Does Evangelical Christianity Cause Emotional Damage: Part 2

Does Evangelical Christianity Cause Emotional Damage: Part 2 February 27, 2013

by Brucer Gerencser

Evangelicalism is dominated by Bible literalism. God said it, and that settles it. There can be no debate, no argument. An infallible God has spoken. Whatever the Bible teaches, the Evangelical is duty bound to believe and obey.  While Evangelicals may argue about the finer points of this or that doctrine, calling oneself an Evangelical requires fidelity to certain, established doctrinal truths. It is, after all, the faith once delivered to the saints. Jesus is, after all, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Emotional manipulation and damage is quite common in Evangelicalism. I hear the screams of offended Evangelicals, 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 a lot of churches and pastors who are really liberals or progressives who fear making their true identity known. So they maintain the same associations, all the while living a lie. I don’t fault them for this but they really aren’t a legitimate voice of disagreement since they are not really Evangelical.

The true Evangelical may not like what I write. The true Evangelical hates that I am airing their dirty laundry but they know their commitment to Bible literalism demand the beliefs I will share in the rest of this post.

By far, Evangelical women suffer the most emotional abuse. It is hard to imagine any Evangelical woman coming away from Evangelicalism without being emotionally damaged.

Why is this?

What do Evangelicals believe the Bible teaches about women?

  • A woman is weaker than a man
  • A woman requires men to teach her and guide her
  • A woman is to be submissive to her husband in the home and submissive to male leaders in the church
  • A woman must never have authority over a man
  • A woman must dress modestly so that she doesn’t cause men to lust after her
  • A woman’s highest calling is to marry, bare 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 women equal to men? No! Women are, at best, second class citizens. They must never be put in positions where they have control and power. Such places are reserved for men.  We dare not question this……..after all, it is God’s way.

Is it any wonder 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 life on their own terms.  Yet, here the Evangelical woman sits, chained to a ancient religious text and a religion that demeans her and views her, at times, as little more than property.

I am sure there are many Evangelical women who vehemently object to my characterization of Evangelicalism. In THEIR church the women are quite happy!  They LOVE being submissive to their husband. They LOVE being relegated to cooking duty, janitorial work, and nursery work. They LOVE having no higher goal than having children, cooking meals, cleaning house, and never having a headache.

I am sure many Evangelical women think this way. However, the better question is WHY do they think like this? Or how could they think any other way given the way God and the Bible is presented to them?

She doesn’t want to disobey God, displease their husband, or be seen as a rebel by the church. What God and man wants, she gives. As long as she lives in the Evangelical bubble she will never really know that life could be different for her.  She doesn’t know the grass is greener on the other side of the fence because the fence reaches from earth to heaven.

I do know this, once a woman breaks free from Evangelicalism, a thousand horses and an arrogant, know it all preacher, couldn’t drag her back. Once free, they realize a whole new world awaits them.

With freedom comes responsibility. No more defaulting to her husband or pastor to make decisions for her. She is free to make her own decisions and choose her own path. She quickly learns that life in the non-Evangelical world has its own problems and that women are not, in many cases, treated equally. As Rick Santorum, the Republican candidate for President has shown every woman who is paying attention, men STILL want to control what a woman does with her body.

Over the years I have watched a lot of women break free from a domineering, controlling Evangelical husband. Often they also broke free from a domineering God and church.  In many cases, the woman went back to college to get an education. No longer content to be a baby breeder, maid, cook, and sex-on-demand machine, she turns to education to improve her place in life. Education often provides a fuller view of the world and opens up all kinds of new opportunity for the woman.

Sadly, this often leads to family problems. Husbands who have worn the pants for decades don’t like the challenge to their authority. This is especially true if the husband remains in the Evangelical church. Many times, these mixed marriages end in divorce. The Evangelical religion was the glue that held the marriage together and once it is removed the marriage falls apart.

Some husbands and wives find a way to keep their marriage intact. This is hard to do. Imagine living in a home where the mother and wife is considered rebellious, sinful, and wicked by the church and pastor. Imagine being considered a Jezebel.  Evangelicals are not kind to those who rebel against God and the Bible. After all, the Bible says rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.

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

My wife and I will celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary in July. All in all, Polly and I have a great marriage. We are blessed with six children and seven grandchildren. Despite the myriad of health problem I have, Polly has stood by my side, never wavering. In my very biased opinion she deserves the Medal of Valor and the Woman and Mother of the Year Award.

For almost 30 years our marriage was pretty much like what I described above. I was the head of the home. I made all the decisions. Polly bore six children, cooked, and kept the home. On and off she worked outside the home  when economics demanded it. Oh, did I mention that she homeschooled six children too?

I was also Polly’s pastor so there was never a moment of her married life that she was not under my authority. I was the head, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Polly is a pastor’s daughter. Her goal in life was to be a pastor’s wife. She went to college to get a MRS degree. Polly is quiet and reserved. She is also quite passive. She adapted well to being the wife of a Baptist pastor. She was a dutiful wife that always exemplified being in be submission. Never a cross word, never demanding her own way, she always submitted to those who had the authority over her. (and this began long before our marriage)

Four or so 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 husband and pastor I thought I should be. I tried my best to follow the teachings of the Bible and the example of pastors I respected. Regardless of they why’s of the matter, I must own my actions.

Three years and half ago we left the Christian faith. For the first time in our lives we were free from the constraints of God and the Bible. We were free to choose how we wanted to live our lives. Free to decide what kind of marriage we wanted to have.

In many ways very little has changed. Polly still cooks because she LOVES to cook.(thanks be to Zeus)  I still manage the household finances because I am better at it. We both take care of household chores. I still do most of the shopping but I no longer make the list. I am the numbers guy who can figure out 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 try to do the things we are good at.

Here’s where the real difference comes in. I now ask, What do you think? What do you think we should do? Where do you want to go? On top or bottom?    Instead of things being my way I try my best to make sure things our OUR way.

We have learned that it is OK to have a life outside of each other. To have desires, wants and hobbies that the the other person may not have. The Vulcan mind meld has been broken.

Polly is a shift supervisor where she works. Out from the shadow of her pastor husband she has excelled at work. Her yearly reviews are always excellent and she is considered a great worker by everyone who works with her.

A year and a half ago she bought a new car in her own name. Yes, I helped picked out the car and took care of the financing details but it is her car. A first……..and a BIG deal.

In May, Polly will graduate from NW State Community College. I am so proud of her. This was a huge undertaking for her and she has done quite well. (yes Honey you WILL pass statistics)

Polly continues to break out of her shell and I am forced to learn what it means to be a good man and husband. We still have our moments. There are times when both Polly and I find it quite easy to fall back into the mode we were in as Rev and Mrs. Pastor. As you know, it is not easy to  change attitudes and lifestyles decades in the making.  But…..we are headed in the right direction.

To the women who read this blog:  How has your life and marriage changed since you left Christianity? If you are still a Christian but now a progressive or liberal Christian, how has your life and marriage changed?

Part 1

Comments open below

Read everything by Bruce Gerencser!

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Bruce Gerencser blogs at The Way Forward.

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 Way Forward blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 32 years. They have 6 children, and five grandchildren.

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  • vindicated

    There are SO many points i’d like to respond to, but I doubt this comments section could hold it.
    First, another wonderful article. I hope to read more of your work! I’m impressed by a mans ability to get inside the head of a “born-again”/”evangelical” woman and articulate it so accurately.

    “I hear the screams of offended Evangelicals, screaming for all to hear, that THEIR church is not like that, that their pastor is different. Maybe, perhaps, but I doubt it.”
    -Yeah, so do I. I still have contact with MANY people from my Christian college and upbringing, and anything I post on FB that is even remotely critical, i’m met with this “argument” 98% of the time and I usually don’t persue it any further than that. There is no convincing the “convicted”. For some, I think as they grow, the wool will be lifted from their eyes.

    “Evangelicals are not kind to those who rebel against God and the Bible. ”
    -They sure arent! Certainly not in my experience. I didnt even leave the faith, I just moved and took a job some of them found “sinful” and started modeling half-heartedly. It wasnt 24 hours after that and I was FLOODED with FB and other message calling me a “Jezebel”, “rebellious”, “shameful” and all of the other lovely things used to tear down other women in the name of “Christian Love” and “iron sharpening iron”.

    “Her goal in life was to be a pastor’s wife. She went to college to get a MRS degree.”
    -This is so prevalent at my former college that it was OPENLY joked about. I look on the social network profiles of women (“girls” really) that went there SOLELY to find a spouse, and I’d say 75% of them did and now are homemakers. I’m not knocking being a stay-at-home-mom, but these kinds of gals will openly scorn women that work and choose not to procreate.

    “How has your life and marriage changed since you left Christianity?”
    -Like I mentioned above, I think when I moved OUT of that environment, not neccesarily out of the faith, was when things changed. I still considered myself a Christian, but didnt partake in the usual stances of “homosexuality is sinful” and didnt really have an opinion on abortion, so I dont think many knew my religious background in my new state. That was several years ago, and now I definitely dont identify with Christianity, though i still believe in God or a god. I dont consider myself a feminist, but i KNOW many people from my old life do and label me as such. I feel empowered in my life, and i’ve been MORE philanthropic since leaving the church than I EVER was in it. Why? Because you start doing the right thing because it feels right, not because of fear of going to hell.

    I’ve already gone on more than I indented, but suffice it to say I enjoy your writing and hope to see more of it!

  • Nancy B

    Loved your post. I would add that although being a housewife & mother is a choice, it is better to make that choice with education and skills in case of death, divorce or disability. I heard “Mrs Degree” back when I was in college in the 70’s. I preferred to make sure I chose a path that could help me avoid welfare (or homelessness) in the future. God gave me fertility but He also gave me a brain. I simply could not bring children into the world knowing that all of us were one man away from welfare.

    Godly men die too. Of course I think Godly men who love their wives want their wives to have as full a life as she desires.

    My husband is my best friend. Can’t imagine considering myself under his leadership. Or praying that he doesn’t croak and make me a bag lady.

  • I consider myself a post-evangelical, so I don’t really have a horse in this race. Therefore, I hope no one will accuse me of bias if I simply point out that this:

    I don’t fault them for this but they really aren’t a legitimate voice of disagreement since they are not really Evangelical.
    The true Evangelical may not like what I write. The true Evangelical hates that I am airing their dirty laundry but they know their commitment to Bible literalism demand the beliefs I will share in the rest of this post.

    – is actually using the No True Scotsman fallacy. All Evangelicals do/believe this. If any Evangelical claims he/she doesn’t do/believe this, then he or she isn’t a True Evangelical. Sorry, but there really are evangelical churches that are egalitarian and believe none of what is stated above that all evangelicals believe about women. Also, there are evangelical churches which believe men are the leaders of the home, but that husbands are still to “submit” to their wives as wives do to them, in mutuality. (I know, because I still attend an evangelical church that takes this stance– I attend because I love the people and I love their decisive “believe however you want on anything but that Jesus is the Christ” stance. In other words, they know my husband and I don’t believe he is the head of the home, and they are perfectly fine with our disagreement. They know I identify as a “post-evangelical” and are fine with me still attending anyway). There are evangelical churches that hold much healthier views on the Christian’s response to sin than that stated in Part 1 of this series.

    Are they still Evangelical churches? Yes, because they hold the core Evangelical beliefs. Do some other Evangelical churches take issue with them or consider them “lukewarm”? Sure. Do some Evangelicals want to exclude these churches as not being True Evangelicals (TM)? Of course. But evangelicalism is actually broader than either those members, or atheists, want to believe.

  • Sarah

    Thank you. I noticed the same fallacy.

  • I live in South Africa, with most of my Christian experience since my teen years evangelical in nature. Most of what he taught about evangelical beliefs about women are stuff I first encountered on the internet, except for “A woman is to be submissive to her husband in the home” is things I never heard in real live or Christian books/ magazines.

    What American evangelicals teach, and what is generally central to being evangelical, is not always the same. I do not believe evangelicalism is synonymous with female subordination.

  • Persephone

    I think the biggest problem in the U.S. is that these different churches are trying to outdo each other in this kind of behavior. Most of the Baptists are now almost 180 degrees from where they were a hundred years ago.

    The political and social changes here have triggered a lot of changes, and the preachers on TV have joined in.

  • I was raised evangelical, and still consider myself one. For most of my life I attended an evangelical church. None of the churches I attended were Baptist, nor were they the extremely misogynistic types. Until I joined the United Methodist church, all of my church experience was mostly complementarian in teaching, but egalitarian in practice with a few exceptions. Women could and did preach (they called it teaching) on Sunday mornings, teach men, use birth control, or hold outside jobs. There was a lot of variety within the congregation too- from proponents of Strict Patriarchy to feminists like me. The literal interpretatio.n of scripture, while very common in a lot of instances, is also not universal, not was my experience one where debate and nuanced interpretation were ever discouraged. That, honestly, was more a factor of home and homeschool group than church.

  • it may be a logical fallacy but your example doesn’t help. If your church teaches “men are leaders in the home” it is not egalitarian. If leadership is assigned by genitalia rather than individual skill and preference, it is not egalitarian.