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.
The early days of fall have arrived and the young preacher boy busily loads his possessions into a dilapidated, dented Plymouth. It’s time for me to go, he says to his Mom. I wonder what she thinks, her oldest son headed off to college, the first in their family to do so. They embrace, a rare expression of emotion, and the preacher boy quickly turns away, not wanting her to see the tears running down his face.
Soon the preacher boy is headed north and then east of Bryan. Several hours later he arrives in Pontiac, Michigan, the community he will call home for the next few years. Midwestern Baptist College, A Character Building Institution, says the sign along Golf Drive. The preacher boy had planned to attend Prairie Bible Institute, but God had other plans for him.
The preacher boy parks his car in front of the dormitory, John R. Rice Hall, and quickly unloads his meager possessions. Tall and lean, the red-headed preacher boy, wearing a blue shirt with the number 75 and the name Rev. on the back, moves his possessions into room 207. The dormitory has two floors and a basement, with wings on either side of a common meeting room. The top floor houses the women. The first floor has two wings, one to each side of the meeting room. Students call one wing the Spiritual Wing, the other the Party Wing. The basement, for obvious reasons, is called The Pit.
The preacher boy lives on the Party Wing. There, he soon meets like-minded young men, filled with God, life, and recklessness. The preacher boy settles into the rhythm of dorm life at a fundamentalist college. Rules, lots of rules, and just as many ways to bend the rules to fit the desires of a youthful heart. The preacher boy would live in the dorm for two years, and in that time he would repeatedly run afoul of the rules. Told he is brash and rebellious, a fitting description, those who know him would say, the preacher boy does his best to outwardly conform to the letter of the law.
The blue shirt the preacher boy wore when he arrived at the college was given to him by a girl who hoped he would remember her while he was away. Not long after, the shirt disappeared, as did any thought of its giver. If there is one thing that the preacher boy loves almost as much as God, it is girls. And here he is, enrolled at a college that will provide him ample opportunity to ply his charm. Little does he know that fate has a different plan.
The week before the official start of classes, a young, beautiful 17-year-old girl from Newark, Ohio moves into the dorm. The preacher boy mentions the girl to his roommate. Stay away from her, the roommate replies. Her father is Pastor Lee Shope. Unfazed by the stern warning, the preacher boy decides to introduce himself to the dark-haired beauty. He quickly learns she is quite shy. Not one to be at a loss for words, the preacher boy takes the girl’s backwardness as a challenge, one that he successfully conquers over the course of a few weeks.
Soon, all thoughts of the field fade into the beauty of the pastor’s daughter. The preacher boy quickly finds himself smitten. Come spring, he proposes and she, despite her mother’s disapproval, says yes. Having known each other for two months short of two years, the preacher boy, now 21, and the pastor’s daughter stand before friends, family and strangers and promise to love one another until death severs their bond.
Thirty-seven years have passed since the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter pledged their troth. Under the proverbial bridge has flowed a shared life, one that has blessed them with a quiverfull of children and grandchildren. The grand plans of an idyllic pastorate, two children (a boy named Jason, a girl named Bethany), and a parsonage with a white picket fence, perish in the rubble of the hard work necessary to parent six children and pastor churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Twenty-five years of working in God’s vineyard have left the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter with deep, lasting scars. They have learned what it means to do without and suffer loss. Yet, they have endured.
Stoicism now defines them. As life has poured out its cruelties and left them wondering why, the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter continue to hold one another tight, refusing to let adversity win. When their love for God wavered and then died a death of a thousand contradictions, the preacher boy and pastor’s daughter, now aged friends and lovers, joined their hands once more and walked into the dark unknown.
The full moon sits high above his home on this cold winter’s night. The clock on the nightstand clicks as each second passes by, a reminder that life is fleeting. The preacher boy, now a 58-year-old atheist, turns his thoughts to the beautiful, dark-haired girl he met so many years ago. Who would ever have thought we would be where we are today?, he says to himself. Yet…here we are, survivors, taking each and every day as it comes, without a prayer or a God to smooth the way. He wonders what tomorrow will bring, safe in the knowledge that whatever might come their way cannot defeat the enduring love of the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter.
Did you know that you only need one man in your life to be truly satisfied? That’s right, ladies. According to the Girl Defined website, young women have a hole in their hearts that can only be filled by the most awesome man e-v-e-r: Jesus. In an undated post, guest writer Addi wrote:
I have a God-sized hole in my heart but I’ve been trying to fill that hole with a marriage-sized cork or a man-sized puzzle piece.
Neither of these were meant to fill the hole so they aren’t going to fill the emptiness.
I have learned that only one man is able to truly fulfill me.
Only one man has the ability to fully satisfy me.
We all were born with a hole in our hearts—an emptiness and void inside of us. There’s is only one man who can fill that hole and His name is Jesus Christ.
We, as girls, can try to stuff it with the things that surround us. We can choose to fill it with our desire for a relationship, our longing for a specific career, our group of friends, our greed for more possessions or more money . . . but none of these things will satisfy us—nothing of this world ever can.
My first thought was quite base: I know a hole that Jesus can’t fill. Only a real flesh and blood man can fill this hole. Someday, Purity ring-wearing young women will fall in love and get married. If they have not “sinned” before their wedding day, they will learn, for the first time, that there are certain things that only a man (or a vibrator or dildo) can do for them. While Jesus might be able to fill the mythical hole in their hearts, Jesus is no match for a real man with a penis.
I’m convinced that teachings like those espoused on the Girl Defined website are quite harmful. First, there is the denial of normal human sexuality. I dealt with this yesterday in a post titled, Hey Girlfriend: Eight Steps to Sex-Proof Your Life. Second, one day these young women will marry and they will carry unrealistic expectations into their marriage. Their husbands will always be second to Jesus. When their husbands don’t meet their physical or emotional needs, they will turn to Jesus, the only man who can truly satisfy their every longing. Jesus will always be a better friend, confidant, and lover.
Marriages like this are actually polygamous: husband, wife, and Jesus. Years ago, I mentioned to a close pastor friend of mine that Polly and I listened to the Carpenters during our lovemaking (it was the only secular CD we owned). My friend told me that he and his wife only listened to hymns when they made love. Even then, when I was still very much a card-carrying member of the Evangelical church, I thought, hymns? Really? What, did they play Victory in Jesus when they had orgasms? My friend and his wife believed, and still do, that Jesus should be a part of everything. Jesus becomes a voyeur, always lurking nearby.
Someday, Addi will find that having a real man to snuggle up to on a cold winter night beats a mythical Jesus every time. When she finds herself in a dark place, when it seems that Jesus is nowhere to be found, her husband will be there for her to talk to. When pain and loss bring tears to Addi’s eyes, it won’t be Jesus who holds and caresses her and wipes away her tears. Jesus makes for a great cliché, but Addi will one day learn that the people who really matter aren’t found in the pages of a religious text.
Bruce and Polly, in front of our first apartment, Fall of 1978
On a hot summer day in July of 1978, a young, naïve couple recited their wedding vows, and with a kiss for luck, they were on their way. Little did they understand that they really didn’t know each other as well as they thought they did. Young love, also known as mutual infatuation, will do that, obscuring flaws in your one and only.
Polly and I were college freshmen at Midwestern Baptist College when we started dating in September 1976. Five months later, with a 1/4 carat, $225 engagement ring in hand from Sears and Roebuck, I asked Polly to marry me. She enthusiastically said yes. Polly was 18 and I was 19.
We had grand plans: 3 kids, a house with a white picket fence, and a lifelong pastorate in a nice, quiet rural community. As with all such fantasies, reality proved to be quite different from what we expected. It didn’t take long for each of us to see that being married to one another was not quite what we expected.
Several months before our July wedding, we rented an upstairs apartment on Premont Avenue in Waterford Township (Pontiac) Michigan. Our apartment had four rooms: a living room, bathroom, bedroom and kitchen. The walls were freshly painted. The living room floor had recently been covered with green and white shag carpeting. (I would later come home from school to find a discolored, brown stain on the carpet. Polly had spilled her tea and used bleach to remove the spot.)
After classes ended in May, Polly went home to prepare for our wedding and I moved into the apartment. I worked at a nearby grocery store, Felice’s Market. Knowing that I needed to make extra money so I could furnish our apartment, one of the Felice brothers asked me if I was willing to repaint the store’s roof with aluminum reflective tar. I said yes, and earned $200 for my efforts.
Polly standing in front of our apartment, late summer 1978
One day, while out and about with college friend Wendell Uhl, I stopped at a yard sale that had a bunch of furniture for sale. I made them a $150 offer for all the furniture, an offer they quickly accepted. Upon returning home from our honeymoon, Polly was quite surprised to see all the “wonderful” furniture that I had purchased to furnish our apartment. After a few months of marriage, we bought a love seat from Kay’s Furniture to replace the piece-of-junk futon couch I had purchased at the yard sale. The love seat, along with a new double bed we bought from J.L. Hudson’s, would be the last new furniture we would own for the next 20 years or more.
After our wedding, we had about six weeks before classes started up again. We settled in as newlyweds to a wonderful life of wedded bliss. Little did we know how quickly life would throw us a curve.
Polly with my sister and niece a few days after our wedding, 1978
During the first week of fall classes, we found out that Polly was pregnant. We had everything planned out, yet, at the time, it seemed God had a different plan for us. We now know that the ineffective form of birth control we were using did not do its job. Polly was quite sick from the pregnancy, which forced her to reduce her class load. By Christmas, Polly was four months pregnant. Her expanding belly advertised to family and friends that little Jason or Bethany was on his way.
We planned to go to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve, then get up early the next morning and drive to my mom’s home in Rochester, Indiana. At the time, we were driving an old beater, one of many such cars we would own over the years. After spending Christmas Eve with Polly’s family, the next day we borrowed Polly’s parents’ car, a Plymouth Arrow, to make the trip to Rochester to see my mom. We returned later that night.
Even though we spent Christmas with family, we still wanted to have our very own Christmas tree. We had some Christmas decorations that our moms had given us, and these, along with a few new decorations we had purchased from a nearby department store, would be enough ornamentation for our tree.
We decided to buy our tree from the nearby Boy Scout tree lot. After we purchased what we thought was the perfect tree, we put it in the back of our green Ford station wagon and drove home. Once there, I dragged the tree up the long flight of stairs to our apartment. I then put the tree in the recently-purchased $2 tree stand, tightened the screws, and let go of it so I could admire my handiwork. The tree proceeded to fall over. No matter what I did, the tree would not stand upright.
The more I tried to get our perfect tree to sit aright, the angrier I got. For the first time, Polly saw how angry I could get. My legendary redheaded temper was on full display. I finally reached a breaking point. I opened the upstairs window, and much to Polly’s surprise, I threw the Christmas tree out. It landed with a thud in the front yard.
After I cooled down, we went out and bought another tree. And, as with the previous tree, I couldn’t get this one to stand up straight. As I look back on the tree debacle, I suspect the problem was the cheap, undersized tree stand. My answer on that day for the falling tree was simple: I nailed the tree stand to the floor.
It is a warm summer day in Manistee, Michigan. A man and his wife of thirty-five years get out of their black Ford Fusion to view Lake Michigan. They love the water, and if their life’s journey had taken them on another path perhaps they would live in a cottage on the shore of one of the Great Lakes or in a small fishing village on the Atlantic coast.
But as fate would have it, Ohio has been their home for most of their marriage. No matter where they moved, be it Texas, Michigan, or Arizona, they always came back, like the proverbial bad penny, to Ohio.
For the past six years they have lived in rural NW Ohio, in a small community with one stoplight, two bars, two churches, a grain elevator, gas station and 345 people. They live in a town where nothing happens, and the safety and stillness that “nothing” affords is fine by them.
They have made their peace with Ohio. After all, it is where their children and grandchildren live. This is home, and it is here that they will die some moment beyond their next breath.
But from time to time, the desire to dip their feet in a vast expanse of water, to hear the waves crashing on a shore and to walk barefooted on the beach calls out to them, and off they go.
They can no longer travel great distances; four to six hours away is the limit. The man’s body is used up and broken, most days he needs a cane and some days a wheelchair to get from point to point. Long trips in the car extract a painful price from his body, a toll that is paid weeks after they have returned home.
But today, the water calls, and on a warm July day they travel to South Haven, Michigan and then up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan to Manistee. Their travels will later to take them to Sault Ste Marie before they return home to Ohio.
Few people are at the Manistee beach, so unlike South Haven where the beaches and streets are filled with pushy, bustling, impatient tourists. The man and his wife have been to South Haven many times, but as they see the scarcity of people and the quietness of Manistee they say, I think we have found a new place to stay when we vacation.
The beach is owned by thousands of Plovers. It is an amazing sight to behold. The man and his wife are mesmerized by the birds, and the man, ever possessed of his camera, begins to take pictures.
Soon the serenity of the place is ruined by a stupid boy who sees the birds as worthy of his scorn and derision. The birds are covering the landscape of HIS beach, and he will have none of that. So he runs through the mass of birds screaming and waving his arms. This put the birds into flight, complaining loudly about the stupid boy.
The man and his wife turn their attention to the pier and lighthouse in the distance. She asks, Do you think you can make it? He replies, Sure. So off they go.
As they begin their slow, faltering stroll on the pier, they notice a sign that says, No Jumping or Swimming off the Pier. The man smiles quietly to himself as he sees four teenage boys doing what the sign prohibits. He remembers long ago when he, too, would have looked at the sign and proceeded to do exactly what the sign prohibited. He thinks, the folly, wonder, and joy of youth.
As the man and his wife pass the boys in the water, one of them calls out and says, How are you today, sir? The man thought, Sir? Am I really that old? He knows the answer to the question before he asks. For a few moments the man talks with the boys, then haltingly continues to walk down the pier with his wife.
Not far from the boys, the man and his wife come upon a pair of ducks: a male, his female, and their brood of ten young ducklings. New life. The man wonders: How many of the ducklings will survive their youth? He knows the answer and this troubles him a bit. A reminder, that, for all its beauty, life is harsh, filled with pain, suffering, and death.
The man and his wife turn back to where the boys are swimming. The man thinks, as he looks at the shallow water with its rock-filled bottom, This is a dangerous place to be diving into the water.
But the boys are oblivious to the danger. The man’s mind races back to the days of his youth, remembering a time when he too lived without fear, enjoying the freedom of living in the moment.
One of the boys climbs back up on the pier and prepares to jump into the water. The man, a hundred feet or so from the boy, points his camera toward him. The man quickly adjusts the shutter speed, focuses the lens, and begins to shoot.
The man and his wife laugh as they watch the boy. Collectively, their minds wander back to a hot summer day in July when they joined their hands together and said, I do. Thirty-five years ago, they embraced one another and jumped off into the rock strewn water of life, and survived.
Together they turn to walk back to the car. As they pass the boys, the man shouts, I am going to make you famous. The boys laugh and continue on with the horseplay that dominates their day.
The boys will never know that their innocence, their sign-defying plunges off a pier in Manistee, Michigan, warmed the heart of the man and his wife.
As Bible-believing Baptists who hold to reformed theology, X and I believe that God is sovereign in choosing who will or will not believe in him, having chosen his people before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1), and that his selection is unbreakable and irresistible. If marriage is to mirror this principle, we believe that a woman has no right to select a husband for herself, but that she is to be chosen by a man and marriage is to be an unbreakable arrangement between the man and her father. Based on this reasoning, we have shunned a standard proposal and wedding ceremony, because if I had asked her to marry me (which I did not) then I would have given her the decision to marry me rather than selecting her and taking her myself. Furthermore, if we had exchanged conventional marriage vows, our union would have been based on X’s will and consent, which are not Biblical factors for marriage or salvation. Instead, I asked X’s father for his blessing in taking her hand in marriage. When he gave his blessing, X and I considered ourselves to be unbreakably betrothed in the sight of God. While we had initially intended to consummate our marriage after today’s symbolic ceremony, we instead did so secretly after private scripture reading, prayer, and mutual foot-washing.
As Quiverfull Believers dig ever-deeper into their Bibles in search of the truly “biblical model” for godly marriage, ideas about courtship and “betrothal” are becoming increasingly savage and brutish. It would seem unlikely that Courtship standards could get even more oppressive considering that Christian notions of “biblical match-making” have already been taken to outrageous extremes.
Joshua Harris started a back-to-bible-living revolution among Christian young people when he advocated the courtship model in his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. What – no dating for teens? Now that’s a radical concept! As “bible believers” jumped on the bandwagon of father-led pairing of qualified young men and women in serious pursuit of marriage, popular Quiverfull patriarchs took biblical courtship to a new level of paternal domination as they pointed to Old Testament examples of “betrothal” as the very best way to ensure the future success of Christian marriage.
Jonathan Lindvall, teaching “God’s Design for Youthful Romance,” cited the betrothal of Matthew and Maranatha Chapman (link no longer active) as an ideal example of a “true romantic betrothal.” Lindvall describes the crazy-making process by which Maranatha’s father, Stan Owen, orchestrated a year-long betrothal which was to be a “demonstration of Christ’s coming for His bride” based on the parable of the Ten Virgins.
Mr. Owen still faithfully directed both Matthew and Maranatha to avoid physical affection until their wedding. He particularly cautioned them to guard against impatience. Especially since Maranatha was rather young, their wedding might be quite a long way off yet. Though they hoped that the time would be soon, they nevertheless resigned themselves to the real possibility that the wedding could be a matter of years down the road, much like Jacob’s seven year betrothal to Rachel (Gen. 29:18-20). Yet they were both naturally quite motivated and energetically prepared in every way they could, as quickly as they could, just in case the wedding should suddenly be announced.
None of my daughters or their husbands asked the state of Tennessee for permission to marry. They did not yoke themselves to government. It was a personal, private covenant, binding them together forever—until death. So when the sodomites have come to share in the state marriage licenses, which will eventually be the law, James and Shoshanna will not be in league with those perverts. And, while I am on the subject, there will come a time when faithful Christians will either revoke their state marriage licenses and establish an exclusively one man-one woman covenant of marriage, or, they will forfeit the sanctity of their covenant by being unequally yoked together with perverts. The sooner there is such a movement, the sooner we will have a voice in government. Some of you attorneys and statesmen reading this should get together and come up with an approach that will have credibility and help to impact the political process.
Yeah … that’s “bible-believing” extremism for you – and it’s not enough to practice these ideals for themselves and their children, “biblical family values” must become the law of the land.
As a former Quiverfull believer, I used to get excited at the prospect of searching the Word and discovering greater “truths” and biblical principles – the implementation of which would bring my family increasingly closer to a truly God-honoring model of marriage and Christian home life. At the same time, I secretly dreaded what the Lord might reveal to me next through Lindvall’s Bold Christian Living, Pearl’s No Greater Joy, and other “biblical family living” ministries. Already I was obediently and faithfully having baby after baby to the obvious detriment of my health, submitting to my abusive husband, homeschooling, home birthing, home churching, foregoing all government assistance including potentially life-saving health insurance and food stamps, cutting off all outside relationships with family and friends who were not like-minded Quiverfull Believers …. honestly, the regimentation and isolation made for a harsh and demanding life.
“What’s next?” I frequently wondered to myself … ‘cuz my practice of Quiverfull was not “peculiar” enough already, I guess.
I am so grateful that I got out before I had a chance to discover the biblical principle of a man selecting and taking a wife for himself. I am afraid, since the idea comes straight from scripture, I very well may have gone along with my daughters’ father coming to an “unbreakable arrangement” for a “godly” young man to “take them” in marriage.
Ugh. It is a trap – a life-sucking quagmire – to attempt to order one’s family life according to a worldview which teaches that whatever is in the bible is necessarily “biblical” and normative for all times and all cultures. I dread the thought that today’s Quiverfull daughters are now being taught that a young Christian woman “has no right to select a husband for herself, but that she is to be chosen by a man” and given no decision in the covenant agreement between her father and the man who will be taking her.
Tomorrow, Polly and I plan to eat at Mancy’s Steakhouse in Toledo, Ohio in celebration of her 57th birthday. Mancy’s is quite expensive, so we only go there once a year on Polly’s birthday. We hope to have a wonderful time. As I sit here contemplating the wonderful life I’ve shared with Polly, the song Wasn’t Expecting That by Jamie Lawson began to play on Rdio. I’ve never heard this song or artist before, and as I listen I find myself weeping. The song speaks to the bond and love Polly and I have for each other. I thought I’d share it with you.
It was only a smile But my heart it went wild I wasn’t expecting that Just a delicate kiss Anyone could’ve missed I wasn’t expecting that
Did I misread the sign? Your hand slipped into mine I wasn’t expecting that You spent the night in my bed You woke up and you said “Well, I wasn’t expecting that!”
I thought love wasn’t meant to last I thought you were just passing through If I ever get the nerve to ask What did I get right to deserve somebody like you? I wasn’t expecting that
It was only a word It was almost misheard I wasn’t expecting that But it came without fear A month turned into a year I wasn’t expecting that
I thought love wasn’t meant to last Honey, I thought you were just passing through If I ever get the nerve to ask What did I get right to deserve somebody like you? I wasn’t expecting that
Oh and isn’t it strange How a life can be changed In the flicker of the sweetest smile We were married in spring You know I wouldn’t change a thing Without that innocent kiss What a life I’d have missed
If you’d not took a chance On a little romance When I wasn’t expecting that Time doesn’t take long Three kids up and gone I wasn’t expecting that
When the nurses they came Said, “It’s come back again” I wasn’t expecting that Then you closed your eyes You took my heart by surprise I wasn’t expecting that
Let me open by giving readers the definition for domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence as follows:
Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.
Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender. It can happen to couples who are married, living together or who are dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.
Does the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement have a domestic abuse problem? The short answer is Yes!
The IFB church movement is built on a foundation of emotional and mental manipulation and abuse. This is seen in how parents discipline their children and how husbands lord over and control their wives. These behaviors are often modeled by IFB pastors, deacons, and church leaders as they manipulate, control, and dominate church members.
I know IFB readers of this blog are howling over what I have written here. How dare I suggest that the IFB church movement has an abuse problem. How dare I suggest IFB pastors and church leaders emotionally and mentally manipulate and control people. Child abuse? Domestic violence? Where do such things happen? says the IFB church member. I have never seen it.
And therein lies the problem. The abuse and violence are institutionalized to such a degree that it is considered normal. People are so used to seeing it that they never consider whether such behavior is appropriate. IFB church members are familiar with having their “toes stepped on.” They are accustomed to fire and brimstone, naming names, calling sin “sin,” sermons. They are used to aggressive behavior from their pastors. It seems quite normal to them. Those of us who were raised in the IFB church movement understand this. It took us getting away from it to see how manipulative and abusive it is. The waiting rooms of mental health professionals are crowded with people whose mental wellness and self-esteem were ruined by Fundamentalist religion.
For those of us who spent decades in the IFB church, we know that the deep mental and emotional scars left by our time in the IFB church never go away. We learn to come to terms with our past and try to do the best we can going forward. We are marred, even broken, yet somehow, we find a way to pick up and move forward.
This is why some of us speak so openly about the IFB church movement and its manipulative and abusive tendencies. We don’t want ANYONE to experience what we experienced. When we see someone gravitating towards Fundamentalism we try to warn them as we would warn a person who is driving towards a cliff. Stop! Turn around! Sadly, many people ignore these warnings and often pay a heavy price, emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically, as a result.
Domestic violence in the IFB church movement is widespread. Unfortunately, it is often not seen as domestic violence by those who are devoted IFB church members. Instead, the use of domestic violence is often seen as being “true to the Bible” or being “a faithful follower of Jesus.” To understand this domestic violence, we must first understand the theological underpinnings of such violence. Domestic violence often happens because husbands (it is almost always husbands who perpetrate the domestic violence in the IFB church) want to be obedient to the Bible, Jesus, and the pastors’ dictates. Remember, in the IFB church, the voice of God sounds an awful lot like the voice of the Pastor.
Here is what many IFB pastors preach to their church members:
Christ is the head of the church and the pastor is God’s man in the church.
The Bible is an inerrant, inspired text that should be literally interpreted and explicitly obeyed.
The husband is the head of home.
The wife is to submit to her husband.
The highest calling for a woman is to bear children and to be a keeper of the home. Many IFB pastors discourage women from working outside the home and from getting a college education (unless they go to college to get an MRS degree).
The husband is the authority, the disciplinarian, and the king of the home. God holds him, like he did Adam, responsible for everything that goes on in the home.
The Bible sanctions using violence when children disobey. If a parent does not spank or whip children, it means the parent is not willing to obey the teachings of the Pastor and the Bible. The rod of correction is meant to be used to drive wickedness out of a child’s heart.
Now, none of these things, in and of itself, necessarily lead to domestic abuse. However, add to this the IFB church preoccupation with sin and the portrayal of God as a violent deity who will whip them if they disobey, and you have a recipe for not only domestic abuse but also child abuse. I have watched more than a few IFB church members and pastors beat the hell out their children with a belt, switch, or paddle. I remember hearing of one parent who picked up a 2×4 and beat his two teenage girls with it. Why? The teen deliberately disobeyed him by riding the church bus home instead of going home with him.
I have admitted my own violent, abusive methods of correcting my three oldest children. Fortunately, I abandoned these practices with my three youngest children. My oldest sons routinely got thrashed for disobeying their parents. I corrected them this way because I thought that is what God wanted me to do. The books I read said this was the proper way to discipline children, and every big-name preacher I heard preach said I was doing right by my kids when I whipped them. Is it any surprise then, with Bible-sanctioned brutality against children and a violent God who uses violence to chastise disobedient IFB church members, that violent behavior spills over into the relationship between the husband and his submissive wife?
I can’t say that I know of many instances where a husband physically beat his wife. It happened, but not very often, to my knowledge. I know of a few pastors’ wives who were physically abused by their pastor husbands. The pastors were men of God in the pulpit, but at home they were violent disciplinarians who ruled over their wives and children with a rod of iron. Most of the abuse I saw was more of the mental and emotional type. If the woman wasn’t submissive enough or didn’t put out sexually, she would pay for it. If she dared to have ambition, want to work outside the home, or go to college, she would be put in her place and reminded of God’s divine order for the home.
I have often said, I don’t know how ANY woman stays in the IFB church. Well, I do know. Women are afraid. They fear disobeying God, their husbands, and their pastors. They fear God will chastise them if they dare step outside the role God has ordained for them. And so they stay and suffer the abuse.
Again, theology plays a big part in this. Many IFB pastors think that there are no grounds for divorce or that the only ground for divorce is adultery. Having a husband who is abusive, especially if it is emotional or mental abuse, is not grounds for divorce.
Let me give an illustration of how this is perpetuated from the pulpit:
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 beatings by her husband , the implication being that God wanted her to do so.
As my wife and I traveled beyond the IFB church movement, we had to relearn what it meant to have a healthy marital and family relationship. Ultimately, it took getting away from Christianity altogether for us to find wholeness.
I am not suggesting that every husband in the IFB church movement is abusive or that every father abuses his children when he disciplines them. I am suggesting that IFB theology encourages manipulation, violence and abuse, especially of the mental and emotional variety. Personally, I don’t think the IFB church movement is good for anyone. The extreme Fundamentalism found in the movement is emotionally and mentally harmful and people are better off finding other Christians sects to be a part of; sects that don’t view women as being inferior and don’t see children as chattel. I am of the opinion that the best thing that can happen to the IFB church movement is that it dies a quick death. It is dying, but it is dying slowly. I am all for smothering the movement in its bed.
Over the years, I have watched a number of women break free from domestic violence. They decided their own personal self-worth and happiness was more important than supposed obedience to God, the Bible, the pastor, and their husbands. Most often, gaining their freedom required them to divorce their husbands.
Let me head off those who might suggest that the reason there is domestic abuse and child abuse in the IFB church movement is because they misinterpret the Bible. I don’t think this is the case at all. I think abusers are being consistent with their beliefs and they accept the Bible as written. After all, the Bible does command a father to beat his children with a rod. The Bible does command the wife to be submissive to her husband and to be a keeper of the home. And let’s face it, the Bible is a written record of the violence God pours out and will yet pour out on all those who do not worship or obey him. The good news is that many Christians ignore or explain away vast parts of the Bible. They know beating children is wrong. They know demanding a wife submit to her husband is demeaning. They wisely reject such things.
Do you have a story to tell about domestic violence? What did you experience growing up in the IFB church? What went on in your IFB home when the doors were closed? Please share your thoughts 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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It’s late August in 1976 and I have just walked through the doors of the Midwestern Baptist College dormitory.
A few days later, a young seventeen year old girl from Bay City, Michigan walked through the same doors.
A few weeks later, we went out on our first date.
It wasn’t long before we were in love, well we thought it was love any way.
I knew she was the one.
I proposed, she said yes, her parents said no, we said we are going to get married anyway, and so we did on a hot July day in 1978.
Pontiac, Michigan, Bryan, Ohio, Montpelier, Ohio, Newark, Ohio, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, New Lexington, Ohio, Glenford, Ohio, New Lexington, Ohio, Somerset, Ohio, Junction City, Ohio, Mt. Perry, Ohio, Elmendorf, Texas, Frazeysburg, Ohio, Alvordton, Ohio, Clare, Michigan, Stryker, Ohio, Yuma, Arizona, Newark, Ohio, Bryan, Ohio, Alvordton, Ohio, and Ney, Ohio…all the communities Polly and I have lived in over the past thirty-seven years.
Jason was born in Bryan, Nathan was born in Newark, Jaime was born in Zanesville, Bethany was born in Newark, and Laura and Josiah were born in Zanesville. Just yesterday, they were newborns and now they are 36, 34, 31, 26, 24, and 22.
Where did the time go, Polly and I ask ourselves?
Now we have ten grandchildren.
My Mom and Dad are long gone and Polly’s parents are 80.
I am no longer in the ministry and Polly and I have left the faith.
Never would we have considered such a thing possible.
Yet, here we are.
For decades, Polly was a stay-at-home Mom, but now the roles are reversed.
We started married life full of life, strong in body. Now my body is broken and Polly is reminded every day that she is no longer young.
Our two youngest moved out, joining their older brothers in the world, and…just like that…there is the two of us…and Bethany. Dear, dear Bethany.
Our life has had one constant, change.
Time marches on and stops for no one.
More of life is now in the rear view mirror.
Death lurks in the shadows.
If I died today, I will die happy.
Happy that I have seen my children grow up into fine adults.
Happy that I have seen my sons marry wonderful women.
Happy that I have spent time with ten wonderful grandchildren.
Happy that I own my home and that I have lived a gratifying life of love with Polly.
If I had to sum up my life I would say, it has been good.
I am often asked, if I had to do it all over again would I _____________________?
I can’t answer this question.
Life is what it is and playing the what if game holds no value for me.
Those of us raised in the Evangelical church have seen countless books titled similarly to this post. Authors think that they have figured out a part of life and are qualified to dispense advice about it. Every book takes the same approach: follow these steps, follow this formula, do what I did, and you will have success. After all, isn’t it the American dream to be considered s-u-c-c-e-s-s-f-u-l?
Looks can be deceiving. One woman who attended a church I pastored had been married for 40 years. That’s a long time. Surely this woman and her husband had a successful marriage, right? One day, I decided to pay a visit to this couple’s home. When I got there the husband was nowhere to be found. I said, your husband isn’t home? The woman replied, oh no, he’s here, and she hollered up the stairs for her husband. Come to find out, he had been living in the upstairs for 25 years and they RARELY spoke to each other. Their marriage was anything BUT happy and successful. But, then again, maybe it was. How do we even define what a happy or successful marriage is? What is the objective standard for happiness or success? Should we even try to judge whether a person or a couple is happy or a success?
When we look at a marriage from the outside it is almost impossible to judge whether the couple is happy and the marriage is successful. Several years ago, my counselor told me that almost everything he learned in college 37 years ago about marriage was wrong. For example, he was taught that couples who fight a lot are unhappy and have troubled/bad marriages. He said, this is completely untrue. Now researchers are finding out that the level of arguing plays very little part in the happiness of the couple or the success of the marriage. He told me that some of the most happy and successful marriages are ones where the couple frequently argue.
As Evangelicals, Polly and I were taught to NEVER argue. After all, the Bible says, never let the sun go down on your wrath. Anger is a sin and a person who is a devoted follower of Jesus never gets angry, right? Evangelicals often excuse their anger by saying their anger is RIGHTEOUS ANGER. You know the kind, the anger displayed by the preacher when he is shouting in his sermon about this or that sin. The truth is, Christian or not, we all get angry and we all argue. Some couples argue more than others and the style, length, and level of arguing is different from couple to couple, but every couple argues (and anyone who says they NEVER argue or get angry is taking way too much Prozac or lying).
Polly and I have been married for 37 years, 2 months, and 11 days. During this time, we have had a fair number of fights and arguments. I am hotheaded and bullheaded and Polly is quite passive, yet inwardly defiant. Every so often, almost always over nothing, we will have an argument. For a few moments, our marriage becomes similar to heating a cup of water with a blowtorch. It heats up quickly but with a quick turn of the blow torch knob, off goes the flame and the heat quickly dies down. Our arguments tend to last a few moments, maybe for a few hours, but NEVER for a day. Neither of us holds a grudge and we usually quickly realize that what we are fighting over is stupid.
We both recognize that arguments are about two people wanting to be right. Sometimes, Polly and I argue because we have a difference of opinion. Other times, one of us is right and the other is wrong. If someone who didn’t know us stumbled upon us having an argument, they would “think” that we had a troubled marriage or that we needed marriage counseling. Their judgment of the quality of our marriage would be dead wrong. We argue, then just like that, it is over. We may be arguing at 5:00 p.m. and sitting in a restaurant three hours later having a wonderful time. The arguments mean little to us and there seems to be no cumulative effect.
Here are some observations I have made about my marriage to Polly. These observations are not a road map to marital success or a blueprint for a long, happy marriage. I recognize our being married for all these years took a lot of work AND luck. We know more than a few apparently happy and successful couples who are now divorced and married to someone else. In the first few years of marriage, Polly and I could have easily become a statistic, thus proving Polly’s mom’s right, that divorce is hereditary (a commonly held belief among their generation).
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978
Polly and I did not marry for love. In fact, we had no idea what real love was. Oh, we told ourselves we were in love, but what we really were was mutually infatuated with each other. We had romantic feelings for each other, but LOVE? Love came over time. As we grew and matured, so did love.
Americans have many foolish notions about love. They think the proof of love is expensive gifts, jewelry, flowers, special nights out at fancy restaurants, and/or hot sex. Yes, all of these things are nice, but they have little to do with love. Love is all about commitment and endurance. True lasting love takes time to plant and grow. I think the writer of 1 Corinthians 13 got it right when he wrote about the lasting qualities of love; things like patience, kindness, and being long-suffering.
Polly and I deeply love one another, yet we know that we still have the capacity to love each other more. We know that every marriage has its exciting moments and it also has long dry, monotonous spells (and dry takes on a life of its own after menopause). Married life can become boring or predictable and this is not necessarily bad. No marriage can survive every day if every night is like the first night of their honeymoon. Understanding this has kept Polly and me from having unreasonable expectations and making demands that the other person cannot fulfill.
In the midst of normalcy, we try to have some unpredictability. Sometimes it is small things like Polly buying me a king size candy bar and leaving it in the desk. Other times, it is me tying a dildo to the front door knob so it will smack Polly when she comes home from work at 1:30 A.M. Since we have left Christianity, our banter has become more sexual and Polly is mastering the art of the double entendre. We have fun this way…and o-t-h-e-r ways (and all my kids are saying TMI!).
Every year, we try to do a couple of big things like take a weekend trip or go on vacation. Now that our children are grown and 5 of them are out of the house, we are free to travel and do a lot more things as a couple. And here is the key for us: we LIKE each other. We like being together and doing things together. We like each other’s company. We have, over the years, become best friends. This was not the case when we first married.
Both of us have annoying character traits that drive the other nuts. And guess what, 37 years later those traits are still there. When we first married we ignored these traits or thought they would go away in time. Now we recognize that these irritating character traits are part of who we are. We STILL fight about them and we STILL irritate the hell out of each other, but we recognize that both of us are flawed and we are not going to change. I will still want perfect order and Polly still won’t be able to figure out where we are going even with a map, a Google map print-out and a GPS. We fuss, fume, and then laugh. We are who we are.
We now know that we are not completely compatible. We each like things the other dislikes. And that’s okay. While in many ways we are very different from one another, we do share many of the same likes, wants, and desires. We each have our own space and we are free to do our own thing. We don’t need the approval of the other. Polly reads fiction and I don’t. There are certain shows on TV that I love and Polly rolls her eyes every time I watch them. We still care about what the other thinks, but we have learned that each other’s approval is not needed. So much of life is made up of things that don’t matter, so why spend a lot of time fussing and fighting over inconsequential things? Partners need to accept each other as they are and learn to keep their distance when the spouse is driving them nuts.
We are becoming more and more comfortable in our skin. We no longer let others, including our family, define for us, what a “good” marriage is. We stay married because we love each other and like each other. I may not be the most demonstrative of husbands, and this irritates the hell out of some of my children, but I more than make up for it when and where it matters. All those noises in the night are Polly singing out her approval. (Our daughter Laura now knows that there is NOT an owl living outside our house, an explanation I gave her when she was a child for the noises she heard.)
Here’s the bottom line. It works for us and that is all that matters. We are not our parents and we don’t want our children to emulate our marriage. Each couple must find its own way. Maybe their marriage will last a lifetime, maybe it won’t.
In the September 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine, the magazine published a January 26, 1947 contract between Kurt Vonnegut and his pregnant wife, Jane, to whom he had been married for sixteen months. I found it hilarious and I suspect Polly wishes we had subscribed to Harper’s years ago so she could have cut this out, highlighted it, and taped it to the fridge, bathroom mirror, and computer screen.
I, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., that is, do hereby swear that I will be faithful to the commitments hereunder listed:
I. With the agreement that my wife will not nag, heckle, or otherwise disturb me on the subject, I promise to scrub the bathroom and kitchen floors once a week, on a day and hour of my own choosing. Not only that, but I will do a good and thorough job, and by that she means that I will get under the bathtub, behind the toilet, under the sink, under the icebox, into the corners; and I will pick up and put in some other location whatever movable objects happen to be on said floors at the time so as to get under them too, and not just around them. Furthermore, while I am undertaking these tasks I will refrain from indulging in such remarks as “Shit,” “Goddamn sonofabitch,” and similar vulgarities, as such language is nerve-wracking to have around the house when nothing more drastic is taking place than the facing of Necessity. If I do not live up to this agreement, my wife is to feel free to nag, heckle, and otherwise disturb me until I am driven to scrub the floors anyway—no matter how busy I am.
II. I furthermore swear that I will observe the following minor amenities:
a. I will hang up my clothes and put my shoes in the closet when I am not wearing them;
b. I will not track dirt into the house needlessly, by such means as not wiping my feet on the mat outside and wearing my bedroom slippers to take out the garbage;
c. I will throw such things as used-up match folders, empty cigarette packages, the piece of cardboard that comes in shirt collars, etc., into a wastebasket instead of leaving them around on chairs or the floor;
d. After shaving I will put my shaving equipment back in the medicine closet;
e. In case I should be the direct cause of a ring around the bathtub after taking a bath, I will, with the aid of Swift’s Cleanser and a brush, not my washcloth, remove said ring;
f. With the agreement that my wife collects the laundry, places it in a laundry bag, and leaves the laundry bag in plain sight in the hall, I will take said laundry to the Laundry not more than three days after said laundry has made its appearance in the hall; I will furthermore bring the laundry back from the Laundry within two weeks after I have taken it;
g. When smoking I will make every effort to keep the ashtray I am using at the time upon a surface that does not slant, sag, slope, dip, wrinkle, or give way upon the slightest provocation; such surfaces may be understood to include stacks of books precariously mounted on the edge of a chair, the arms of the chair that has arms, and my own knees;
h. I will not put out cigarettes upon the sides of, or throw ashes into, either the red leather wastebasket or the stamp wastebasket that my loving wife made me for Christmas, 1945, as such practice noticeably impairs the beauty and ultimate practicability of said wastebaskets;
i. In the event that my wife makes a request of me, and that request cannot be regarded as other than reasonable and wholly within the province of a man’s work (when his wife is pregnant, that is), I will comply with said request within three days after my wife has presented it. It is understood that my wife will make no reference to the subject, other than saying thank you, of course, within these three days; if, however, I fail to comply with said request after a more substantial length of time has elapsed, my wife shall be completely justified in nagging, heckling, or otherwise disturbing me until I am driven to do that which I should have done;
j. An exception to the above three-day time limit is the taking out of the garbage, which, as any fool knows, had better not wait that long; I will take out the garbage within three hours after the need for disposal has been pointed out to me by my wife. It would be nice, however, if, upon observing the need for disposal with my own two eyes, I should perform this particular task upon my own initiative, and thus not make it necessary for my wife to bring up a subject that is moderately distasteful to her;
k. It is understood that, should I find these commitments in any way unreasonable or too binding upon my freedom, I will take steps to amend them by counterproposals, constitutionally presented and politely discussed, instead of unlawfully terminating my obligations with a simple burst of obscenity, or something like that, and the subsequent persistent neglect of said obligations;
l. The terms of this contract are understood to be binding up until that time after the arrival of our child (to be specified by the doctor) when my wife will once again be in full possession of all her faculties, and able to undertake more arduous pursuits than are now advisable.
Two years ago, I asked readers to submit questions they would like Polly to answer. What follows are her answers. If you would like to ask new questions or follow-up questions, please leave them in the comment section.
Becky asked, What was the biggest influence on you leaving the church?
The biggest influence for me personally was the church people themselves. After Bruce left the ministry, we started looking for a church to attend. Always so happy to see someone new come in the doors, but that is where it ended. At one church, Thornhill Baptist Church in Hudson, Michigan, we were once referred to as “fresh meat”! Seriously! We were rarely visited after we attended a new church and no one seemed to care if we showed back up. Eventually, all the churches seemed the same, different names, but not really different. We reached a point where we said, why bother?
Annie asked, What do you feel has been the BIGGEST change in your life since you two left the prison?
I think sleeping in on Sundays would be number one. Then, maybe, my wardrobe! Bruce forgets how many times on our 35th wedding anniversary trip I wore a dress…everyday. So, I do have a few dresses. You never know when someone dies and you have to attend their funeral. Definitely no shorts though, I inherited my grandmother’s varicose veins…ugh!
April asked, Did you ever have questions or doubts of your own as to the veracity of the religion you were being raised in and living BEFORE your husband Bruce did?
I always was told that doubting was of the devil so I never was much of a doubting person. I was raised in church and believed everything that was taught. I was a sincere follower of Jesus. In college, someone once brought up Calvinism. I wanted to know more about that because it made sense to me, and this challenged my beliefs a bit, but I quickly dispensed with the question and never thought about it again. Much later, when Bruce started down his path and loss of faith, I desperately held on to my preacher’s wife identity. I couldn’t be anything else, could I? But, when the picture is clear in front of you, you can’t deny it any longer! I am now all those lovely things Bruce has told you all before!
NeverAgainV asked, Do you have a specific moment of event that happened (an epiphany) that was defining for you with realizing that maybe your religion could be wrong? If so, how did you deal with it?
I had no “aha” moment. It just was. It was truly a journey of discovery over time. I am a little slow and deliberate, unlike Bruce who is decisive and spur of the moment, so when I finally decided I was done, I was done. It was like being lied to all your life and deciding (finally) that I was DONE!
Paula asked, did you harbor secret ambitions as a young girl/woman that you felt the adults around you would not support?
There were no secret ambitions, I wanted to be a mommy when I grew up. I was the ultimate good girl. Doing as I was told and believing what I was told to believe.
Paula asked, Did you wish you could dress and groom yourself differently than what was allowed?
I remember wearing pants until I was about 12. We were allowed to wear them to play out in the snow, but nowhere else. In the 12th grade (1975) , I had to buy a pair so I could go horseback riding with some classmates (all girls). Then, there were no more pants until we were back in Ohio and I was working at Sauder Woodworking once again (2005). I remember Bruce buying me some capri’s when we were in Arizona in 2004. I felt so sinful putting them on. The rest is history!
Paula asked, Did you secretly believe in birth control?
Birth control? What was that? I had the obligatory sex-education in school (I attended a Christian school) , but it was no big deal. It wasn’t until Bruce and I were engaged that we read “The Act of Marriage” by Tim LaHaye. That was truly scary and embarrassing!
My mother, a fundamentalist Baptist pastor’s wife, on the night before Bruce and I got married, took me to her room and told me about what her aunts told her on the night before she got married. It wasn’t enjoyable, it could be painful, and to just endure it. We could make the most of it if we wanted. My sister, who was 3 years younger than me, had it all figured out by then. (I was 19 and she was 16)
Lydia asked, What has Bruce written that you disagree with?
Hmm, I don’t know if there has ever been anything that he has written that I have disagreed with him. We usually disagree (fight?) about stupid stuff that doesn’t matter. When it comes to cultural issues and social issues like abortion and homosexuality, I am liberal/progressive.
IFBfree asked, Since you have left the IFB church…How has that affected your relationships with family members that are still involved in the IFB? Are you an atheist also?
Since we have left the church and Bruce sent a letter to the family about us longer believing, my relationship with believing family members has been stiff, to say the least. It is like the elephant in the room, a very large elephant in a very small room. My relationship with my believing parents is good, but we never talk about “it”. Since my sister died in a motorcycle accident in 2005, I am the “only” daughter now. They don’t want to “lose” me, therefore we don’t even come close to discussing “it”. To the rest of the family, I am just a sad by-product of Bruce’s influence. They have felt from the beginning of our marriage that I have been brainwashed by Bruce and only do what he tells me to do.
No, I am not an atheist. I consider myself a humanist. It fits my personality!
Tammy asked, What do you love to do when its all and only about you?
After reading your paragraph, before the question, I would say we are kindred spirits! I am a pleaser. I am always waiting on other people. My three daughters-in-law think their husbands are spoiled. Maybe they are! When Bruce writes about trying to get me to make my own decision, that is totally true! I am either indecisive or double think myself. What is best for everyone, not just myself! Anyways, when I am rarely alone, I have a book in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. And other times, you can find me in the kitchen. I love to cook and bake (for others). I would also like to make a living doing what I love the best, but I wouldn’t make enough money to support us.
Monica asked, Hi Polly, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences of no longer having to live in the shadows of a preacher husband in the way of having your own identity and your freedom to think for yourself.
I believe it took about a year for me to finally come to terms with losing my preacher’s wife status and identity. I truly didn’t know anything else. Now that I am “just” Bruce’s wife, there occasionally is still a small shadow of my former identity. The freedom to think for myself is the hardest part. I can do it at work because I have employees under me, and the decisions are all company based. But at home I am still taking baby steps, sometimes two steps forward and one step back. For instance, if I know, in advance, what restaurant we are going to, I try to make my menu choice before I get there. That way, the waiter/waitress doesn’t have to return half a dozen times. Or if we are in line at McDonald’s, the cars aren’t lined up ten deep.
Carmen asked, What was going on in your head and your heart when Bruce started voicing his misgivings? Were you shocked? relieved? worried about your relationship?
I remember the first time that Bruce actually said out loud that he didn’t think there was a God. I was shocked! Surely, he didn’t mean it! What will become of us? We talked about it a lot back in those days. At first, I thought he would come back around. Then, I came to see that what he was saying made a lot of sense and I thought “where IS god”? If there was a god, wouldn’t he send us a sign that he was real? Helloooooo? Our relationship is so much better because we now have a lot in common and are both free to be different from the other.
Sgl asked, in a post on Halloween…were there other areas that you thought Bruce was crazy? in particular, things that directly affected your life or the kid’s life? Were there any issues that you would have put your foot down on? Did I think Bruce was a crazy?
No, back then I thought everyone else was crazy for not believing the same as we did. Did I ever question his decisions? Sure, I mentally questioned , but never verbally! Bruce was the head of the home and he was also my pastor. I was a good passive and submissive wife who didn’t question his decisions! That passivity never helped my “bad habit” of rolling my eyes! I tried not to roll them, it was a sign of disrespect, seriously! So, no, I would never have put down my foot on decisions that Bruce made. Even now, I tend to defer to him. Old habits die-hard!
Sgl asked, did you ever try to influence Bruce’s opinions subtly? (eg: drop hints, cook his favorite meals when he did what you suggested, not tell him something, etc.)
I suppose that not speaking up would be one way to tell him I disapproved of something. As to the rest? NEVER! Now he says I use sex and food to influence him!
Kerry asked, what do you regret most about how you raised your children? And do you have any advice for those of us that have deconverted who still have adult children in the church?
I think what I regret the most would have to be dragging my children through all of the muck of Christianity and fundamentalism. They never had a choice while growing up. I never had a choice while growing up. We were told how to act and what to believe. The children are all grown adults now. We get the occasional comment from one of their supervisors that they have a great work ethic, so there is one plus! Whatever they want to believe is okay, as long as they know why they believe what they do. I am totally a live and let live. We love them no matter what decisions they make!
Silver asked, I was wondering what the best and worst things are for you in particular in leaving the faith. I can think of many good aspects of it, but what has been the best of them? What do you miss (if anything)?
The best thing about leaving the faith is finally being able to see that everyone is human and that Christianity does not make a person any better than anyone else. The worst thing would have to be the judgementalism and harsh criticism from family and friends (now former friends). If I miss anything, it would have to be the fellowship we had with the church members. Bruce liked to plan potlucks, of which he ate very little of unless it was mine, and outings for the adults, usually at some nice restaurant,
Lynn asked, Did you have any rules for Bruce, as far as how he could use you or the children in his sermons? And did you ever have any “words” about such things?
I would never have given Bruce rules to preach by. Bruce and I discussed this question before I answered it. I don’t think Bruce ever used us as “bad” illustrations. Sure, he would mention us, but I don’t remember anything negatively. Sometimes his personal illustrations embarrassed me because I don’t like being pointed out, for good or bad. We never had “words” about his sermons. They were given to him by “God”, so who was I to say otherwise? It is certainly strange-looking back and wondering how we ever came away from all of our religious training, and not be totally insane.
Zoe asked, What is your favorite color? (Something easy…)
Thank you, thank you! My favorite color is blue! Ask anybody. When it comes time to paint a room, Bruce will say, “as long as it’s not blue”! We have one blue room, our bedroom; a dark blue, not quite navy. It will be navy the next time I paint. The trim is a very pale blue. I love waking up in that room! Bruce’s favorite color is blue too.
Texas Born & Bred asked, Why do women convert to super-conservative faiths that are obviously degrading to women?
Hmmm! I know Bruce has written about this not too long ago, but my excuse is, I was born and raised this way. (did that sound a little Lady Gaga-ish?) I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know I had a choice. I was never exposed to any other way or religion! I knew ours was the right religion and the others were wrong because my parents, pastors, college professors, and husband said they were. I was taught that the woman’s place was in the home, barefoot and pregnant, constantly cooking. (that was mostly tongue in cheek) I honestly don’t know why any women would willingly choose such degradation.
Guest asked, Are you a closet Christian?
How to put this nicely…??? Hell No! Although, my parents probably wish it were so!
Guest asked, What specifically drove you from Christianity?
I know I have answered something like this before, but one reason was the insincerity of people in the church. Another reason was that churches, no matter the name above the door, were the same. I have met a few people (I can count on one hand, maybe two if I think hard about it) that I would consider true Christians. Then, there was the things I read and the discussions that Bruce and I had. It wasn’t one specific thing but an accumulation of things or reasons that eventually led me out of Christianity.