The Family Research Council (FRC), part of the hysteria wing of the Republican Party, has published a church bulletin insert (link no longer active) Evangelical churches can use this Sunday to promote Christian heterosexual, one man-one woman marriage. Tony Perkins is the president of FRC and Jerry Boykin is vice president. Need I say more?
Imagine for a moment, that you are sitting in the pew of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. You are 16 years old and sitting next to you is your 17-year-old girlfriend. As with any normal teenager, you are sitting as close as possible to your girlfriend and the two of you are holding hands.
The pastor is getting ready to preach and he asks everyone to turn to 1 Corinthians 7:1,2. With a thunderous voice, the pastor says, THE BIBLE SAYS:
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:1,2)
and THE BIBLE ALSO SAYS:
Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
All of a sudden, the pastor turns your way, looks at you and your girlfriend, and then slowly turns back to his sermon notes. You feel guilty, so you unclasp your hand from your girlfriends and you scoot a few inches away from her.
Welcome, to just-another-Sunday-morning service at First Independent Baptist Church of Bible, Believersville, Ohio.
In the real world, teenage boys and girls hold hands, put their arms around each other, and kiss each other. We also know that some of them engage in intimate sexual activity. But at First Independent Baptist Church, any physical contact between unmarried teenagers or unmarried young adults of the opposite sex is strictly prohibited.
The thinking goes something like this: fornication, the intimate sexual contact between unmarried people, is a SIN. Committing fornication requires touching, so the best way to avoid fornication is to keep unmarried teenagers or single young adults from touching each other.
Over the years, I told countless teenagers that no girl ever got pregnant without holding hands with a boy first. I repeatedly told them that holding hands leads to familiarity and before you know it you’ll be having sex. So the answer is, no touching.
When I was a teenager, my pastor preached against boys and girls touching each other. Now, this doesn’t mean we didn’t touch each other, it just means that we did our touching away from the sight of the pastor, youth director, deacons, and other church adults.
We turned it into a game. The pastor said we couldn’t touch each other, so while choir practice was going on we would find out-of-the-way places to neck. It was almost like a challenge: we dare you to catch us.
From the age of 14 until my wedding day, I kissed a few girls, put my arm around them, and held their hands. But, that’s where it stopped. Both my wife and I were virgins when we married in 1978.
Polly and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac Michigan. The college had a strict no-touch rule. The rule was called the six-inch rule. (about the width of a hymnbook) Young men and women were expected to keep 6 inches away from each other at all times. Failure to do so resulted in severe discipline.
Living in a dorm filled with normal, hormone-raging, heterosexual men and women made the six-inch rule a real challenge. Most of us learned how to discreetly break the rule, and when we went out on double dates we learned to double date with couples who were six-inch rule breakers as we were.
About the gateway issues with card playing . . .I’m not psychologist but I do believe if you restrict normal human behavior in one way, normal human behavior will come out in another. When at Hyles Anderson we were all told to not touch the opposite sex. I mean, no hand holding (which was fine with me and the IFB church I was in before I left for HAC). But no touching through a pen either, like tapping on a shoulder.
We are social beings and I do believe we need touch to stay alive. When at HAC, since all of the women were not allowed to touch a man on his hand or to tap his back with a pen, guess what happened? The dean of woman (Miss Belinda) said she noticed a LOT of petting going on between the women. In chapel, women would sit next to women and they’d pet each other’s hair, they’d stroke each other’s leg. And she was right – all of that behavior was happening. But my question is why? Probably due to the human need for basic touch. Since the women were not allowed to hug their own blood brother on campus, nor to hold hands for 5 seconds, nor to tap a man on the back with a pencil. . .is it any wonder that the women found a way to get physical touch in their lives? It is normal to want a hug and to rub someone’s bad when they are hurting. By repressing opposite sex touching, they encouraged same-sex touching and it was very evident.
Ponder for a moment being exposed to this kind of environment. Is it any wonder that people coming out the IFB church movement often have to deal with emotional, mental, and sexual dysfunction?
When you are constantly told that a normal human desire is sinful, it is bound cause psychological damage. Being normal heterosexuals, we could only suppress our desires for so long, so we found creative ways to get around the rules and the ever-watchful eyes of those charged with keeping us from fornicating.
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, February 1978 The irony of this picture is that we were allowed to break the rule while the photographer took the picture.
In a chapter of The Fundy World Tales I wrote:
Another time I was written up for breaking the six-inch rule. The six-inch rule was a rule meant to keep unmarried men and women from getting too close to each other. Six inches is about the width of a songbook or a Bible and unmarried students were not allowed to be closer than a songbook or a Bible from each other.
I was on the college basketball team. One day during practice I slapped at a basketball and severely dislocated a finger. I was rushed to the emergency room and the doctor was able to fix the dislocation. I’m left-handed and the dislocation had occurred on my left hand.
Every male student was required to wear a tie to class. I found it very difficult to tie a tie with one hand, so one day I asked my fiancé to tie my tie for me. In doing so we broke the six-inch rule. Someone anonymously turned us in for breaking the six-inch rule and we had to appear before the disciplinary committee to answer the charges against us.
We each receive 25 demerits for breaking the six-inch rule. We were warned that if we broke the six-inch rule again we would be expelled from school. Little did they know that we had been breaking it for quite some time.
Most dormitory students lived for the weekend. Students could only date on the weekends. Double dating was required and no student could go farther away than 10 miles from the dormitory. This was called the 10 mile limit. No physical contact between students was allowed. No kissing. No holding hands. No physical contact whatsoever.
Most students tried to adhere to the rules for a while. Some, like my fiancé and me, kept the six-inch rule religiously until we went home for our first Christmas break. While home on Christmas break were allowed to act like normal young adults who were in love. We held hands, kissed, necked, and pretty much acted like any other couple mutually infatuated with one another.
Once the genie was out of the bottle it was impossible to put her back in. When we returned to Midwestern we realized we could not continue to keep the six-inch rule. So for the next 18 months we sought out couples to double date with that had the same view of the six-inch rule as we did. We had to be very careful. Choose the wrong couple to double date with and you could end up getting expelled from school.
Rules such as the six-inch rule put the dormitory students in a position of having to lie and cheat just to be able to act like normal young adults. Many students ended up getting campused (not allowed to leave the campus or date) or were expelled because they broke the six-inch rule.
Illicit sexual activity was quite common among dormitory students. There was always a lot of gossip about who was doing what, when and where. During the spring of my sophomore year many of us rented apartments in the Pontiac area. We were all planning to get married over the summer, and since apartments were hard to come by, we rented them as soon as we found them.
Unfortunately the apartments turned into a big temptation for some couples. They began using the apartments as safe places for sexual activity. I could give you the names of several well-known preachers and their wives who lost their virginity at one of these apartments. Some of these preachers are now known to rail against sexual immorality. It seems they have forgotten about their own sexual immorality many years ago.
Is it any wonder that many of us who were raised in this kind of sexually repressed environment require counseling? Being you are told over and over that certain basic human needs and desires are sinful leads to overwhelming guilt and despair (and remember masturbation, self-pleasuring, was also a sin).
This is one of the reasons why I think the IFB church movement is emotionally and mentally harmful. My advice to everyone in an IFB church is that they RUN as fast as they can away from the church of which they are a part. Get out before they so fuck up your mind that it requires years of therapy to regain any sense of self-worth and emotional balance.
How about you? Did you spend your teenage years in an IFB church? Did you attend an IFB college? How did you deal with the no-physical-contact rule? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Today, a friend of mine sent me a quote from Doug Wilson’s book, Southern Slavery, As it Was. (his co-author was Steve Wilkins) Here’s what Wilson had to say:
“Sodomites parade in the streets, claiming that if we do not appropriate more money to study why people with foul sexual habits get sick, we are somehow violating their civil rights. Feminists, in rebellion against God, invert the order of the home established by God. They do so in a way that seeks to rob women of their beauty in submission and their security in being loved. For two decades, we have seen millions of unborn children slaughtered in abortion clinics. How did we get here, and what is the way out? The question cannot be answered fully without careful study of the War Between the States and the controversies surrounding it. Slavery was one of those controversies.”
You can read the entire book online (link no longer active).
Let this quote serve as a reminder that this kind of thinking is not the exclusive domain of groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and the Phelps clan. Bigots can be found in almost every sect; with the number of bigots growing increasingly larger the more conservative a sect is.
Wilson asks, which morality will it be, but same-sex marriage has nothing to do with morality. Allowing same-sex couples to marry affords them equal protection under the law and grants them the same civil rights as heterosexuals. Each of us have a right to privacy. Consenting adults have the right to engage in whatever sexual conduct that floats their boat without the government regulating the behavior. Theocrats like Wilson desire and demand that their interpretation of the laws found in the Bible be codified and made the standard for everyone.
I find it hard to see how this is any different from Muslims who want to institute Sharia law. As the quotes below will show, Wilson is quite willing to use the power of the state to enforce his version of Biblical law. Wilson also thinks that there may instances when execution is the rightful punishment for someone breaking his God’s law.
Such thinking should cause all of us to shudder. While Islam is center stage in our culture, proponents of God rule are working behind the scenes to destroy America’s secular foundation and legislate and enact a Christian version of sharia law.
“You might exile some homosexuals, depending on the circumstances and the age of the victim. There are circumstances where I’d be in favor of execution for adultery. … I’m not proposing legislation. All I’m doing is refusing to apologize for certain parts of the Bible.”
A final aspect of rape that should be briefly mentioned is perhaps closer to home. Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.
When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.
This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.
But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.
True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.
Here’s a Doug Wilson quote about slavery I found on the Are Women Human blog: (link no longer active)
Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, [slavery] was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world. The credit for this must go to the predominance of Christianity. The gospel enabled men who were distinct in nearly every way, to live and work together, to be friends and often intimates…
The [WPA Slave] Narratives consistently portray an amazingly benign picture of Southern plantation life. Affection for former masters and mistresses is expressed in terms of unmistakable devotion. Testimony to the good treatment, kindness, and gentleness of many so-called “heartless slave holders” abounds. Many of the old slaves express a wistful desire to be back at the plantation.
Slave life was to them a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care. In the narratives taken as a whole, there is no pervasive cry of rage and anguish.. abuses came from a distinct and very small minority.
I believe that certain unspeakable things will be going on in Boy Scout tents within about five years — with our current tolerance pimps making it all happen — and they will be things that could best be addressed by a judicious use of the strongest form of disapproval a culture has. While I believe that the judicial law of Moses ceased when the nation of Israel ceased, as the Westminster Confession teaches, I also believe the general equity of the law remains. I believe that the general equity of the law includes this strong rejection of homosexual behavior. I also believe that the law of the Old Testament was the model for our common law system, and our system should work in the same way.
By the way, no need for any comments saying that I have confounded homosexuality and pedophilia. I haven’t, and am just giving an example of the kind of same-sex behavior I could see supporting the death penalty for.
But look what I just did. I cited an application of Leviticus 20:13 that could still have broad societal consensus, even in these jaded days. This being the case, what you will have to do is bookmark this page, wait about ten years, and send your outraged cries up to the skies then. By that point, a large number of boys will have been ushered into the fellowship of these men, and there will have been at least two HBO series exalting the lifelong friendships that resulted, and it will then be obvious and apparent to all (in 2023) that I am an incorrigible hater.
The American Family Association (AFA) ran an ad today in the Washington Post detailing their view on same-sex marriage. The full-page ad stated:
Marriage was neither manmade nor created by any law or Constitution. It was God’s plan and purpose for civilization from the beginning. He created man and woman as distinctly separate but inherently compatible; each unique yet sexually complementary – providing both the means for and the ideal relationship within which to raise children from that union.
Before you now is a great question: Will you bend what God designed merely to suit the desires of man, knowing that you do so at the expense of children, perhaps even civilization itself? If you decide to affirm marriage as between one man and one woman, you breath life into the natural order and stand as an example to generations that will arise after your decision. But if you decide differently, you are choosing a path that will put the state on a legal and administrative collision course with hundreds of millions of Americans from all religions and faith practices who believe only God can define marriage. You would say by such a decision that mothers and fathers together are no longer relevant in the lives of children, and that religious expression about the sanctity and purpose of marriage would now become illicit. You would be saying that God has no place in our public square and, in a nation founded to secure freedom for those being persecuted for their faith, such a decision would be a tragic irony. In so doing you would not only risk another Roe v. Wade tear in our cultural fabric, but also effectively delegitimize the very power of the court itself to rule justly.
Before you now is a great challenge: If your decision to resolve this matter forces same-sex marriage on America, you will have settled nothing. We urge the Court to adjudicate rightly that which is God’s alone to decide.
Let me break down the AFA’s position:
Only God can define marriage and he defined marriage as one man and one woman
Legalizing same-sex marriage means bowing to the desires of man
Legalizing same-sex marriage will harm children
Legalizing same-sex marriage will harm civilization
Legalizing same-sex marriage says that mothers and fathers together are no longer relevant in the lives of children
Legalizing same-sex marriage says that religious expression about the sanctity and purpose of marriage is illicit
Legalizing same-sex marriage says that God has no place in the public square
Legalizing same-sex marriage will risk another Roe v. Wade tear in our cultural fabric
Legalizing same-sex marriage will delegitimize the power of the Supreme Court to rule justly
In other words, legalizing same-sex marriage with destroy the United States and Western Civilization. The AFA ad is fear mongering at its best.
Evangelicals are quite specific when it comes to God. There in ONE God, their God, the triune God revealed in the Christian Bible. All other gods are false gods. While it is increasingly common for Evangelicals to embrace Catholics as fellow Christians, it was not that long ago that most Evangelical churches and pastors believed the Roman Catholic church was the harlot of Revelation 17 and worshipers of a false God. While it is encouraging to see some Evangelicals consider the thought that Catholics and Mormons might worship the same God as they do, the overwhelmingly majority of Evangelicals believe their God is the one, true God. No other gods need apply.
What I find interesting is how duplicitous Evangelicals can be when it comes to the mentioning of God in the founding documents of the United States, on our money, and in the Pledge of Allegiance. Evangelicals, knowing that the constitution forbids the establishment of a state church, argue before congress and the courts that the founding fathers spoke of a generic god, that the God mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance is no god in particular. And since the documents, laws, and the like use the word god in a generic sense, they do not violate the establishment clause or run afoul of the separation of church and state…
…Why is it that Evangelicals run from this fact when they speak before congress or the courts? Why do they argue that these mentions of God are generic and not a reference to any specific god? Again, the answer is quite simple. They know admitting that these documents use the word God is a specific sense weakens their argument for their continued use. If the Pledge of Allegiance or In God we Trust on our money reference a non-specific God, then it makes it harder for atheists and secularists to argue that these things are unconstitutional. (harder, not impossible)…
Wildmon’s and the AFA’s God is the Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian God. All others Gods are false Gods. While their ad implies they support religious pluralism, behind the scenes they are working towards the implementation of a Christian theocracy. Wildmon and others like him are the Evangelical version of Muslims who want to see sharia law enforced throughout the world. In their mind, there is one law book, the Christian Bible. Think for a moment, what would America be like if the Bible was the law book? (Please check out Right Wing Watch to find out what Tim Wildmon really believes.)
The American Family Association, founded by the late Don Wildmon and now controlled by Tim Wildmon, is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Here’s some of Tim Wildmon’s statements about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, courtesy of the SPLC website:
“What we reject is the idea that you can take homosexuality, which in the Bible is defined as a sin … it’s unnatural, it’s immoral, it’s unhealthy, and laud it and call it wonderful and say this is the same as heterosexuality. It is not. … We know this is a destructive lifestyle and behavior… .” Sandy Rios in the Morning,” AFA Radio, Oct. 2, 2012
“Our president is promoting the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered and queer agenda like there is no tomorrow. God says homosexuality … should be repented of, not embraced and celebrated as a valid ‘alternative lifestyle’… . The Scripture shows us that God sometimes destroyed nations for their rebellion against his moral standards and their lack of repentance. It will happen to us as well if we continue down this path.” AFA Journal, July/August 2014
“Putting a man like [Michael] Sam, who says he is sexually attracted to men, in with all that beefcake seems unfair to the straight players and a distraction to Sam. … Would you put a heterosexual man in the locker room/showers with all the female cheerleaders?” Fundraising E-mail opposing Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL player, being allowed to play professional football, July 25, 2014
“They have these effeminate, a lot of them, actions. They walk like a girl, a lot of them. … [I]t makes you wonder, how did that develop, where does that come from?” “AFA Today,” AFA Radio, claiming he can recognize gay men by their mannerisms, as reported by Right Wing Watch on Jan. 31, 2014
Tim Wildmon also stated:
“The very idea of the entire nation sitting around and waiting to see if a handful of judges overturn traditional marriage with a nonchalant wave of the hand is absurd. We need to anchor marriage in a constitutional amendment, and we need to do it soon.”
On this point, I totally agree with Wildmon. Since people like Wildmon are offended by the very thought of a gay person enjoying the same civil and legal rights as they do, they have the option of making their viewpoint the law of the land through a constitutional amendment. Doing so would Supreme Court proof the “sanctity” of heterosexual marriage. Why don’t Christian fundamentalists pursue this path of redress? Simple. They know that such an amendment would NEVER survive the ratification process. Article 5 of the US Constitution states:
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
If the American Family Association is so certain that “hundreds of millions of Americans from all religions and faith practices…believe only God can define marriage”, then is should be quite easy to get 38 state legislatures to ratify such an amendment, right?
63% of Americans say that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry and have their marriages recognized by the law as valid. That’s up from 49% in August 2010. Over that time, the share who see marriage as a constitutional right has climbed 15 points among Republicans to 42% and 19 points among Democrats to 75%
So much for “hundreds of millions of Americans from all religions and faith practices…believe only God can define marriage”.
As of today, no Evangelical, Mormon, or Roman Catholic has made a convincing argument showing religious or personal freedom would be reduced in any way if the Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage. Churches would still be open, pastors would still be free to preach against fags, queers, and sodomites, and no church or pastor would be required to perform a same-sex marriage.
The feigned offense of Tim Wildmon and the American Family Association is little more than the shrill, pathetic objections of a group of people who are losing their power and clout. America has evolved and they haven’t. There’s little that can be done to reach people who think like this. Armed with an infallible Bible given to them by a supernatural God, they are certain they are right. In their world, being right is more important than equal protection under the law and equal civil rights for all.
Eleven years have passed since I preached my last sermon and Polly was called the “pastor’s wife.” Almost seven years have passed since we determined to stop attending church. Now we are “unchurched”, casualties of a lifetime spent in Evangelical Christianity. Worse yet, at least according to our critics, we are now enemies of Christ and his church.
You see, we not only left the Church, we left Jesus. Regardless of how some Christians try to parse our lives through their peculiar theological system, we are two people who once were devoted, committed followers of Jesus, who are an atheist and an agnostic. We were saved and now we are lost.
Some people leave Evangelicalism, with its attendant fundamentalist beliefs and code of living, and try to remake their life according to a kinder, gentler view of God, the Bible, and their fellow humans. I view this like remodeling a house where the foundation and the basic framework remain the same. What’s changed is the siding and the paint on the interior walls, but everything else remains the same,
Many people leave the Evangelical church and join progressive or liberal Christian churches. They gain new labels for themselves, but, again, the foundation of their faith remains the same. Polly and I decided that we were not willing to slap some new siding on the house and remodel the interior. Instead, we burnt the house down, hauled the debris away, and started over.
Now I say we started over, but I recognize that since we think and remember, there really is no such thing as starting over with a blank slate. Deep in our minds are memories from 50 years spent in the Christian church and 25 years spent in the pastorate. These things will forever be with us. The good, bad, and indifferent; the wonderful experiences and the painful, hurtful experiences too. We are the sum of what we have learned and experienced in the past. While we like to think we KNOW where we will be months or years from now, the truth is we really don’t know what the future may bring or how our lives will be.
If someone told me a decade ago that I would be an atheist and Polly would be an agnostic, I would have suggested they seek immediate psychiatric help. As far as Christians go, and as far as Christian pastors and their wives go, Bruce and Polly Gerencser were as devoted and committed as any Christian or ministry couple. Yet, here we are, numbered among the godless, the most despised people in America.
When we decided to start over we knew that we were going to have to confront many personal and marital issues. Wiping the slate clean forced us to look at what we really believed about most everything. At times, the process made us fearful. What if we decided that we didn’t want to married to each other? Free to think and reason and to decide for ourselves what our moral and ethical foundation was, there was a real danger that this process could lead us apart.
Of great concern was how our children would view the new, and hopefully improved, Mom and Dad. They only knew us as parents who were 100% committed to Jesus and the church. They only knew us as strict, not sparing the rod, homeschooling parents. I can only imagine how great a struggle it was for them as they watched their parents not only leave all they ever knew, but repudiate it and embrace a godless worldview.
Former friends, parishioners, and fellow pastors reacted with horror and anger over our leaving the Christian faith. We have been accused of all sorts of things and our Christian past has been dissected, discredited, and discarded. We spent a lifetime building relationships with people and it only took saying, I don’t believe or I am an atheist, for all of those relationships to disappear. We paid a huge price for being honest and open about the journey we are on.
Over the past seven years, we have slowly built our new home. Our marriage not only survived, but it has thrived. Nirvana, it is not. We still fuss and fight. We still have personality quirks that drive each other crazy. But, at the same time, we are far more accepting and loving, not only towards each other, but towards humans in general.
Our lives are very different these days. My continued physical debility has radically changed how we live, how we earn a living, and what we can and can’t do. Since our “sin” list now fits on a matchbook cover, we are free to do many things and go many places that were verboten in our previous life. We are free to dance, drink, and party, even though we very rarely do so. It is liberating to enjoy life without having to wonder what God, the church, or our Christian friends think. We’ve met new friends, mostly through this blog and Facebook, who allow us the space and freedom to be who and what we really are.
Some Christians are likely to suggest that we left Christianity because we wanted the freedom to live however we wanted. Some might even suggest that we had a secret desire to sin, to live immorally and that’s the REAL reason we left Christianity. To some degree, they are correct. However, we ultimately left Christianity for intellectual reasons. We came to the conclusion that the claims of Christianity were not true and the Bible was not in any way a divine, God inspired book. We came to see that our lives had been built upon a foundation that was not true. Once the Bible was removed from the discussion, we were free to chart our own course; free to determine for ourselves what is moral and ethical; free to experience things and go places that were considered sinful for most of our lives.
Some readers, thinking we threw the baby out with the bath water, will say, But Bruce, you were a Fundamentalist Baptist. Everyone knows how legalistic, how narrow-minded Fundamentalist Baptists are. This claim might have some merit IF we had remained Fundamentalist Baptists over the course of 25 years in the ministry. But, we didn’t. By the time I pastored my last church in 2003, I was a social gospel progressive, Sojourner loving, emergent church friendly, Democratic pastor. Many of my pastor friends labeled me a l-i-b-e-r-a-l.
The process that led us to where we are today began in the 1990’s. Fundamentalists tend to view things in a black and white manner. Saved/Lost. In/Out. Heaven/Hell. God/Satan. They remember the date/time/place God saved them and when people who think like this read that we are now atheist/agnostic/godless, they, judging us through their own experience, think we had some instantaneous experience where we went from saved back to lost.
That’s not how it worked for us. It was, and remains, a process. We fully expect that the process will continue until we die. We fully expect our journey will have many bumps, crooks, turns, and reversals. We have no doubt there will be times when we part ways and walk different paths from each other. That’s OK. We are free to be who we want to be. We are free to follow the path wherever it leads. No more thundering sermons telling us NO. No more Christian books telling us the evil of this or that human experience. No more living a life where the Bible is the compass and guide.
This does not mean that life is now easier for us. If anything it is harder. When the Bible was the standard by which all things were judged, we didn’t have to think as much. Just Obey. As the old song goes, Trust and Obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to Trust and Obey. Now we are forced to recognize that life is filled with gray and ambiguity and that sometimes there is no right or wrong answer. We have learned to be indifferent towards many things.
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, 2013
This is how we have chosen to live our lives. We are happy and our love for one another endures. Our children have embraced the new Mom and Dad, even though some of them might question the path we are on. Each of our six children have charted their own course through life. None of them are Evangelical. To many people, our children are a huge disappointment, and Polly and I will answer to God for what we have done to our family. We, however, are proud of our children, proud of the lives they have chosen for themselves.
Polly and I are grateful that we have been given the opportunity to start again. We are cognizant of the fact that our story could have had a bad ending. But, it didn’t and we hope this new lease on life will be one we do not squander. We hope that our best days lie ahead.
As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I taught parishioners that the the Bible clearly defined the roles of men (husbands), women (wives), and children. (a hierarchy) The Bible is clear: the husband is the head of the home and the wife is commanded to submit to the authority and rule of her husband. Like the pastor in the church, the husband is the final authority in the home. It matters not if he is worthy of such responsibility. A husband is disobedient to God if he refuses to be the head of the home. The wife, if she refuses to submit to her husband’s authority, is a Jezebel and risks the judgment of God.
I taught women that God’s highest calling for them was marriage, having children, and keeping the home. I discouraged women from going to college. After all why waste money going to college if you are going to be busy having children and keeping the home.
I taught men that God’s highest calling is for them to be a leader. Men are called by God to lead the church, the home,and the government. The strength or weakness of any nation, culture, church, or home depends on whether men are fulfilling their divine calling to lead.
Children are at the bottom of the hierarchical system. They are under the authority of God, the Bible, the pastor, their father, and their mother. Children have one divine calling in life, obey!
This kind of hierarchical family structure has been a part of American society since the day the Pilgrims stepped ashore on the eastern coast of America. Over time, due to social, political, and economic pressure, the hierarchical family structure has weakened. As women gained the right to vote, began working outside of the home, and began using birth control, they realized they could live without being under the control and authority of a man. Modern American women are free to pursue their own life path, free to live lives independent of men. When women marry, they are no longer considered the help meet. They are equal partners in the marriage. Their values, beliefs, and opinions matter.
However, in the IFB church movement women still live in the 18th century. Bound by commands and teachings from an antiquated book, they live lives strangely and sadly out of touch with the modern world. Every aspect of family life is controlled by what the Bible teaches. Better put, their life is controlled by what an authoritarian pastor and authoritarian husband/father say the Bible teaches.
I have no objection to a woman willingly choosing to live and participate in a hierarchical family structure. If an Amish woman wants to live as the Amish do, then I have no reason or right to object. It is, however, difficult to determine if they willingly choose. Is it a free choice when there are no other options?
For my family and I, moving away from a hierarchical family structure was difficult. We had to relearn how to live. We had to examine sincerely held beliefs and determine if they still were applicable to the new way we wanted to live our lives. I realized that I had lorded over my family. I had dominated and controlled their lives, all in the name of Jesus. By doing so, I had robbed them of the ability to live their lives independently of my control. Every decision had to have my stamp of approval. Nothing escaped my purview. After all, God had commanded me to be the head of the home. Someday, I would give an account to God for how I managed the affairs of my family. I took the threat of judgment seriously.
The biggest problem we faced was that since I was the one who always made the final decision my children and wife lacked the skills necessary to make good decisions. My children quickly adapted to their new-found freedom, shouting a Martin Luther King Jr-like FREE, FREE AT LAST. However, my wife did not fare so well.
Raised in a fundamentalist home, her father an IFB pastor, Polly had spent her entire life under the thumb of someone else. She rarely had to make a decision because there was always someone else making decisions for her. To say our new-found freedom was difficult for Polly would be a gross underestimation. Suddenly, she was forced to make decisions on her own. For a time, she panicked when faced with making a decision on her own. Simple decisions, like what to order at the fast food drive-thru or whether or not to put gas in the car, were monumental decisions for her.(1)
Over time, Polly’s decision making skills improved. Several years ago, she was promoted to a supervisory position at local manufacturing concern. (2) One night, she came home from work all upset. She told me that she had made a decision about something and several people were now upset at her. I laughed and told her, rule number one about making decisions. You will likely piss someone off. (3)
Polly Gerencser, Graduating from Northwest State Community College, Archbold, Ohio
In 2010, Polly returned to college. She struggled at first, and it took quite a bit of willpower for me not to bail her out. Over time, she adapted to using the computer (she was computer illiterate) and doing the various things necessary to be a good college student. In 2012, Polly graduated with an Associates of Arts degree from Northwest State Community College. I wept as I saw her walk down the aisle on graduation day. Her graduation was a reminder of how far both of us have come. (Polly actually has 5 years of college credit. Unfortunately, 3 of those years were spent at an unaccredited Bible college)
Polly was over 40 years old before she wore her first pair of pants. Same goes for going to the movie theater, drinking alcohol, cutting her hair short, reading a non-Christian romance novel, etc, etc, etc. As many people know, the IFB movement is all about what a Christian CAN’T do. Some of these choices were fearful choices, God lurking in the shadows of the mind, ready to punish her for making“sinful” choices.”
With change comes new life. In many ways, we have been “born again.” In 2005, I left the pastorate and we began a slow, painful process of examining our Christian beliefs. For many years, my family believed what I believed, went to church when I went to church, and obeyed any and every command I gave, complete with proof texts from the Bible . Now it is different.
I told my wife and six children that I was setting them free. I am no longer the spiritual head of the home or the patriarch of the family. They are free to be whatever they want to be. I sincerely mean this. If they want to be Wiccan,Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, or atheist, I am fine with it. The bottom line is this: I want them to be happy. If they are happy, I am happy.
This last decision has caused quite a bit of controversy and conflict. Freed from my control, my entire family quickly abandoned the Evangelical church. I am now an atheist, Polly is an agnostic, and our children, for the most part do not attend church. (4) Religion is still a big topic of discussion in our family and I still like a rousing debate or discussion about religion, politics, or sports. The difference now is that there is no test of fidelity. No, “did you guys go to church today?” No, “what was the sermon about?”
Our family remains a work in progress. As my wife continues to learn to make decisions, I have to learn not to make decisions. I am learning to shut up and allow them to make choices for themselves, even when I think their choices are ill-advised. I have a new rule I live by: If I think someone is making a bad decision on an important issue, I will voice my opinion, but that is the end of it. I stay out of my children’s business. They are responsible adults and I support whatever decision they make, even if I disagree with it.
We are far from a finished product. Polly still freezes at the drive-thru and I still know what I want before we pull into the restaurant. We still have the same peculiar character traits we’ve always had. You know,those things that annoy and bug the hell out of you. The difference now is that we have learned to embrace each other’s peculiarities, knowing that these are what make us unique individuals. (5)
It is good to be free.
(1) Even today she freezes at the drive-thru. We joke about it now, but her freezing hails from a day when I ordered everything.
(2) One of the first steps of freedom for Polly was getting a job, a job that she has held since 1997.
(3) I was well suited for the hierarchical family system and the pastorate. I am not afraid to make decisions. Snap decisions come easy for me. It felt very natural to me to make all the decisions. However, in the home, like at work, one person making all the decisions stunts the growth of others and when they are put into a position where they must make a decision they are often unable to.
(4) I am hesitant to label my children’s current beliefs. Two of my children attend the Catholic church with their wives. The rest of them, for the most part, do not attend church. I would not classify them as atheists or even agnostics. They are indifferent and still figuring out what they believe. It is exciting to watch, even if the IFB part of our extended family thinks we are committing spiritual suicide.
(5) I have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and Polly is happy with clutter. Ours is a match made in hell. For many years, my OCPD dominated everything. I have had to learn that while I have every right to want things perfectly ordered, everything in its place, Polly also has the right not to want things perfectly ordered, everything in it place. We each have personal spaces where we are free to practice our peculiar habits and traits. We know to stay out of each others “stuff”. In the common spaces, we try to find a happy medium, though I must admit I have a hard time doing this. The clutter has decreased significantly since our last two children moved out 15 months ago.
As anyone who spent any time in an IFB church can tell you, divorce is forbidden. The thinking goes…God hates divorce and God intends for marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. While IFB church members do divorce from time to time, it is not a common occurrence.
For months now, rumors have been flying over the marriage of Cindy Schaap and Jack Schaap. Are they still married? Did they get a divorce? Well, wonder no more, you who are looking for the latest dirt on the Hyles/Schaap crime family. According to a document sent to me today, on May 28, 2014, Cindy Schaap was granted a divorce from Jack Schaap.
Let me be clear, I have no problem with Cindy Schaap divorcing her husband. No one should be forced to remain married to someone they no longer want to be married to. Whatever her reasons, it is her decision, end of story. What interests me is how her divorce will be “explained” within the Kingdom of Jack Hyles and the broader IFB church movement.
Later this week, I plan to write a post about marriage and divorce and how IFB churches handle divorce.
I am so glad you wrote. Please don’t read this letter with a harsh, condemning tone, but with an urgent, pleading one. I am deeply concerned for you. If this letter feels like I’m dumping a bucket of cold water on your head, it’s because I want you to wake up!
Let’s start with who a Christian is.
An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible.
A Christian is a person who is now one with Christ. A Christian has been rescued by Jesus out of the darkness of sin and has been brought into His marvelous light—transformed from the inside out. A Christian has the spirit of Christ living inside of them! A Christian is someone whose entire identity has been refashioned around Christ. Christ is their life. Christ is the reason they are now accepted and beloved by God the Father.
An atheist, on the other hand, denies that God even exists. An atheist hates the very idea of there being a God.
An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible…
…You will have to choose between God and this man. You can’t have both. James warns “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Let me be clear about this, though. If you choose God over this man, God will not love you any more than He already does. It won’t earn you extra points with God. If you truly trust in Christ Jesus as both your Savior and your Lord, you are already His 100% dearly loved child.
Does that mean that you have the freedom to date this man? No way! Besides, why would you want to, when Christ has revealed Himself to you as the greatest treasure there is—both in this life and for the life to come?
I get it that you have strong feelings toward this man. I’ve been where you are. And if you’re anything like me, my guess is that what you’re feeling isn’t true love, but something closer to romantic desire . . . and even maybe lust…
These atheists, they must be scary people. I suspect they hang out at dance halls, lurking in the shadows, hoping to find a virgin Evangelical girl they can entice with thoughts of love and draw them away to the dark side. As every Christian knows, atheists are child molesters, sexual perverts, Satan worshipers, and eat babies on Friday. According to Hendricks, atheists hate “the very idea of there being a God.” In one sentence, like most Evangelicals, Hendricks reveals that she doesn’t really know any atheists. All she has to go on is the bigoted stereotype she was taught in church. If she actually knew any atheists, she would know that atheists don’t hate the thought of the existence of God. How can they since they don’t believe there is a God? What many atheists do hate is what Christianity DOES in the name of its God.
Pity the poor girl who sent Hendricks the email. She’s fallen in love with her dance partner, and according to Hendricks she shouldn’t act on this love because God says such love is a sin. Besides, what she may really be “feeling” is lust. Ah yes, the ever-present lust that lurks in the heart of Evangelicals. You’d think with God living inside of you that there would be no room for lust, but it seems that Evangelicals lust just like us unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines.
Hey, Caitriona, You’re welcome here. While my statement may have been a bit broad and might not perfectly characterize all self-professed atheists, Romans 1 tells us that we’re ALL God-haters (whether we claim to be atheists or not), and we suppress the truth about Him in our unrighteousness.
I was a God-hater, too, until God revealed His lovingkindness to me in Christ Jesus paying the penalty for my sin so I might be set free from being a slave to my own selfish passions and might become His beloved, adopted daughter.
This is a bit off topic, but would you be bold enough to ask God to reveal Himself to you if He really is real? And . . . would you be open to picking up a Bible and reading the book of Romans, or John?
Hey Caitriona, thanks for your input, I appreciate you taking time to comment:) I don’t want to get into any arguments by any means, but I would like to just give you some food for thought: if there isn’t a God, then that would mean that there really is no purpose for anyone’s life, right? I mean, if we’re all just here by accident, what does it matter? when you take God out of the equation, there is no longer value in anyone’s life, or in the world. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to kill anyone I don’t like? because the government says so? But if we’re all just an accident, with no real purpose, it’s “just” another person with no eternal value. How CAN anyone have true value without God?
On the flip side, we know for a fact that every human being (unborn or not), has value. Everyone has value because they were created in the image of a Holy God, and he loves us SO much! More than you could ever imagine! God cares about us so much that he even collects every tear we’ve ever cried and He keeps them!…
Typical Evangelical drivel, but here’s the thing, I actually agree with Hendricks. Generally, it is ill-advised for anyone to marry someone who does not share their religious, ethical, and moral values. More than one marriage has been brought to ruin by clashing worldviews. Better to seek out a life partner that hasn’t been taught that you are a hater of God, the enemy of God, a tool of Satan. Atheists and Evangelicals alike think they can win over their boyfriend or girlfriend. Rarely, does it work out.
The Evangelical church emphasizes the need for every person to have a personal salvation experience. Countless young men have made what I call, excuse the bluntness, a pussy-driven salvation decision. They want the girl and they can’t have her, so they start going to church, make a profession of faith, and viola the girl agrees to date him. Later they marry, and then the girl finds out that the boy she married feigned faith so he could date her. More than a few of these marriages end in divorce.
Atheists and non-Christians have a completely different way of looking at the world. Evangelicalism is a world filled with Bible verses, commands, and thou shalt not’s. It is a world that will surely frustrate the non-Evangelical. It’s a world where obedience to authority is demanded at every corner and freedom of thought is often discouraged and condemned. It is a place fun loving, free people go to die (and yes, I am painting with a Bruce’s Wide Ass Brush®).
Over the years, I have corresponded with a number of atheists who are in a mixed marriage. While most of them have found a way to make peace with their Evangelical spouse, their emails speak to the great pain and disconnect that comes from such a relationship. The believing spouse wants his or her unbelieving husband or wife to go to church and at least “act” like a Christian. More than a few of the people who have corresponded with me go to church every Sunday to please their spouses. Some of them are secret atheists. Their spouse doesn’t know they no longer believe. They go to church, sing the songs, and listen to sermons they think are bullshit. Why do they do this? Love. They love their believing spouse and children and they want there to be peace on the home front. All would agree that it would have been better for them if they had married a person who shared the same worldview, but they are willing to do all they can to make the marriage work.
Sadly, some of those I have corresponded with are now divorced. The reasons are many, but religion played a part in every divorce. The prophet Amos was right when he posed the rhetorical question, Can two walk together except they be agreed?
Do you have a story to tell or some marriage advice to give? Please share it in the comment section.
Children should be taught that God has given to them a preacher. That preacher is God’s man to lead them, to teach them, to preach to them, and to guide and instruct them concerning their lives. It is important for a family to have a man of God just like it is important to have a family doctor, a family dentist, etc. For that matter, it is even more important! The parents should never criticize God’s man but should train their children to love and respect him.
This can be done in many ways. One of the most important ways is to lead the child to pray for the preacher many times a day. Every time he bows his head to say grace or to say his “Now I lay me” prayers, he should pray for his preacher. He should get an early impression that one of the most important persons in the world is God’s man, his pastor.
The nursery workers at First Baptist Church have little bibs made for the babies. On each bib is printed, “I love my Preacher.” This is very important.
The child should feel that he has a friend in the pulpit and that that friend loves him and is very wise. The time will probably come when the parents will need the pastor in the rearing of the child. It often is true that a time comes when the only hope of saving the child is the pastor. If the parents have been critical of him or have a negative attitude toward him, the children will develop such an attitude and will not come to the pastor when they need him in a period of crisis…
…When I was an infant my mother started a little ritual. Every night she would put me on her knee, hold her Bible in front of me and say, “Son, the Bible is the Word of God.” Then she would ask me to repeat after her those words. Three times she would do this. Then she would tell me that Jesus is the Son of God. I would have to repeat it after her. Again she would say it and again I would repeat it. A third time she would say it and a third time I would repeat it. She then told me that I should always believe those two great truths. Now I do not recall when she started it; I do know she started this practice long before I could comprehend what was going on, but as far back as I can remember I can see my mother teaching me that Jesus is God’s Son and that the Bible is God’s Word.
She would then mention some kind of sin and warn me concerning its evil. One night she would take a whiskey ad. She would hold it up before me and say, “Whiskey – bad, bad, bad, bad! Whiskey – bad, bad!” Then I was required to say, “Whiskey – bad, bad!” She would then get a frown on her face, tear up the ad, throw it on the floor and stomp on it. She would shout, “WHISKEY – NO, NO! WHISKEY – BAD, BAD!”
Mother was trying to associate bad words with whiskey. I do not know when she started this. I do know it was before I realized it, and the association between the words “whiskey” and “no” made a lasting impression on my mind and life…
This excerpt illustrates the fact that indoctrination in authoritarian sects and churches begins as soon as a child is born.
“Dear Dr. Hyles. I am 24 years of age. I am a preacher boy whom God called to preach six months after I got saved three years ago. I felt led to go to a certain Bible college in a certain state. I attended there until God called me to pastor a small church. I was ordained. From there, God led me back to a certain city in a certain state where I got saved under Dr. Joe Doe. (I’m using ficticious names.) I worked on the staff of Dr. Doe for that summer and started to go to the Letot Bible Institute that fall.
As I started to go to school that fall, I got a full-time position in a church as assistant pastor and youth director. While I was in a certain state, I met and married a wonderful girl, a spiritual girl, a girl that loved Jesus Christ. As we lived in Letot, I was working for a church in a certain place. I seemed to be getting away from soul winning and getting deeper into the books. After awhile I was not doing what God wanted me to do and what God made me to do. I was not knocking on doors and winning people to Jesus Christ. My not being the man of God I ought to be affected my marriage. It affected my marriage to the extent that my wife told me at one time that if I didn’t become the soul winner that God wants me to be, she couldn’t respect me as a man of God, and she thinks. . . .”
“One afternoon as I was leaving from school, my wife and I seemed to be in the flesh. We didn’t have devotions that day and pray as we usually do. I walked out of the house without telling her I loved her and without telling her good-bye. As I got to school, I felt bad, so I called on the phone, and there was no answer. I knew something was wrong. I drove home immediately and found my wife had committed suicide.”
“As we had her funeral in her hometown up North, I went a half hour early before her relatives and friends viewed the body. I walked in and put my head on my wife’s chest in the casket and was hoping that she would lean up and hold me, kiss me, cuddle me, baby me and tell me that she loved me, but she wasn’t there–she was with the Lord. I then fell on my face before the casket and talked with God. Something happened to me there that I can’t explain, but for once in my life I had the full power of God, but what a price to have to pay! As her friends and relatives came by the casket, I stood there like a soldier witnessing and telling them about Jesus Christ. I feel, Dr. Hyles, that God is leading me to Hyles-Anderson College to learn more about Him and learn more about character and discipline and be the man that God wants me to be.”
This is every man’s right. Each has only one life to live. God looks down and sees that every man is incomplete. God gives a man a woman, and that woman is supposed to complete that man. If you fail to do it, it won’t be done. If he dies without ever having it, it’s because you didn’t give it to him. You have taken from him what is every man’s right. Every man’s right is to have a completer. That’s why God made you!
A lady came to my office not long ago and I gave her this truth. She said, “I’m not going to do all that stuff.”
I said, “I’ll give you an alternative suggestion.”
She said, “What?”
I said, “Go over here to the bridge over the Chicago River and jump off.”
“Go jump in the river.”
I said, “You’d go to Heaven, and your husband wouldn’t have to live in hell!” Listen to me, especially you young ladies, you unmarried ladies, you ladies who haven’t been married long. I’m trying to help you. I’m not trying to take any freedoms away from you. I’m trying to give you a liberty that you’ll never enjoy unless you become what God has made you to be.
I said to that lady in my office for counsel, “Look, you are standing in the way. Your husband is a good man. He’s not going to have anybody else. You’re standing in the way of your husband ever having a completer. You’d be a lot better off, young lady, in the early days of your marriage, if you would go over and jump off the bridge so your husband can have in his lifetime someone to complete the circle.”
Cars as they drive through the sleepy rural town we call home.
Folk music softly plays in the background, a nightly ritual that lulls my lover to sleep.
The wind is blowing briskly as the wind chimes sing their harmonies into the snowy night.
I can feel the cold draft from the wind as is pushes its way through the window frame of our 140 year home.
She is covered up, trying to warm herself as cold air blows over her head.
She lies beside me, just as she has these 36 years.
I look over at her and remind myself of what a great life we’ve had.
We have faced many battles that left us bruised and bloodied, but we survived. That’s what we are — survivors.
The Bible is right, there is a love that endures. She and I have that enduring love. Until death do us part, we promised each another one hot July day so many years ago.
Recent events have brought us face to face with our mortality, my mortality.
What if it is cancer? What if the hourglass is close to running out? Dare we ponder our own mortality and bitter end?
Come what may, I’ve had a good life. Whether I live till Christmas or another 20 years, I am grateful for the life she and I have shared.
Almost 40 years ago, a beautiful young girl dared to flirt with a brash redheaded boy. And just like that, in the blink of an eye, we lie here in the stillness of the night, our lives shaped and filled by our shared experiences.
I think of our children and our grandchildren. I want to wake her up and say, we did well, that we have more treasure than the richest man on earth.
I won’t wake her, she needs her sleep.
I hope she knows that I love her.
It’s almost 5 AM and I can feel the drugs beginning to win the battle. Sleep will soon come and if I awake another day will be mine.