Tag Archive: Newark Baptist Temple

Dear Pastor Reeves, Let Me Explain to You Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself

Have you noticed that many of the churches refusing to close during the Coronavirus Pandemic are Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregations? Over the past week or so I have written about two such churches, First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio and the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. (Please see Local Church Continues to Meet on Sundays Despite the Coronavirus Pandemic and IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic.) Pastor John MacFarlane at First Baptist has since seen the light and all services at the church are now canceled. The Baptist Temple, pastored by Mark Falls, remains open, but some peripheral programs have been canceled and older congregants have been encouraged to stay home. My wife’s parents attend the Baptist Temple, and, fortunately, both of them stayed home on Sunday. Polly’s aunt, the wife of the late James Dennis, who has end-stage bone cancer and is on chemotherapy? She was front and center, praising Jesus.

Why is it that many IFB churches refuse to close their doors? First, IFB churches have a conspiratorial hatred for the government — especially if the government is controlled by Satan’s party, the Democrats. I plan to write more about this hatred later this week. Second, IFB churches tend to have members who are easily led astray by conspiracy theories. This is especially true now that Donald Trump is president. Third, most IFB churches are not flush with cash. If they don’t hold services, their cash flow will be seriously compromised. Fourth, many IFB pastors believe that the government has no right to tell them what to do. Some go so far as to oppose any sort of government regulation, including fire, safety, and building codes. Years ago, an Ohio IFB pastor took it upon himself to build a new building without permits. He believed he should be able to build the building any way he wanted, even if it meant he violated the law. His actions, of course, brought legal action, and his refusal to comply forced the state to raze his building. Fifth, closing church doors would be a repudiation of the belief that God always protects Christians, and no matter the circumstance, the people of God should be present and accounted for on Sundays. Sixth, IFB churches tend to be anti-science. Remember most IFB church members and pastors are Bible literalists, young-earth creationists, and believe the entire earth was covered with a flood a few thousand years ago. Holding such anti-scientific beliefs reflects poor reasoning skills. I am not saying that IFB church members are stupid. I am saying that their theological beliefs cripple their ability to rationally understand the world they live in. Their thinking is crippled by their insistence that the Bible is some sort of divine blueprint for life and it contains everything necessary for life and godliness.

The latest IFB church on my radar is the North Platte Baptist Church in North Platte, Nebraska. Last week, I wrote about the church and its pastor, William Reeves, using the Coronavirus Pandemic as a tool to evangelize people. (Please see North Platte Baptist Church Uses the Coronavirus Pandemic to Evangelize People.) North Platte has continued to run its buses and hold services despite the Coronavirus. Reeves, in classic IFB fashion, has stupidly and stubbornly held his ground. Reeves has received a lot of negative publicity — glad I could help — so much so that he has taken the church’s and his personal Twitter account private. (I was banned long ago from both of these accounts.)

One of Reeves’ last public tweets can be found in the header graphic of this post. Reeves said:

Having church doesn’t make you an enemy of the state or an enemy of people. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about your people or that you are not doing your part in curbing the spread of COVID-19 (with Facepalm emoji, as if what he is saying should be obvious to everyone).

Jesus said in Luke 10:27: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 13:9,10: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. In Galatians 5:14, Paul said, For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. And finally, James said in James 2:8, If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.

Evidently, these verses must not be in Pastor Reeves’ leather-bound King James Bible. Consider what Paul says in Galatians 5:14: all the laws of the Bible can be fulfilled in one word, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Holy shit, Batman! Can Pastor Reeves, along with Pastor McFarlane and Pastor Falls and a host of other IFB preachers, honestly say that their actions show that they are loving their neighbors as they would themselves? Of course not. Their actions are driven by one or more of the six things I mentioned above.

To Pastor Reeves I say, if you really loved your neighbors — who include your congregation and the children who ride your buses — would you continue to have mass gatherings? You KNOW that mass gatherings are a prime way to spread the Coronavirus. You KNOW that people NOT showing COVID-19 symptoms can actually be carriers. Everyone could “look” healthy on Sunday, yet some of them could be spreading the virus. IF you really loved your neighbors, you wouldn’t take this risk. You have a social and moral obligation to not only your church but the community at large. By being a weak link in the containment process, you and your church could be making people sick and killing them. What kind of person ignores these things, all for the sake of some sort of theological or political statement? Evidently, you, Pastor Reeves.

I know, I know, the next words out of your mouth are going to be something like this: I DO love my neighbors, so much so that I am going to keep the doors of North Platte Baptist Church open so unsaved people can ride our buses, come to church, hear the gospel, and be saved! That way if COVID-19 chokes the life out of them, leaving their spouses widows and their children orphans, at least they will go to Heaven. Praise the Lord Jesus Christ!

Their salvation can wait a few weeks. All that matters right now is the safety and health of others. I encourage you, Pastor Reeves, to swallow your theology and politics and show love to your community by closing the doors of North Platte Baptist and suspending all group activities until health experts give the all-clear. How you respond will show if you really do take the words of Jesus seriously.

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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IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic

newark baptist temple heath ohio

Mark Falls is the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. The Baptist Temple, as it is commonly called, is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. The church also operates the Licking County Christian Academy. My wife’s uncle, the late James Dennis, pastored the Baptist Temple for over forty years. Polly and I attended the church for a short time in the 1980s. Polly’s dad moved his wife and two teen daughters to Newark in 1976 so he could become the church’s assistant pastor. Dad left the Baptist Temple in 1981 to start a new IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. Polly and I joined him there, helping to build the church until we left in 1983 and moved to Somerset, Ohio to start a new church.

Polly’s parents have lived in Newark for forty-five years. Both are in their 80s, in poor health, and depending on the day, knocking on death’s door. After closing the church in Buckeye Lake, Polly’s parents returned to the Baptist Temple, and remain faithful tithing members to this day.

By way of a disclaimer, readers should know that my wife and I have an adversarial and complicated relationship with the Baptist Temple. While we have many fond memories of our time at the church, we also bad memories that have left deep, lasting scars. That’s why when we briefly returned to the Newark area in 2005, we joined the Fallsburg Baptist Church, pastored by my best friend at the time Keith Troyer, and not the Baptist Temple. Art Ball, a missionary associated with the Baptist Temple, emailed me at the time, wondering why we weren’t planning to attend the Baptist Temple. Art made it clear that from his perspective the Baptist Temple was the only church in town! I refrained from sharing our backstory with him. I told Art that family history is complicated and there were a lot of things he didn’t know. He did not inquire further.

After James “Jim” Dennis retired, Mark Falls, a graduate of uber-fundamentalist Pensacola Christian College and Seminary, became pastor. While I appreciate many of the peripheral changes Falls has made to the church, he is, at heart, a Christian Fundamentalist. I have not met Falls personally, nor do I intend to do so. The only time Polly and I plan to darken to doors of the Baptist Temple is for funerals and weddings. Polly was last at the Baptist Temple for her uncle’s funeral (I was too sick to attend). I have not attended anything at the Baptist Temple since the 1990s. Along with Polly’s parents, we have a number of other relatives who either attend the Baptist Temple or are closely affiliated with the church. While we are, thus, symbiotically connected to the church, we certainly do not consider the Baptist Temple and its pastor our friends. I plan this year, health willing, to write a series of posts about our experiences at the Baptist Temple and with its former pastor, James Dennis. It’s a story that needs to be told, but for obvious reasons, I have been hesitant to tell it. As long as COVID-19 doesn’t get me, you can count on reading “The Baptist Temple” series in the coming months.

Polly calls her mother every Sunday at 10:00 PM. It is a ritual Polly’s mom looks forward too, and one that I remind Polly is very important, even if she doesn’t see that importance now. My mom committed suicide at age 54. Dad died of a stroke at age 49. Whatever my relationship may have been with my parents, I sure wish I could pick the phone up and call them, just to hear their voice and to tell them that I love them. There will come a day, sooner rather than later, that next call we get from Newark will be from one of our nephews telling us mom or dad is dead. We are prepared for such an eventuality, but I am of the opinion that it is important to keep in contact with our elderly parents. I don’t want Polly to regret not talking to her parents. I don’t want her sitting home on a Sunday evening wishing she could hear their voices one more time. The past fifteen years have certainly strained the relationship we have with Polly’s parents. Our leaving the ministry and Christianity is something Polly’s parents can not/will not understand. How is it possible that we are now unbelievers; atheists who have no interest in God, Jesus, the Bible, or church? While mom reminds us that she prays for our family every day, we have yet to have an honest discussion with Polly’s parents about why we no longer believe. And frankly, I doubt we will ever have this discussion. We are fine with that. Our concern is for their quality of life, and it is this issue that brings me to the subject of this post.

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Mark Falls and his wife, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple

Last Saturday, March 14, Pastor Falls posted a live video to the Baptist Temple’s Facebook page detailing how he and the church would be handling the Coronavirus pandemic. I made an audio copy of the video which is posted below. Please forgive the lack of technical quality, but you should be able to hear my introduction and Falls’ words just fine. The audio clip is a little over six minutes long. I hope you will listen to it.

Audio recording of Mark Falls, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple, explaining the church’s plan for the Coronavirus pandemic

I have been listening to IFB preachers speak for most of my life. From the 1960s, when Tim LaHaye was my pastor, until today, I have heard countless sermons and preached thousands of sermons myself. I know firsthand the lingo, what I call preacher-speak. I also know how IFB preachers manipulate congregants with their words to achieve a desired objective. That psychological manipulation was on showroom display in Pastor Falls’ Facebook video. While I have no doubt that Falls will vehemently object to me characterizing his words as manipulative, the fact remains, through the use of Bible verses, appeals to distrust of government, and challenges to the depth of the faith of people who might stay home, Falls makes it clear that he expects people to be presented and accounted for the next day.

Falls begins his video by appealing to the distrust congregants have of government. While Falls praises Ohio governor Mike DeWine for exempting houses of worship from his “no social gathering” order, he also makes it clear that if DeWine ordered churches to close their doors that he would view this order as the state ordering churches to not obey God.

In Acts 5:29, Peter and the other Apostles said: We ought to obey God rather than men. Over the years I heard countless sermons and preached sermons on Acts 5:29. Christians are duty-bound to obey God, and not men (government), IFB preachers say. If the government asks churches/Christians to do anything that runs contrary to their interpretation of the Protestant Bible, they are expected to disobey. This thinking runs deep in the lifeblood of the Baptist Temple. Years ago, the Baptist Temple operated an unlicensed daycare called Temple Tots. Polly worked there for several years until she was summarily fired for not being a member of the church (we were living in Buckeye Lake at the time, helping Polly’s father start a church). The State of Ohio determined that ALL daycares had to be licensed by the state. The Baptist Temple appealed to Acts 5:29, and refused to be licensed. This, of course, put them in breach of the law, creating several years of back-and-forth litigation. The State finally won the battle, and rather than accept state licensure, the Baptist Temple closed its daycare. The Baptist Temple has other conflicts with government over the years, fueled by their insistence that the State had no to right to meddle in their business.

Falls then appeals to the mother of all guilt-inducing verses in the Bible, Hebrews 10:25:

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

This verse is used to remind congregants that GOD expects them to be in church every time the doors are open. And if you aren’t at the church’s Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night services, you’d better be so sick you can’t drag your sorry, backslidden ass to church. Real Christians cough, man up, and go to church. God will bless you if you do! Or so the thinking goes, anyway. I preached countless sermons so sick that I could have passed out at any moment. It took mononucleosis to knock me out of the pulpit for the first time (1991). Bless God, I was going to be there every time the doors where open. I planned to die with my boots on.

Of course, I passed this mentality on to the people I pastored. They genuinely feared God (or Pastor Bruce) would get them if they didn’t show up for churches. I routinely excoriated people who skipped church services. Lazy. Backslidden. Why, they might not even be saved! What kind of person chooses the lake, reunion, or their wedding anniversary over attending church and listening to my wonderful, Bible-based, Spirit-filled sermons?

It is clear, at least to me, that Falls expected church members to be at church unless they were really, really, really, I mean r-e-a-l-l-y sick. Falls did say that if people had Coronavirus symptoms that it was okay for them to miss church. Thanks, preacher. I wonder if the good pastor realized that this virus can be and is passed on by people not exhibiting ANY symptoms; that there could be Coronavirus Marys and Marks walking in the midst of the congregation infecting everyone they come in contact with?

Falls plants in the mind of congregants that he has serious doubts about what government is telling us about the Coronavirus. I didn’t realize Falls was a scientist, an epidemiologist, or an infectious disease expert. He is, however, an avid supporter of President Donald Trump, so that might help to explain things a bit. While Trump has now had a come to Jesus moment when it comes to COVID-19, I am sure he still believes that a lot of what experts are saying is “fake” news, attempts by the media, liberals, China, and non-Christians to destroy his presidency and foil his reelection. I doubt that Pastor Falls believes the media is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the Coronavirus Pandemic. By planting that seed in the minds of church members, he is affirming their conspiratorial doubts too.

Finally, Falls reminds church members that their God is still on the throne. This is his way of saying, “Look, Jesus, the Great Physician, has everything under control. There’s no need to fear a silly little virus. God will protect us, and if some us come down with COVID-19, well, that means it was God’s will. Live or die, it’s all in God’s hand. Now, get your ass down to 81 Licking View Drive and listen to some old-fashioned IFB preaching and singing!

Here’s why all this matters to me, and matters to my wife. Polly’s parents were in attendance Sunday night. Both of them have serious health problems. Mom has congestive heart failure. Her cardiologist told her to prepare to meet her maker. She is quite proud, however, of the fact that she has beaten the doctor’s time-of-death estimations. We are glad that she is still among the living too. That said, we hope that she doesn’t check out any time soon. We have our own health concerns to worry about, so we would like to think that everyone at their church, especially their pastor, has their best interests at heart. Unfortunately, as the story I am about to share with you will show, Pastor Falls does not care about what is best for them.

I told Polly that perhaps Falls should call each elderly/sick congregant and encourage them to stay home. Let them know that God understands. In IFB churches, pastors wield a tremendous amount of control and power. Falls could use these things for good, but, instead, he’s more concerned with making a stand against intrusive government intervention. He’s more concerned with preaching up faith and making sure people obey the Bible than he is caring for their physical welfare.

After the service, Falls greeted Polly’s mom and, I kid you not, shook her hand. He did question the wisdom of doing so, but likely at my mother-in-law’s insistence, Falls went ahead and shook her hand. As I listened to Mom recounting this story to Polly, I wanted to scream. How can you be so stupid? How can you be so reckless? How can you be so indifferent to the health and welfare of others? That goes for Pastor Falls AND my mother-in-law.

It remains to be seen how the Coronavirus pandemic shakes out. I do know this. If we all follow the example of Pastor Falls and the Newark Baptist Temple, there will be no controlling or mitigating this pandemic. Falls has a duty and obligation to care for his flock. He has failed to do so. He cannot know whether he himself has been exposed to the virus, or anyone else in attendance, for that matter. Instead, he has let his theology and politics dictate what he deems proper care. He’s young, so he has little risk of dying from COVID-19. Polly’s parents? They are at the front of the death line, and it’s a shame that their pastor is indifferent towards their frail condition. They have given more than half of their lives to the Baptist Temple. They deserve better.

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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Is it Possible to Reform the IFB Church Movement?

for sale sign midwestern baptist college
For Sale Sign in Front of Midwestern Baptist College

I was interviewed recently for the Preacher Boys podcast by Eric Skwarczynski. The primary purpose of Eric’s podcast is to expose abuse within the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Eric is a Christian, but we share a common purpose when it comes to sexual abuse and clergy misconduct in IFB churches, so I was more than happy to lend my voice to his noble cause. The podcast will be available soon. I hope readers of this blog will find our discussion insightful and helpful.

At the end of the show, Eric asked me whether I thought the IFB church movement could be reformed. I told him I didn’t think it could be reformed and that I hoped to be alive when the IFB church drew its last breath. I want to be the person standing bedside with pillow in hand, smothering the last breath out of a religious movement that has caused incalculable harm. I have seen first-hand (and participated in) the carnage caused by IFB churches, colleges, and pastors. I have talked to and corresponded with countless people whose marriages, families, and personal lives were ruined in the name of the IFB God. The psychological wounds and scars run deep. The widening exposure of abuse within the IFB church movement is a sign that people are no longer willing to be cowed into silence by men who value protecting their reputations and their ministries more than they do victims. This exposure is in its infancy, so we can expect to see more and more abuse stories come forth in the days, months, and years ahead.

While it is certainly true that some IFB churches and pastors have “reformed,” I have found that the changes that they have made are largely cosmetic in nature. I don’t know of an IFB church that embraces progressive theology, liberal social values, or inclusivism. Big change in “reformed” IFB churches usually means they use translations other than the KJV, use drums, have praise and worship teams, allow women to wear pants, and permit men to have hair over their ears. Real “reformists” now let congregants go to movie theaters, drink beer from time to time, or read books not published by the Sword of the Lord or Bob Jones Press. Why, some IFB churches are so liberal that high school graduates are now permitted to attend colleges other than the ones attended by their pastors. Talk about unholy ecumenism! Such changes, however, are window dressings meant to give the appearance of a new, improved IFB. Once in the store, people find the same authoritarian practices and exclusionary doctrines. The fundamental problem with the IFB church movement is their beliefs and practices. These things will never change. They can’t. The very foundation of the IFB church movement is the notion of certainty and right belief. Countless IFB churches and pastors believe that they alone have the truth; that they alone are God’s voice and God’s chosen people in their communities. The IFB church movement has always been separatist in nature. I haven’t seen anything in recent years that suggests this has changed.

gary keen bruce mike fox greg wilson midwestern baptist college 1978
Gary Keen, Bruce Gerencser, Mike Fox, Greg Wilson, Midwestern Baptist College, 1978

The only cure for the IFB church movement is death. And the good news is this: IFB churches, colleges, mission agencies, and parachurch organizations are in numerical and economic decline. The heyday of the IFB church movement was 40 years ago. In the 1970s, many of the largest churches in the United States were IFB churches. Today, many of these same churches are either closed or shells of what they once were. From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an IFB institution started by Dr. Tom Malone in 1954. Midwestern was never a big college, but today it roughly has ten percent of the students it had in the 1970s. Its website is outdated, and current information about the college hasn’t been posted in ages. The spacious 32-acre college campus has long since been abandoned and, I believe, sold. Midwestern is now an ancillary ministry of Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. Its president, David Carr, like his father Harry Carr, is a Midwestern grad. I predict that there is coming a day when I will hear that the college has closed its doors.

Dr. Malone was the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. A product of Bob Jones College, Malone started Emmanuel in 1942 after becoming increasingly troubled over what he perceived was liberalism in the Southern and American Baptist conventions. In the uber-sanitized authorized biography Tom Malone: The Preacher from Pontiac, Joyce Vick shares the following apocryphal story:

People ask me all the time, “Brother Tom, to what group do you belong? Of what association are you a member?”

I answer, “None.”

They ask, “Are you a Missionary Baptist?”

“Yes, I am.”

It may sound like a lie, but they do want to know what I am. “Are you a Southern Baptist?”

I say, “I am Southern and I am a Baptist.”

“Are you a Conservative Baptist?”

“Sure, I am conservative.”

“In what association book does Emmanuel Baptist Church appear?”

“Don’t have any.”

“Where are your headquarters?”

“I don’t have one.”

“You mean you don’t belong to anything?”

“No, I belong to the same thing to which the church at Antioch belongs. There is only one tie between New Testament churches, and that is the tie of fellowship. Each church is a local, autonomous church within itself. We have God, El Shaddai, and that’s enough.”

I have never felt I was called to preach for anybody, but I have felt I was caused to preach to everybody. I am not preaching for anybody but Jesus. There is nothing so wonderful, nothing so wholesome, as for a preacher to know there are no strings attached.

Thank God, I don’t have to fit into a denominational program. Thank God, I don’t have to get my orders from some national headquarters. Oh, thank God for the privilege of going to God for my directions! (pages 303, 304)

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac
For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

Emmanuel would be a new kind of Baptist church: an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregation. In the 1970s, Emmanuel had over 7,000 active members, and had attendances on special days over 5,000. Today? The doors of the church are shuttered, and its few remaining members scattered to other Fundamentalist churches in the area. The same story could be said of countless other IFB churches. Even First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, pastored by the late Jack Hyles and once arguably the largest church in the United States, is a shell of what it once was. Sure, you can find growing IFB churches here and there, but most of them are dying. Oh, they will still brag about the number of souls saved, but actual attendance numbers don’t lie.

My wife’s uncle, the late James Dennis, graduated from Midwestern in the 1960s. After pastoring a church in Bay City, Michigan, Jim moved to Newark, Ohio in 1968 to assume the pastorate of the Newark Baptist Temple. A church plant by the Akron Baptist Temple (started by Charles Vaden), the Baptist Temple, as it is commonly called, would see exciting numeric growth in the 1970s and early 1980s. However, by the time Jim died, after serving the Baptist Temple for forty-two years, the church was a shell of what it once was. Its one-time large Christian school was forced to drastically reduce its staff. Licking County Christian Academy (LCCA) at its inception was an Accelerated Christian School (A.C.E.) institution. It would later morph into an unaccredited traditional K-12 school. Today, a skeleton crew of staff use prerecorded Abeka videos to instruct students. Some of our relatives currently attend LCCA, as did our three oldest children for a short time.

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Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination April 1983

Polly and I attended the Baptist Temple for a short time decades ago. I could write for hours about our experiences there — good and bad. We left the Baptist Temple in early 1981 to help Polly’s father, a 1976 graduate of Midwestern and Jim Dennis’ pastoral assistant, to plant a new church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. I continued to have interaction with Jim and the Baptist Temple into the early 2000s. When our family briefly relocated to nearby Frazeyburg, Ohio in late 1994, people were shocked that we decided to NOT join the Baptist Temple, choosing instead to join the Fallsburg Baptist Church, an IFB congregation pastored by my former best friend Keith Troyer.

Over the years, I have watched the Baptist Temple “evolve.” While the church and its leaders are no longer as dogmatic as they once were over “church standards” (extra-Biblical rules used to govern and control the behavior of congregants), they are still a hardcore, right-wing, King James-only authoritarian congregation. When asked what I think has “changed” at the Baptist Temple, I laugh, and reply, “men are allowed to have facial hair now.” I suspect that this is not the kind of “reform” Eric Skwarczynski is talking about.

IFB institutions don’t reform. At best, they pretty themselves up a bit, hoping to attract unsuspecting visitors. Most IFB churches, however, remain committed to what they call “old-fashioned” Baptist beliefs and practices. They are proud to never have changed anything except their underwear. James Dennis was proud of the fact that be believed the same Biblical “truths” when he retired that he believed when graduating from Midwestern years before. No one should wear unchangeability as a badge of honor. “I have never changed my mind on anything. Bless your heart, my beliefs have never changed! Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and so am I. Can I get an AMEN?” And it is for this reason alone that I am convinced that it is impossible to reform the IFB church movement. The movement has chosen to die on the twin hills of arrogance and certainty. All any of us can do is to help them swiftly meet their end.

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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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

1979: The Gremlin

1970s-amc-gremlin

On a hot July day in 1978, before friends and family at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, a naive nineteen-year-old girl and a similarly clueless twenty-one-year-old boy tied the knot, and with a kiss for luck, they were on their way. Little did they know how quickly their lives would change. After a week-long honeymoon at the French Lick Hotel in Indiana, Polly and I made our way north to our new apartment in Pontiac, Michigan. We were looking forward to our junior year of classes at Midwestern Baptist College. Shortly before the first day of classes, Polly said, “I think I’m pregnant.” We had been married six weeks.

When it came to the birds and the bees, we knew the basics, but birth control? We didn’t have a clue. Needless to say, the method we chose to use did not work, most likely due to operator error. Both of us enrolled in classes just as we had planned. However, Polly began having severe bouts of morning sickness. She dropped all of her classes, but two. By January, the machine shop I worked for laid me off. And just like that, six months into marriage, we were plunged into a financial crisis. Neither of us had any idea about how to handle money. I thought it best to withdraw from college too, but the dean of men counseled me to stay in school and “trust that God would provide.” A month later, God still hadn’t provided, so I dropped out of school and prepared to move us to Bryan, the place of my birth. We lived with my sister and her husband for a few weeks until I found employment and suitable housing.

Come late May, Polly’s water broke and I rushed her to the local hospital. It would be two days before our son was born. Polly had what can only be described as marathon labor. Neither of us knew anything about childbirth — no classes back then. We literally were, so to speak, learning on the job. Well, truth be told, Polly was doing all the learning. I was a scared-shitless bystander, sure that my bride was going to die at any moment. Neither of us had parents nearby, so we were on our own.

As Polly moved into the second day of labor, Dr. Sharrock, a pediatrician/obstetrician, told us that it was going to be a while before Polly gave birth.  He said, “I have to pick up a few things at Carroll-Ames (a local hardware/appliance/five and dime store), and then I will be back.”  I told Polly, “look, since nothing is happening, there’s a car I’ve been looking at that I would like to buy. I will be right back, I promise.” Off I went to a small used car lot on the north side of Bryan to see if the car I wanted was still available. I had already arranged for financing, so all I had to do is decide for sure which car I wanted to buy, sign the papers, and return to the hospital. All told, I was gone for about an hour.

I decided to buy a ‘70-something AMC Gremlin. Cool, right?  It had a six-cylinder motor and a three-speed manual transmission. By this time, I was the assistant pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church and was working a first shift job in the shipping department at pneumatic tool maker, Aro Corporation. We needed two cars. Our other car was a white 1967 Chevrolet Impala with red interior. The Impala had a 327-cubic-inch motor with solid lifters. It hammered like a diesel and burned lots of oil. I was looking forward to having a “nice” car. If I remember correctly, I paid $1,200 for the Gremlin.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of our first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents. Polly is six-weeks pregnant.

With the papers signed and the cardboard temporary license plate attached to the back of the car, I pulled the Gremlin out of the car lot and drove south on Main Street towards the hospital. Life was good. Here I had a “new” car, a beautiful wife, and soon I would be a father. I drove under the railroad tracks and stopped at the first traffic light. The light changed, and just as I moved into the intersection, an elderly man drove through the light and attempted to turn right. Unfortunately, my “new” car was in the way, and the man tore the right-front fender completely off the Gremlin. “How can this be happening?” I thought, at the time. “Polly hasn’t even seen this car, and I have already wrecked it!” This accident would become a metaphor for many of the things we have experienced over the past forty-one years of marriage.

After the police report was filed, I drove the fenderless Gremlin to the hospital. I thought, “what in the world am I going to tell Polly?” When I got to Polly’s room, I panicked as I saw her hooked to all sorts of monitors. I thought, “oh, my God, she’s dying!” In my absence, Dr. Sharrock had decided to induce labor. It was game on. Polly was NOT dying, but she sure sounded and felt as if she were. Several hours later, our son Jason was born. The doctors had to use forceps, so Jason came into this world with what can best be described as a conehead. A pretty baby he was not. Polly, of course, disagreed with me. “What a BEAUTIFUL baby!” Polly would go on to have five more beauties.

Several days later, I picked up Polly and Jason from the hospital with the Gremlin and drove them to our apartment duplex on Hamilton Street. In October of that year, we packed our belongings into the Impala and Gremlin and moved 4 hours south to Newark, Ohio. We would remain in central and southeast Ohio for fifteen years.

Dozens of cars would be bought and sold in our lives over the next 40 years, but none of them has a story quite like the Gremlin.

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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

1976: My First Christmas with Polly

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977

Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

In August 1976, I packed my meager belongings into my dilapidated, rust-bucket of a car and moved two hours north to the Midwestern Baptist College dormitory. Midwestern, located in Pontiac, Michigan, was a small, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college. I planned to study for the ministry. Well, that, and chase girls. I thought, at the time, that Midwestern would provide me an ample supply of Baptist girls to date. Playing the field, was my goal. However, “God” had different plans. By the end of September, I was in a serious relationship with a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter named Polly. To say that I was smitten is a gross understatement. In February of 1977, we became engaged, and in July 1978 we tied the knot at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio.

Forty-three years ago, I met a young woman who altered the course of my life. How we got to where we are today requires a book-length telling, but for today, let me share with you the story of our first Christmas.

Polly’s family gathered for Christmas on Christmas Eve. On a snowy Christmas Eve afternoon, I left my mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio and traveled four hours south to Newark, Ohio — the home of Polly’s parents and aunt and uncle. The family gathering that year was held at the home of Jim and Linda Dennis. Jim, married to Polly’s mom’s younger sister, was the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple — an IFB institution. Both Jim and Polly’s father were graduates of Midwestern Baptist College.

Prior to the family gathering, a short, dutiful Christmas Eve service was held at the Baptist Temple. Jim, ever the jokester, pointed out to the congregation that his niece Polly had a guest with her. “They have a shirttail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirttail is.” Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed. No one in Polly’s family, at the time, thought that our relationship would last. I was Polly’s first boyfriend, so her family thought I was just a fad that would quickly pass.

After church, we drove to the Dennis’s home. Polly’s mom had her sister and cousin ride with us, just in case we did something nefarious; you know like hold hands or kiss. We safely arrived to Dennis’ home with our virginity intact.

Until my arrival in Newark, Polly and I had never kissed. That’s right, we had been dating for four months and had not yet kissed each other. The reason for this was simple. Midwestern banned, under threat of expulsion, all physical contact between unmarried dating couples. Called the six-inch rule, this ban caused all sorts of emotional trauma for dating couples. You see, it is normal for couples to desire and have physical contact with each other. “Normal” at Midwestern, however, was determined by the Bible, sexually frustrated preachers, and arcane rules imported from Bob Jones University — the college where the founder of Midwestern, Tom Malone, received his ministerial training.

Getting caught touching a member of the opposite sex was a sure way to get yourself “campused” (grounded from all outside activities, including dating). Repeat offenders were “shipped” (expelled). Polly and I both received demerits for breaking the six-inch rule. Our sin? I played on the college basketball team (not a big feat — think intramural basketball). One day at practice, I slapped at a basketball, severely dislocating a finger. I went to the local ER and oh-so-painfully had the finger put back in place. It remains crooked to this day. I had to wear a finger splint for several weeks. Male students were required to wear ties to classes. The splint hindered my ability to tie my tie, so I asked Polly to do it for me. Keep in mind we were standing in the middle of dorm common area when Polly tied my tie. If we had plans to break the six-inch rule, this would not have been the place we would have done so. Unfortunately, a couple sitting nearby turned us into the disciplinary committee. The next week, we appeared before the committee and were shamed for our licentious, immoral behavior. I suspect the only reason we weren’t punished more severely was because of who Polly’s uncle and father were (Jim was a college trustee at the time).

As you might imagine, by Christmas, our hormones were raging. We looked forward to getting away from the college and its rules so we could privately and intimately express our love to one another. Oh, college administrators warned unmarried students that the six-inch rule still applied while at home for Christmas break. I thought, at the time, “yeah, right. Catch us if you can.”

Polly’s parents lived in an apartment on Union Street. I spent a total of twenty-four hours with Polly that first Christmas. Our first kiss came when Polly’s mom asked her to go to the apartment complex’s laundry room to do some laundry. Seeing an opportunity for some old-fashioned necking, I went along, and it was there we had our first kiss. We did a lot of laundry that day.

Come Christmas Day, it was time for me to go home. Polly begged her mom to let me stay one more day, but she refused. Polly’s mom would spend the next fifteen months doing all she could to destroy our relationship — including forbidding us to marry. Needless to say, she and I have had an on-and-off-contentious relationship for years. In recent years, our relationship with Polly’s parents has improved. Age and impending death will do that, I suppose.

Many kisses would follow that first kiss on Christmas Eve 1976. After our return to Midwestern after break, Polly and I had a real problem on our hands. You see, we had crossed a physical line, and once that line was crossed there was no going back. We spent the next nineteen months breaking the six-inch rule, only double-dating with dorm couples who had the same “moral” standards we had. Summer breaks allowed us the freedom to act normally, but while classes were in session, we had to sneak around to just kiss one another. While we both were virgins on our wedding day, both of us knew that if we waited much longer to get married that we would likely have given in to our passions. A week or so before our wedding, Polly’s mom let us go to The Dawes Arboretum south of Newark without a chaperone. We spent several hours enjoying one another’s embrace, coming oh-so-close to rounding third and sliding into home. As it was, Polly was on a strict curfew, and we were late. Boy, did we get a lecture when we arrived home. Here we were getting married in a matter of days, and we were being treated like children.

One memory about our first Christmas stands tall in my mind. Polly and I were sitting on the couch, close enough to touch one another, but not so close as to arouse her eagle-eye mom’s attention, watching a TV special starring Captain & Tennille. One of the songs they sang was their 1975 number one hit, “Love Will Keep Us Together.

Video Link

Forty-three years later, that song is still true. Love, indeed, has kept us together.

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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

Questions: What do Evangelicals Consider “Moral Failing?”

i have a question

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Darcy asked:

I was just reading something about drug addiction being a medical problem, not a morality problem. Then I realized poverty is also often seen as a moral failing. (Which means a failure to be a True Christian®). Are any other problems often seen as a moral failing, as in NOT True Christian®? Mental illness, physical illness, birth defects (used to be seen as a mark of the devil because of immoral parents), being a survivor of abuse, being LGBTQ, not finding your usual parking space, etc.?

Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Sin is transgression of the Law of God (as found within the pages of the Bible). Thus, you would think that Evangelicals would be diligent in keeping the more than 700 laws, commands, precepts, and teachings found in the Old and New Testaments. If the Bible is what Evangelicals say it is, wouldn’t it stand to reason that these followers of Jesus would commit themselves to studying, understanding, and practicing ALL that the Bible teaches — even the hard things? Yet, we know that Evangelicals don’t live differently from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Outside of what they do with their time on Sunday mornings, there’s little difference between saints and sinners.

Every Evangelical is what I call a Buffet Christian®. Evangelicals, clean plate in hand, walk down the Bible buffet line, picking and choosing what to believe and practice, ignoring the rest. No one obeys all the teachings of the Bible. I don’t know of one Christian who even believes and practices the red words in the Bible (words attributed to Jesus) or Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. Years ago, I told the church I was pastoring, that Christianity would be better served if Christians shut their mouths and spent the next five years putting the Sermon on the Mount into practice. Of course, neither I nor the people I pastored listened to what I was saying. We had a culture war to fight. Jesus would just have to wait until we conquered the United States for God.

One peculiarity found in some Evangelical churches — especially Holiness and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations — is the notion of “church standards.” Church standards consist of a written (sometimes unwritten) list of things church members are expected to believe and practice. After I left the ministry in 2005, our family looked for a church to attend. We found a dying Bible church in Butler, Indiana we thought we would be a good fit for us. The pastor, Jim Glasscock, was a wonderful man, as was his wife. When I inquired about joining, Jim was excited. However, his excitement quickly turned to disappointment. You see, the church had certain standards for members, one of which was holding to dispensational theology and pretribulational, premillennial eschatology. I was a non-dispensational amillennialist. This meant that we could NOT join the church.  Crazy, right?

IFB churches, in particular, are known for having church standards. Some churches require new members to agree to their church’s standards. Often, new congregants are required to sign their names, saying they have read the standards and agree to abide by them. Other churches only do this for members who are in leadership capacities. Back in the late 1970s, we attended the Newark Baptist Temple for a short time. Polly’s uncle, the late Jim Dennis, was the pastor. Polly’s father was the assistant pastor. Annually, members in leadership positions were required to sign on the dotted line affirming submission to the church’s standards. I refused to sign the form, causing quite a problem. I continued to teach Sunday school and drive a bus, but my refusal to submit caused a rift between Pastor Dennis and me.

One afternoon, I stopped by the Baptist Temple to pick Polly up from work. She was a teacher at the church’s school. At the time, I was a general manager for Arthur Treacher’s in Reynoldsburg. It was my day off, and a fellow manager and I got together to play some pick-up basketball. Afterward, wearing sweaty gym shorts and a t-shirt, I stopped at the church to pick up Polly. I knew my dress was a violation of the church’s standards, but, hey, I was just running in and running out, no big deal. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, Pastor Dennis saw me and lit into me like he would someone who was standing there stark naked. He took us to his office and dressed us up one side and down the other. Ever the rebel, I didn’t take his abuse lying down. Pastor Dennis’ behavior turned my rift with him into a chasm — one that neither of us ever totally resolved after that.

Another church that comes to mind is Maranatha Bible Church in Glenford, Ohio. One evening, the church’s pastor, Bob Shaw, stopped by a congregant’s home unannounced. Imagine his surprise when the door was opened by a female Sunday school teacher wearing pants! His outrage over her “sin” caused a huge blow-up, leading to the family leaving the church. Of course, at the time, I had a similar belief about women wearing pants. One woman in the church I pastored refused to stop wearing pants. I went over to her home to talk to her about her lack of submission to the church’s standards (Greek for submissions to my personal beliefs and preferences). She was, of course, wearing pants. As we sat there talking, her husband pointed to his wife and said, “do you really believe ________ wearing pants is a sin?” He was sure that, when pressed, I would back down, but I didn’t. It was the 1980s, and I really did believe that women shouldn’t wear pants. (My wife, Polly, wore a pair of pants for the first time in 2004, at the age of forty-six.)  I told him, “yes, your wife is sinning wearing pants!” Our conversations ended on a cordial note, but this family never darkened the doors of the church again. A few years ago, I apologized to the wife for being such an ass. She graciously accepted my apology (though she, to this day, can’t wrap her mind around the fact that I am an atheist).

I have said all this to point out that when it comes to defining “moral failure” (sin), Evangelicals are all over the place. What is considered a moral failing differs from church to church, pastor to pastor, and member to member. Every Evangelical has a list — written or unwritten — of beliefs and practices by which he or she determines what is or isn’t moral. Take receiving government assistance. I never had a problem with congregants receiving government help. Hell, the Gerencser family wouldn’t have survived the 1980s without the Federal government and the State of Ohio lending them a BIG helping hand. We didn’t have medical insurance for 16 years. Five of our six children were birthed thanks to evil Medicaid. That said, I knew pastors who opposed all forms of government assistance. No matter how dire the circumstances, congregants were expected to pray, seek God’s help, and do everything they could do to change their circumstances.

Some churches have strict qualifications for who may or may not be a pastor. Such churches use 1 Timothy 3 as a list of absolute qualities for a pastor. I saw one standard, ruling your own children well, used to boot several men out of the ministry; not due to anything they had done, but because a grown child was out in the “world” sinning against God. Never mind the fact that I don’t know one pastor — including myself at the time — that measured up to the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

The same goes for the “fruit of the Spirit.” According to Evangelicals, True Christians® are indwelt by the Holy Ghost. In other words, God lives inside every believer, acting as their teacher, guide, and conscience. Galatians 5:22,23 says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Tell me, do you know one Christian who meets this standard? Note, verse 22 says, the fruit of the Spirit IS (present tense), and not some sort of objective for Evangelicals to aspire for. Much like the standard for pastors, Evangelicals are expected to show in their lives “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.” Know any believers who meet this standard? Of course not. Jesus told his disciples, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” How is that working out for God’s chosen ones? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.)

Evangelicals do have lists of beliefs and behaviors they consider “moral failings” However, these lists are dependent on personal interpretation of the Bible, whim, tribal influence, cultural influence, and personal experience. There’s no such thing as an infallible, inviolable, authoritative standard — despite Evangelicals suggesting otherwise. One need only watch current internecine wars being fought among Evangelicals over female preachers, LGBTQ church members, same-sex marriage, and a host of other social hot-button issues. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul writes about Christians having the Holy Spirit as their teacher. Unlike “the natural man [who] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, followers of Jesus have “the mind of Christ.” Tell me, in a nation where most people profess to be Christians, where are the people who “have the mind of Christ?” Where are the people who think and act like Jesus?

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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

A Decade Removed from Leaving Christianity, My Wife’s Mom Finally Asks Her if She Believes in God

believe-in-god

Polly and I attended church for the last time in November, 2008. While I was quicker to embrace the atheist moniker than Polly, she intellectually, at least, didn’t believe in the existence of God. In recent years, she has been more open about her lack of belief, but even now she’s quite reserved when compared to her word-generating-machine husband. That said, we are both on the same page when it comes to the existence of the Christian God.

Polly’s father is a retired Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor. Dad graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in 1976 — the same year his daughter enrolled for classes. Dad and Mom moved south to Newark, Ohio where Dad became the poorly-paid assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. The Baptist Temple was pastored by Jim Dennis. Jim was married to my mother-in-law’s younger sister. Dad would later pastor a church in nearby Buckeye Lake. After this church closed, Dad and Mom returned to the Baptist Temple, the church they call home to this day,

Talking about things has never been Mom and Dad’s forte. When we left the ministry in 2005 and Christianity in 2008, Mom and Dad never said a word — NOT ONE WORD! (even after receiving Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners). That is, until today. As most of you know, Polly is having surgery tomorrow to remove bladder cancer and repair a fistula. An hour or so ago, Polly’s mom called her at work. This is the gist of their conversation:

Mom: I have never asked you before, but do you think like Bruce does?

Polly: What do you mean?

Mom: Well, like do you still believe in God?

Polly: No, Mom!

Mom: How can you not? You asked Jesus to save you when you were seven! [actually, it was at age five]

Polly: I’m fine, Mom.

Mom: Well, we pray for you and Bruce and the kids [all heathens, in her eyes, by the way], a lot!

End of discussion.

Polly texted me, “Sigh, OMG! How many years did she have to ask?”

Polly texted me later “Pretty sure she was more upset than me! If she didn’t want to know, she should have kept quiet! I told her I had excellent specialists taking care of me. I mean, seriously! What’s Jesus going to do for me?”

This is the first and only time Polly’s parents have asked about our loss of faith. They had a decade to ask, yet never, ever said a word outside of the constant reminders, “we are praying for you!” I suspect Mom felt led by the Holy Spirit to call her daughter. Knowing that Polly was having surgery, Mom wanted to make sure where her daughter stood with the Christian God. I am quite sure she didn’t expect to hear Polly say she didn’t believe in God. Mom and Dad and their former pastor, the late Jim Dennis, have always believed that I have a larger-than-life influence over Polly. There was a time that that was true, but those days are long gone — as in, twenty-five plus years gone. Polly is her own person, and able to make decisions for herself — including whether she believes in the existence of God.

Polly enters the hospital tomorrow trusting that skilled medical professionals will do their best to remove the cancer and fix the bladder side of the fistula. We are confident that they will succeed in this endeavor. Mom fears for Polly’s soul. All I want is for the love of my life to come home safe and sound.

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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

Baptist Shorts — Culottes

polly gerencser late 1990s

Polly Gerencser, late 1990s, carrying water from the creek to flush the toilets. An ice storm had knocked out the power. Oh, the clothing! But she was and remains one beautiful woman.

Many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers spend an inordinate amount of time instructing congregants about what clothing is acceptable to God. This is especially true when it comes to the clothing of girls and women. Last week, I posted a quote by Gerald Collingsworth, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Mogadore, Ohio, that stated in no uncertain terms that girls wearing “immodest” clothing can and do cause male family members to sexually assault (commit incest with) them. Consider the following graphics from an article written by IFB zealot Daphne Kirkland titled, A Return to Biblical Modesty.

modesty check

dressing modestly

Girls and women are not permitted to wear anything that draws attention to their feminine shape. The goal is to keep weak, pathetic church boys and men from getting boners while in their presence. Girls and women are viewed as gatekeepers, and it is up to them to dress and act in ways that extinguish sinful unmarried sexual want, need, or desire. The goal is no sticky underwear before marriage.

One universally banned item of clothing is shorts. Usually, attention is only paid to what girls and women wear, but I remember a spring day when I was playing pick-up basketball after work and came to get Polly from the Newark Baptist Temple after I was finished. I was wearing a T-shirt, gym shorts, tube socks, and Converse basketball shoes. I went into the church building to let Polly knowing that I had arrived. As I neared her classroom, I ran into her uncle, the late James “Jim” Dennis. As soon as he saw me, he laid into me about my inappropriate dress. He sternly lectured me about wearing shorts, informing me that I was to never, ever again enter the Baptist Temple wearing such clothing. A year later, I witnessed Jim go ballistic at Polly’s parent’s home over her sister wearing slacks to work. She was a nurse’s aide at a nearby nursing home. Her dress was quite typical for people who worked at the home. Keep in mind, Polly’s sister was an adult. It mattered not. As Jim had done with me, he took my sister-in-law to task IFB- preacher-style, telling her that wearing slacks was a sin. Sound almost beyond belief? Yep, but it’s the truth, nonetheless.

polly pontiac michigan 1977

Polly, 1977, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan. Notice the shirt under the sundress?

As temperatures warm in Ohio, it’s natural to see girls and women wearing shorts. Many women find shorts cooler and more comfortable than pants. IFB congregants sweat just as much as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, so it stands to reason that Fundamentalist girls and women want to wear cooler, more comfortable clothing too. However, shorts are verboten. Some girls and women will wear sundresses. Polly wears sundresses to this day. Never one to wear shorts, she spends most summers wearing colorful sundresses. Because sundresses tend to show side boob and cleavage, IFB girls and women — Polly included, at the time — wear sleeved T-shirts underneath their dresses. I often find myself smiling when I see Polly wearing a sundress today — sans T-shirt. Damn girl, that’s some mighty fine cleavage. I know, I am so w-o-r-l-d-l-y. All praise be to Loki for breasts!

Many IFB preachers encouraged church girls and women to wear what is commonly called in the movement, Baptist shorts. Baptist shorts are culottes. Almost every IFB girl and woman has several pairs of these pastor-approved “shorts.” Usually, culottes are loose fitting, especially around the legs. Reaching to the knees, culottes are meant to be comfortable, “modest” clothing. That said, many IFB girls and women HATE wearing culottes. When worn in public, culottes are a blaring, flashing sign that says to the world, I’m a member of the IFB cult! The same goes for shoe-top length skirts or maxi dresses. Polly and I can spot IFB families (and homeschoolers) from a mile away. The “uniforms” and the hairstyles give away their religious identity. Of course, their preachers think this is wonderful. Christians are SUPPOSED to look different from the world, IFB preachers say, but why is it that it is only women who look different; that IFB boys and men look just like their counterparts in the world? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

As an IFB pastor, I held to the party line on Baptist shorts for many years — that is, until two events forced me to change my mind.

One late spring day, I drove up from Somerset, Ohio to the Newark Baptist Temple to talk to Pastor Dennis. Our oldest two children were attending the church school — Licking County Christian Academy — at the time. As I drove into the church’s main parking lot, I noticed four teen girls bent over pulling weeds out of the flower beds. These girls were cheerleaders. Typical of IFB schools at the time, the cheerleaders were not permitted to wear short skirts. Instead, the girls wore red culottes. What set them apart was the fact that their culottes were quite tight, so much so that I could have bounced a quarter off their backsides when they were bent over. I thought at the time, I thought culottes were supposed to be modest. These are NOT modest!

Several years later, we gathered up the teens from several churches and took them to Loudenville, Ohio for a canoe trip. The girls from my church begged me to let them wear pants, but being the stern pastor I was at the time, I said no. The trip was a blast. Most of the teenagers spent more time in the water than out. By the time teens debarked, they all looked like drowned rats. As was our custom, I gathered all the teens up and had them sit on the ground so I could preach at them. IFB Rule #6 — Thou shalt not have fun without spending time listening to a boring sermon. As the teens settled into their seats on the ground, I turned to speak to them and was astounded by what I saw. On the front row were a dozen or so Baptist-shorts-wearing girls. Legs splayed wide, I could see their underwear. Worse yet, an afternoon in the water made their T-shirts see-through. I quickly asked the girls to put their legs down and then I preached my sermon. I later told Polly that I no longer believed that baptist shorts were appropriate for outdoor events. From that moment forward, church teens and women were permitted to wear pants to such events. I know, I know, big deal, right? Remember the context, and where I was at that point in my life. Deciding to let girls and women wear pants in some circumstances was a monumental decision. As time went along, my views on clothing liberalized, so much so that I stopped preaching about the matter.

In the Gerencser home, change came slowly. Polly was in her 40s before she wore her first pair of pants. It had taken me months to convince her that she was not going to go to Hell if she wore them. Today, Polly is a confirmed member of the sisterhood of the traveling pants. Her Baptist shorts? She continued to wear them when working in the garden or painting. Once they wore out, they were pitched into the trash, never to be seen again.

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.

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

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

One of the Reasons I Love My Wife

text conversation

How do I love thee? let me count the ways . . .

Every day, Polly, without fail, texts me when she arrives at work. The screenshot above is of a text conversation we had earlier this week.

I love the last text from Polly, “I’d go to hell and back with you!” — complete with two smilies, signifying that her words are meant in a humorous way. We can’t, of course, go to hell and back. There is no hell. Hell and Heaven are mythical places used by preachers to keep congregants in line. In classic carrot-and-stick fashion, preachers promise congregants Heaven if they will play by the rules, and Hell if they don’t.

While there is no such thing as Hell, it is an apt metaphor for the lie Polly and I have shared. We started dating in the fall of 1976 and married the summer of 1978. This July we will celebrate our forty-first wedding anniversary. Polly and I have had a wide range of experiences as a married couple. Good times, hard times. Heaven, Hell. I can look back over our lives together and see we have experienced a fair bit of Hell in our lives: Poverty. A child born with Down Syndrome. Church strife. Severe health problems. Disagreements with parents and extended family. Loss of faith.  We have had extended periods as husband and wife when we wondered if would ever stop raining; if the sun would ever shine again; if life would ever return to normal. Yet, through it all, we persevered; and in that sense we have indeed been to hell and back. No matter the circumstance, with stoic determination we hung on, hoping (and praying) for a better tomorrow. And as sure as Donald Trump will say something stupid on Twitter, better times did come our way.

I could list numerous reasons why I love Polly, but the one reason that stands above all others is that when I have descended into hell, she has been right beside me, and when I emerge from the pit into the sunshine of a better day, she is still there.

Forty years ago, Polly and I stood before friends and family at the Newark Baptist Temple and recited the following vows:

Groom: I, Bruce, take thee, Polly, to be my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.

Bride: I, Polly take thee, Bruce, to be my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.

Till death do us part. The hells of life have certainly left us scarred, but we have endured. Every day presents us new challenges, but hand-in-hand Polly and I meet them together. And if we must, yet again, descend into hell for a time, we know we will make it because we have one another. To each other, we are friends who stick closer than brothers, even when it’s hot.

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

polly mom and dad 2018 (2)

Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2018

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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

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

Christian Patriarchy: Should Wives Obey Their Husbands No Matter What?

husbands beat their wives

According to Evangelical complementarianism, husbands are their head of their homes. Wives are to submit to their husbands in all things. If husbands ask their wives to do something they think is wrong or they don’t want to do, wives should obey their masters’ commands anyway. Come judgment day, complementarians say, God will judge husbands and they will have to give an account for commanding their wives to do wrong. Most complementarians have two caveats of sorts: no, you don’t have to allow your husband to beat you, and no, you are not obligated to so anything that is “sin.” Outside of these two exceptions, wives are expected to woman-up and do exactly what their husbands tell them the to do. Take the issue of sex. Tired after caring for six children, cooking meals, cleaning the house, washing three million dirty cloth diapers, ironing your husband’s underwear, and making soap for your home-based business? Tough shit. When husbands want sex, wives are expected to give it to them — even during their periods — on demand. Simply put, wives are children with whom husbands can have sex. In every other way, there’s little difference between how wives are treated and how children are treated.

Today. Lori Alexander, defended the aforementioned belief this way:

What do women do who are completely against vaccinating their children but their husbands want their children to be vaccinated? They believe that vaccines contain aborted babies and can cause harm to their children. They are even afraid that their children could die from them since some have. Can they disobey their husbands’ will in this circumstance? Are the husbands asking their wives to sin? (Yes, some believe that vaccinating children is sinful.)

….

God commands that wives submit to their husbands in everything. No, they don’t submit to physical abuse or if their husbands ask them to do something evil but in everything else, yes, they submit. Some wives believe that injecting their children with vaccinations is evil but in this case, I believe they must submit. The Bible doesn’t say that vaccinating children is evil. Yes, abortion is evil and if, in fact, it is found out that most vaccinations are indeed filled with aborted fetuses, then they may have a case but as I stated, there is no way that they can prevent their husbands from vaccinating their children without causing much harm to their marriage. Children NEED a father and a mother. Children need their mothers loving their fathers. They don’t need conflict and chaos in their homes. They need a home filled with peace and love. This is much more likely to happen when the wife is obeying the Lord and her husband.

When a wife is living in loving submission to her husband on a continual basis, her husband will be much more willing to listen to her appeals. If she has researched vaccinations and feels strongly against them, she can share these with him after praying. Then she must give it to the Lord and live by faith instead of by fear.

Now, the husband in Alexander’s story wants to do what’s best for his children. Alexander, I believe, is an anti-vaxxer. What she is saying here is that wives should refrain from doing right by their children if their husbands ask them to do something that might harm them. And believe me, not getting vaccinations harms not only children, but society at large. The general principle is this: Wives are to do whatever their husbands command them to do as long they are not physically assaulting them or asking them to do something “evil.” Since the Bible doesn’t mention vaccinating children, wives should have their children vaccinated even if they think it may harm them. After all, God is in charge and he will protect them, right?

Anyone with an ounce of critical thinking can discern that this kind of thinking is psychologically and physically harmful, and could even cause death. Wives are turned into lemmings who can’t think for themselves. If I asked my wife what is the biggest “hangover” from our Evangelical days, she would say, “my hesitancy to make my own decisions.” We are more than a decade removed from our complementarian days, yet we still struggle with what I call the vestigial beliefs from our past. As much as we have tried to change our thinking, Polly and I still, at times, revert to our old ways. We are a long way from where we were, but fifty years of complementarian indoctrination will not be undone overnight. It takes time.

I have talked to my counselor many times about this — my frustration with our inability to move towards a more egalitarian marriage. “Well, Bruce, you like making decisions, and maybe Polly likes you making them,” he told me. I suspect he is right. I know I DO like making decisions. I am quite capable of making snap decisions, of being able to quickly size up a matter and decide accordingly. After forty years of marriage to me, Polly likes that I can do this, if for no other reason than that I am to blame if a decision has a bad outcome. Of course, I think it is important Polly think for herself and make her own decisions. This means that I often refrain from making decisions on her behalf, reminding her that she doesn’t need my permission to do something/buy something.

We remain a work in progress. Polly now has a supervisory position at her place of employment. Having this job has forced her to make decisions and be accountable for them. I remember her coming home filled with grief, telling about someone getting upset with her over a decision she made. I laughed, and said, “Welcome to making decisions. Every decision you make has the possibility of pissing someone off.”

The Lori Alexanders of the world want to keep women enslaved. “As long as your husbands don’t beat your ass or ask you to rob a bank, shut the fuck up and do what they say!” Crude? Yes, but this is exactly what Alexander is saying. Worse yet, some Evangelical preachers believe that wives should stay with their husbands even if they beat them — especially if they are unsaved. Why? The Bible says:

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. (1 Peter 3:1-4)

In the 1980s, the church I was pastoring at the time joined together with other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) and Bible churches to hold a crusade (revival) in Newark, Ohio. Jim Dennis, my wife’s uncle and the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, was the chairman of the crusade. Pete (or it might have been Bill) Rice of Sword of the Lord/Bill Rice Ranch fame was brought in to be the speaker for the crusade. Several days into the meeting, Rice preached on marriage. Now, I knew he held to a “no divorce” position, so I knew we would disagree on that point. However, I was shocked when he said that Christian wives who were being beaten by their unsaved husbands should consider staying in their homes. Since being beaten by your husband is NOT, according to Rice, grounds for divorce, might it not be better for wives to endure the beatings and, through their godly testimonies win their husbands to Christ? Granted, Rice believed it was okay for wives to separate from their abusive husbands. He had to make such a grudging allowance due to what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:

But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? (1 Corinthians 7:9-16)

Now, there are all sorts of ways to interpret this passage of Scripture, but Evangelicals who believe there are NO grounds for divorce say wives can separate from an abusive spouse, but then can never divorce and remarry. In their minds, remarriage is the same as committing adultery. Rice’s words so incensed me that I withdrew our church from participating in the crusade. That decision made for a bit of family controversy, but I didn’t care. I may have been a complementarian at the time, but I thought wrong to suggest wives couldn’t file for divorce even if their husbands were beating them or abusing them in other ways.

Regular commenter Brian is right when he asserts religion is harmful — especially Evangelical Christianity. Complementarianism is foundational to Evangelical beliefs about marriage and the family. As long as this is so, wives will be considered inferior to their husbands, best suited for bearing children, cooking meals, doing domestic work, and putting out when their husbands ask. Husbands will continue to rule their kingdoms, thinking that doing so is what God commands. And children, seeing this sort of dysfunctional, harmful marriage modeled to them, will follow in their parents’ steps. Until the cycle is broken, complementarianism will live on.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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

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

“Normal” is a Just a Setting on a Washing Machine

normal

I have always had a contentious relationship with my wife’s mother. She never wanted me to marry her daughter, and she went to great lengths to frustrate our dating relationship. It was not until Polly told her mother we were getting married with or without her blessing that she grudgingly gave in and helped Polly plan our wedding. We’ve been married for forty years. Polly’s mom was certain that marrying someone from a divorced family led to divorce. I assume, by now, we have put that bit of nonsense to rest. Over the years, Polly and I butted heads with her mom over how many children we planned to have, how we raised our children, ministerial moves, choices of secular employment, how we celebrated Christmas, and a host of other things.

Polly’s mom is now on the last leg of life. She’s has congestive heart failure and has been give six or so months to live. In 2005, Polly’s younger sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash (If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All) leaving Polly alone responsible for her aged parents. In 2004-2005, we lived in Newark, Ohio, not far from Polly’s parents. Our plan was to live there and care for Polly’s parents as they got older. Unfortunately, they made it clear that our help wasn’t needed. Message received. We returned to northwest Ohio so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. Two years ago, Polly’s dad had botched hip replacement surgery that left him crippled. We offered to move them up here so we could help care for them. Our offer was rebuffed. Polly’s mom told her that they couldn’t move because their church — the Newark Baptist Temple — was very important to them. This sentiment is strange considering that their church has pretty much ignored them since Dad’s hip surgery. Out of sight, out of mind.

It will be left to Polly to take care of everything after her mom dies. Common sense says that Polly’s parents should have a will, but, unfortunately, common sense seems hard to find these days. Polly’s mom refuses to have a will drawn up, leaving Polly a colossal mess to deal with after her mom dies. Polly calls her mom every Sunday at 10:00 PM. They talk for one hour. In recent weeks, I have listened to Polly gently try to explain to her mom why having a will is important. Finally, I had enough and asked to Polly to put the phone on speaker. Bruce, the son-in-law she wishes she never had, is more blunt and direct than his wife. I let my mother-in-law know exactly what she was leaving behind for her daughter if she died intestate. In no uncertain terms I let her know that her view of the family was naïve. (She believes everyone will just get along after her death and there will be no problems settling the estate without a will.) She said nothing, thinking, I’m sure, “here’s another one of Bruce’s lectures.” Polly told me later that her mom let her know that she was putting her dad in a nursing home in Newark BEFORE she dies! I suspect she heard from one of her local grandsons that Polly and I had been talking about what to do with/for her dad after Mom died. One idea was to put him in a nursing home near us so we and children could provide for his needs. It seems that, even to the end, Mom intends to maintain the wall between us and her church and “godly” grandchildren in central Ohio. Her behavior has broken Polly’s heart, but there’s nothing she can do about it. Polly has always been the dutiful daughter, yet it seems her mom has chosen the rebellious daughter’s family over hers — much like in the Bible story about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). In the end, it’s Mom’s loss. She has an awesome daughter, and we have wonderful children and grandchildren; people with great empathy and compassion; people who value family. She doesn’t know this, of course, because she has chosen her dead daughter’s family over Polly’s. Such is life . . .

I realize that if Polly had married a “normal” Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher boy things might be different. Instead, Polly married a “bad boy,” a man who has always marched to the beat of his own drum, a man who has rarely been afraid to make hard, controversial decisions. In Mom’s eyes, I am an “odd duck”; I’m “different.” Why couldn’t I have been like other IFB preachers? Why couldn’t I have kept the faith? You see, the underlying issue is my unwillingness to hew to IFB belief. We left the IFB church movement years before we deconverted. Polly’s mom was upset with me numerous times during my years in the ministry; upset over decisions such as: me not wearing the IFB preacher uniform (white shirt, tie and suit), letting Polly wear pants, allowing my children to listen to Christian rock, not preaching from behind a pulpit, not sending my children to a Christian college, removing the name “Baptist” from our church name, using praise and worship music during church services, and not using the KJV when I preached, to name a few. Nothing was as bad, though, as me leaving the ministry and the two of us walking away from Christianity. I suspect that Mom believes that if I were out of the picture, Polly would come running back to Jesus and the family faith. Little does she know how independent her daughter really is and how anti-religion she has become. She may not be as vocal as her husband, but Polly has no use for anything associated with organized religion. She is, in every way, her own woman. The days when Bruce, the IFB Patriarch, ruled the home are long gone. Most of all, Mom blames me for what our children have become. According to her, I have RUINED them! Actually, what I really did was set them free. Each of them is free to be whoever and whatever he or she wants to be. Yes, to a person each has abandoned IFB/Evangelical Christianity, and some don’t believe in gods at all. Yes, they have abandoned the social strictures of their Fundamentalist youth. OMG! They drink beer and cuss. They are so “worldly,” and it is all MY fault. I am, after all, in her IFB worldview, the head of the home, even though all my children are out on their own with families, well-paying jobs, and own their homes. Mom might lament their worldliness, but I am quite proud of who and what ALL my children have become.

It’s Thanksgiving 2005. We are living in Bryan, Ohio, five miles from where we now live. Polly’s parents came to our home to join us for the day. Mom, as she often did, blew into our home like a tornado, moving furniture and changing meal preparations. It was noticeable to me that Polly was quit stressed by her mom’s behavior. She, however, said nothing. As the day wore on, I became increasingly agitated by Mom’s behavior, so much so that I reminded her that she was a guest in our home and asked her to please STOP micromanaging everything. Well, that went over well. Mom and Dad didn’t stay long that day. A day or so later, Mom called to apologize. During our conversation she said, “Bruce, we have always accepted you. We knew you were ‘different.'”

Different? Sure, but does that make a bad husband, father, grandfather, or person? Since when is being different a bad thing? My mother had many faults, but she taught me to think for myself and be my own person. I carried her teachings into my life and they continue with me to this day. I refuse to follow the well-trodden path. I refuse to do something just because everyone is doing it. I choose, instead, to walk my own path, even if that means I am walking alone. I realize that Mom will go to the grave saddened by what has become of her daughter and her son-in-law. Instead of seeing that we are happy and blessed, all she can see is our ungodly disobedience and lack of faith. Instead of seeing what awesome children and grandchildren we have, all she can see is their faithlessness and worldliness. Her religion keeps her from truly embracing and enjoying our family. In mom’s world, the wash can only be cleaned if the washing machine is set to “normal” and Tide is used for detergent.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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

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

40 Years Later: A Kiss for Luck and We’re on Our Way

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

It was a hot July day in 1978 when Polly and I stood before family and friends at the Newark Baptist Temple and pledged our troth one to one another. We were two naive — in every way — Baptist youths, nineteen and twenty-one. We believed that God had divinely brought us together. We met for the first time in late August 1976, days before our first classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I planned to be a pastor and Polly set her sights on finding herself a preacher-boy to marry.

We were a mismatched couple; Polly was quiet, reserved, and backward, whereas I was talkative, outgoing, and precocious. Our early dates were a whole lot of me talking and Polly listening. After dating for six months — dating meaning double-dates to college-approved restaurants and no physical contact  (See Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule) — I asked Polly to marry me. She said yes, and I gave her a 1/4 carat diamond ring I had purchased at Sears for $225. Little did we know what life would bring our way. Our plans were simple: get married, have two children, move to a town where I would pastor a church the rest of our lives, and live in quaint home with a white picket fence. What could go wrong, right?

Our first reality check came when Polly’s mom informed us that we couldn’t get married; that she and her Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor-husband would not give us their blessing. My parents divorced in the early 1970s, and Polly’s mom believed divorce was hereditary. After several months of stewing over their disapproval, Polly called her mom and told her that we were going to get married anyway, with or without their approval. This was the first time Polly stood up to her parents. Realizing that they had no power to stop us from marrying, Polly’s parent’s relented and set their minds on preparing for their daughter’s soon-to-come July wedding.

Our wedding was typical of the day, but there were several things that stand out even today. My best man and groomsmen were friends of mine from college. We had rented our tuxedos in Pontiac, bringing them with us to Newark, Ohio for the wedding. Thinking the rental company had properly sized our tuxes, we didn’t try them on before the day of the wedding, Imagine our surprise, then, to find out one of the groomsmen’s pants were too small. Panic set in, but Polly’s mom quickly took care of things by letting out the seat of the pants. All is well, we thought. Come time for the wedding, the preacher (the late James Dennis, Polly’s uncle), my groomsmen, and I walked up basement stairs to the front on the church auditorium. As we were walking up the stairs, the emergency-tailored pants ripped from stem to stern. All any of us could to was laugh, and laugh we did. My friend would stand the whole time with legs and butt cheeks clenched together during the ceremony, hoping that no one would see his airy pants. Fortunately, no one saw the tear, though I do wonder if some people wondered why he was walking through the church with his legs to tightly closed together.

Polly’s uncle volunteered to photograph our wedding. We said, sure. Art purchased new lighting equipment for our wedding. As the wedding processional began, I saw this panicked look on Art’s face. His new equipment was not working! Unfortunately, as a result, we have no live photographs of our wedding. We do have posed photos that were taken after the wedding.

The soloist for our wedding was a college friend of ours. He sang two songs, The Wedding Song by Peter, Paul and Mary:

He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts
Rest assured this troubadour is acting on His part.
The union of your spirits, here, has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is Love. There is Love.

A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home
And they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.
As it was in the beginning is now and ‘til the end
Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again.
And there is Love. There is Love.

Well then what’s to be the reason for becoming man and wife?
Is it Love that brings you here or Love that brings you life?
And if loving is the answer, then who’s the giving for?
Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before?
Oh there’s Love, there is Love.

Oh the marriage of your spirits here has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is Love. There is Love.

and We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters:

We’ve only just begun to live
White lace and promises
A kiss for luck and we’re on our way
We’ve only begun

Before the rising sun, we fly
So many roads to choose
We’ll start out walking and learn to run
And yes, we’ve just begun

Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watching the signs along the way
Talkin’ it over, just the two of us
Workin’ together day to day, together

And when the evening comes, we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
And yes, we’ve just begun

Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watching the signs along the way
Talkin’ it over, just the two of us
Workin’ together day to day, together

And when the evening comes, we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
And yes, we’ve just begun

Little did we know, that “secular” music was not permitted for weddings at the Baptist Temple. Afterward, we learned that, thanks to us, all wedding music had to be pre-approved. Forty years later, our “sin” still affects couples wanting to be married at the Baptist Temple. Sorry ’bout that!

After our wedding, we headed to Springfield, Ohio where we would spend our first night together as husband and wife. Neither of us had any experience sexually. Our entire sex education came from things I overheard in high school locker rooms, Polly’s mom giving her a two-minute PSA, and both of us reading The Act of Marriage, by Fundamentalist Baptist Tim LaHaye. Somehow, we figured out.

bruce polly gerencser wedding 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, July 1978, with Bruce’s mom and dad

We spent two nights at the French Lick Hotel in French Lick, Indiana. Afterward, we drove to Rochester, Indiana to visit my mom and then over to Bryan, Ohio to visit my sister and her family. We spent the night at the Exit Two Motel. The room was hot, infested with mosquitoes, and we spent the night listening to clanking pipes. Come morning, we returned to Pontiac, Michigan to begin our junior year of college.

We rented a four-room upstairs apartment in Waterford Township, a short drive from Midwestern. I returned to my job at Felice’s Market and Polly continued to clean the homes of several people, including the condo of a Jewish rabbi and his family. Six weeks after our wedding, Polly informed me that she was pregnant. Pregnant? How can that be? I thought. We are using birth control. Children should never play with fireworks, and so it is with naïve Baptist youths with sex. We knew we wanted to wait to have children, but our inexperience with birth control charted a different course for us. In late May 1979, our son was born, six weeks before our first wedding anniversary. By then, I had been laid off from work, we dropped out of college, and returned to Northwest Ohio — the last place I ever wanted to come back to.

Yesterday, Polly and I celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary. We spent the afternoon and evening in Findlay, Ohio, sitting along the banks of the Blanchard River, photographing squirrels, and talking about life. So much water has coursed under proverbial bridge of our married life. At times, slow-moving streams, at other times floods threatening to overrun the banks, destroying all that stood in their way. Yet, we survived. Six children in ten years. Always living life on the edge of financial ruin. Bankruptcy. Twenty-five years of pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Countless houses and automobiles. A near-death health crisis. Surgeries. Heart problems. Chronic illness, unrelenting pain, and disability. The birth of a daughter with Down Syndrome. The loss of faith and starting over. Any of these things could have brought ruin, yet we endured.

We are not special or gifted in any way. There’s no formula or magic. We know that that we are lucky to have made it this far. Yet, made it we have. As we drove home from Findlay in a car that cost more than our first twenty cars combined, I opened Spotify on my iPhone and started streaming The Carpenters to our car’s entertainment system. My how things have changed. We are a long ways away from when we first listened to these songs on WJR and CKLW, yet their lyrics touch a deep place in our hearts, bringing tears and longing. We started out forty years ago with We’ve Only Just Begun, and in many ways that’s still the case. While most of our life together is in the rear-view mirror, there are still new horizons ahead. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, with a kiss for luck, we’ll make it to the end.

I love you, Polly.

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