But Bruce, Don’t Women CHOOSE to Stay in Fundamentalism?

But Bruce, Don’t Women CHOOSE to Stay in Fundamentalism? May 17, 2013

by Bruce Gerencser

It’s not that simple.

We all tend to think it is just a matter of choice or an act of the will when we see people enmeshed in Fundamentalist religions or bizarre ideologies that we have no personal experience with.

Imagine being told as a child, a teenager, a young adult, and as a grown woman:

  • God expects you to follow the divine order he has ordained  for women and the home.
  • God expects you to marry, bear children, and keep the home.
  • That you should not aspire to higher education since it would be wasted on you as a keeper of the home.
  • That you should keep silent in the church and let the men do the thinking.
  • That the only jobs in the church for you are singing in the choir, playing the piano, watching the nursery, serving the fellowship dinner or cleaning the church.
  • That you should totally submit to your husband since he is the God ordained authority in the home.
  • That before you make any decision you should consult your husband and bet his advice and approval

authoritarian_manImagine being told this year in and year out by your parents, Sunday School teacher, Youth Director, and pastor. Imagine being allowed to go off to college, but only because your parents want you to find a good Christian boy to marry.  Imagine joining a horde of young women at college who all have one goal, snagging a man and getting an MRS degree.

Imagine being told that failure to obey God’s commands and failure to follow his divine order for the home will result in God’s judgment. Imagine a young woman lying in bed at night daring to dream of a life beyond the strictures of her parent’s Fundamentalist religion, only to have thoughts of her Preacher’s sermons about God killing people for being disobedient.

Living in such an environment causes teenage girls and women to lose any sense of self-esteem. They think, I am destined to be a maid, a baby hatchery, or slave.  But, I want to be a doctor, a scientist, or dancer. But, I can’t because God, the pastor, the church, and my parents will be displeased with me.

You see, fear of God and those in authority over her  is what keeps her from leaving.  Her whole life everyone she trusts, respects, and looks up to has told her that God hates sin and those who do it. She fears not only disappointing her parents but disappointing God. No one wants God mad at them, right?  Perhaps some of the women who were raised in the Fundamentalist church will share their experiences and reinforce what I have written here.

My counselor and I talked about this very thing today. This past Sunday was Mother’s Day and Polly got the annual guilt trip from her Mother, Please come to Church with me. It’s Mother’s Day.

Polly’s answer was a short, sweet NO! I told Dr. Deal that in many ways Polly is more anti-church/religion than I am. Why? Because her past experiences are very different from mine.

While I was the exalted pastor,revered by many,  she was just the pastor’s wife. She was the religious version of the blockbuster Baseball trade where a team trades for an all-star players and throws in an no-name player to sweeten the deal. Polly was the no-name player.

She spent much of her adult life in a home and marriage that was dominated patriarchal thinking.  She was forty-six years old before she wore her first pair of pants. She spent much or her married life serving others, rarely making a decision. Over time she lost her self-identity as it was swallowed up by her husband’s identity. (who then lost his self identity as it was swallowed up by the church)

So here we are in 2013. Polly is still quite conservative in many ways, but she has the freedom to be whoever and whatever she wants to be. She was promoted at work a few years ago, a promotion she earned, a promotion that was based on her work and not her husbands. She started taking classes at the local Community College and she graduated last year. Again, she did this in her own right. By her own hard word she earned a degree.

Polly now has the freedom to dress however she wants. She asks, as she puts on a top that shows a bit of cleavage, does is look OK?  I think you can guess what my answer was.  Smile  She is free to watch what she wants on TV and read smutty novels if she chooses.

What she has is her own life. She has freedom. So, when her mother says, do you want to go to church with me, all Polly hears is, do you want to go back to the slavery and bondage of Fundamentalism? As Polly told me, HELL NO!

I have no doubt Polly had to a lot of fear to overcome. Even when a person stops believing, there is a hangover effect. How can there not be? When you have this kind of junk drilled into your head year after year for forty years, it is hard to shake.

Polly went to Midwestern Baptist College to get an MRS degree. She believed God called her to be a Pastor’s wife. Well, she got what she went looking for, and for many years we both played our respective parts in God’s divine plan.

But, now we are free and we have no intentions of going back…ever!  Why we would we ever want to trade the freedom we now have for the bondage Fundamentalism offers?  Fundamentalists try to use threats of judgment and hell to get us to repent but we are immune to such things.

You see, we learned, from the Bible no less, that perfect love casteth out all fear, and we have found perfect love, not in God, a Church or the Bible, but in each other. We have found a love for self, each other, and our family that is freer and sweeter than anything Fundamentalism could ever offer.

I hope readers, especially Fundamentalist female readers, will find encouragement from this post.  I want them to know I understand their fear. I also want them to know that they can be free from the self-killing tentacles of Fundamentalism. My dear wife broke free and many of the former-Fundamentalist women who read this blog have  done the same. Perhaps some of them will share their story.

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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Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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  • I always assumed that the reason so few women left patriarchal religions was lack of resources. Most are poorly educated and have few if any job skills, no independent income, and if they were raised in such a family, perhaps nowhere to go and nowhere to turn for assistance. Perhaps all of us on the outside, if we have women friends in patriarchy, should make an effort to (diplomatically, of course) make sure these women know they have friends they can turn if that day ever comes.

  • Nightshade

    Depends on how you define choice. What kind of choice is it when you’re constantly told that any misstep on your part, rejection of any part of ‘God’s will’-as defined by the church, of course!-will not only damn your soul to hell for eternity, but put your children there along with you?

  • NeaDods

    Yes, this. Without the education and experience to navigate the world, without the support of someone out there, leaving isn’t really a choice.