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Tag: Patriarchy

How Evangelical Preachers Demean and Harass Female Congregants

god is a woman
Cartoon by David Hayward

Many (most) Evangelical churches are hierarchical in nature: male God, male pastor, male church leaders, married men, and then women and children. God, of course, comes first. God, of course — because it says so in the Bible — is a HE, not a she. God, of course, determines the order of all things, including the church and home.

God created man first, and then woman. He commanded that men are to be the head of their homes, and women are to submit to their husbands in all things, as unto the Lord. God commanded that women were to be keepers of the home, submitting cheerfully and without complaint to their husbands. Children are commanded by God to joyfully obey their parents in all things.

God commanded that men, as pastors, elders, and deacons, are to rule the church. Only men are permitted to preach and teach during public worship services. Women are permitted to teach other women and children, but they must never, ever usurp authority over men. In some Evangelical churches, women are expected to be quiet during worship services. I knew of one church (Mennonite) where women were not permitted to sing the first note or two of any song lest they are guilty of “leading” men. I attended a number of their services, and the men would start the singing and then the women would join them a note or two later. I knew of another church (Sovereign Grace Baptist) where women were not permitted to speak during the services. If a woman had a prayer request, she was expected to whisper the request to her husband or another man, and he would make the request known. This same church would not allow women to ask questions during business meetings. If a woman had a question, she was to, again, whisper the question to her husband or another man, and he could then ask the question.

In many Evangelical churches, women working outside of the home is frowned upon, if not outright prohibited. In such churches, married women are expected to bear children, cook meals, do laundry, clean the house, teach children, and submit to their husband’s sexual advances — all without complaint or question. Unmarried girls and women are expected to learn domestic duties from their mothers, preparing them for marriage. In some churches, girls are discouraged from having college or career ambitions. Their future was sealed the moment they were born — a life devoted to husband, children, and domestic duties. Some churches do permit young women to attend church-approved Bible colleges, but only for the express purpose of getting an MRS degree.

I can safely say that Evangelicalism, in general, is anti-woman. While it is encouraging to see some churches abandoning complementarianism for egalitarianism, millions of Evangelical women and girls are members of churches that treat them as subservient, inferior, second-class people. Their lives are dominated by the male species, first as daughters, and then as wives. Attempts by women to break free from male dominance are viewed as rebellion against God and the men he has set as rulers over them. In some instances, rebellious women are brought under church discipline, which leads to shunning until they confess their sin and bow in submission to male authority.

People not raised in Evangelical churches will likely read this post and say, Bruce, surely this is satire. It’s 2022 and women are free to be whatever they want to be. It may be 2022 where you live, but for many Evangelical women and girls, it is the 1950s, or the 1850s for that matter. The driving belief behind the anti-abortion, anti-birth control movement is that God has commanded women to marry, spread their legs when asked by their husbands, and bear lots of children. Women who chase dreams of higher education, athletics, or careers are living lives contrary to God’s plan and his divine order for families and societies. According to more than a few Evangelical preachers, much of what is wrong with the world can be traced back to women not accepting their God-given role as mothers and keepers of the home.

Imagine, for a moment, being raised in churches where women are treated as I mentioned above. Week after week, month after month, year after year, you are reminded of your second-class status before God and man. Sunday after Sunday, your preacher reminds you of your place in the home and church, and your duty to submit to your husband and male church authority. Imagine being a bright, inquisitive girl who has great ambition, only to have these things stomped into the ground by men who say they know God’s plan for your life, and that plan does not include college, athletics, or a career. Even worse, imagine when one of these “godly men” sexually harasses, molests, or rapes you, and if you dare report it, you are blamed for the man’s perverse behavior.

biblical submission

Outsiders rightly ask, why would any woman willingly submit herself to such psychological abuse? Why don’t they stand up against patriarchal thinking and demand equality? Surely, these women want more for their lives than babies, casseroles, and watching the church nursery? Unfortunately, for many women, they were raised in churches that devalued women and it is the only thing they know. Imagine being repeatedly threatened with judgment and chastisement from God if you dare to demand the same opportunities in life as men. Being told over and over that God wants you to live a certain way and living otherwise could lead to pain, loss, and even death, is sure to result in obedience and conformity. Such conditioning and indoctrination lead to tragic outcomes.

According to Evangelicals, preachers are God-ordained keepers of divine order. Through their preaching and modeling, women are shown how God wants them to live. Using a plethora of Biblical proof texts, women and girls are frequently reminded of their place, and that not accepting that place means they are being sinful, rebellious, and disobedient to God. These preachers literally demean and harass female congregants with their sermons and Bible quotations. Girls come into this world rebellious against God’s constituted order, and it is up to preachers to use the Bible to beat the rebellion out of them. Countless effervescent girls have been turned into dowdy, rarely-smiling, obedient women who no longer have dreams of life beyond the bed, cradle, or kitchen. Such preaching can and does suck the life out of women, turning them into servants of the male God, their husbands, and male-controlled churches.

The good news is that many Evangelical women are tired of being treated as doormats. They are tired of having their ambitions drowned out by their husbands’ wants, needs, and desires. Evangelical teen girls are increasingly rebelling against their fathers and pastors, demanding that they be treated with decency and respect and afforded the same opportunities as boys. I know of a number of women who demanded the right to take college classes. Many of these women, once they graduated from college and figured out they could live on their own, left their churches and divorced their husbands — proving to Evangelical troglodytes that women must be tethered to the home lest they overthrow God’s order.

My wife and I grew up in churches where complementarianism was frequently preached from the pulpit; churches where women were expected to be married, barefoot, and pregnant; churches where women were expected to do menial labor while the men sat in the gates and did the “real” work of ruling nations, churches, and homes. It should come as no surprise, then, that when Polly and I married, we had what was commonly called a “traditional” marriage, with me being the patriarchal head of the home, and Polly devoting herself to domestic chores and children. Fortunately, both of us saw the light, resulting in fundamental changes to our marriage and home. Some of this change was driven by my health problems. I worked for much of our marriage and Polly quietly and happily maintained the home. When fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, degenerative spinal disease, and gastroparesis forced a change of roles, our marriage changed too — for the better, I might add.

The girl I married in 1978 was quiet, soft-spoken, and content to let me be the boss. The bad-ass woman I am now married to is still quiet and soft-spoken, but that boss thing? That ain’t happening. Both of us will admit that we have struggled with our changing marital dynamic. It wasn’t easy at first. It has taken years for the bad thinking from our patriarchal past to be transformed into egalitarian thinking that values and respects people regardless of their sex. Even now, both of us can, on occasion, fall back into our former way of life. I still, at times, want to be the boss, and Polly is content to let me make decisions, especially those that could have negative outcomes. Our new, ever-evolving relationship has taken a lot of conversation, arguing, and forgiving. I can honestly say that our marriage today is better than it ever has been. I love and respect Polly more than ever, even when she still refuses to know what she wants to order when we pull up at a fast-food order window. 🙂 Each of us recognizes the other’s strengths and weaknesses and our divisions of labor are determined by expertise and not some verses from an outdated, ancient religious text. It’s unlikely that we will ever have the “perfect” marriage, but I can safely say that what was begun almost forty-four years ago continues to blossom and grow.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Family Driven Faith — Part Two

bruce and polly gerencser 2008
Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2008

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

As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I taught parishioners that the Bible clearly defined the roles (a hierarchy) of men (husbands), women (wives), and children. The Bible, from an IFB perspective, is clear: the husband is the head of the home and the wife is commanded to submit to his authority and rule. Much 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 this 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: obedience!

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 helpmeets of their husbands. They are equal partners in marriage. Their values, beliefs, and opinions matter.

However, in the IFB church movement, women still live in the eighteenth century. Bound by commands and teachings from an antiquated book — the Bible — 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 lives are controlled by what authoritarian pastors and authoritarian husbands/fathers 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? So it is with women in the IFB church movement and other Fundamentalist sects.

For my family and me, moving away from a hierarchical family structure was and is difficult. We had to relearn what mattered in life. 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 independent 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. This motivated me to be a “Biblical” husband, father, and pastor.

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 newfound freedom, shouting a Martin Luther King Jr-like FREE, FREE AT LAST. However, my wife, Polly, 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 newfound 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.

Over time, Polly’s decision-making skills improved. Years ago, she was promoted to a management position at a local manufacturing concern, Sauder Woodworking. 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 with her. I laughed and told her, rule number one about making decisions: you will likely piss someone off.

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 Associate 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 five years of college credit. Unfortunately, three of those years were spent at an unaccredited Bible college).

Polly was forty-six 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 â€śborn again.” In 2005, I left the pastorate and we began a slow, painful process of reexamining 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.

We left Christianity in 2008. I told Polly and our 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. 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, â€śwhat was the sermon about?” 

Our family remains a work in progress. Polly continues to work on her decision-making skills, and I’m learning that the world doesn’t revolve around me. I am learning to shut up and allow my family to make decisions 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, even when they want me to meddle. They are responsible adults and I support whatever decisions they make, even if I disagree with them.

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 each other. The difference now is that we have learned to embrace each other’s peculiarities, knowing that these are what make us unique individuals.

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 its place. We each have personal spaces where we are free to practice our peculiar habits and traits. We know to stay out of each other’s “stuff”. In the common spaces, we try to find a happy medium, though I must admit I have a hard time doing this. MY declining health has helped me with my obsession with order. I simply can no longer keep everything perfectly ordered. At times, this frustrates me, but I am learning to embrace my new reality.

It is good to be free.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Family Driven Faith — Part One

bruce-and-polly-gerencser-1981
Bruce and Polly Gerencser with son #2, 1981, at Bruce’s mother’s home. Gotta love that porn stache. 🙂

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

For seven months in 2004, our family attended Faith Bible Church in Jersey, Ohio, a vibrant, growing, family-oriented church in central Ohio. We thought we had finally found a church to call home. One Sunday, after the morning service, Polly, my wife, was talking with a group of women who were trying to get to know her a bit better. One of the women asked Polly what she did during the day, and she, without a moment’s hesitation, said â€śI work.”

In a split second, everything changed.  You see, in this church, none of the women worked outside the home. The pastor taught that it was a violation of God’s divine order for women to work outside the home. They could have home-based money-making enterprises, but they were not to work outside the home. From that day forward, the women of the church were stand-offish towards Polly. Never mind that Polly had to work due to her husband’s disability. Never mind her job was the only thing that stood between us and living on the street. All that mattered was that our family was not ordered according to God’s divine plan. We stopped attending this church a short while later.

In the 1990s, I co-pastored Community Baptist Church, a growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church in Elmendorf, Texas (please see I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part One). A young woman in the church professed faith in Christ and desired to be baptized. Customarily, candidates for baptism were asked to give a public testimony of salvation before being baptized. This posed a problem for this particular woman because her husband not only believed that the Bible taught a divine order for the sexes and the home, he also believed women should be silent in church. (His wife also wore a head covering.) She wanted to give a public testimony, but she didn’t want to disobey her husband. This standoff went on for weeks until, one day, the woman came to my office in tears, lamenting that her husband was keeping her from following Christ. I agreed with her and counseled her to disobey her husband. She was baptized a short time later.

This church also believed that “church business” was the domain of men. When the church held business meetings, women were not allowed to speak. If they had a question, they had to whisper their question to a man, and then the man could ask the question on their behalf. Women were allowed to verbally ask for prayer and sing, but everything else was the domain of men. Very few of the women worked outside the home.

While I found both of these positions to be somewhat excessive and quite demeaning to women, I also believed that such positions could be proved from the Bible. While I didn’t take things as far as the aforementioned churches, I certainly believed that God had a divine order for the family and the church. I believed that God had ordained men to rule and women were to submit to male rule and authority. The highest calling for a woman was to marry, bear children, and be a keeper of the home. Children were to submit to their parents and obey every command given to them.

I believed the Bible taught a hierarchical system that must be kept to enjoy the favor and blessing of God. God, through his son Jesus, was the head over all things. Of course, what this really meant was that the Bible was the head over all things. Christianity is, above all else, a text-based religion. Without the Bible, there is no Christianity (in any meaningful sense of the word). As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. The Bible was the final rule and authority for everything, the blueprint for life.

IFB pastors say that the Bible is the rule for everything, but what they really mean is that their interpretation of the Bible is the rule for everything. I cannot emphasize this point enough. At the heart of the IFB church movement, the Patriarchal movement, and the Quiverfull movement, is a literalist interpretation of the Bible by pastors. Pastors, the under-shepherds of their churches, under direct authority from God, have the singular responsibility of teaching their churches what the Bible says (or better put, what his interpretations are). These pastors, divinely called by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are the mouthpiece of God.

Practically speaking, the pastor is the final authority in the church. He is the law-giver, and he alone has the final say on virtually everything. The Bible is clear, the pastor is to rule the church, and church members are to submit to his rule. Pastors spend significant time reminding the church that God says he, the pastor, is the boss. The common phrase used to define this is pastoral authority.

Pastoral authority, IFB style, leads to dictatorial autocrats ruling over and controlling virtually every aspect of church members’ lives. Some churches recognize the problem with one man having so much power, so they have a plurality of elders or a board of elders or deacons. Sadly, all this does is make a group of men dictatorial autocrats ruling over and controlling virtually every aspect of church members’ lives

In a hierarchical system, God and the Bible come first. Underneath God and the Bible is the pastor. Church members are taught that submitting to the pastor’s teaching and authority is pleasing to God, and, if practiced, will bring the blessing of God.

As an IFB pastor, I taught church members that God and the Bible clearly defined the roles of men (husbands), women (wives), and children. In my mind, the Bible was clear: the husband is the head of the home and the wife is commanded to submit to the authority and rule of her husband. Much 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 is 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 for them is to be a leader. Men are called to lead the church, home, and government. In my mind, the strength or weakness of any culture, church, or home depended on whether men were fulfilling their divine calling to lead. Children, of course, are at the bottom of this hierarchical system. They are under the authority of God, the Bible, the pastor, their father, and their mother (and according to my three younger sons, their oldest brother). 🙂 Children have one divine calling in life, obedience!

Polly and I have been married for almost forty-four years. We have grown six children, ages forty-two to twenty-eight. Our older children went to a public or Christian school for a few years, but for the next seventeen years, we homeschooled our children. For the first twenty years of marriage, we followed the hierarchical system detailed above. For the most part, Polly didn’t work and I was the breadwinner. I pastored churches full-time, but, due to the notoriously low pay in IFB churches, I also worked a number of secular jobs. For years on end, I worked sixty to eighty hours a week, and in doing so, neglected my wife and children. Regardless of the neglect, I was still the authority in the home. I was the final answer to every question. I ruled our home with a rod of iron and my family feared me. Of course, I never called their fear fear. I called it a healthy respect for authority. I gave the orders and they obeyed.

For many years, my wife (I don’t like using phrases like my wife and my children. While most people see these phrases as harmless, they are a reminder of the past, a past where Polly and the children were treated like slaves and property. I try to avoid using these phrases, but in some instances, they cannot be avoided) and I followed the general tenets of the Quiverfull movement. In the early 90s, we embraced Calvinism and became persuaded that using birth control was a sin. We believed that God was sovereign and He opened and closed the womb. Who were we to stand in the way of God blessing us with more children?

Our first child born under the “let God have his way” form of birth control was a beautiful redheaded girl with Down syndrome. Two years later, almost to the day,  we were blessed with another beautiful redheaded girl. Twenty months later, our youngest child, a son (should I call him beautiful too? Momma says yes!) was born.

Before we could blink, we had three more children, all in diapers. Polly was known in the family as Fertile Myrtle. I was persuaded that if I looked at her, she would get pregnant. I have no doubt that we would have had twenty children if we had continued to abstain from using birth control.

Fortunately, Polly’s doctor intervened and told us in no uncertain terms that Polly’s last pregnancy had taken a huge physical toll on her and any future pregnancies could kill her. We decided, God’s will be damned, that we were not going to have any more children. I was considered a hypocrite for not trusting God in this matter, but I had no desire to be wifeless with six children. Several years later, Polly had a tubal ligation and no more rabbits died.

In part two of this series, I plan to write about how the thinking mentioned in this post affected the churches I pastored and how it affected my family. I want to detail how this kind of thinking almost destroyed my marriage and how abandoning such thinking transformed my relationship with Polly and our children.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: “Godly” Husbands Have the Right to Violate the Consciences of Their Wives

conscience israel wayne
Facebook quote by Israel Wayne

I’m not sure I agree with this. There are times that someone’s conscience is so misguided that it would be wrong to follow it. For example, suppose the wife is pregnant with a disabled child and believes it is mercy to abort. Her conscience is telling her it is wrong to let the child have a difficult life. Yet her conscience is wrong. Very wrong. The husband would be right to tell her not to kill their child.

I think the husband is given authority to lead the family precisely to avoid the tyranny of the wife’s conscience. We can all get various ideas in our heads about what we should do, and we might even have a strong belief that this is the right thing. But if the wife goes by what she thinks is right all the time, how is her husband to lead her when they disagree? Essentially, any time they disagree, she can invoke conscience and, magically, she gets her way. God gave the husband authority over her conscience on purpose to avoid this problem.

Of course, I fully agree that in the vast majority of cases, when the wife has a conscientious objection, the husband should listen and take this into consideration. That’s wise leadership. If the husband commands his wife against her conscience, he will bear the blame if there is any sin. God will hold him responsible. So it’s a very serious matter. But I would definitely not say he should never require the wife to go against her conscience. God made the husband, not the wife’s conscience, the leader of the home.

— Lindsay Harold, Via Lori Alexander on The Transformed Wife, Does a Wife’s Conscience Trump Her Husband’s Conscience? February 1, 2022

When I told Polly about Alexander’s post, she became angry, said nothing, and flipped me off. Message received. 🙂 Harold speaks of the ” tyranny of the wife’s conscience,” yet fails to mention the tyranny of the husband’s conscience.” Why is that?

Jodi Heckert Pledged to Protect His Daughter’s Virginity, Now in Prison For Child Molestation

jodi heckert and daughter
Photo by David Magnusson

Jodi Heckert and his daughter appeared in a June 14, 2014, Slate Magazine article titled “Striking Portraits of Fathers and the Daughters Whose Virginity They’ve Pledged to Protect.” (While Heckert’s daughter is now an adult, I have decided to not publish her name.) The story features the photography of David Magnusson. As a photographer, I found Magnusson’s work to be stunning (and creepily disturbing), but I do wonder, based on several of his quotes in the article, if Magnusson really understands the American purity culture. For those of us who were once a part of the patriarchy movement, David Magnusson’s photographs are reminders of the many girls who are smothered by their God-fearing, hymen-worshiping “protective” fathers. Heckert, pictured above with his 13-year-old daughter, is one such father. In August of 2015, Heckert was found guilty of attempted child molestation and sentenced to ten years in prison.

jodi heckert inmate
jodi heckert prison record
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Arizona Department of Corrections Inmate Search

Here’s what Ayperi Karabuda Ecer had to say about Magnusson’s photographs:

David Magnusson’s focus is not on the individuals, it is on the relationship. The strength, the tenderness, the domination, and all the contradictions springing from adult men seeking promises which will guide young girls’ intimate lives and their infinite need for love and protection.

Each shoot takes up to an hour. That is no longer a “moment”; it is a long time to maintain intensity. Yet some of the fathers and daughters spend the hour physically clinging to each other.

The light is what makes this project visually coherent. All photographs are organized to be shot an hour and a half before dawn. Yes, it is beautiful. Many of the fathers refer to light in their interviews. One of them quotes Psalm 40: “I was plucked from a miry pit and sat into a marvellous light”, another thinks that “as Christians we’re supposed to be the light in the world.”

David Magnusson’s lighting appeals to those who pose but its airy subtlety also adds a surreal tone which contrasts with the solid convictions of the photographed. The setting seems to be from a fairy tale but we are confused by the cast.

David Magnusson knows that what is missing in a frame is as important as what is present. As fathers and daughters intensely try to embody the presence of God, one wonders what fears and hopes lie behind their mutual determination? Who are the men that inspire such fright and such need for protection? What past scars do the fathers want to redeem? Will these girls ever be able to love anyone more than their own progenitor? How much do our own demons suggest interpretations?

Purity is a personal visual project that offers a stage for intense emotions and questions.

As with all images, these carry different meanings depending on where and by whom they will be viewed. Ideally they need to be accompanied by the interviews and a balanced introduction.

But as with so many other images they will also be encountered divorced from initial purpose and control in an unpredictable journey.

Purity is a project about contradictions, love and domination, beauty and fear, relying on the very singular complexities of the photographic process.

Please take the time to view Magnusson’s photographs, and when finished please let me know what you think in the comment section.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Women Duty Bound to Give Their Mothers Grandchildren

lori and ken alexander

We have too many friends our age (in their 60s) who have children that are either not married or are not having children. These friends WANT grandchildren desperately, but their children aren’t interested. Why is this?

….

God wants us to pass down biblical wisdom to our children and grandchildren. They aren’t going to get it from our culture. They will be told to be independent, travel, and make money instead of marry, bear children, and guide the home (1 Timothy 5:14). It seems that most young women are on birth control these days which is highly dangerous. It is even causing infertility. Women are most fertile in their late teens and twenties, then fertility goes dramatically down.

….

Women, you must teach your daughters the beauty of God’s ways. The greatest way you do this is by showing them. Show them that you love your husband, their father. Be an example to them of a joyful, godly mother. Sure, you are going to go through trials and sufferings. We all do. And sure, there will be many difficult days of mothering, but difficult isn’t bad. God’s path for us isn’t the easy, broad path. It’s the narrow path that leads to life!

Train your daughters to be homemakers from a young age. Teach them how to keep a home clean and tidy, to cook, bake, garden, can, iron, sew, and all that it takes to run a home. Let your husband work with your sons on becoming masculine men who will want to grow up to have families of their own. As your daughters grow older, go through my study guide with them so they can see clearly God’s will for them from His Word. Read the Bible to them from a young age. Have them memorize many verses. Pray with them daily. Take them church faithfully. Homeschool them. You be the one to raise and teach your own children so when they grow up, they will want a family of their own.

— Lori Alexander, The Transformed Wife, Many Never Will Become Grandparents, June 16, 2021

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Lori Alexander Tells Women How to Become Attractive to Their Husbands

lori and ken alexander

I am increasingly convinced that Christian Fundamentalist Lori Alexander’s blog is actually operated by her patriarchal husband, Ken. “Lori” says stuff that no rational, thinking, self-aware woman would say. This fact makes me wonder if Ken is the person behind the scenes making the puppet’s mouth move. It is possible, of course, that Lori is so deeply indoctrinated in Christian patriarchal thinking that she has lost all sense of self; that all that matters to her is pleasing Ken (and Jesus).

While people are free to live any way they want, Lori attempts through her blog to convince women that her way of life is the way all female True Believers® should live. Want to be a Jesus-loving, husband-pleasing wife? Lori asks, practice what I preach!

Today, Lori wrote a post titled, Becoming Attractive to Your Husband. Consisting of thirty points, Lori’s sermon could easily have been titled “You Don’t Matter.” Here’s an excerpt from Lori’s post. Notice that the goal is to make yourself attractive to your husband so he will want you and pay attention to you:

A few tips on building attraction with your husband:

1. Pay attention to what makes him moody.

2. Don’t get upset when he shuts you down.

3. Publicly embarrass him with compliments.

4. Look up and smile at him when he enters the room.

5. Make his life more restful by not arguing with him and needing to have the last word.

6. Love God more than you love him.

7. Learn to disagree without being mean and having to be right.

8. Learn to be kind, gentle, and feminine.

9. Explore with him how to increase his sexual pleasure and yours.

10. Make sure your bedroom is not cluttered but an inviting place of rest and privacy.

11. Live wisely and contentedly within his income.

12. Keep your body in the best shape that you can.

13. Listen to him when he speaks and pay attention to his desires.

14. Don’t dress or look like a bum even around the house.

15. Give him a back and neck rub.

16. Hug him and kiss him like you’re his dream, and he’s your man.

17. Go on dates together if at all possible.

18.Learn self-discipline and have a servant’s heart.

19. Be submissive to his leadership.

20. Quit soap operas, junky TV shows, and literature porn.

21. Learn to be a good homemaker in all areas.

22. Be loyal to him always, especially with your words around your parents and girlfriends.

23. Take responsibility for your attitudes and behaviors.

24. Be caring and compassionate.

25. Say “thank you” often for all he does for you.

26. Make him believe he’s the best man for you, ever.

27. Turn off your phone, Facebook, and Instagram when he is around.

28. Wear your hair and clothes the way he likes.

29. Become the woman he WANTS to have sex with instead of the woman he HAS to have sex with.

30. Make it easy for your husband to obey this verse: Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love. Proverbs 5:18,19

Lori, by the way, closed this post to comments. I wonder why?

Did you notice the points about physical attraction and sex? Sure sounds like a Fundamentalist man talking. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Why Evangelical Beliefs and Practices are Psychologically Harmful — Part Two

submission

Part One

Evangelicalism is dominated by Bible literalism. God said it, and that settles it. There can be no debate or argument on the matter. An infallible God has spoken, and his infallible words are recorded in an infallible book — the Protestant Christian Bible. Whatever the Bible teaches, Evangelicals are duty-bound to believe and obey. While Evangelicals may argue about this or that doctrine’s finer points, calling oneself an Evangelical requires fidelity to certain established doctrinal truths. Christianity is, after all, the faith once delivered to the saintsJesus is, after all, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Psychological manipulation is a common tool used by Evangelical preachers to get congregants to do their bidding. I hear the outrage of offended Evangelicals now, screaming for all to hear that THEIR church is not like that, that their pastor is different. Maybe, perhaps, but I doubt it.

If their church or pastor really is different, it is likely because they are not really Evangelical. There are many churches and pastors who are really liberals or progressives who fear making their true theological and social identities known. Fearing the mob, these thoughtful Evangelicals hide their true allegiances. I don’t fault them for doing so, but such churches and pastors are not representative of typical Evangelical beliefs and practices.

In particular, women face the brunt of Evangelical preaching against sin and disobedience. What do Evangelicals believe the Bible teaches about women?

  • Women are weaker than men.
  • Women are intellectually inferior, requiring men to teach and guide them.
  • Women are to submit to their husbands in the home and to male leadership in the church.
  • Women must never be permitted to have authority over men.
  • Women must dress modestly so that they don’t cause weak, pathetic men to lust after them.
  • The highest calling of women is to marry, bear children, and keep the home.
  • Feminism is a Satanic attack on God’s order for the church and home.

Think about this list for a moment. Are Evangelical women equal to men? No! Women are, at best, second-class citizens. They must never be put in positions where they have control or power. Such places are reserved for men. We dare not question this. After all, it is God’s way.

Is it any wonder that many Evangelical women lack self-esteem and think poorly of themselves? How could it be otherwise? Everywhere they look, women are progressing, free to live their lives on their own terms. Yet, here they sit, chained to an ancient religious text and a religion that denigrates women and views them as little more than slaves or chattel.

I am sure there are many Evangelical women who will vehemently object to my characterization of how they are treated by their churches, pastors, and husbands. In THEIR churches women are quite happy! They LOVE being submissive to their husbands as unto the Lord. They LOVE being relegated to cooking duty, janitorial work, and nursery work. They LOVE having no higher goals than having children, cooking meals, cleaning house, and never having a headache.

The bigger question is, WHY is it that many Evangelical women think living this way is normal and psychologically affirming — exactly what God ordered for their lives? Evangelical women don’t want to disobey God or displease their husbands or churches. Whatever God, pastors, male church leaders, and their husbands want, Evangelical women give. This is their fate, and until the light of reason and freedom changes the course of their lives, Evangelical women will continue to bow at the feet of their Lords and do their bidding.

Once women break free from Evangelicalism, a thousand horses and one hundred arrogant, know-it-all preachers couldn’t drag them back into the fold. Once free, they realize a whole new world awaits them. With freedom comes responsibility. No more defaulting to their husbands or pastors to make decisions for them. These women are free to make their own choices. They quickly learn that life in the non-Evangelical world has its own problems, and that women are not, in many cases, treated equally there either.

Over the years, I have watched numerous women break free from domineering, controlling Evangelical husbands. I have also watched women flee patriarchal churches and pastors. Some of these women went back to college to get an education. No longer content to be baby breeders, maids, cooks, and sex-on-demand machines, they turn to education to improve their lot in life. Often, secular education provides a fuller view of the world and opens up all kinds of new opportunities for women.

Sadly, this post-patriarchal life often leads to family problems. Husbands who have worn the pants in the family for decades don’t like having their God-ordained authority challenged. This is especially true if the husbands remain active Evangelical church members. Many times, unable to weather dramatic changes, these mixed marriages end in divorce. Evangelicalism was the glue that held their marriages together, and once it was removed, their marriage fell apart.

Some husbands and wives find ways to keep their marriages intact, although this is hard to do. Imagine living in a home where non-patriarchal mothers and wives are considered rebellious, sinful, and wicked by their Evangelical husbands, pastors, and friends. Imagine being considered a Jezebel. Evangelicals are not kind to those who rebel against their God and their peculiar interpretation of the Bible. The Bible says rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. Biblical literalism demands that rebellious women be labeled as practitioners of witchcraft. Once considered devoted lovers of God, the church, and their families, these women are now considered to be pariahs — servants of Satan who walk in darkness.

I want to conclude this post with a bit of personal commentary.

For many years, my marriage to Polly was pretty much as I described above. I was the head of the home. I made all the decisions. I was in charge, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Polly bore six children, cooked, and kept the home. On and off, when finances demanded it, she worked outside the home. And in her spare time, she homeschooled all six of our children, including one child with Down syndrome.

Polly is a pastor’s daughter. Her goal in life was to be a pastor’s wife. She went to Midwestern Baptist College to get an MRS degree. Polly is quiet and reserved, and, thanks to 40+ years of Evangelical indoctrination, she is also quite passive. During the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan, Polly heartily embraced her preacher’s-wife responsibilities. She was a dutiful wife who always exemplified what it meant to be in submission to God and her husband. Polly submitted to those who had authority over her, never saying a cross word or demanding her own way.

Twenty years ago, things began to change in our marriage. I finally realized how abusive and controlling I had been. Granted, I was just being the kind of Evangelical husband and pastor I thought I should be. I tried my best to follow the teachings of the Bible and the examples of pastors I respected. Regardless of the whys of the matter, I must own my culpability in behaviors I now consider psychologically harmful.

In November 2008, Polly and Bruce Gerencser — hand in hand — walked away from Christianity. For the first time in our lives, we were free from the constraints of God, the Bible, and the ministry. We were free to choose how we wanted to live our lives, free to decide what kind of marriage we wanted to have.

In some ways, very little has changed. Polly still cooks, but now she whips up gourmet meals because she LOVES to do so, not because it is her duty. I still manage household finances, not because I am the head of the home, but because I am better with numbers than Polly is. Both of us take care of household chores. I still do most of the shopping, but I no longer make the list. I am the numbers guy, someone who can figure out the price per ounce in my head. By the time Polly finds her calculator in that bottomless purse of hers, I already have the equation figured out. Each of us tries to do the things we are good at.

The biggest difference in our marriage is this: I now ask Polly, What do you think? What do you think we should do? Where do you want to go? On top or bottom? 🙂 We have learned that it is okay to have lives outside of each other; to have desires, wants, and hobbies that the other person may not have. The Vulcan mind-meld has been broken.

Polly recently celebrated 24 years of employment for a local manufacturing concern. Out from the shadow of her pastor husband, she has excelled at work. Her yearly reviews are always excellent, and she is considered an exemplary worker by everyone who works with her. Polly now supervises auxiliary department employees on second and third shift. She even has an office with her name on the door. None of these things would have been possible had we remained within the smothering confines of Evangelical beliefs and practices.

In 2012, Polly graduated from Northwest State Community College with an associate of arts degree. (If her credits from Midwestern Baptist College — an unaccredited institution — had been transferable, Polly would have likely earned a master’s degree.) This was a huge undertaking on her part. Why did Polly go back to school, you ask? Because she could. And that’s the beauty of our current life. Freedom allows us to live openly and authentically. We no longer have to parse our lives according to the Bible. Both of us are free to do whatever we want to do. Having this freedom of spirit has allowed us to experience things that never would have been possible had we remained Pastor and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser.

Polly continues to break out of her shell, and I continue to learn what it means to be a good man and husband. We still have our moments. There are those times when both Polly and I find it quite easy and convenient to fall back into our former Evangelical ways. As those who have walked similar paths know, it is not easy to change attitudes and lifestyles which were decades in the making. I suspect, until death do us part, we will remain a work in progress.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

How the IFB Church Turned My Wife Into a Martyr

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.

My wife, Polly, and I were raised by parents who believed Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches preached the true gospel and adhered to the right doctrinal beliefs. Both of us spent our preschool years in non-Baptist churches, but neither of us remembers anything about these congregations. Our earliest religious experiences were with IFB churches. Both of us made our first professions of faith as kindergartners. I asked Jesus into my heart during junior church at Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego, California. Polly gave her heart to Jesus by her mom’s bedside. As teenagers, both of us “really” got saved and/or committed our lives to Jesus. I also believed that God was calling me to be a preacher, and Polly believed her calling in life was to be a preacher’s wife.

During our high school years, I attended a large public high school in Findlay, Ohio — dropping out of school after my eleventh-grade year. Polly, at the time, lived in Bay City, Michigan. At the age of thirty-five, her father felt called to preach and moved his family to Pontiac, Michigan to attend Midwestern Baptist College.  During her father’s four years at Midwestern, Polly attended Oakland Christian School — a large Fundamentalist high school. Polly’s father graduated from Midwestern in May 1976. He then moved his family to Newark, Ohio, to become the assistant pastor for the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. The Baptist Temple — as it is commonly called — was an IFB church pastored by Jim Dennis, Polly’s uncle. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.)

In August of 1976, a full-of-life redheaded boy packed his meager belongings into his beater Dodge Dart and made his way north to enroll for classes at Midwestern. A beautiful dark-haired girl would do the same, making the five-hour trip north in a six-year-old AMC Hornet. God’s perfect will was aligning for both of us, and we soon began dating. It was not long before we both were smitten with the other. Six months later, on Valentine’s Day, I asked Polly to marry me. She said yes, and I put on her ring finger the $225 quarter-caret diamond ring I had recently purchased for her at Sears and Roebuck. We then wonderfully broke Midwestern’s rules forbidding physical contact between unmarrieds. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.)

Polly and I threw ourselves into our studies, knowing that we couldn’t — thanks to a college rule forbidding marriage as freshmen — get married until the summer of 1978. Polly’s mom used the intervening eighteen months to try to derail our marriage plans. In February of 1978, Polly’s mom let her know that she could not marry me. End of that, I am sure Mom thought. Little did she know that full-of-life Bruce had rubbed off a bit on quiet, reserved Polly. After giving serious thought to eloping, we decided to get married with or without her parents’ blessing. Polly told her mom that she wanted their blessing and very much wanted to have the wedding at the Baptist Temple, but if not, she was marrying her red-headed bad boy anyway. This was the first time that Polly ever stood up to her mom.

In July of 1978, we tied the knot at the Baptist Temple on a ninety-five-degree July day (the church did not have air conditioning). Polly’s dad and uncle performed the wedding. Our wedding entourage was made up of friends from college, close friends, and family members. It was very much an IFB affair, with one exception, anyway. The soloist for our wedding was a college friend of ours. Two of the songs we asked him to sing were We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters and The Wedding Song (There is Love) by Peter, Paul, and Mary. These were the FIRST secular pop songs ever sung at a Baptist Temple wedding, and they were most certainly the last. For the past forty-two years, thanks to us using secular songs in our wedding, Baptist Temple couples must have their wedding music approved before it can be used. We truly made a “mark” on the church.

After our honeymoon in French Lick, Indiana, we returned to Pontiac to begin our junior year of college. The first week of classes, Polly informed me that she was pregnant. How could that be possible? We were using contraception! Of course, we never had any premarital counseling or instruction about birth control. We were just two dumb, naĂŻve young adults who thought reading Fundamentalist Tim LaHaye’s 1976 book, The Act of Marriage, was comprehensive sex education.

Polly was quite sick during her pregnancy. Her obstetrician was a country doctor who thought it was good for her to gain as much weight as she wanted. All told, she gained sixty-eight pounds, some of which is still with her today. Polly’s health problems forced her to reduce her class load. I maintained a full class schedule while also working a second shift job at a Detroit-area machine shop — Deco Grande. In January of 1979, I lost my job, and we were immediately plunged into a financial crisis. Polly and I sought counsel from the college dean, Levi Corey, thinking that it might be best for us to drop out of school for a semester. The dean told us that it was God who led us to Midwestern, and he never uses quitters. We would hear the “God never uses quitters” mantra many times during the next few weeks. He suggested we borrow money to pay our tuition bill. We did, but that only staved off destitution for a short while. In February 1979, we dropped out of college, packed up our belongings in a small U-Haul, and towed them with a 1967 Chevrolet Impala to the place of my birth, Bryan, Ohio. I was twenty-one, and Polly was twenty.

Our experiences at Midwestern generally reinforced what we had been taught as youths. We were taught a John R. Rice, The Home: Courtship, Marriage, and Children patriarchal/complementarian view of marriage. The Sword of the Lord website describes Rice’s book this way: 

Too long have people had to depend on lewd and crude books, written by ungodly men or women, people who think more of the body than of the soul, writers who study more to excite human passions than to make godly homes. This book shows the normal plan of God about marriage, about children and the Christian principles of a happy home.

I was the head of the home, and all decisions were to be made by me. Polly’s role was to care for our home and children. A greater burden was placed on Polly because she was taught that since her husband was a pastor, she and her children would always come second to the church. Polly was often reminded, both in classes and from the pulpit, that she would have to make great sacrifices for the sake of the ministry; that she must never complain about her preacher husband’s tireless service to Jesus; that men greatly used by God always had wives who understood their husbands’ supernatural calling; that if she would humbly walk in her husband’s shadow, that God would greatly reward her after death. Being naturally passive and reserved, Polly adapted well to her calling, as did I, an outspoken, passionate, quick-to-make-decisions pastor. These teachings would, over time, turn Polly into a martyr.

After leaving college and moving to Bryan, we lived with my sister and her husband for a few weeks while I secured employment and found us suitable housing. Polly, at the time, was six months pregnant with our first child.

As hardcore Fundamentalist Baptists, our first order of business was to find a church to attend. We had been taught that missing church was a grievous sin, a transgression that brought swift judgment from God. Family and friends thought that we would attend First Baptist Church. After all, it was the church I attended before college, and it was pastored by a distant relative, Jack Bennett. My sister and her husband were attending Montpelier Baptist Church, pastored by Jay Stuckey. Polly thought First Baptist was an aging, dead church, with little to offer a young family such as ours. My feelings were a bit more conflicted because I knew many of the people at First Baptist, but I knew Polly was right. So, instead of going where everyone expected us to go, we started attending Montpelier Baptist Church.

Montpelier Baptist was a young church affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC). The church’s pastor and his wife were a few years older than we, and many of the congregants were young adults. The nursery teemed with newborns, and there was an excitement in the air as, week after week, the church continued to grow. Pastor Stuckey was what I would now call a newspaper-headlines-preacher. He preached sermons about the end times, the rapture, and the Illuminati — the things you find in Chick Tracts.  For those who were interested in prophecy and evangelism, Montpelier Baptist was the place to be.

Several weeks after we started attending the church, Jay asked me to be his assistant, working with the bus ministry and the church’s evangelistic efforts. The position paid me exactly zero dollars and zero cents, even though I would, in a few weeks, find myself working at the church over thirty hours a week. Fortunately, I had secured a union job working at ARO in the shipping and receiving department, so money was not a concern.

Between the church and ARO, I was gone from home almost eighty hours a week. Polly was left alone most days, rarely seeing me until late in the evening or at church. I quickly became consumed with the work of the ministry, neglecting my wife for the sake of the supernatural call God had on my life. Polly saw my devotion to the church as the way pastors were supposed to be — sold out, on fire for Jesus. As my wife, Polly knew that God, ministry, and church came before her.

No matter how many hours I worked or how long I was away from home, Polly never said a word. She could see that God was blessing my work at the church. Thanks to my labor with the bus ministry and the church’s visitation program, church attendance grew rapidly. We were bringing so many children in on the buses that they had to sit on the floor at the front of the church. The crowded pews lent themselves to the congregation’s belief that God was doing something great at Montpelier Baptist Church. In October 1979, nine months after I started working with Jay, the church had a record attendance of five hundred. 

Three weeks later, Polly and I, along with our newborn son, would again pack up our belongings, this time so we could move to Newark, Ohio. During our time at Montpelier Baptist, it became clear that I was a workaholic; that I was unable to rest and relax when there was work to do for God. Shortly after our record attendance, I started having health problems that landed me in the hospital for several days. The doctor determined that my problems were stress-related.  During my hospital stay, Jay never came to see me. He never bothered to ask how I was doing. It was during this time that I was also facing a layoff at work. I went to talk to Jay about the difficulties we were having financially — thinking that the church might help us a bit since I was devoting so much of my time to its ministries — and he suggested I apply for welfare. Jay’s indifference towards us was quite hurtful, and later that day, Polly and I decided we would move to Newark. We went over to Jay’s home to tell him, thinking he would understand. He didn’t. Jay became quite belligerent (as did his wife), laying a guilt trip on me for wanting to leave. He so shamed me that I changed my mind about leaving.

A week or so later, it became clear that we were going to have to move. I went to Jay’s office to tell him we were moving, and he looked up from his desk and basically said to me, see ya later, and then went back to whatever it was he was doing.  By the end of the week, we had packed up our belongings and moved to Newark to live temporarily with Polly’s parents until I found a job.

In all of this, Polly was a passive bystander. It was my job to be the head of the home, to make all the decisions. She was taught, and believed, that her God-called preacher husband was led by the Holy Spirit and knew exactly what he was doing. I don’t remember her ever questioning our moves from college to Bryan and from Montpelier to Newark. She was content to follow me wherever I went, and whatever difficulties, burdens, and trials came her way, she would gladly bear them without a word of complaint. As far as patriarchal thinking goes, she was the perfect wife.

These experiences, and many others like them, turned Polly into a martyr. No matter what I said or did, she just smiled and obeyed — the perfect IFB pastor’s wife. Instead of giving her opinion or standing her ground, she quietly followed in my footsteps. It was not until we were in our forties that we realized this was no way to live; Polly was supposed to be my partner, not my slave.

The past 20 years of marriage have been transformational, to say the least. Our decision-making process has changed dramatically, and Polly isn’t afraid to express her opinion or say that this or that is a bad idea. Going back to college and graduating in 2012, and being promoted to second shift supervisor for her department at Sauder Woodworking have allowed Polly to step outside of my shadow, be her own person, and make her own decisions. Deconverting in 2008 helped too. Once freed from an authoritarian God and his rule-book, Polly was free to chart her own course and captain her own ship.

There are times when both of us lapse into our former IFB ways. We are not much different personality-wise from when we got married 42 years ago. Sure, we have mellowed with age and our priorities have changed, but what’s really changed is our values and how we treat each other. Both of us can say that our marriage today is better than it ever has been. We deeply love one another and realize that we are lucky that our marriage survived decades of IFB indoctrination. We are far from perfect, but strive to be a better friend, lover, and spouse to each other every day. Now, if we can just quit fighting over the blanket. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser