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Tag: OCPD

Bruce, the Fixer

fix it man

Earlier today, my good friend Brian Vanderlip said:

Hey Bruce, Practice resting and see if you can beat me at it! I have this theory that all those damaged by the fundy virus are unable to relax without guilt making it impossible to sustain or nearly so. I sit and read for a while and then get up because I feel guilty… Just for taking it easy with a book! That guilt-free time of rest and reading is what I wish for you, my friend, and the strength to venture forth with your camera. Pope Brian has absolved you of your ignorant disdain for cheese with burgers and your foolish nonsense about toilet paper rolls being hung any old which way. (Comment on the post Living with Fibromyalgia.)

Brian is the son of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, and, much like myself, a crusty curmudgeon. I love Brian’s numerous turns of phrase, while at the same time making thoughtful points and observations.

In today’s post, I want to build on what Brian said about how our former religious beliefs and practices made it almost impossible to rest; that attempts to rest and relax often brought feelings of guilt. Spend decades and decades in such an unhealthy environment, and it leaves deep, lasting psychological scars. Even after divorcing Jesus and walking (running) away from Evangelical Christianity, some of us have trouble getting away from the pathological need to be perpetual motion machines. In my case, I spent my life fixing things that were broke: churches, marriages, and relationships. When I was looking for a new church to pastor, why was I so drawn to dysfunctional churches that would require herculean efforts to fix? I hope to answer this question and others in this post.

One question that comes to mind, at least for me, is how much obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) plays a central part in my restless need to fix things. Was I always this way? Did my staunch Fundamentalist Baptist upbringing fuel my OCPD? I am not sure I can adequately answer these questions. All I know for certain is that from my teen years forward I’ve been a restless person, always looking for the next conquest. I can look back over my life and it is not hard to see a man who was a wanderer, someone who was never satisfied. Of course, it was my religion that taught me to never be satisfied with self. I was taught and then taught others that we sinned daily in thought, words, and deeds. There could never be a good day, a sin-free day, a day when I felt that Jesus wasn’t lurking around the corner, ready to punish me for my indiscretions and failures. Even as a Calvinist — a sect that speaks much of and glories in God’s grace — I never had a day where I felt that everything between me and Jesus was a-okay. Calvinism is inherently a works-based religion. True Christians® must persevere until the end to be saved, and even then God could say to you, “HA! the jokes on you! You never were one of the elect. It’s Hell for you, buddy.”

As a pastor, I believed most Christians were quite lazy. How dare they fritter their lives away while there was work to do building the Kingdom of God. Hell is hot and Jesus is coming soon, I thought at the time. How dare we lounge around and relax while there were souls to save! So I was quite driven to labor in God’s vineyard. Didn’t Jesus say:

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. (John 9:4)

I suspect my personality made it easy for me to work myself to death serving Jesus. I carried the same work ethic into my secular employment. I worked hard, never missed work, and rarely took days off. I was drawn to management jobs that allowed to me to work, work, work. For many years, between my church and secular employment, it was not uncommon for me to work 60+ hours a week. Polly not-so-fondly remembers the days when I would go to work in the morning, come home, shower, and head for the church, returning late at night. Day in day out; six, often seven days a week. I am not looking for a medal here (or condemnation). I recognize that my driven personality caused harm to my family, and materially affected my health. But, you can’t understand the man Bruce Gerencser without understanding what I have shared thus far.

This behavior when on for decades. The churches I pastored loved me because I was willing to be a full-time pastor while working a full-time job outside of the church. Churches loved my passion and zeal, my commitment and devotion. And I did it all for Jesus. Well, that and the fact that I really craved being busy. I was, in every way, a textbook workaholic. It certainly wasn’t for the money. Our family made more in 2020 than I made in eleven years pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Now don’t read too much into that. It’s not that we are well off. We’re not. It just that the churches I pastored didn’t pay well, and not one church I pastored provided insurance or retirement. I don’t blame these churches, per se. After all, I was the CEO. Why didn’t I ask for (demand) a better salary and benefits? On the other hand, why did the deacons/church board/congregants never raise the issue and demand the church take better care of its preacher?

Truth be told, I would have worked for free. I was so in love with Jesus and the work of the ministry that I practically took a vow of poverty. When the churches I pastored had money problems, I was first in line to say, “don’t worry about it. Just don’t pay me this week.” Of course, I never thought I would be a broken-down sixty-three-year-old man unable to work. Choices made decades ago have now extracted their due in the sunset years of my life.

Since how much money I was to be paid was never the object for me, I focused on the work of the ministry: preaching, teaching, evangelizing, street preaching, teaching Christian school students, cutting firewood, shoveling snow, working on church vehicles, remodeling church buildings, and daily ministering to the needs of church members. My motto? Better to burn out than rust out.

Over the course of twenty-five years, I pastored/worked for seven churches. My pastorates were either long in tenure, or quite short: 8 months, 2 1/2 years, 11 years, 7 months, 7 months, 7 years, and 7 months. (What was it about the number seven, right?) What I do know is that I wasn’t very good at determining “God’s will for my life.” I have always had a hard time saying no. Take my short time at Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan — a now-defunct Southern Baptist congregation. After I sent my resume out to Southern Baptist area missionaries, it was only a matter of days before my phone was ringing off the hook — calls from churches looking for a pastor. I was thirty-five years old at the time, with three children still at home. And, my wife played the piano, and both of us sang special music. Woo hoo! Just what churches were looking for! You would think that I carefully considered each of the 15+ churches that contacted me. Surely, I did that, right? Sadly, I did not. Victory Baptist was the first church that contacted me. First come, first served.

We traveled to Clare and I preached for the church one Sunday. Nice people. Friendly. But, oh my God, dysfunction was on display everywhere I looked. I should have run away, but instead, I agreed to come back and preach for them again in two weeks. Afterward, the church asked me to become their pastor (and the former pastor remained in the church). I should have said no. Everything in Polly’s reaction said to me, “just say no, Bruce.” But I ignored my intuition and my smart and sensible wife, choosing instead to come and “help” these really, really nice people. Victory Baptist was a church I was sure I could “fix.”

While the church had its largest attendance while I was their pastor, seven months later I was out the door. My idea of what the church needed to do to grow and prosper was very different from that of the entrenched, indolent power base. The former pastor’s wife said in a public business meeting before I left, “Bruce, your vision for the church was never our vision.” I warned the church that I would not fight with them, but they wanted to fight anyway, so I resigned. THE issue? Toys in the nursery. Toys in the nursery? Yep. A long-time member of the church hauled into the nursery a bunch of outside yard toys, many of which were dangerous for toddlers. I told her it was not a good idea and removed them. (Our insurance agent would have told her the same thing.) Livid, she took the matter to the deacons. Three days later, we were sitting back in Ohio. Not one church member said goodbye or helped us load our moving truck. This would be the last church I pastored. I was done.

Underneath the story of my life courses a restlessness that drives me to work, work, work. No time for rest, not because of God or some sort of divine calling, but because it’s who I am. I am happy to report that I do rest and relax more now than I ever have. Good news, right? Progress. Not really. You see, my health problems are what have forced me to take it easy. I don’t want to, but I really have no choice. That is, IF I want to live. So, I crawl kicking and screaming to the couch, fretting over what I call the tyranny of the to-do list. Every week and month I get farther and farther behind. Maybe I just need to set my to-do list on fire! Problem solved.

I have, in the past year, rediscovered my love for Lionel O-Gauge electric trains. With the help of two of my sons and Polly, I am building a layout in one of our unused bedrooms. And I promise — I really, really do — that once this is done, I am going to rest.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Beware of Christian Counselors

bible has all the answers

Originally published in February 2015. Edited, corrected, and expanded.

In communities where Evangelical Christianity dominates the culture, it is often hard to find a counselor/psychologist who is not a Christian. It stands to reason that, in a predominantly Christian culture, most counselors would be Christian. This is not a problem if the counselors are able to compartmentalize their religious beliefs, but many counselors who are Christian can’t or won’t do this.

When counselors believe the Bible is an authoritative text, and the standard for moral and ethical conduct, it’s impossible for them to counsel someone objectively. No matter how much they tell themselves otherwise, sooner or later their religious beliefs will affect the advice they give to their clients. The skunk/smell analogy applies here. You can’t separate a skunk from his smell, and neither can you separate an Evangelical Christian from his or her presuppositions and beliefs.

Back when I was still an Evangelical pastor, I started taking classes to become a licensed social worker. It wasn’t long before my Bible-based beliefs were conflicting with what I was being taught in class. I asked the dean of the department:

Suppose I am a licensed social worker and I am working for the Department of Human Services. The client is pregnant and is thinking about getting an abortion. Since I am a Christian and I think abortion is morally wrong, would I be able to counsel the woman according to my pro-life beliefs?

The department head made it very clear that, based on my religious and moral beliefs, I would have a hard time working in a secular/state environment. She suggested that I might be able to work for a private, religious service provider, but my religious beliefs would likely preclude me from working in a secular setting.

Of course, this offended me. I thought that I should be able to push my religious beliefs on others. I now see that the department head gave me sound advice. Evangelical Christians often demand they be permitted to work any job in any profession and not be forced to compartmentalize their beliefs. (A current example of this is Evangelical pharmacists who want the right to withhold morning-after drugs from women who might be pregnant.) However, there are some professions where people’s religious beliefs would preclude them from working in that field because their beliefs would not allow them to provide a client or a customer certain services or goods.

Many pastors provide counseling services. Here in Ohio, a pastor is not required to have ANY training before counseling someone. The fact that the counseling is done through the church exempts the pastor from any governmental oversight. I knew several pastors who were high school dropouts, with no theological or counseling training, who regularly counseled people — both in and outside of their churches. In the twenty-five years I pastored churches, I never had one person ask me if I was qualified to be a counselor. If asked, I would have told them I took a one-semester counseling class that was more about debunking secular counseling than in techniques to help people. (The professor was a pastor who had no training in counseling.) I did, however, get an A in the class.

Many pastors don’t think they need specialized training to counsel people. After all, the inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible has the answer to every question and problem. All a pastor needs to do is figure out what the problem is and find the appropriate Bible verse that addresses the issue. Every difficultly is reduced to obedience/disobedience, sin/righteousness, God/Satan, flesh/spirit. These kinds of pastors are very dangerous because they give simplistic answers to complex problems. It is not uncommon to find pastors counseling congregants who have medically diagnosed conditions, but want “God’s help” to overcome their mental illness.

Before seeing a pastor for counseling, a prospective client should ask about his training and qualifications. Even if a pastor has college-level training, the value and extent of that training depends on where he got the training. Many Evangelical colleges have counseling programs that do little more than teach pastors how to proof-text any problem. Many Evangelical colleges teach some form of nouthetic counseling:

Nouthetic counseling (Greek: noutheteo, to admonish) is a form of pastoral counseling that holds that counseling should be based solely upon the Bible and focused upon sin. It repudiates mainstream psychology and psychiatry as humanistic, radically secular and fundamentally opposed to Christianity. Its viewpoint was originally articulated by Jay E. Adams, in Competent to Counsel (1970) and further books, and has led to the formation of a number of organizations and seminary courses promoting it. The viewpoint is opposed to those seeking to synthesize Christianity with secular psychological thought, but has failed to win them over to a purely Biblical approach. Since 1993, the movement has renamed itself Biblical counseling to emphasize its central emphasis on the Bible. The Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling states that “The aim of Nouthetic Counseling is to effect change in the counselee by encouraging greater conformity to the principles of Scripture.”

Ponder, for a moment, the aim of nouthetic counseling: “to effect change in the counselee by encouraging greater conformity to the principles of Scripture.” In other words, get right with God, and obey the teachings of the Bible (as interpreted by the pastor/church). Imagine being a woman and seeing a pastor for counseling who just so happens to endorse patriarchal thinking, complementarianism, and quiverfull philosophy.  Women not indoctrinated in such teachings will find themselves at odds with their counselors (pastors) and churches. If a woman has egalitarian beliefs, what should she do? Her trusted advisor’s goal is not to “help” her per se, as much as it is to get her to conform to certain theological beliefs.

Some Evangelical pastors go so far as to say that mental illness is the result of demonic oppression or possession. Again, the Bible becomes the solution to whatever problem a person may be having. Whether the problem is due to sin or a demon, God and the Bible are always the cure for whatever ails the person. This approach rarely addresses core issues and, in some cases, can lead to more problems, including suicide.

Imagine for a moment, an Evangelical woman going to her pastor for help. He listens to her “confession” and then prescribes whatever Bible verse is appropriate. The woman profusely thanks the pastor, and leaves his office determined to put the Word of God into practice. Perhaps this works for a day, a week, or a month, but, sooner or later, the problem returns. She goes back to the pastor, and he reminds her of what the Bible says. He tells her that she needs to repent, walk in the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, put on the whole armor of God, withstand the devil, etc. The message is clear: If you are still having a problem it is YOUR FAULT!

I know some pastors will be offended by what I am about to say next, but I need to be clear: Most Evangelical pastors are unqualified to counsel people. They lack the necessary training to provide counseling competently, and their commitment to the Bible keeps them from properly helping people. It’s one thing if people have questions about the Bible or are questioning their faith. Certainly, those people should seek out their pastor’s counsel on spiritual matters. However, many so-called “spiritual” problems are actually mental/physical/emotional problems which pastors dress up in religious garb. An untrained pastor has no business counseling people who have mental/physical/emotional problems.

Sadly, many people think pastors are experts on everything. Little do they know that many pastors aren’t even experts on the Bible, let alone anything else. Many Evangelical colleges have turned their pastor-training programs into business and marketing programs. Actual training in the fundamentals of the ministry and the Bible is often quite limited. Many pastors-in-training will graduate from college without ever having studied most of the books of the Bible (and OT or NT survey classes don’t count). Many Evangelical pastors-in-training only take one or two counseling classes. Yet, because they have taken these classes, these pastors think they are qualified to be counselors. They may not be counselors, but they did stay at a Holiday Inn, right?  I know several pastors who got counseling degrees from Christian mail-order diploma mills (along with other advanced degrees, including doctorates). (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) They proudly let everyone know that they have a degree in counseling and are qualified to counsel all comers, yet truth be told, they are as ignorant as backwoods moonshiners.

Over the years, I counseled hundreds of people. Not one time did I tell people that they needed to see a medical professional or a psychologist. I firmly believed the Bible had all the answers. My judgment was further clouded by the fact that my mother was mentally ill, was on all kinds of drugs, was treated by psychiatrists, and attempted suicide numerous times before eventually killing herself at age 54. (Please see Barbara) I considered psychologists and psychiatrists to be enablers who encouraged people to continue in their sin.

In the late 1980s, I was visiting with a fellow pastor in his office when a severely agitated young man came into the office. The man was either high on drugs or mentally disturbed. I thought my pastor friend would try to calm the man down and offer him some Biblical counsel. Instead, he told the man that he needed medical help. My pastor friend took him to the hospital in Zanesville and dropped him off. I was shocked that he did this. When I questioned him, he told me that he was unqualified to help the man. He was the first pastor I ever heard say such a thing. I now know he was right.

I did have two members who ended up seeking treatment at a stress center. I had tried to help them, and when I couldn’t, they had sense enough to seek out competent help. Both of these women stopped going to church after they got out of the stress center. At the time, I saw this as an example of what happens when you go to the “world” for help. I now know that these women learned for themselves that the Bible was not the answer to their problems.

Most of the people I counseled learned to play the game that long-time Evangelicals are experts at playing; they learn to pretend. The Bible, God, praying, confession, and self-denial, are of little help to them; they can’t seek help outside the church, so they learn to fake having the “victory.” This leads them to live schizophrenic lives. Sadly, the person’s spouse, parent, or children know that their loved one doesn’t have the “victory” because, at home, that person can’t or won’t hide his or her mental health problems. It is one thing to pretend for an hour or two on Sundays, but rarely can a person pretend every hour of every day.

I spent most of my adult life playing the pretend game. I struggled with depression, perfectionism, and OCPD, and while I could hide it while at church, it was impossible to hide it at home. My wife and children suffered because I couldn’t get the “victory” over sin, the flesh, or whatever else the Bible and preachers said was “wrong” with me. I lived this way until 2010, when I finally decided that I needed to see a counselor. Next to marrying Polly, it was the single most important decision I ever made.

The psychologist I see has not “cured” me, but he does help me deal with depression and the mental and emotional struggles I have as a result of being chronically ill and in constant pain. I consider him to be a lifesaver. He has helped me to embrace my life as it is, and he has also helped me come to terms with my religious past. I know that I can talk to him about anything. He listens and then tries to constructively help me. Sometimes, he listens and says nothing. He knows that sometimes the help I need is just having someone to talk to. He doesn’t view me as a problem that needs fixing, and he allows me the space to be my authentic self. If I have learned one thing in counseling, it is who Bruce Gerencser really is. Before this could happen, layer after layer of religious belief and thinking had to be peeled away. At the heart of my difficulties was Evangelicalism and the Bible, and they had to be confronted head-on. Even now, as an atheist, my religious past and the beliefs I once held affect how I think and reason. I now realize that the scars of my religious past will always be there. The longer I live without religion and the Bible, the easier it becomes, but these things can, when I least expect it, come to the forefront and cause emotional and mental problems.

I know that some readers of this blog have similar pasts and are all too familiar with pastoral counseling and how the Bible is not the answer for whatever ails a person. If you are able to do so, please share your thoughts in the comment section. I know that others will be helped by you sharing your story.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Living With OCPD

garfield ocpd

I have battled Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) for most of my adult life. While OCPD and OCD have some similarities, there are differences, namely:

  • People with OCD have insight, meaning they are aware that their unwanted thoughts are unreasonable. People with OCPD think their way is the “right and best way” and usually feel comfortable with such self-imposed systems of rules.
  • The thoughts, behaviors and feared consequences common to OCD are typically not relevant to real-life concerns; people with OCPD are fixated with following procedures to manage daily tasks.
  • Often OCD interferes in several areas in the person’s life including work, social and/or family life. OCPD usually interferes with interpersonal relationships, but makes work functioning more efficient. It is not the job itself that is hurt by OCPD traits, but the relationships with co-workers, or even employers can be strained.
  • Typically, people with OCPD don’t believe they require treatment. They believe that if everyone else conformed to their strict rules, things would be fine! The threat of losing a job or a relationship due to interpersonal conflict may be the motivator for therapy. This is in contrast to people with OCD who feel tortured by their unwanted thoughts and rituals, and are more aware of the unreasonable demands that the symptoms place on others, often feeling guilty because of this.
  • Family members of people with OCPD often feel extremely criticized and controlled by people with OCPD. Similar to living with someone with OCD, being ruled under OCPD demands can be very frustrating and upsetting, often leading to conflict. (OCPD Fact Sheet)

I have been considered a perfectionist most of my life, a badge I wore with honor for many years, and one I still wear on occasion. As we age — I am now sixty — we tend to reflect on our lives and how we got where we are today. Self-reflection and assessment are good, allowing us the opportunity to be honest about the path we have taken and choices we have made in life.

When I first realized fifteen or so years ago that I had a problem, a BIG problem that was harming my wife and children, the first thing I did was try to figure out how I ended up with OCPD. While my mother had perfectionist tendencies, she was quite comfortable living in the midst of clutter and disarray (but not uncleanliness). I concluded that it was my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing with its literalistic interpretations of the Bible that planted in me the seeds of what would one day become OCPD. I spent most of my adult life diligently and relentlessly striving to follow after Jesus and to keep his commandments. But try as I might, I still continued to come up short. This, of course, only made me pray more, study more, give more, driving me to allot more and more of my time to God/church/ministry. In doing so, the things that should have mattered the most to me — Polly, our children, my health, and enjoying life — received little attention. Polly was taught at Midwestern Baptist College that she would have to sacrifice her relationship with me for the sake of the ministry. I was, after all, a divinely called man of God. Needless to say, for way too many years, our lives were consumed by Christianity and the work of the ministry, so much so that we lost all sense of who we really were.

ocd santa

Perhaps someday several of my children will write about growing up in a home with a father who had OCPD. The stories are humorous now, but not so much when they were lived out in real time. My children are well versed in Dad’s rules of conduct. Granted, some of these rules such as “do it right the first time” have served them well in their chosen fields of employment, but their teacher was quite the taskmaster, and I am certain there were better ways for them to learn these rules.

My oldest sons fondly remember helping me center the church pulpit, right down to a one-sixteenth of an inch. Did it matter if the pulpit was slightly off center? For the world — of course not; but, for me it did. I felt the same way about how I prepared my sermons, folded the bulletins, cleaned the church, and countless other day-to-day responsibilities. When I took on secular jobs, employers loved me because I was a no-nonsense, time to lean, time to clean manager. (Is it any surprise that most of my adult jobs were either pastoring churches or management jobs?)

People walking into my study were greeted by a perfectly cleaned and ordered office. The desktop was neat, and the drawers were organized, with everything having a place. My book shelves were perfectly ordered from tallest to smallest book and then by subject. Dress-wise, I wore white one-hundred-percent pinpoint cotton shirts and black wingtip shoes. My suits were well-kept and matched whatever tie I was wearing. My appearance mattered to me. Congregants knew they would never find me shopping at the local Walmart wearing a tee shirt and sweatpants.

What I have mentioned above sounds fine, right? Surely, I should have a right to order my life any way I want to. And that would be true, except for the fact that I live in a world populated by other people; people who are not like me; people who are happy with clutter, disarray, and OMG even dirt! It is in their personal relationships that people with OCPD have problems, and, in some instances, they can drive away the very people who love them.

For the first twenty-five years of marriage, my relationship with Polly was defined by Fundamentalist/patriarchal thinking. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that such beliefs play well in the minds of people with OCPD. I had high expectations not only for myself, but for my wife and children too. We all, of course, miserably failed, but all that did was increase the pressures to conform to silly (at times harmful) behavioral expectations. It didn’t help matters that I was an outgoing decision-maker married to a passive, always-conform-to-the-wishes-of-others woman. While we put on quite a dog and pony show for most of our time in the ministry, behind the scenes things were not as they outwardly appeared to be.

Towards the end of my time in the ministry — the early 2000s — I began to see how harmful my behavior was when it came to my familial relationships (and to a lesser degree my relationship with congregants). While it would be another decade before I would finally seek out professional secular counseling, I did begin to make changes in my life. These changes caused a new set of conflicts due to the fact that everyone was used to me being the boss, with everything being according to my plan. While Polly and the kids loved their new-found freedom, there were times where they were quite content to let me be the stern patriarch. As with all lasting change, it takes time to undo deeply-seated behaviors.

I am not so naive as to believe that I am “cured” from OCPD. I am not. My counselor is adept at pointing out to me when certain behaviors of mine move towards what he calls my OCD tendencies. I have had to be repeatedly schooled in the difference between good/bad and different. For example, young people today generally discipline their children differently from their baby-boomer parents. Read enough memes on Facebook and you will conclude that young parents have lost their minds when it comes to raising their children. What that brat needs is a licking, right? What I continue to learn is that people who act differently from me, look different from me, or have beliefs different from mine are not necessarily wrong/bad. Most often, what they really are is different. Learning to be at peace with differences has gone a long way in muting my OCPD thinking.

Both Polly and I agree that the last decade or so of married life has been great. One of the reasons for this has been my willingness to realize where my OCPD is causing harm and making the necessary changes to end the harm. The first thing I learned is that everyone is entitled to his or her own space. I have every right to order my office, drawers, and cars as I want them to be. I no longer apologize for having OCPD. All that I ask of others is that when they invade my space, that they respect my wishes. And that works for others too. I have to respect the personal boundaries of Polly and our children. This is why I do not meddle in the lives of my children. I give advice when asked, but outside of that, they are free to live as they please. Do my children make decisions I disagree with; decisions that leave me mumbling and cussing? Yep, but it’s their lives, not mine, and I love them regardless of the choices they make.

The second thing I learned is that it important for Polly and me to have times of distance from each other. It is okay for each of us to do things without the other. We don’t have to like all the same things. Understanding this has allowed Polly’s life to blossom in ways I could never have imagined. If you had known Polly in 1999 and then met the 2018 version, why you would wonder if she is possessed. From going back to college and graduating, to becoming an outspoken manager at work, Polly is an awesome example of what someone can become once the chains of Fundamentalism and patriarchal thinking have been broken.

ocd cartoon

The third thing I learned is that my OCPD can be productively channeled, with my personal relationships surviving afterward. Polly loves it when she comes home and finds that I have emptied the cupboards, cleaned them, and replaced everything neatly and in order. The joke in the family is that people want me to come clean their house for them but they can’t stand being around me when I do. In the public spaces where our lives collide, Polly and I have had to learn to give and take. I have learned that it is okay to leave the newspaper on the floor until tomorrow, and Polly has learned, come holidays, that I am going to clean every inch of the house — with her help of course. She will never understand why my underwear drawer needs to be straightened up for company, and she will likely never understand the need to clean under the stove/refrigerator for four times a year. But, because she loves me, she smiles and says, what do you need me to do next?

My chronic health problems and chronic, unrelenting pain have forced me to let go of some of my obsessions. I can’t, so I don’t. I don’t find this giving in/giving up easy to deal with, but I have come to see that life is too short for me to not enjoy the moment even if everything is not in perfect order. That said, I still have OCPD moments, and I suspect I always will. Several years ago, I had a dentist appointment. The dental assistant had me have a seat in the exam room. When she returned, she found me tapping the valance on the blind with my cane. I told her, I have been sitting here for years with that crooked valance driving me crazy. There, it’s fixed! She laughed. Later, she returned and told me that the all the valances in the other rooms were off-center too. She said, I never noticed that until you pointed it out to me. I likely will always have an eye for when something is crooked, especially wall hangings and sign lettering. Why can’t the doctor’s office get notices straight when they tape them on the wall, right? Dammit, how hard is it to do the job right the first time! Sigh, you see, OCPD never completely goes away, but it can be managed and controlled, allowing me, for the most part, to have satisfying and happy relationships with the people I love.

Enough of this. I have two monitors on my desk, and the right one is an eighth-inch higher than the left. Time to fix this glaring, earth-shattering mismatch, right? Dammit, where’s my level and tape measure?

Do you have OCPD or OCD tendencies? Please share your experiences in the comment section. I am especially interested in hearing of how Fundamentalism affected your behavior.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

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Family Driven Faith Part Two

bruce and polly gerencser 2008
Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2008

This article was first published in 2011 on No Longer Quivering Corrected, revised, and updated

As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I taught parishioners that the the Bible clearly defined the roles of men (husbands), women (wives), and children. (a hierarchy) The Bible is clear: the husband is the head of the home and the wife is commanded to submit to the authority and rule of her husband. Like the pastor in the church, the husband is the final authority in the home. It matters not if he is worthy of such responsibility. A husband is disobedient to God if he refuses to be the head of the home. The wife, if she refuses to submit to her husband’s authority, is a Jezebel and risks the judgment of God.

I taught women that God’s highest calling for them was marriage, having children, and keeping the home. I discouraged women from going to college. After all why waste money going to college if you are going to be busy having children and keeping the home.

I taught men that God’s highest calling is for them to be a leader. Men are called by God to lead the church, the home,and the government. The strength or weakness of any nation, culture, church, or home depends on whether men are fulfilling their divine calling to lead.

Children are at the bottom of the hierarchical system. They are under the authority of God, the Bible, the pastor, their father, and their mother. Children have one divine calling in life, obey!

This kind of hierarchical family structure has been a part of American society since the day the Pilgrims stepped ashore on the eastern coast of America. Over time, due to social, political, and economic pressure, the hierarchical family structure has weakened. As women gained the right to vote, began working outside of the home, and began using birth control, they realized they could live without being under the control and authority of a man. Modern American women are free to pursue their own life path, free to live lives independent of men. When women marry, they are no longer considered the help meet. They are equal partners in the marriage. Their values, beliefs, and opinions matter.

However, in the IFB church movement women still live in the 18th century. Bound by commands and teachings from an antiquated book, they live lives strangely and sadly out of touch with the modern world. Every aspect of family life is controlled by what the Bible teaches. Better put, their life is controlled  by what an authoritarian pastor and authoritarian husband/father say the Bible teaches.

I have no objection to a woman willingly choosing to live and participate in a hierarchical family structure. If an Amish woman wants to live as the Amish do, then I have no reason or right to object. It  is, however, difficult to determine if they willingly choose. Is it a free choice when there are no other options?

For my family and I, moving away from a hierarchical family structure was difficult. We had to relearn how to live. We had to examine sincerely held beliefs and determine if they still were applicable to the new way we wanted to live our lives. I realized that I had lorded over my family. I had dominated and controlled their lives, all in the name of Jesus. By doing so, I had robbed them of the ability to live their lives independently of my control. Every decision had to have my stamp of approval. Nothing escaped my purview. After all, God had commanded me to be the head of the home. Someday, I would give an account to God for how I managed the affairs of my family. I took the threat of judgment seriously.

The biggest problem we faced was that since I was the one who always made the final decision my children and wife lacked the skills necessary to make good decisions. My children quickly adapted to their new-found freedom, shouting a Martin Luther King Jr-like FREE, FREE AT LAST. However, my wife did not fare so well.

Raised in a fundamentalist home, her father an IFB pastor, Polly had spent her entire life under the thumb of someone else. She rarely had to make a decision because there was always someone else making decisions for her. To say our new-found freedom was difficult for Polly would be a gross underestimation. Suddenly, she was forced to make decisions on her own. For a time, she panicked when faced with making a decision on her own. Simple decisions, like what to order at the fast food drive-thru or whether or not to put gas in the car, were monumental decisions for her.(1)

Over time, Polly’s decision making skills improved. Several years ago, she was promoted to a supervisory position at local manufacturing concern. (2) One night, she came home from work all upset. She told me that she had made a decision about something and several people were now upset at her. I laughed and  told her, rule number one about making decisions. You will likely piss someone off. (3)

polly gerencser graduation 2012
Polly Gerencser, Graduating from Northwest State Community College, Archbold, Ohio

In 2010, Polly returned to college. She struggled at first, and it took quite a bit of willpower for me not to bail her out. Over time, she adapted to using the computer (she was computer illiterate) and doing the various things necessary to be a good college student. In 2012, Polly  graduated with an Associates of Arts degree from Northwest State Community College. I wept as I saw her walk down the aisle on graduation day. Her graduation was a reminder of how far both of us have come. (Polly actually has 5 years of college credit. Unfortunately, 3 of those years were spent at an unaccredited Bible college)

Polly was over 40 years old before she wore her first pair of pants. Same goes for going to the movie theater, drinking alcohol, cutting her hair short, reading a non-Christian romance novel, etc, etc, etc. As many people know, the IFB movement is all about what a Christian CAN’T do. Some of these choices were fearful choices, God lurking in the shadows of the mind, ready to punish her for making“sinful” choices.”

With change comes new life. In many ways, we have been “born again.” In 2005, I left the pastorate and we began a slow, painful process of examining our Christian beliefs. For many years, my family believed what I believed, went to church when I went to church, and obeyed any and every command I gave, complete with proof texts from the Bible . Now it is different.

I told my wife and six children that I was setting them free. I am no longer the spiritual head of the home or the patriarch of the family.  They are free to be whatever they want to be. I sincerely mean this. If they want to be Wiccan,Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, or atheist, I am fine with it. The bottom line is this: I want them to be happy. If they are happy, I am happy.

This last decision has caused quite a bit of controversy and conflict. Freed from my control, my entire family quickly abandoned the Evangelical church. I am now an atheist, Polly is an agnostic, and our children, for the most part do not attend church. (4) Religion is still a big topic of discussion in our family and I still like a rousing debate or discussion about religion, politics, or sports. The difference now is that there is no test of fidelity. No, “did you guys go to church today?” No, “what was the sermon about?” 

Our family remains a work in progress. As my wife continues to learn to make decisions, I have to learn not to make decisions. I am learning to shut up and allow them to make choices for themselves, even when I think their choices are ill-advised. I have a new rule I live by: If I think someone is making a bad decision on an important issue, I will voice my opinion, but that is the end of it. I stay out of my children’s business. They are responsible adults and I support whatever decision they make, even if I disagree with it.

We are far from a finished product. Polly still freezes at the drive-thru and I still know what I want before we pull into the restaurant. We still have the same peculiar character traits we’ve always had. You know,those things that annoy and bug the hell out of you. The difference now is that we have learned to embrace each other’s peculiarities, knowing that these are what make us unique individuals. (5)

It is good to be free.

(1) Even today she freezes at the drive-thru. We joke about it now, but her freezing hails from a day when I ordered everything.

(2) One of the first steps of freedom for Polly was getting a job, a job that she has held since 1997.

(3) I was well suited for the hierarchical family system and the pastorate. I am not afraid to make decisions. Snap decisions come easy for me. It felt very natural to me to make all the decisions. However, in the home, like at work, one person making all the decisions stunts the growth of others and when they are put into a position where they must make a decision they are often unable to.

(4) I am hesitant to label my children’s current beliefs. Two of my children attend the Catholic church with their wives. The rest of them, for the most part, do not attend church. I would not classify them as atheists or even agnostics. They are indifferent and still figuring out what they believe. It is exciting to watch, even if the IFB part of our extended family thinks we are committing spiritual suicide.

(5) I have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and Polly is happy with clutter. Ours is a match made in hell. For many years, my OCPD dominated everything. I have had to learn that while I have every right to want things perfectly ordered, everything in its place, Polly also has the right not to want things perfectly ordered, everything in it place. We each have personal spaces where we are free to practice our peculiar habits and traits. We know to stay out of each others “stuff”. In the common spaces, we try to find a happy medium, though I must admit I have a hard time doing this.  The clutter has decreased significantly since our last two children moved out 15 months ago.

Bruce Gerencser