors to make decisions for them. These women are free to make their own decisions. They quickly learns that life in the non-Evangelical world has its own problems and that women are not, in many cases, treated equally there either.
Over the years, I have watched numerous women break free from domineering, controlling Evangelical husbands. I have also watched women flee domineering churches and pastors. Some of these women went back to college to get an education. No longer content to be baby breeders, maids, cooks, and sex-on-demand machines, they turn to education to improve their place in life. Often, secular education provides a fuller view of the world and opens up all kinds of new opportunities for the women.
Sadly, this new life often leads to family problems. Husbands who have worn the pants for decades don’t like having their God-ordained authority challenged. This is especially true if the husbands remain active Evangelical church members. Many times, unable to weather dramatic changes, these mixed marriages end in divorce. Evangelicalism was the glue that held their marriages together, and once it was removed their marriage fell apart.
Some husbands and wives find ways to keep their marriages intact, although this is hard to do. Imagine living in a home where mothers and wives are considered rebellious, sinful, and wicked by their Evangelical husbands, pastors, friends. Imagine being considered a Jezebel. Evangelicals are not kind to those who rebel against their God and their interpretation of the Bible. The Bible says rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. Biblical literalism demands that these rebellious women be labelled as practitioners of witchcraft. Once considered devotees to God, the church, and their families, these women are now considered to be pariahs — servants of Satan who walk in darkness.
I want to end this post with a bit of personal commentary.
For a good part of my marriage to Polly, our marriage was pretty much as I described above. I was the head of the home. I made all the decisions. I was in charge, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Polly bore six children, cooked, and kept the home. On and off, when finances demanded it, she worked outside the home. and in her spare time, she homeschooled all six of our children, including one child with Down Syndrome.
Polly is a pastor’s daughter. Her goal in life was to be a pastor’s wife. She went to college to get an MRS degree. Polly is quiet and reserved, and thanks to forty plus years of Evangelical indoctrination, she is also quite passive. During the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan, Polly heartily embraced her preacher’s-wife responsibilities. She was a dutiful wife who always exemplified what it meant to being in be submission to God and her husband. Never saying a cross word or demanding her own way, Polly submitted to those who had the authority over her.
A decade ago, things began to change in our marriage. I finally realized how abusive and controlling I had been. Granted, I was just being the kind of Evangelical husband and pastor I thought I should be. I tried my best to follow the teachings of the Bible and the example of pastors I respected. Regardless of the whys of the matter, I must own my culpability in behaviors I now consider psychologically harmful
In November 2008. Polly and Bruce Gerencser — hand in hand — walked away from Christianity. For the first time in our lives we were free from the constraints of God, the Bible, and the ministry. We were free to choose how we wanted to live our lives; free to decide what kind of marriage we wanted to have.
In many ways, very little has changed. Polly still cooks, but now she whips up gourmet meals because she LOVES to do so. I still manage household finances, not because I am the head of the home, but because I am better with numbers than Polly is. Both of us take care of household chores. I still do most of the shopping, but I no longer make the list. I am the numbers guy, someone who can figure out price per ounce in my head. By the time Polly finds her calculator in that bottomless purse of hers, I already have the equation figured out. Each of us tries to do the things we are good at.
The biggest difference in our marriage is this: I now ask Polly, What do you think? What do you think we should do? Where do you want to go? On top or bottom? We have learned that it is okay to have lives outside of each other; to have desires, wants and hobbies that the other person may not have. The Vulcan mind meld has been broken.
Polly recently celebrated 18 years of employment for a local manufacturing concern. Out from the shadow of her pastor husband she has excelled at work. Her yearly reviews are always excellent and she is considered an exemplary worker by everyone who works with her. Over the past two years Polly has received two promotions. She now supervises auxiliary department employees on second and third shift. Polly even has an office with her name on the door. None of these things would have been possible had we remained within the smothering confines of Evangelical beliefs and practices.
In 2013, Polly bought a new car in her own name. Yes, I helped picked out the car and took care of the financing details, but it is her car. A first for her, and believe me, this was a BIG deal. In 2012, Polly graduated from Northwest State Community College with an associates of arts. This was a huge undertaking on her part. Why did Polly go back to school, you ask? Because she could. And that’s the beauty of our current life. Freedom allows us to live openly and authentically. We no longer have to parse our lives according to the Bible. Both of us are free to do whatever we want to do. Having this freedom of spirit has allowed us to experience things that never would have been possible had we remained Pastor and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser.
Polly continues to break out of her shell and I continue to learn what it means to be a good man and husband. We still have our moments. There are those times when both Polly and I find it quite easy to fall back into our former Evangelical ways, As those who have walked similar paths know, it is not easy to change attitudes and lifestyles which were decades in the making. I suspect, until death do us part, we will remain a work in progress.
Forty years ago, a young man from the flatland of rural northwest Ohio moved to Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. Also enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College was a young woman who hailed from Bay City, Michigan. What follows is their story.
The young man packed his worldly goods into his beater of a car, and waving goodbye to his Mom, drove out of the trailer park, turned east on U.S. Hwy 6 and set a course for Pontiac, Michigan. His mother had kissed him goodbye, letting the young man know how proud she was that he was the first Gerencser to go to college. He pushed her away, uncomfortable with her display of affection, a behavior he would one day regret. The young man thought, finally, away from the craziness and the drunkard husband.
Two-and-a-half hours later, the young man turned off of Golf Drive onto the driveway for Midwestern Baptist College. He stopped his car in front of the dormitory so he could unload his belongings and move them to his assigned dorm room — room 207. On that day, the young man wore a maize and blue shirt with the number 75 on the front and the word REV on the back. This shirt was a gift from a young woman who hoped the young man would remember her. He didn’t, knowing that enrolling at Midwestern would provide him ample opportunity to meet attractive Fundamentalist women. He would soon learn that a wide-open field of romance would quickly fade in the beauty of a dark-haired, beautiful young woman.
Shortly after classes began in the fall of 1976, the young man and young dark-haired woman began flirting with one another. At first, they sent flirtatious notes, often meeting up for card games in the dormitory kitchen. While both of them would briefly date other people, by the end of September, the young man and young woman decided to give dating one another a try.
They were an odd match. The young woman was quiet and reserved, rarely speaking more than a few words. The young man, on the other hand, was a talker, and opinionated. He lived life in the fast lane, serving Jesus, yet pushing the lines of Fundamentalist decorum and acceptability. Years later, the young woman would tell him that she was drawn to his wildness — her bad boy.
Midwestern Baptist College — a Fundamentalist institution founded by Dr. Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church — had strict rules concerning dating and male/female interaction. Dating couples were only allowed to date on Saturday evening and after Sunday night church. Couples were required to double-date, and all dates had to be approved by dorm supervisors. Couples were not permitted to travel beyond a ten-mile radius from the college. Coupled were not permitted to have any physical contact with each other. Breaking this rule would result in being campused — meaning that offending couples were not allowed to date off campus. Repeated infractions led to being kicked out of school.
The young man and young woman quickly found that keeping the six-inch rule — the width of a songbook — was impossible. Fearing expulsion, they sought out other dating couples that also found the no-contact rule a strain on their relationships. On date nights, the young man and young woman could now snuggle close to one another and hold hands. As with all young couples with raging hormones, their desire for physical intimacy increased as time went along. Yet, fearing being discovered and expelled, the young man and young woman — for three months — didn’t kiss.
Christmas of 1976 found the young man visiting the young woman at the home of her parents in Newark, Ohio. The young woman’s father was a preacher — a recent graduate of Midwestern. Her father was the assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church pastored by the young woman’s uncle, Jim Dennis.
One evening, the young woman’s mother asked her to retrieve their clothing from the laundry room. The young man followed along, and it was there, in an apartment laundry room, the young couple kissed one another for the first time. Many kisses would follow, but neither of them would ever forget that one brief moment where they were able for the first time to express their love for one another.
Love for one another? Yes, their relationship quickly moved from casual to serious, culminating in the young couple’s engagement on Valentine’s Day 1977. A quarter-carat diamond engagement ring was purchased from Sears and Roebuck for $225, sealing their commitment to marry in July of 1978. Little did they know that the young woman’s mother would do everything in her power to foil their plans, going so far as to tell her daughter that she forbade her to marry the young man. He comes from a divorced family, her mother said, and divorce is hereditary.
After a year of pressuring the young couple to abandon their plans, the young woman’s mother relented and consented to the wedding — not that she had any other option. For the first time, the young woman stood up to her mom, telling her that she planned to run off and get married if she continued to oppose her marriage to the young man.
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978
July 15, 1978, was a hot and humid day. There was no air conditioning at the Newark Baptist Temple, not that this mattered to the young couple. Their special day had finally arrived, the day when they would become Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser. Their friends from college, along with family members and church members, filled the pews to witness the joining of the young man and young woman in holy matrimony. Songs were sung, vows were exchanged, and then, with a kiss for luck, they were on their way, innocent of where their life together would take them.
Six weeks after their wedding, the young man came home from work and was met with the news, I’m pregnant. Nine months later, the first of the young couple’s six children was born in Bryan, Ohio. After almost three years at Midwestern, the young couple was forced to drop out of college and move to the Bryan – the birthplace of the young man. This would be the first of many moves for them. Over the next thirty-eight years they would move numerous times, living in dozens of rental houses.
Life was not easy for the young married couple. Ignorance about how to manage money quickly led to all sorts of problems. Years later, the young man, now a seasoned Baptist preacher, would remark, it took us a few years to figure out that you had to pay the electric bill to keep the lights on. They faced numerous problems, wondering if their marriage would survive – thus proving the young woman’s mother right: divorce is hereditary. Survive they did, and here on July 15th they will celebrate their thirty-eighth wedding anniversary.
The young couple walked out of the Newark Baptist Temple, cheered on by family and friends — two innocents wondering what fate would hold for them. Six children, one with Down Syndrome. Poverty. Moves to Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and Ohio. Bankruptcy. Health problems. Constant struggles to survive, living on poor wages and food stamps. Leaving the ministry and losing faith. Yet, despite stresses that often cause marriage failure, the commitment and love of the young couple endured. Seasoned by adversity and failure, the pair — now nearing their 60th birthdays — continue to honor the vows they made to one another years ago.
Later today, the ageing couple will celebrate their wedding anniversary with a meal at a fancy restaurant and a night of watching races at a local dirt track. They will make jokes with another, promising hot, torrid sex before the night is over. And more than likely, once they arrive home, they will each give the other the look, the one that says, I’m tired, maybe tomorrow. Climbing into bed, they will turn to one another — just as they have thousands of times before — and say, I love you. The young woman, now with gray hair and weathered skin, will quickly fall to sleep, leaving the young man to his thoughts; thoughts of a well-lived life, of love and commitment and adversity and failure. But thoughts, most of all, of the fact that he is the luckiest man alive.
Soon the young man — now with a white beard and failing health — will gently run his fingers through his sleeping love’s hair, pondering the life they have shared together. His mind will likely return to a basement laundry room and the moment where he realized that the young woman in his embrace was his one and only. Forty years later, she remains not only his wife and lover, but also his best friend and confidante. Life is good, he will say to himself as he drifts off to sleep, hoping that come morning he will have one more opportunity to say, I love you.
According to the Above Rubies website, Nancy Campbell is an “internationally known author, speaker, and authority on Biblical Motherhood and Family.” Campbell preaches the old-time Fundamentalist gospel of patriarchy — a world in which women marry, obey their husbands, bear lots of children, and keep the home. Recently, in a post titled A Higher Vision, Campbell detailed her vision for her children and grandchildren. Here’s what Campbell had to say:
I want children who love God above all else. I want children who are growing into the likeness of Christ. I want children who love righteousness and abhor evil. I want children who have a biblical mindset and stand for God’s truth. I want children who will not compromise godly standards. I want children who will not be tainted by the spirit of this world. I want children who will not give in to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, but who will pursue the will of God. I want children who love God’s Word and love to pray. I want children who will blaze across this world with the gospel and message of truth.
As you can see, Campbell’s vision for her progeny focuses on the Evangelical God and the Bible. Like many Evangelicals, her vision is singular and blinkered, making Campbell blind to the wonders of the world outside the narrow confines of the Christian box. All that matters to Campbell is that her children and grandchildren turn out to be good little Christians who follow the approved way of life.
I too have children and grandchildren, and like Campbell I have a vision for them. However, my vision is far different from that of Campbell’s:
I want children who think for themselves. I want children who enjoy life. I want children who treat others with respect. I want children who love their families. I want children who value hard work and enjoy the fruits of their labors. I want children who aren’t afraid to stand against bigotry and racism. I want children who will live every moment to its fullest, realizing that life is short. I want children who value fun, pleasure, and relaxation. I want children who will travel far and wide, enjoying the wonders of earth. And most of all, I want children who are happy.
Campbell’s vision is one of exclusion, whereas my vision is one of inclusion. Campbell’s vision focuses on right beliefs and obedience, whereas my vision focuses on embracing and enjoying life. Campbell’s vision sees the goal as a room in God’s celestial kingdom, where my vision sees the goal as a life well lived. Campbell envisions life as that of Pilgrim in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Trudge on dear Pilgrim, remembering that Heaven awaits you IF you make it to the end. What a sad way to live life, squandering the too-short time we have on earth.
I have more of a Dixie Chicks way of looking at life. In 1998, the Chicks released the single Wide Open Places. I think the song aptly describes how those of us who are rooted in there here and now view life:
Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out To find a dream and a life of their own A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone
Many precede and many will follow A young girl’s dream no longer hollow It takes the shape of a place out west But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed
[Chorus] She needs wide open spaces Room to make her big mistakes She needs new faces She knows the high stakes
She traveled this road as a child Wide eyed and grinning, she never tired But now she won’t be coming back with the rest If these are life’s lessons, she’ll take this test
[Repeat Chorus] She knows the high stakes
As her folks drive away, her dad yells, “Check the oil!” Mom stares out the window and says, “I’m leaving my girl” She said, “It didn’t seem like that long ago” When she stood there and let her own folks know
[Repeat Chorus] She knows the highest stakes She knows the highest stakes She knows the highest stakes She knows the highest stakes
Wide open spaces, that’s what I hope my children and grandchildren find as the meander their ways through this life. Who knows what might lie ahead. Campbell wants to keep her children and grandchildren safe within the confines of the Evangelical box. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box) While there is great comfort and security that comes from knowing everyone is safely in the box, this is no way to live and enjoy life. That’s what Evangelicalism does. It confines people for life in Bible Prison, safe from the evil, sinful world. Humanism, however, opens wide the gate and says, You are FREE! Enjoy life. Embrace all that it has to offer, knowing that we don’t know what tomorrow might bring. Life is like the steam rising from a radiator on a cold winter’s day. It quickly dissipates into the air and then it is gone (James 4:14). Solomon was surely right when he said:
There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour …. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him? …. Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun. …. For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
Let me conclude this post with the advice I give on the ABOUTpage of this blog:
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.
Despite the many challenges Polly and I have faced over the past 40 years, we, amazingly, still love each other. We began life together as two naïve young people mutually infatuated with one another. As most couples who have been married a long time will tell you, deep, abiding love takes time to grow. Young love is often focused on the physical, but as couples age, their love for one another becomes more complex. Certainly, the physical is still important, but love is so much more than biological needs and urges. As people age, they change. We get up in the morning, look in the mirror, knowing that the youthful beauty and virility of 40 years ago is waning. It’s not that I don’t think Polly is beautiful — I do — but she is much more than just a pretty face. She is my friend and confidant. She’s the hand on the till when my life is spinning out of control. I am there for her and she is there for me. Oh, we still fuss and fight, often over the same things we fought about 30 years ago. Each of us is still as irritating to the other. But love forged in the fires of human experience sees beyond the irritations and personality quirks. Some days we don’t like each other very much. That’s life. Loves sees beyond the moment, reminding us that we have been privileged to experience a life that many will never know.
There are times when I feel guilty over being happily married. I correspond with people whose marriages are on the rocks thanks to their loss of faith. I wish I could wave a magic wand over their marriages and make them whole again, but I know I can’t. Stress and loss often reveal cracks in marital relationships. Sadly, many marriages don’t survive when one party says I no longer believe. Similar to the loss of a child, losing Jesus can and does cause great heartache and often leads to marital conflict. Some couples find a way to make things work, others can’t find a way to build a bridge from loving Jesus together to one partner not believing God exists. For whatever reason, Polly and I were able to walk away from Christianity together. While our reasons for deconverting are different, both of us number ourselves among the godless. Sometimes, people will suggest that Polly is some sort of lemming blindly following her husband. I think there are members of her family who sincerely believe that once I am dead Polly will return to Christianity. The fact that they think this reveals that they have likely never understood Polly. She’s quiet and reserved, and people often mistake her demeanor for passivity. Nothing could be farther from the truth. She is, in every way, just as committed as I am to living according to the humanist ideals. And it is this commitment that continues to strengthen our marriage.
I usually listen to Spotify when I write. Today, I am in a country mood. What follows is a song by Jon Pardi that aptly expresses the love I have Polly. I hope she enjoys it, and I hope you do too.
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985
A few months after our first wedding anniversary, Polly and I packed up all of our worldly goods and moved to Newark, Ohio. We later moved to Buckeye Lake and then to the Southeast Ohio communities of New Lexington, Glenford, New Lexington — again, Somerset, Junction City, and Mount Perry. All told, we lived in Central and Southeast Ohio for fifteen years. During this time, I pastored churches in Somerset/Mount Perry and Buckeye Lake, Ohio. A consummate Type A workaholic, I neglected my wife and children. Thinking that all that mattered was serving Jesus, winning souls, and building churches, I worked day and night, rarely taking a day off. Work for the night is coming when no man can work, the Bible says. Jesus could return at any moment, I thought at the time. I want to be found busily laboring in God’s vineyard when Jesus splits the Eastern sky! Jesus said in Luke 18:8, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? When Jesus returned to earth, I wanted him to find me working hard at keeping the faith.
My children can testify to what I have written above. They watched their father walk out of the house in the morning, returning home later in the day, only to shower, change clothes, and head out the door once again, often not returning until they were in bed. For years, I worked a full-time secular job while also pastoring a church full-time. Even when I stopped working secular jobs and devoted all of my time to the work of the ministry, I still worked 60 plus hours a week.
Fifteen years of busting-my-ass for Jesus. Fifteen years of sacrificing family and body. Fifteen years, one vacation — a preaching engagement in Braintree, Massachusetts. Fifteen years, and not ONE, just the two of us date with my wife. Let that sink in for a moment. Not ONE date. Polly and I spent a good bit of time last night combing through our shared memories. We couldn’t come up with ONE instance of the two of us — sans children — going out on a date. Oh, we went to scores of special church events, Valentine’s banquets, and the like, but we never, not ONE time, got in the car, just the two of us, and went somewhere to spend an evening enjoying each other’s company.
I told Polly that it is a wonder that our marriage survived. While I was busy winning souls, studying for sermons, and building churches, Polly invested her time in raising our children. Now, I don’t want to paint a misleading picture. When I had time, I spent it with my family. We spent many a summer Saturday evening watching races at local dirt tracks. We also— in the early 1990s — took numerous day trips to West Virginia and Kentucky. Our older children have fond memories of crazy family road trips along the forgotten back — often unpaved — roads of Southeast Ohio and neighboring West Virginia. That said, what time I had for doing these kind of things was limited. Jesus ALWAYS came first.
While these memories remind me of the fact that I did spend time with my beautiful wife and children, I find myself saddened by the fact that I should have spent a lot more time with them, but didn’t. Southeast Ohio is a place of beauty, yet I rarely took the time to enjoy the scenery. Enjoying life was for those who didn’t take seriously the commands of Jesus. As the Apostle Paul centuries before, I wanted my life to be a testimony of single-minded devotion to Jesus. Better to burn out than rust out, I thought at the time. Some day, I will enjoy the scenery of God’s eternal kingdom!Did not the Bible say, prepare to meet the Lord thy God? There will be plenty time later to relax and fish along the banks of the River of Life.
My children and Polly have long since forgiven me for not giving them the time they deserved. They understand why I worked like I did, but I have a hard time forgiving myself for putting God, Jesus, the church, preaching, and winning souls before my family. No matter how often I talk about this with my counselor, the guilt and sense of loss remain. I suspect other super-Christians-turned-atheists have similar stories to tell. We sacrificed the temporal for the eternal. Now that we understand the temporal is all we have, it is hard not to look at the past with bitter regret. Particularly for those of us with chronic illnesses and pain, it is hard not to lament offering the best years of our lives on the altar of a non-existent God.
There is nothing I can do about the past. It is what it is, as I am fond of saying. All I can do is make the most of what life I have left. Fortunately, my six children and eleven grandchildren live less than 20 minutes away. Given an opportunity to do things differently, I do my best to spend time with them. Some days, it is difficult. To quote a well-worn cliché, my spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I know there will come a day when I will be in a wheelchair. It has been 18 months since I have driven a car. Forced to rely on others to haul my ass (and the rest of my body) around, I am unable to do all that I want to do. I do what I can, forcing myself — at times — to do things that I probably shouldn’t be doing. I know that this life is all that I have. As a Christian, I said, Only one life t’will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last. As an atheist, I see things differently. Only one life t’will soon be past. End of story. All that will remain are the memories I made with my family while I was alive.
And as far as the no date thing? I think Polly can attest to the fact that I have acquitted myself quite nicely. We now take short vacations, road trips, and go on frequent just the two of us dates. Are we making up for lost time? I think so. Polly has become my best friend. I genuinely enjoy her company, even when her driving puts me in fear of my life. We have a bucket list of places we would like to visit. Will we successfully check off everything on the list? Probably not. As we wander together through life, we continue to find places we want to check out. So much to see, do, and experience. Funny what you find when you take your eyes off the heavens and look at what is right in front of you.