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