Family Driven Faith ~ Part 2: It Is Good to Be Free

A Former Independent Fundamental Baptist Pastor’s Perspective on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

by Bruce Gerencser

As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor I taught that the Bible clearly defined the roles of men (husbands), women (wives), and children. (a hierarchy) 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. 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 for them was to be leaders. Men were called to lead the church and the home. (and lead the government) The strength or weakness of any culture, church, or home depended on whether or not men were fulfilling their divine calling to lead.

Children were at the bottom of the hierarchical system. They were under the authority of God, the Bible, the pastor, their father, and their mother. (And according to my sons, the oldest brother) Children had 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 pressures the hierarchical family structure was 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 the 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 helpmeet. 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. (or what an authoritarian Pastor and authoritarian husband/father say the Bible teaches)

I have no objections to a women 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. (though it is 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 a 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 life 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 work. (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… I told her….rule number one about making decisions. You will likely piss someone off. (3)

Two years ago Polly returned to college. She struggled at first, and it took quite a bit of willpower for me not to bail her out, but over time she adapted to using the computer (she was computer illiterate) and doing the various things necessary to be a good college student. She graduates next Spring. It will be a proud and happy moment when she walks the aisle on graduation day.

Polly was over 40 years old before she ever 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 was different.

I told my wife and six children that I was setting them free. I was no longer going to be the spiritual head of the home. I was no longer going to be the spiritual patriarch of the family. They were free to be whatever they wanted to be. I sincerely meant this. If they wanted to be Wiccans I was fine with it. The bottom line was this….I wanted 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 the 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. I still like a rousing debate and 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 is a work in progress. As my wife continues to learn to make decisions I also have to learn to not make decisions. I have to learn to shut up and allow people to make choices for themselves, even when I think their choices are bad. 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 have always had. You know……….those things that annoy and bug you. The difference now is that we have learned to embrace the peculiarities and we realize that our peculiarities 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 her 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 other people 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 nominally attend the Catholic church with their wives. My other four children, for the most part, do not attend church. I would not classify them as atheists or even agnostics. They are 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 (OCP) and Polly is happy with clutter. This is a match made in hell. Smile For many years my OCP dominated everything. I have had to learn that what I have every right to want things perfectly ordered, everything in it 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. I put the following on the message board in the kitchen recently “Last Warning!! The table is not a catch-all.” Our three youngest children have followed after their mother so they tend to use the dining room table as a catch-all. This drives me crazy. Smile

Discuss this post on the NLQ forum! Comments are also open below.

Read all posts by Bruce Gerencser!

Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates the Fallen from Grace blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 32 years. They have 6 children, and five grandchildren.

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  • Michelle

    Having one person making all the decisions stunts not only the growth of the people not permitted to make decisions, but also the growth of the person whose decisions must never be questioned.

  • Stewart Paterson

    “I would not classify them as atheists or even agnostics. They are still figuring out what they believe.”
    or, like it was for my wife and I for a long while, simply no longer important.

  • Josh

    FASCINATING!!!

    I enjoyed reading this and will look into your blog beyond this.

    Congratulations =)

  • Danger

    I am so proud of you guys.

  • Alli

    I understand the need for growth in our lives. Realizing what’s important and what’s not. Learning to let go of things, while embracing others. From this blog, I see a lot of changes that you’ve made in your life that are positive. However, I find it so sad that you’ve lost your spirituality altogether. I’ve fallen to that place before, and lived there quite “happily” for a while. I eventually found it a very empty place, hollow and lacking in any real substance. We all need a little faith in our lives. It’s the substance of hope. And what is life without hope?

    • http://fallenfromgrace.net Bruce

      I have not “fallen”. I think you are projecting your own experience onto mine. For me, and for my wife, losing religious faith was/is a step up. We find godlessness quite fulfilling and full of substance. We don’t need a deity to give us purpose. Granted our life lacks the hope of rewards beyond the grave but we are satisfied with what we have in the hear and now.

      You equate faith with a God or some form of spirituality. I have plenty of faith but my faith rests in the human race and I have great hope for a better tomorrow.

      Bruce

      • Alli

        Really? You’re putting your faith in the human race? Why? Because it’s proven itself worthy? We war, we are corrupt, we are stupid and getting more stupid, we are lazy, we are selfish, we are greedy, we are murderers and adulterers. We have glorified these detestable qualities, and I believe that the human race is headed toward a decidedly horrible place.
        I say you have “fallen” because you have fallen from grace in denying Creator. Atheism feels quite freeing at first, I agree. I don’t know how long you have been at this, but it took a while for me to realize that the “fulfillment” I felt in atheism was more like a kid leaving home for the first time. Sowing wild oats and all, but eventually, the kid sees the wisdom in their parents teachings and rules, and understand that they were for their own good.
        I suspect that your experience within the church has been religion based, not relationship based. I totally understand where you are in that. I’ve been there. But consider not the do’s and don’ts, but the “I love you, and I gave my life for YOU.”
        He’ll still be there waiting with open arms for you, as He was for me. I will pray for your return to the Kingdom, brother. :)

        • Angiep

          Well, that was pretty disrespectful on your part. Give the man some space to have his own beliefs and his own sprirituality. It does not have to mirror yours. He is not “fallen” nor is he “sowing his wild oats.” He has come to a different place in life that does not include a deity. At least he respects other people’s beliefs, and you should do the same without speaking to him like he just doesn’t understand.

          • http://fallenfromgrace.net Bruce

            Thanks! At the end of the day I am indifferent to what a person believes. Each to their own. I do find offense with those who think they know my story better than I do. Alli is projecting her own experience with Christianity and atheism on to my story.

        • http://fallenfromgrace.net Bruce

          Let me see if I can summarize your view. I should be like you, yes?

          Let’s see… most of the human race has a God, the majority of them have the Christian God. Hmm…..perhaps the blame should be put where it belongs, on the Christian God. You assume that Christianity or having a God makes people better. There is no evidence or proof of this.

          Most serial killers come from a religious background. Perhaps we should conclude that believing in God makes it more likely that a person will become a serial killer. Oh I know how you’ll answer….they don’t have your version of God. if they did……

          Bruce

  • Naomi

    Amazing story, thanks for sharing. I too was brought up in a sexist church, but thankfully I stopped believing in all things supernatural at about 20. The world makes a lot more sense now.

    It’s sad that the commenter Alli only sees the ugliness of human life. We can do so many wonderful things, but we never will if we resign ourselves as headed to a “horrible place”.

    • http://fallenfromgrace.net Bruce

      Same here. Once religion and the Bible were no longer part of the picture I began to look at people differently. I now see that people are “different” rather than sinful. Before, a “good” or “bad” person was defined by what they Bible said. My “bad” list has gotten a lot smaller. There are a lot of amazing people that I wrote off years ago as bad, evil, sinful, etc who I now see as wonderful examples of all that is good about humanity. (just think I actually have gay friends) :)

      • alli

        I don’t see anything disrespectful about my comments. I was open and honest about everything I’ve personally experienced. I was not “projecting” anything, and I’m sorry if you feel that way. I spoke sincerely out of Christian love, knowing where I’ve been & where you are now. It all sounds so familiar. I TRULY believed I was an enlightened athiest at one time too. Merely sharing my story, just as you did yours, in the hope it will help someone one day. Funy how the athiest is tolerant of anyone but the Christian. :(

        • mwigdahl

          I think if you reread your response to Bruce, you might see what the other poster meant by disrespect. Your heavy use of scare quotes, combined with your aggressive dismissal of Bruce’s mildly-worded response, makes you come across as much more intolerant than Bruce.

          You don’t really _know_ where Bruce is right now in terms of his thoughts, feelings, philosophy, and spirituality. You think you do, but if Bruce begs to differ with what you say, who are any of us to contradict him?

        • http://fallenfromgrace.net Bruce

          Alli,

          Nice try to put this back on me. I’ll leave it at that. Anyone can read your words…..and decide if my observation is correct.

          I love your dig “the atheist is tolerant of anyone but the Christian.” You have a faulty view of tolerance. Tolerance does not mean I have to let you put words in my mouth or let you project your experience on to mine. Tolerance also does not mean that your version of Christianity shouldn’t be challenged. After all you did comment in a public forum.

          Said my piece. End of discussion.

          Mwigdahl,

          Very good advice. The internet is a wonderful tool for interacting with others but it is impossible to make complete judgments about anyone due to the fact that we have incomplete information. I am very open in my writing but that doesn’t mean that someone can intimately know me, know my emotional state, etc by reading what I write. If I had a dollar for ever time someone told me I was angry….I’d be rich. How can they “tell” I am angry? Unless I write “I am angry” it is impossible to know if I am angry or not. (and 99% when accused of being angry I am not)

          I tend to take people at face value. It is their life, their story…..and like you said, who am I to contradict them. I certainly wouldn’t contradict Alli over her story. My objection was that she tried to make her story mine.

          Bruce

        • evettems1966

          I commend Bruce for his leaving that church. I myself am not religious but do believe in Karma and do unto others and all that good stuff-not because the Bible teaches it but because it’s basic human decency. The bible was written by men for men in my opinion. And Alli you talk about how bad the human race is but according to your religion anyone can be a bad as they want and as long as they ask for forgiveness they get to go to Heaven-How does that make for a Fair and Loving God? Do what you want as long as your Christian and profess forgiveness it’s OK. No thanks I’m with Bruce enjoy the life you have and make your heaven in the here and now.

  • Alli

    Bruce,
    I urge you, please, tell me exactly HOW I made my story yours? HOW did I “project” my story onto you? How does one do that anyway? I can’t make my life story yours. All I can say is that I see similarities in our situation. (Which I DID say, and DO see.)
    I can also say that according to my belief system, you have in fact “fallen from grace”. Yes, mwigdhl, there are quotes there. Because I’m quoting scripture.
    I also don’t see how “I am praying for your return to the kindgom, and consider that Christ died for you” is aggressive. I also don’t see how sharing my experience in the hope that someone else can benefit is aggressive. Please, please, tell me how I was aggresive, because that was NEVER my intention. Just like Bruce and mwigdhl so aptly stated, ” You don’t really _know_ where I am right now in terms of my thoughts, feelings, philosophy, and spirituality.”
    I know where Bruce is in terms of his spirituality, because he stated such- he is an athiest. I also know a good deal of his thought on the subject of spirituality, thanks to his article (part 1 & 2) and several of his blogs that I’ve read.
    Also, how do you know what my view of tolerance is, Bruce? Did I say? I don’t remember saying. Because I have many gay friends, too. I have a couple of gay relatives. I don’t judge, and haven’t ever. Because I believe that right is reserved for the only one who can judge the living and the dead. I’ve also never said you were angry. Not once.
    I think the projection here is being placed on me for being a typical, intolerant, hate-filled Christian. Which is not true, and totally unfair.
    I will vehemently defend and openly profess my faith and my God. But, I will NEVER judge. I will try to win the lost, but I won’t cram a Bible down your throat. I am not bigoted, hate-filled, or judgemental. But I AM a Christian. And I WILL pray for you.

  • http://fallenfromgrace.net Bruce Gerencser

    First. I didn’t say you were aggressive and angry, some one else did

    Second. You said I was being intolerant and I responded to explain why I wasn’t. If you viewed my words as intolerant then you have a faulty view of tolerance. I am simply responding to what you wrote.

    Third. Look at what you wrote. Look at the pronouns you used. I am sorry if you can’t see your projection but I am not the only one who sees it.

    Fourth. It is utterly amazing how you have taken what I wrote and what others wrote and ratcheted it up to where you are now the aggrieved party. You put words in my mouth that I never said and then you claim offense.

    Fifth. I don’t want to continue this publicly. I have said all I need to say. I get it…….you disagree with what I have written. Nothing is gained from writing one more word on this matter. Thank you for interacting with me.

    Bruce

  • Alli

    Bruce, as you stated in an earlier post, this is a public forum, and as such, I’d like to publicly defend myself and my faith.

    First, although I failed to address mwigdahl directly in response to calling me aggressive, I was reffering to his comments, and therefore, that portion of my statement was not directed to you. I apologize if you thought they were.

    Second, I’m sorry I called you intolerant. You seemed to be awfully intolerant and of my beliefs and the things I was writing, and that’s how I percieved your posts. If you were not, I again, apologize.

    Third, let me show you my pronouns, indicated by asterisks.
    6. Alli says:
    August 9, 2011 at 7:58 pm
    *I understand* the need for growth in our lives. Realizing what’s important and what’s not. Learning to let go of things, while embracing others. From this blog, I see a lot of changes that you’ve made in your life that are positive. However, *I find it* so sad that you’ve lost your spirituality altogether. *I’ve fallen* to that place before, and lived there quite “happily” for a while. *I eventually* found it a very empty place, hollow and lacking in any real substance. We all need a little faith in our lives. It’s the substance of hope. And what is life without hope?

    Alli says:
    August 9, 2011 at 9:51 pm
    Really? You’re putting your faith in the human race? Why? Because it’s proven itself worthy? We war, we are corrupt, we are stupid and getting more stupid, we are lazy, we are selfish, we are greedy, we are murderers and adulterers. We have glorified these detestable qualities, and *I believe* that the human race is headed toward a decidedly horrible place.
    *I say* you have “fallen” because you have fallen from grace in denying Creator. Atheism feels quite freeing at first, I agree. I don’t know how long you have been at this, but *it took a while for me* to realize that the “fulfillment” I felt in atheism was more like a kid leaving home for the first time. Sowing wild oats and all, but eventually, the kid sees the wisdom in their parents teachings and rules, and understand that they were for their own good.
    *I suspect* that your experience within the church has been religion based, not relationship based.* I totally understand where you are in that. I’ve been there.* But consider not the do’s and don’ts, but the “I love you, and I gave my life for YOU.”
    He’ll still be there waiting with open arms for you, as He was for me. I will pray for your return to the Kingdom, brother.

    Reply alli says:
    August 12, 2011 at 10:13 pm
    I don’t see anything disrespectful about my comments. I was open and honest about everything I’ve personally experienced. I was not “projecting” anything, and I’m sorry if you feel that way. I spoke sincerely out of Christian love, knowing where I’ve been & where you are now. *It all sounds so familiar.* I TRULY believed* I was an enlightened athiest at one time too. Merely sharing my story, just as you did yours, in the hope it will help someone one day. Funy how the athiest is tolerant of anyone but the Christian.

    Now, if I’d said, Bruce, you are an athiest that is just like me and you’re a child just out sowing your wild oats and one day you’ll believe and come back to the faith, I can understand where you’d say I was projecting. I did, however say our stories sounded similar. Seriously don’t see how that is “projecting”.

    Fourth, aggrieved party? To an extent, yes. I got immediately flamed by other individuals as being disrespectectful, aggressive, intolerant, dissmissive, and accused by you as projecting my story on you. Now, you are accusing me of putting words in your mouth? Where did I do that?

    I think I was very respectful and nice in my previous posts. I truly do pray for you and feel bad that you lost your spirituality. I sincerely hope you one day return to Christianity and find a new hope in Christ and a new relationship that you’ve never had before. I will pray that God will lead you by His Holy Spirit, and that the people that cross your path will plant seeds and water them. I pray that you are not rocky soil. In fact, I pray that for every poster in this thread. My heart bleeds for those who don’t know the grace of God, and haven’t yet experienced His goodness.

    “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”
    Romans 1:20-23

  • Maya

    As regards the Amish, yes, there is a lot of community pressure to choose to follow their ways (i.e. if you don’t you’re no longer part of the community, so you’re largely cut adrift) but it is also clearly an option not to – they would usually be baptised around 18, and at that point if they no longer want to be Amish, they can certainly choose not to be. Few do.

  • Lilah

    My hat’s off to you and your wife. I’ve never shared beliefs that are in any way similar to the ones you used to hold, but I still can’t imagine the amount of strength and willingness to grow and change it took for you all to make such a transition.

  • Ona

    I deeply admire the courage it took for your enitre family to come to the realizations you did, and to trust each other to learn how to live without rigid, comformist beliefs based upon an old book of myths and rules. I had to leave my own family of origin more or less behind, as they were unwilling to come along with me on my journey and made many attempts to bully me into giving up on my self discovery. To do such a dauting thing as a group, that is amazing to imagine. Good for you all!


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