Dear Ann

blood of jesus

What follows is a letter I wrote to my Fundamentalist Christian step-grandmother, Ann Tieken, in 2012. She was married for many years to my grandfather John Tieken. They lived in Pontiac, Michigan and attended Sunnyvale Chapel. Like with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

Dear Ann,

Grandchildren don’t get to choose who their grandparents are. When we are born they just show up and we have to accept them.

My Dad’s parents died when I was five. I really don’t remember very much about them at all. I remember the Gerencser farm, the outhouse, the wood cook stove, and the funny language Grandma and Grandpa spoke.

My Mom’s side of the family “blessed” me with two sets of grandparents, Grandma Rausch and Grandma and Grandpa Tieken.

I don’t know how old I was before I realized that Grandma Rausch used to be Grandma Tieken.

For most of my life, Grandma Rausch was the only grandparent I had. She wasn’t perfect but she loved me. I was, after all, grandson number one. She taught me to love baseball and to be passionate about life. She had her faults, but I never doubted for one moment that she loved me.

Here is what I remember about you and Grandpa Tieken.

I remember every Christmas being a day of anxiety and turmoil. I remember the fights and you and Grandma Rausch not being able to be in the same room together. This was resolved by having two Christmases, two of every holiday

I remember Grandpa’s nasty and violent temper.

I remember Grandpa slugging your son David, my teen age uncle, knocking him off his chair on to the kitchen floor. I saw Grandpa hit him more than a few times.

I remember Grandpa beating the shit out of my brother and I because we took apart an old telephone that was in the garage.

Wonderful childhood memories.

Do I have any good memories of you and Grandpa Tieken?

I have two.

I remember Grandpa taking us up in an airplane he had just overhauled and I vividly remember Grandpa taking me to a Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians game at Briggs Stadium in 1968. I got to see Mickey Lolich pitch. He bought me a Tiger’s pennant.

That’s it.

You were always a church going Christian. What were you thinking when you married the drinking, carousing John Tieken? But you won, and Grandpa Tieken found Jesus.

For the next 30 plus years you and Grandpa were devoted followers of Jesus. I remember going to Sunnyvale Chapel every time we came to visit you. I remember singing the Countdown song (see notes)  in junior church.

As I got older I began to understand things from my Mom’s perspective. Her relationship with you and her Dad was always strained. Lots of turmoil, lots of stress. Lots of angry words and cussing.

She showed me the letters you and her traded. So much anger, so little Jesus.

Mom told me about her younger years. She told me about what went on and what happened to her. Awful things. Shameful things. She told me about confronting Grandpa about these things and he told her that God had forgiven him and they were under the blood. Not one word of sorrow or admission of guilt, not even a sorry.  A new life in Christ wiped the slate clean.

I have often wondered if Mom’s mental illness found its root in the events that took place on a Missouri farm when she was but a youth.  I know she felt she could never measure up and you and Grandpa had a real knack for reminding family of their shortcomings. After all, we were Bob Gerencser’s kids.

When I went to college I lived a few miles away from you. For the first time I learned how controlling and demanding you and Grandpa could be. Now I know I wasn’t the perfect grandson; I remember charging to your home phone long distance phone calls to Polly. That aside, you did your best to manipulate and control my life.

When I started pastoring churches you and Grandpa started sending us money through the church. We really appreciated it and it was a big help. And then it stopped. Why? The church treasurer didn’t send you your giving statement when you expected it and just like that you stopped sending the money. Did our need change?

When I was pastoring in Somerset, Ohio you and Grandpa came to visit a few times. Polly and I will never forget these visits, how could we?

I remember you and Grandpa sitting in the last pew in the back, on the left side. The building was packed. This was during the time when the church was growing rapidly. After I had preached and gave an invitation, I asked if anyone had something to share. Grandpa did. He stood and told the entire congregation what was wrong with my sermon. I wanted to die. He thoroughly embarrassed and shamed me.

I remember when you came to visit us in Junction City. Again, who can forget the visit? This was your last visit to my home, twenty-three years ago.

Grandpa spent a good bit of time lecturing me about my car being dirty. Evidently, having a dirty car was a bad testimony. Too bad he didn’t take that same approach with Mom.

After dinner, oh I remember it like yesterday, we were sitting in the living room and one of our young children got too close to Grandpa. What did he do? He kicked them. I knew then and there that regardless of his love for Jesus he didn’t love our family and he would always be a mean son-of-a-bitch.

I think we saw you and Grandpa once or twice after that. I remember driving to Pontiac to see Grandpa after his cancer surgery. He was out of it. If I remember right you took us to lunch at a buffet.

For his seventy-fifth birthday you had a party for Grandpa. You called a few days before the party and told me that if I was any kind of grandson at all that my family and I would be at the party. Never mind Polly would have to take off work. Never mind the party was on a night we had church. All that mattered to you was that we showed up to give Grandpa’s birthday party an air of respectability.

I remember what came next like it was yesterday. The true Ann rose to the surface and you preceded to tell me what a terrible grandson I was and how terrible my family was. You were vicious and vindictive.

Finally, after forty years,  I had had enough. I told you that you should have worried about the importance of family twenty years ago. I then told you that I was no longer interested in having any contact with you or Grandpa. Like my mother, I decided to get off the Tieken drama train.

And that is where things remained for a long time.

In 2003, I moved to Clare, Michigan to pastor a Southern Baptist church. In what can only be a cruel twist of fate, our family moved to the same gated community that you and your new husband lived in. What are the odds? You lived less than 2 miles from my home.

You came to visit the church I pastored and invited us over to dinner. I didn’t want to come, but I thought, what kind of Christian am I? Surely, I can forgive and let the past be the past.

And so we went. Things went fairly well until you decided to let me know, as if it was a fact that everyone knew, that my father was not really my father. I showed no reaction to this revelation, but it stunned me and cut me right to the quick. I knew my Mom was pregnant when she married Dad but I had never  before heard what you were telling me.

Why did you tell me this? What good could ever come of it? Believe me, I still have not gotten past this. I have come to see that what you told me is probably the truth, but to what end was the telling of this truth?

Church members were excited to find out that I was the grandson to Gramma Clarke, a fine, kind, loving, Christian woman if there ever was one, they told me. All I ever told them is that things are not always as they seem.

Of course I understood how this dualistic view of you was possible. You and Grandpa were always  good at the smile real big, I love Jesus game, all the while stabbing your family in the back. It is a game that a lot of Christians play.

Nine years have passed since I last saw you in Clare, Michigan. Life moves on. I have a wonderful wife, six kids, and eight grandchildren. And I am an atheist.

You must have done a Facebook search for me because you “found” me. You sent me an email that said:

What ? An athiest ?? Sorry Sorry Sorry !!!What happened ? How’s Polly & your family??

Nine years and this is what you send me?

Ann, you need to understand something. I am not interested in reviving any kind of relationship with you. One of the things I have learned in counseling is that I get to choose who I want to associate with, who I want to be friends with.

My counselor and I spend a lot of time talking about family and the past. He told me, Bruce it is OK to not be friends with people you don’t want to be friends with. No more loving everyone because Jesus loves everyone. I am free to love who I want.

I don’t wish you any ill will. That said, I don’t want to have a relationship with you, especially a pretend Facebook friendship. Ooh Look! Bruce got reconnected with his estranged Grandmother. Isn’t God good!!

Not gonna happen. I have exactly zero interest in pursuing a relationship with you. It is too late.

My “good” memories of you and Grandpa are few and far between. (and I haven’t even mentioned things that I am still, to this day, embarrassed to mention) You really don’t know me and I don’t know you. And that’s OK.

Life is messy  Ann and this is one mess in aisle three that no one can clean up. I have been told that I have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. This is perhaps a true assessment of me. I told Polly tonight that I am quite willing to forgive but it is hard to do when there is never an admission of guilt or the words I am sorry are never uttered. How can there be since the blood of Jesus wipes away every shitty thing  a person has ever done? Talk about a get out of responsibility for sin card.

I am sure you will think I am just like my mother. I am.

You know what my last memory of my Mom is? After I tearfully and with a broken heart concluded my 54-year-old Mom’s graveside service, Grandpa Tieken took the “opportunity” to preach at us and tell us that Mom was in heaven. Just days before she had put a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger. We all were reeling with grief and pain and Grandpa, in a classic Grandma and Grandpa Tieken moment, decided to preach instead of love.

Bruce

Notes

The Countdown Song

Somewhere in outer space
God has prepared a place
For those who trust Him and obey
Jesus will come again
And though we don’t know when
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

CHORUS:

10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5 and 4,
Call upon the Savior while you may,
3 and 2, coming through the clouds in bright array
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
BLAST OFF!

Jesus was crucified, suffered and bled he died,
But on the cross He did not stay
He made this promise true, I will come back for you,
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

CHORUS

Soon will the trumpet sound, and we’ll rise off the ground
With Christ forever will we be
Children where will you be, throughout eternity?
The countdown’s getting lower everyday!

CHORUS

Dear Bruce Turner

bruce turner
Bruce Turner

Bruce Turner was my youth pastor in the early 1970’s. Bruce played a very important part in my life, from my profession of faith in Christ to my call to the ministry. I have published this letter before. Like with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

Dear Bruce,

I see you found my blog. I am sure the current state of my “soul” troubles you. My “spiritual” condition troubles many as they try to wrap their theological minds around my twenty-five years in the ministry and my present atheistic views.

I plan to address the comment you left at the end of the letter, but before I do so I want to talk about the relationship you and I had and about the influence you had on my life.

You came to Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, fresh out of Baptist Bible College. Trinity was looking to hire a full-time youth pastor and you were the one they hired. You joined the staff of a busy, growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church.

You were there when I put my faith and trust in Jesus. You were there when I was called to preach. You helped me prepare my first sermon.(2 Corinthians 5:20) You and I worked a bus route together and went out on visitation.

My parents had recently divorced and you became a surrogate father to me. When my Dad remarried and moved us to Arizona I was devastated. In a few months, I returned to Ohio, and in late summer of 1973, I moved from Bryan to Findlay.

You helped me find a place to live, first with the Bolanders, and then with Gladys Canterbury. For almost a year I went to school, worked a job at Bill Knapp’s, and immersed myself in the ministry of Trinity Baptist Church.  You were there to guide me every step of the way.

When I first moved to Findlay a divorcee and her young daughter wanted to take me in. You wisely made sure that didn’t happen, knowing such a home would not be healthy for me.

When I became enamored with Bob Harrington ( I loved his It’s Fun Being Saved record) you warned me about worshiping big name preachers and you told me to pay attention not only to what they preached but what they didn’t.

You even catered to my personal desires. In the summer of 1973, I had a whirlwind romance with Charlotte Brandenburg. Charlotte was the daughter of the couple who came to hold a Super Summer Bible Rally (VBS) at Trinity. For one solid week, we spent every day with each other. I was smitten with Charlotte.

Later that same year you planned a youth outing to the Troy Baptist Temple, the church Charlotte attended. We went to see the movie, A Thief in the Night, but my real reason for going was to see Charlotte.

bruce gerencser 1971
Bruce Gerencser, 1971, Ninth Grade

When it came time to leave I lingered as long as possible, I didn’t want to leave Charlotte. Finally, I heard a voice the said, Gerencser, get on the bus. (for some reason you liked to call me by my last name) As I came hand-in-hand with Charlotte to the bus you turned a way for a moment and told me to get it over with. I quickly kissed Charlotte goodbye and that was the last time I would see her. We wrote back and forth for a few months but, like all such relationships, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity.

You were my basketball coach. Trinity sponsored a team in the ultra-competitive high school age Church Basketball League. One game I had a terrible night shooting the ball. I was frustrated and I told you I wanted out of the game. You refused and made me play the whole game. My shooting didn’t get any better but I learned a life lesson that I passed on to all my children years later.

I remember when this or that person in the youth group got in trouble. You and Reva were there to help them pick up the pieces of their life. You were a kind, compassionate man.

I remember you helping us get a singing group started. I still remember singing the song  Yesterday during a church service (YouTube video of Cathedral Quartet singing this song) I also remember you singing Fill My Cup Lord. Polly and I sang this same song for many years in most every church I pastored.

Who can ever forget your Youth Group survey? You surveyed our attitudes about alcohol, drugs, music and sex and then you dared to use your findings in a sermon. I remember what a stir your sermon caused. You peeled back the façade and revealed that many of the church’s youth were not unlike their non-Christian peers. (it was the 70’s)

I saw your bad side too. I remember the youth canoe outing where Reva lost her teeth. Boy were you angry. I felt bad for Reva, but in a strange way I loved you even more. I saw that you were h-u-m-a-n. I already knew Gene Milioni and Ron Johnson, the other pastors, were human, having seen their angry outbursts, and now you were mortal too. (remember I am writing this from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy)

In May of 1974, I abruptly left Findlay, one week away from the end of school. (a move that resulted in Findlay High School denying me credit for my entire 11th grade year. Subsequently, I dropped out of high school.  My Mom was in a world of hurt mentally and she needed me. (and I needed her) In the fall of 1974 she would be admitted to the state mental hospital and my Dad would come and move my siblings and I back to Arizona.

In 1976 I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I met my wife at Midwestern, and after leaving there in the Spring of 1979, we embarked on a twenty-five year journey in the pastorate, a journey that took us to seven churches.

bill beard bruce turner 1986
Bill Beard and Bruce Turner, 1986

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. I put to use the things I learned from you, Dr. Tom Malone, and my professors at Midwestern. I put soulwinning first. I committed myself to being a faithful preacher of the truths found in the King James Bible. And “God” blessed the work I did. Somerset Baptist Church grew from a handful people to over two-hundred. We were the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County.

You and I reconnected and I had you come and preach for us. I believe it was a special service and the church was packed with people. The people loved you and I was thrilled to show off my mentor to them. I suppose, deep down, I needed your approbation.

You invited me to come and preach at your church, Braintree Baptist Temple in Braintree Massachusetts. I now know that the real reason you had me come and preach was because you saw some things that concerned you. My work-a-holic, Type-A personality was good for growing a church but not so good for me or my family. Sadly, it took me many more years before I realized this.

We stayed in your home in Massachusetts and spent a few days traveling around the area. This was the first “vacation” our family had ever taken and it would be the last one for many years. I was too busy and thought I was too important to take any time off.  Even when I later took vacations, I never took them just to be taking one. I always had a church or conference to preach at while we were on “vacation.”

bruce turner 1986
Bruce Turner with our three oldest children, 1986

You and your dear wife treated us well. You gave us some “run-around” money and we went out to the Cape. My oldest children still remember dipping their feet in the cold waters of the Atlantic.

We parted, promising to keep in touch, but like Charlotte and I years ago, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity. I suspect my later adoption of Calvinism ended any chance of a continued relationship.

I did write you several times in the 1990’s. I read somewhere that you had Fibromyalgia, and when I was diagnosed with the same I wrote you. You never responded. I was disappointed that you never wrote back, but I chalked up to you being busy.

Bruce, I wrote all of this to say that you had a profound effect on my life. I will always appreciate what you did for me.

Now to your comment.

You wrote:

Sorry to see your blog and obvious bitterness toward Baptists. Not all of us preached an easy believing Gospel and certainly not all of us lived a perverted life. These King makers you blog about have never had my respect.

Reva and I have been happily married for 44 years. I am sorry your health is so bad and though you apparently have rejected what you once professed, I am praying for you to the God (not preachers) that I trust.

I sincerely hope your health improves and remember some good times in the old days. Stay healthy friend.

Bruce Turner

I am often accused of being bitter, angry, or some other negative emotion. On one hand, I have every reason to be bitter and angry, but my rejection of Christianity is not ultimately defined by anger or bitterness.

I rejected Christianity because I no longer believed the claims made about the Bible and its teachings. I came to see that the Bible was not inspired, inerrant, or infallible. I came to see that a belief in the God of the Bible could not be sustained rationally, (this is why faith is necessary) and even if it could be, I wanted nothing to do with such a capricious, vengeful, homicidal God. I later came to see that the Bible claims for Jesus could not be sustained. While I certainly think a man named Jesus roamed the Judean hillside during the time recorded in the Bible, the Jesus of the Bible is a myth. At best he was a revolutionary, a prophet who was executed for his political and religious beliefs. (and I still, to this day, have a real appreciation for the sermon on the Mount and a few other sayings attributed to Jesus)

My journey away from Christianity and the ministry took many anguished filled years.  I didn’t arrive to where I am today overnight. I looked at progressive Christianity, the Emergent church, liberal Christianity, and even universalism. None of these met my intellectual need. None of them rang true to me. I made many stops along the slippery slope until I came to the place where I had to admit that I was an atheist. (and I still think saying I am a Christian means something)

I am not a hater of Christianity. I have no desire to stop people from worshiping the Christian God. I am well aware of the need many people have for certainty. They want to know their life matters and they want to know that there is life beyond the grave. Christianity meets their need.  Who am I to stand in the way of what helps people get through life?  It matters not if it is true. They think it is true and that is fine by me.

The Christianity I oppose is the Evangelical form of Christianity that demands everyone worship their God, believe what they believe, and damns to hell all those who disagree with them. I oppose their attempts to turn America into a theocracy. I oppose their hijacking of the Republican Party. I oppose their incessant whining about persecution and their demands for special status. I oppose their attempts to deny some Americans of the civil and legal rights others have. (what happened to Baptists believing in a strict separation of church and state?) I oppose their attempt to infiltrate our public schools and teach Creationism or its kissing cousin Intelligent Design as science.(this is what Christian schools are for) I oppose their attempt to make the Ten Commandments the law of the Land.

The kind of Christianity I mentioned above hurts people and hurts our Country politically and socially. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has harmed countless people, sometimes scarring their lives so severely that recovery is almost impossible. (and telling people to get over it is not the answer) I weep often as I read emails from people whose lives have been destroyed by the extremes found in the IFB church movement. My blog exists because I want to help people like this. I want them to have a safe place to work through the wreckage of their lives, lives ruined by their involvement in Evangelical and IFB churches.

In many ways, I am still a pastor.  I want to help other people. The difference now, or course, is that I don’t have an agenda. I don’t have a list beliefs that must be believed. If I can help someone walk the journey they are on with openness, honesty, and integrity, I am happy. I am concerned with their journey not their destination. (since I think we are all headed for the same final destination, death)

I too, Bruce, have prayed thousands of times to the Christian God and yet, like the universe itself, he yawns and remains silent. Instead of hoping for a God to fix what ails me, I have chosen to embrace my life as it is. I have chosen to try to change what I can and accept what I can’t.  Above all, I have learned that it is what it is.

Through this blog I try to flesh out my understanding of the past and examine the path I am now on. I try to be open and honest. I don’t have all the answers and, for that matter, I don’t even know all the questions. All I know to do is continue to walk forward, however halting my gait may be.

I shall always remember our days in Findlay and I will always appreciate what you did for me. When I write my autobiography some day there will be a chapter titled Bruce Turner.

Thank you!

Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Turner’s website

Dear Friend

bill beard lighthouse memorial church
Bill Beard, pastor Lighthouse Memorial Church

This is a letter I sent to a dear friend of mine, Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church in Millersport, Ohio. I was Bill’s pastor several times in the 1980’s, I baptized him, and I took part in his ordination with the Church of the Nazarene. After Bill received the letter Dear Family, Friends, and Parishioners in April 2009, he drove from is home near Lancaster, Ohio to my home here in Ney. This letter explains my understanding of our conversation and where I thought our friendship was headed. I have published this letter before. Like with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

I saw Bill again recently at a funeral service I conducted this past summer in New Lexington, Ohio for a former friend and church member. After exchanging pleasantries, he made an offhand snide comment about his car. Evidently, he did not appreciate the one line in this letter mentioning that he drove to my house in a Lincoln. I meant nothing by it, but he must have thought I did. We chatted for a bit and then it was time for the service. I am sure he curious about what I would say or do and I have no doubt that the non-religious service disappointed him. This was but another reminder of how far his former friend has fallen.

Dear Friend,

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a 100.00 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a 100.00 bill in the offering plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and I a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I being a Calvinist.

One day you came to place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really  see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become. (whether I view it as good or bad)

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced I had  no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace.

Do you know what troubled me the most? You didn’t shake my hand as you left. For 26 years we have shook hands as we came and went. The significance of this is overwhelming. You can no longer give me the right hand of fellowship because we no longer have a common Christian faith.

Over the course of three hours you constantly reminded me of the what I used to preach, what I used to believe. I must tell you forthrightly that that  Bruce is dead. He no longer exists, but in the memory of a distant past. Whatever good may have been done I am grateful, but I bear the scars and memories of much evil done in the name of Jesus. Whatever my intentions, I must bear the responsibility for what I did through my preaching, ministry style, etc.

You seem to think that if I just got back in the ministry everything would be fine. Evidently, I can not make you understand that the ministry is the problem. Even if I had any desire to re-enter the ministry, where would I go? What sect would take someone with such beliefs as mine?  I ask you to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a pastor again. Does not the Bible teach that if a man desires the office of a bishop (pastor) he desires a good work? I have no desire for such an office. Whatever desire I had died in the rubble of my 25 plus year ministry.

We talked about many things didn’t we? But I wonder if you really heard me?

I told you my view on abortion, Barack Obama, the Bible, and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ.

You told me that a Christian couldn’t hold such views. According to your worldview that is indeed true. I have stopped using the Christian label. I am content to be a seeker of truth, a man on a quest for answers. I now know I never will have all the answers. I am now content to live in the shadows of ambiguity and the unknown.

What I do know tells me life does not begin at conception, that Barack Obama is a far better President than George Bush , that the Bible is not inerrant or inspired, and that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven. (if there is a Heaven at all)

This does not mean that I deny the historicity of Jesus or that I believe there is no God. I am an agnostic. While I reject the God of my past it remains uncertain that I will reject God altogether. Perhaps…

In recent years you have told me that my incessant reading of books is the foundation of the problems I now face. Yes, I read a lot. Reading is a joy I revel in.  I read quickly and I usually comprehend things quite easily. (though I am finding Science to be a much bigger challenge) Far from being the cause of my demise, books have opened up a world to me that I never knew existed. Reading has allowed me to see life in all its shades and complexities. I can no more stop reading than I can stop eating. The passion for knowledge and truth remain strong in my being. In fact it is stronger now than it ever was in my days at Somerset Baptist Church.

I was also troubled by your suggestion that I not share my beliefs with anyone. You told me my beliefs could cause others to lose their faith! Is the Christian faith so tenuous that one man can cause others to lose their faith? Surely, the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than Bruce. (even if I am Bruce Almighty)

I am aware of the fact that my apostasy has troubled some people. If Bruce can walk away from the faith…how can any of us stand? I have no answer for this line of thinking. I am but one man…shall I live in denial of what I believe? Shall I say nothing when I am asked of the hope that lies within me? Christians are implored to share their faith at all times. Are agnostics and atheists not allowed to have the same freedom?

I suspect the time has come that we part as friends. The glue that held us together is gone. We no longer have a common foundation for a mutual relationship. I can accept you as you are,  but I know you can’t do the same for me. I MUST be reclaimed. I must be prayed for. The bloodhound of heaven must be unleashed on my soul.

Knowing all this, it is better for us to part company.  I have many fond memories of the years we spent together. Let’s mutually remember the good times of the past and each continue down the path we have chosen.

Rarer than a Ivory-billed woodpecker is a friendship that lasts a lifetime. 26 years is a good run.

Thanks for the memories.

Bruce

somerset baptist church 1983
Somerset Baptist Church, Landmark Building 1983

This is the place where I first met Bill and Peggie Beard

somerset baptist church 1985
Somerset Baptist Church, 1985

Bill and Peggie Beard gave us 5,000.00 to buy this building

somerset baptist church 1985-2
Somerset Baptist Church, First Church Bus, 1985

Bill and Peggie Beard helped us buy our first church bus

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners

bruce and polly gerencser 2008
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Summer 2008

What follows is the letter I sent in April 2009 to my family, friends and former parishioners. This letter came after Polly and I attended church for the 2008 Sunday before Thanksgiving. I am republishing it here so it is part of the historical narrative of my life. I know many of you have read this before but I hope you will read it again. As I reread this, I am reminded that what I wrote here is still, almost 6 years later, the motivating factor of my life.  The rough, sharp edges are gone, but I remain a man in love with his wife and family and a seeker of truth.

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you have an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and and decisions I have made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually ever fiber of my being.

I have spent most of my adult life pastoring Churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I have pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the Church was my life would be an understatement.  As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known for a long time that the affair was over, but now everyone will know.

The Church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies have led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines  I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do  I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is.

I have no time to invest in the blame game. I am where I am today for any number of reasons and I must embrace where I am and move forward.

In moving forward, I have stopped attending Church. I have not attended a Church service since November of 2008. I have no interest of desire in attending any Church on a regular basis. This does not mean I will never attend a Church service again, but it does mean, for NOW, I have no intention of attending Church services.

I pastored for the last time in 2003. Almost six years have passed by. I have no intentions of ever pastoring again. When people ask me about this I tell them I am retired. With the health problems that I have it is quite easy to make an excuse for not pastoring, but the fact is I don’t want to pastor.

People continue to ask me “what do you believe?” Rather than inquiring about how my life is, the quality of that life, etc, they reduce my life to what I believe. Life becomes nothing more than a set of religious constructs. A good life becomes believing the right things.

I can tell you this…….I believe God is… and that is the sum of my confession of faith.

A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.

I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones. I am a committed progressive, liberal Democrat, with the emphasis being on the progressive and liberal. My evolving views on women, abortion, homosexuality, war, socialism, social justice, and the environment have led me to the progressive, liberal viewpoint.

I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, She is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye opener.

Polly is free to be whom and whatever she wishes. If she wanted to start attending the local Fundamentalist Baptist Church she is free to do so and even has my blessing. For now, she doesn’t.  She may never believe like I believe, but in my new way of thinking that is OK. I really don’t care what others think. Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you living a good, productive life? Do you enjoy life? Yes, to these questions is good enough for me.

I have six children, three who are out on their own. For many years I was the spiritual patriarch of the family. Everyone looked to me for the answers. I feel somewhat burdened over my children. I feel like I have left them out on their own with no protection. But, I know they have good minds and can think and reason for themselves. Whatever they decide about God, religion, politics, or American League baseball is fine with me.

All I ask of my wife and children is that they allow me the freedom to be myself, that they allow me to journey on in peace and love. Of course, I still love a rousing discussion about religion, the Bible, politics, etc. I want my family to know that they can talk to me about these things, and anything else for that matter, any time they wish.

Opinions are welcome. Debate is good. All done? Let’s go to the tavern and have a round on me. Life is about the journey, and I want my wife and children to be a part of my journey and I want to be a part of theirs.

One of the reasons for writing this letter is to put an end to the rumors and gossip about me. Did you know Bruce is/or is not_____________? Did you know Bruce believes____________? Did you know Bruce is a universalist, agnostic, atheist, liberal ___________?

For you who have been friends or former parishioners I apologize to you if my change has unsettled you, or has caused you to question your own faith. That was never my intent.

The question is, what now?

Family and friends are not sure what to do with me.

I am still Bruce. I am still married. I am still your father, father in-law, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and son-in-law.  I would expect you to love me as I am and treat me with respect.

Here is what I don’t want from you:

  • Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?
  • Constant reminders that you are praying for me. Please don’t think of me as unkind, but I don’t care that you are praying for me. I find no comfort, solace or strength from your prayers. Be my friend if you can, pray if you must, but leave the prayers in the closet. As long as God gets your prayer message that will be sufficient.
  • Please don’t send me books, tracts, or magazines. You are wasting your time and money.
  • Invitations to attend your Church. The answer is NO. Please don’t ask. I used to attend Church for the sake of family but no longer. It is hypocritical for me to perform a religious act of worship just for the sake of family. I know how to find a Church if I am so inclined, after all I have visited 125+ Churches since 2003.
  • Offers of a Church to pastor. It is not the lack of a Church to pastor that has led me to where I am. If I would lie about what I believe I could be pastoring again in a matter of weeks. I am not interested in ever pastoring a Church again.
  • Threats about judgment and hell. I don’t believe in either, so your threats have no impact on me .
  • Phone calls. If you are my friend you know I don’t like talking on the phone. I have no interest in having a phone discussion about my religious or political views.

Here is what I do want from you:

  • I want you to unconditionally love me where I am and how I am.

That’s it.

Now I realize some (many) of you won’t be able to do that. My friendship, my familial relationship with you is cemented with the cement of Evangelical orthodoxy. Remove the Bible, God, and fidelity to a certain set of beliefs and there is no basis for a continued relationship.

I understand that. I want you to know I have appreciated and enjoyed our friendship over the years. I understand that you can not be my friend any more. I even understand you may have to publicly denounce me and warn others to stay away from me for fear of me contaminating others with my heresy. Do what you must. We had some wonderful times together and I will always remember those good times.

You are free from me if that is your wish.

I shall continue to journey on. I can’t stop. I must not stop.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Bruce

Employment Discrimination

bowling green toledo football game 2011
Bowling Green Falcons vs. Toledo Rockets 2011

Over the last couple of years, I have applied numerous times for a job with the Defiance Crescent-News. I applied again a week or so ago. Not one phone call or response, e-v-e-r.  I am left to wonder why the newspaper does not at least give me a call?

Every few months, the newspaper runs an advertisement looking for a sports writer with photography skills, a sports writer, or a sports photographer. Let’s see…I have decent writing skills, I am a skilled photographer, and I am an avid sports fan. I am also an expert when it comes to computers, quite familiar with photo editing and Microsoft Office. I have an eye for detail and I take pride in making sure that things are done right. I would think that I am an ideal candidate for the job. Evidently, not the at offices of the Crescent-News. Not one phone call e-v-e-r.

Since it is not my qualifications that preclude me being considered for the job, why doesn’t the Crescent-News interview me?

There are only three reasons that I can think of that the Crescent-News doesn’t consider me for the job:

  • My age (I will be 58 next year)
  • My disability (I walk with a cane and must sometimes use a wheelchair)
  • My outspokenness about atheism and liberal politics

When it comes to my age, I would think this would be a benefit, especially when it comes to taking photographs. I have a lot of experience. I even included some of my sports photography work when I applied several years ago.

When it comes to my disability, I think I could do the job. Yes, I may have to hobble around a bit, but I highly doubt that it will keep me from doing what the part-time job requires. After all, I did find away this past year to successfully photograph local, college, and professional baseball, basketball, and football games.

So I am left with the last reason, my outspokenness about atheism and liberal politics. The Crescent-News, owned by Dix Communications, is a libertarian leaning conservative newspaper. This is no surprise. The newspaper reflects the political and religious DNA of the communities they serve.   I suspect my letters to the editor piss off more than a few people at the Crescent-News. When they see my application they say to themselves, I don’t want that asshole working here, and then they file thirteen my application.

I suppose I could make an issue of this. After all if any of the above reasons are true, then the newspaper is violating either the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, American Disabilities Act, or the Civil Rights Act.  That said, I am not inclined to file an official complaint. It is much more fun to write a blog post. BTW, if you are reading this and are the person or persons behind me not getting an interview, I will gladly give you the space to factually respond and show why my observations are incorrect. Just contact me via the Contact Form.

Notes

Dix Communications owns papers in Defiance, Wooster, Kent, Alliance, Cambridge, Ohio and Frankfort, Kentucky. They also own 7 radio stations.

This is not the only trouble I have had with the newspaper over the years. I am a regular writer of letters to the editor and there was a long time when the newspaper was not receiving my letters. After a couple of weeks of the letter not being published,  I would call or email to ask about it and they would say they never received it. This happened no less than six times. I finally started emailing and snail mailing my letter and this put an end to the lost letter problem.  Our 35th wedding anniversary notice also disappeared. The newspaper wanted to blame me, but I told them it was kind of funny that it was only the Crescent-News that was having a problem getting emails from me. (and it is possible that there was a technology glitch on their end)

Clay Yarborough and the Evangelical Fear of Breasts

angela strassheim naked pregnant woman

For those of us raised in the Evangelical/fundamentalist church, we are quite familiar with the fear preachers and church leaders have of exposed breasts and cleavage. Women are oft reminded to cover up, lest the weak, pathetic men of the church throw them down in the middle aisle of the church and ravage them. As the recent GRACE report on sexual abuse and rape at Bob Jones University reveals, women are viewed as temptresses out to beguile helpless men. This kind of thinking is found in the Bible:

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adultress will hunt for the precious life.Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. (Proverbs 6:23-29)

For at the window of my house I looked through my casement,And beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, Passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house,In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night: And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart. She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house: Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.) So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him, I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows. Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee. I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves. For the goodman is not at home, he is gone a long journey: He hath taken a bag of money with him, and will come home at the day appointed. With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him.He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life. Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:6-27)

Clay Yarborough, 33,  is president of the Jacksonville, Florida city council. Yarborough an Evangelical, attends First Baptist Church, a  Southern Baptist congregation. Fundamentalist Mac Brunson is his pastor,  Recently, Yarborough objected to the city providing funding for an art display that included a picture of a naked pregnant woman on a couch. Yarborough stated:

“I am trying to promote a positive moral climate in our city and though some will defend the pornography by labeling it ‘art,’ we need boundaries in order to be healthy, especially where it concerns our children.”

Ah yes, think of the children.

Yarborough’s puritanical objection resulted in a threefold increase in attendance at the Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit.

The 14 photographs in the exhibit were shot by photographer Angela Strassheim. Asked her opinion of Yarborough’s objection, Strassheim said:

“The man is entitled to his own opinion,But I don’t think it in any way is pornography. Maybe he hasn’t seen enough porn.”

The more enlightened in Jacksonville rightly poked fun at Yarborough’s fear of breasts. Here’s a picture of a protester that was posted on The Folio Weekly:

ban boobs

As a photographer, I think the photo celebrates the beauty of womanhood and pregnancy. It was tastefully done and in no way is it pornography. Unlike Yarborough, I have seen porn and this ain’t it. (though I highly doubt, being the good Baptist boy that he is, that Yarborough has never, never seen porn)

The Museum of Contemporary Art issued a press release stating:

The Cultural Council stands ready to defend the artistic and curatorial choices of our cultural service grantees.

Council President Yarborough’s objection to a photography exhibit featuring the human form, which has been present in museums, homes and galleries since the dawn of time, is unfortunate and could be viewed as an effort to stifle artistic expression. This particular exhibit, which celebrates the “transitional points” in life – “the precious, fleeting nature of childhood and adolescence” – opened to rave reviews last week. We’re proud to have an organization of MOCA’s caliber in our community and we stand behind it, it’s executive and the artist behind this amazing exhibit.

Mark Woods, writing for the Florida Times-Union, sums it up best when he writes:

It was almost noon on Black Friday. While many people undoubtedly were busy doing something wholesome, like preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ with a new big-screen TV, I headed downtown, paid my $8 and went inside a building to see some porn.

Or at least that’s how the president of the Jacksonville City Council views what’s in the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville these days…

…We do know this: There is an image in MOCA of a nude woman lying on a couch, her breasts and pregnant belly visible.

That’s right. A female nude with bare breasts and a round belly. In a museum. Shocking, right?

From the Cummer to the Louvre, pretty much every museum in the world has more than a few nudes, male and female, sometimes even together, sometimes holding naked babies. And have you seen that chapel in Italy? Nudes everywhere. Even the ceiling. Not sure what porn-peddler was responsible for that.

Even by itself, without any context whatsoever, it’s hard to imagine the photo in MOCA coming anywhere close to the legal definition of pornography. And the photo isn’t hanging by itself. It is one of 14 in a new exhibit on the towering atrium wall. The basic themes of this exhibit are — please cover your young one’s eyes — childhood and motherhood…

…I’m not exactly sure what Yarborough wants to see hanging in the atrium, what will avoid his personal version of the “I know it when I see it” definition of pornography. Something without nudity, I presume. Maybe a giant still life of fruit. (Well, as long as there’s not two bananas together. That clearly would be wrong.) Or better yet, how about some nice velvet art? But, please, no dogs playing poker. That only would glorify the issue we have with canine gambling.

In all seriousness, this City Council and its president had been on such a roll. I was preparing to come back to the paper and heap praise on them for doing a lot of hard, serious work and avoiding the kind of silliness that has marred the past. But now it appears we’re taking a detour back down Silly Street.

It would be one thing if Yarborough wanted to argue that tax dollars shouldn’t be used for anything related to the arts. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, but I’d be able to respect that position more than the idea that tax dollars should be pulled from this museum because of this photo.

If the councilman wants to bemoan taxpayer-funded titillation, he might want to check out a football game or concert or a lot of other things that, while still far from pornography, might not send the best message to kids…

When this story first came out I posted it to my wife’s Facebook page, complete with the photo of nude pregnant lady. Within seconds, several people reported the posting to Facebook. We suspect that the offended are several of our fundamentalist extended family members. Go back and look at the photo again. Is there anything that suggests impropriety or that a teenager seeing it would be harmed? (since the minimum age for a Facebook account is 13) This is silly, isn’t it? Yet, countless Evangelicals have this irrational fear of breasts. Preachers have spent countless hours reminding women to cover up lest the poor, pathetic men of the church be led astray. Perhaps it is time to teach men to embrace their sexuality. Stop treating men like they are helpless and stop treating women like they are temptresses out to bed any man that dares to gaze upon her comeliness. We do live in the 21st century, yes?

The US Military’s Slush Fund

defense spending

Julia Harte, writing for The Center For Public Integrity, had this to say about the US Military’s 2015 budget:

The U.S. military’s budget request now pending on Capitol Hill includes a particularly notable oddity inside the special fund meant to support combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan: a new $810 million U.S. defense initiative to “reassure” Europeans of their security in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s Crimean land grab.

This is not how America’s war budget – otherwise known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund – is supposed to work. The White House in 2011 reaffirmed that the OCO, originally established in 2001 under a different name, was for “temporary and emergency requirements” associated with U.S. combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, many experts say its continued use is emblematic of a five-year collapse in Washington’s fiscal discipline.

The OCO budget isn’t subject to spending limits that cap the rest of the defense budget for the next seven years; it’s often omitted altogether from tallies of how much the military spends each year; and as an “emergency” fund, it’s subject to much less scrutiny than other military spending requests.

This sort of special war funding was supposed to decline and then disappear as combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down. But that target has receded, if not disappeared altogether, as the OCO fund has become a larger catchall — a slush fund used by the military services, by lawmakers, and by the White House to escape budgetary constraints, officials and independent experts say.

Although President Barack Obama promised as a candidate in 2008 to “end the abuse” of wartime emergency spending, it’s now clear he will not do so before leaving office in 2016, these experts agree. This year, the main defense authorization budget is likely to come in at a cool $521.3 billion, snugly within the legal limits for federal spending in 2015. But the OCO includes an additional $63 billion. As a result, more than a tenth of all Pentagon spending will remain uncapped and subject to much less scrutiny than the remainder.

The European initiative is just one of many programs in the OCO budget that have little or nothing to do with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The new Defense Authorization Act for 2015, which may be signed by the president in coming days, includes $55 million to retain the “air superiority presence” of the U.S. Air Force. Another $351 million of OCO funds would go to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense system….

…Moreover, the OCO budget isn’t a fiscal salve only once a year. The Defense Department comptroller can — and often does — ask the House and Senate committees on appropriations and armed services for permission throughout the year to add new spending to the OCO budget if programs already in that budget wind up costing less than anticipated. Often, additional non-emergency expenses sneak in during that process.

Over the past four years, for example, the Defense Department’s comptroller has sought congressional approval to add roughly $20 billion worth of expenditures to OCO to cover costs not previously stated in the budget, including many that do not appear to be emergencies or directly related to combat operations, according to a CPI tally.

These “reprogrammings” are typically approved without a public hearing, based merely on written assent from the four chairmen of Congress’s defense-related committees. Their letters are rarely made public.

On occasion, however, the Pentagon submits a reprogramming request for OCO funding so outlandish that lawmakers reject it publicly. That’s what happened on September 8, when Comptroller Michael McCord requested $1.5 billion in OCO funds to purchase 21 Apache helicopters, eight F-35 Joint Strike Fighter planes, and assorted spares and repair parts to replace aircraft that the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force had lost in battles over the past two years…

…A close examination of OCO reprogramming requests that sailed through over the past three years reveals many that seem unrelated to core Iraq and Afghanistan emergency fighting needs: an $86 million request for unemployment compensation for ex-servicemembers; a $13.7 million request for funds to help prosecute alleged 9/11 conspirators; and a $104.5 million request to help test a bomb capable of destroying bunkers 200 feet underground…

…Far from the original OCO task of providing direct support for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration’s current OCO mandate anoints the Pentagon a global therapist, bodyguard, and trainer — and gives it uncapped funding to do all that those roles entail.

You can read the entire report here.

Bob Jones University Ignored Sexual Abuse for Decades

bob jones university

Under attack over their handling of sexual abuse and rape complaints, fundamentalist Christian university, Bob Jones University, hired GRACE (Godly Response for Abuse in the Christian Environment), to do an investigation.  Towards the end of the investigation, Bob Jones ended its contractual arrangement with GRACE and refused to allow any report to be issued. The outrage over this was such that Bob Jones was forced to re-contract with GRACE and the report has now been released.

For those of us raised in Christian fundamentalism, this report tells us what we already know. I saw nothing shocking or surprising in the report, and anyone who is shocked or surprised has not been paying attention for the past 30 years.

I have often stated that the internet will be the undoing of places like Bob Jones University. They can no longer hide their sins. They no longer have the power to keep the stories from getting out. While my heart aches for those who have been abused, I am glad that these stories are being brought into the light of day.  As people tell their stories, preachers, professors, churches, and colleges are forced to confront the horrible, sickening abuse that has taken place on their watch. Just as the Catholic church has predator priests, so the Christian fundamentalist movement has their own predator preachers. It’s time to knock the halo off Christian fundamentalism.

From the recently released Bob Jones University GRACE  report:

In his book, Becoming An Effective Christian Counselor: A Practical Guide For Helping People, Dr. Fremont discusses counseling victims of incest and explains that the first objective is to ensure that blame is appropriately assigned to “the older person who took advantage of the younger innocent person.”However, Dr. Fremont states, “If the victim has deceived either parent or both parents, he needs to confess and repent of his own sin.” As an example, Dr. Fremont describes the case of a “teenage girl who takes a bath only when her mother is away from the home and leaves the bathroom door unlocked, inviting the father’s corruptness.” Dr. Wood similarly discussed the importance of a victim’s repentance if there is any wrongdoing. In his counseling training video, “Scriptural Principles for Counseling the Abused,” he teaches that, “If [abuse victims] have sinned, and some of them have not and some of them have, but you handle a guilty conscience always the same way: by confessing to God you are sorry for your failure and by not doing that same thing again and by asking forgiveness.” When asked what he thinks the spiritual impact is upon victims of sexual abuse, Dr. Wood told GRACE:

“I think that people internally are angry at God for allowing this to happen.So you have to get beyond that and it is a very difficult thing to get beyond because I can’t tell you why something like this happened. I can tell you it did happen but I can’t tell you why it happened or why the Lord allowed it to happen. I assume that there is some reason that this has happened and that you have to work it out within your own mind about why, and it is interesting that in many cases that it really is the root problem. The girl may have caused it to start and that is the root problem with her and she has to handle that somehow or another.”

GRACE asked Dr. Wood if he could offer any examples of when a girl might have caused abuse to start, and he stated, “I mean if she is aggressive with a man, then she may have caused it. It is pretty easy for things like that to get started between individuals. I think that generally a girl will feel guilty about it, she will feel that she shouldn’t have had anything to do with it, but she knows down in her heart that she did have something to do with it.” Dr. Wood further explained how the victim’s provocation is sin just as a perpetrator’s assault is sin. Both the victim and the perpetrator need cleansing from their sins, according to Dr. Wood.

The report details the story of a woman called 777:

In the mid-2000s, a disclosure of a rules violation to Student Life staff resulted in a victim’s “withdrawal at the request of the administration.” In this instance, 777 disclosed to her Assistant Prayer Captain, the Resident Counselor, and her Resident Supervisor that she “had been abused by her pastor since she was 15 years old and was expecting a child in January.” 777’s pastor, who was married with children, came to Greenville on several different occasions while she attended BJU. During these occasions, she said they went to Spartanburg and stayed in a hotel together. During one of the pastor’s visits when she was 20 years of age, she became pregnant. Upon learning that she was pregnant and believing she would be expelled, 777 began to pack up her belongings in the dorm. The residence life staff confronted her and asked why she was packing and leaving. At that point, she explained to them that the abuse began when she was 15. She also acknowledged to them that she had lied about her whereabouts when she obtained the overnight passes to leave campus.

Consequently, she was asked to withdraw at the request of the administration for lying about the overnight passes. 777 wrote a letter to her prayer group explaining the reason for her departure, a copy of which was turned over to BJU officials. The letter describes their relationship, as well as the pastor’s manipulative use of biblical passages to facilitate and justify the ongoing abuse.

Due to these dynamics, 777 told GRACE, “I had to break rules to go off campus, but I didn’t feel like I had a choice in the matter.” According to administrative officials, 777 was asked to withdraw at the request of the administration for lying on the overnight passes.Dr. Berg explained to 777 that her withdrawal was required, “because the offense was publicly known and because she did have some ethical responsibility in the matter, even though her pastor was very manipulative.”

Several months after 777 left BJU, she called Dr. Berg to ask if she could be allowed to take her final exams since she had been very near the end of the semester. This request was denied. 777 stated that in the letter to her prayer group that she “loved being loved and needed” and “[the pastor] said he wouldn’t make it if I walked away and he would walk out on his family and the church if I left. So, I stayed and kept my mouth shut.” 777 also stated that Dr. Berg said, “it was some sort of consensual relationship,”so he would not allow her to take her finals.

Dr. Berg agreed that the situation was “complicated” and “heartbreaking” but nonetheless defended the university’s decision to remove her from school because of the school’s policy about automatic expulsion for lying about overnight permissions. When GRACE brought this case to the attention of Dr. Jones, III, he acknowledged, “Well there is a case that is the kind of thing we wanted to know about that needed to be brought to our attention. Anyway, that is heartbreaking.”

Claire Jordan, writing for Al Jazeera, reports:

For decades, Bob Jones University (BJU), a self-described fundamentalist Christian college, has urged sexual abuse victims not to go to the police and counseled them to repent for the blame it said they share, according to an extensive independent investigation published Thursday.

The report, nearly two years in the making, is a catalog of grief stretching back four decades, based on hundreds of survey results, dozens of in-depth interviews and a wealth of corroborating documentation. It details a culture that shamed victims into believing they were ruined by their abuse. It also strongly criticizes the school’s brand of counseling, which rejects modern psychology and urges victims to look for the “sin” behind their rapes and view their continued trauma as a struggle with God.

More than half the alleged victims surveyed reported they felt the school’s response was hurtful or very hurtful. Some victims said they found counseling sessions worse than their abuse. But the vast majority of the 50 self-identified victims interviewed for the study said they loved Bob Jones University, that they wished it no ill and hoped sharing their experiences would bring much-needed change.

A nonprofit group, Godly Response for Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), conducted the probe at the request of Bob Jones, after revelations that one of the university’s trustees covered up sex abuse at his church. The scope of such a review would be extraordinary for any university, but BJU, a campus of about 3,000 in Greenville, South Carolina, known for its strict biblical teachings, is one of the most insular in the country.

The GRACE report not only indicts the culture and counseling philosophy at BJU but also names four individuals it considers the main architects of the school’s approach. Among its many policy recommendations, GRACE urges BJU to strip its campus bookstore of the works of these individuals, bar its onetime primary counselor from counseling and take action against Bob Jones III — the chancellor and a former president of university and a grandson of its founder, for whom it was named.

BJU has maintained an insular, conservative culture that prohibits drinking and television. Unmarried men and women may not touch. Opposite sexes may gather socially only in well-lit outdoor areas on campus until 10:20 p.m. Even Christian music is not permitted if it has a rock, pop, jazz or hip-hop beat. Much of the outside world — from “worldly friends” to websites, which are deemed un-Christian — is shunned.

On Wednesday, BJU President Steve Pettit released a statement on the report, writing on behalf of BJU, “I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding and support after suffering abuse or assault.” He promised victims “who felt we failed them” that school officials were thoroughly analyzing GRACE’s findings and recommendations.

Former BJU student Katie Landry, who spoke to ”America Tonight” as part of our exclusive investigation into Bob Jones earlier this year, recounted how when she reported her rape to then-Dean of Students Jim Berg, she was so devastated by a barrage of questions — Had she been drinking? Had she been impure? What was her root sin? — that she raced out of the administration building, dropped out of school and didn’t tell anyone else for five years.

He just confirmed my worst nightmare,” Landry said. “It was something I had done. It was something about me. It was my fault.”

In candid remarks published in the report, Berg denied that the “sin behind every sin” was a concept he used and said he couldn’t remember the details of that session. But he acknowledged that the investigatory nature of his counseling, hurried schedule and “eagerness to bring real resolutions” may have made him brusque towards sex abuse victims in a way “that is probably more threatening than helpful.”

Berg, who was dean of students and chief counselor on campus for three decades, and is a current faculty member, estimated that he’s counseled 200 to 300 sexual abuse victims at Bob Jones. The report names Berg, along with former Dean of Education Walter Fremont, longtime Executive Vice President Bob Wood and Gregory Mazak, who oversees undergraduate and graduate degrees in biblical counseling as key figures in shaping  the university’s counseling philosophy, which was imparted to thousands of students, pastors, counselors, teachers and missionaries. But none of these men had any formal training in psychology, or a license to practice.

“What this report found was that the materials made available by these individuals had caused an incredible amount of damage in a large group of people,” said Boz Tchividjian, the head of GRACE. “The report didn’t find that any of it was intentional or malicious. But it did cause harm.”

Of 141 self-identified abuse victims who answered the question in the GRACE survey, more than 60 percent said Bob Jones’ culture was filled with messages that blamed and disparaged victims.

Some pointed to a fixation on women’s dress and teachings that seemed to imply that women were responsible for a man’s lust. Many interviewed by GRACE said the school’s sermonizing on sexual sin left them feeling like damaged goods, as it failed to differentiate between those who chose to have sex and those who had it forced upon them…

You can download the entire 244 page report here. (PDF file. It will start downloading when you click the link) When you are done reading it, feel free to

puke

Dying With Dignity

brittany maynard

What follows is a letter I wrote recently to the Defiance Crescent-News.

Dear Editor,

Recently, Brittany Maynard, a brave woman with terminal cancer, took her life. As a resident of Oregon, Maynard could legally choose to commit suicide. Many religious people are incensed over her suicide. A Papal Monsignor called Maynard’s choice reprehensible. Pope Francis called such acts a sin against God. Evangelicals have taken to the internet to denounce Maynard, suggesting her suicide landed her in hell.

Here’s what the religious need to understand: those of us who are not so inclined are not moved by quoted Bible verses and threats of God’s judgment and hell. For us, a God who controls life and death and afflicts people with disease, is a fiction. Everywhere I look, I see suffering and death. I reached a point where I asked, where is God? Eventually, I concluded that the Christian God was a figment of my imagination, an imagination fueled by 50 years of Christian indoctrination.

The Bible encourages people to pray, have faith, and hold on. The faithful are assured that God only wants what’s best for them. Suffering is turned into virtue, some sort of badge of honor. Those who suffer will be rewarded in heaven, the Christian preachers say. Of course, we have to take their word for it because no one has come back from the dead to testify to the veracity of the suffering for God sermons.

I am more inclined to believe what I can see. What I see is suffering and death. I should do what I can to alleviate the suffering of others. Imagine one of my children suffering from a painful disease and I have a cure for the disease. However, I am not willing to give my child the cure because I think his suffering is good for him. What kind of father would people think I am? Yet, the Christian God gets a pass when he does the same. If we consider a human who withholds that which could alleviate suffering reprehensible, surely we should view God the same way.

Theodicy, the problem of suffering and evil, is one of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. Like Baal in I Kings 18, when it comes to suffering, war, famine, disease, pain, and death, the Christian God is AWOL. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God was on vacation, talking with someone, sleeping, or using the toilet. Could not the same thing be said for all gods? It seems quite clear to me, we are on our own.

At the heart of Maynard’s choice is the right to self-determination. As a person who suffers with unrelenting chronic pain and debility, I want the right to say, no more. Unlike many religious people, I see little value in pain and suffering. I endure it for the sake of my wife, children and grandchildren, but my family knows that there might come a day when I am no longer willing to do so. I want that choice to be mine.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

The Outrage Culture

outrage

Last Saturday, Ohio State thumped Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Conference football title game. This impressive win was enough to propel Ohio State into the National Championship playoff. They will play Alabama on New Year’s Day. Texas Christian University, along with Baylor University are outraged that their teams did not make it into the final four. Before the Big Ten Conference game, Texas Christian held the number 3 spot. Ohio State bumped them out of the playoff. Fans of Texas Christian, Baylor, and the Big 12 Conference took to social media, blogs, and sports news sites to express their outrage over their team and conference being slighted. The outraged pointed out why Ohio State didn’t deserve a playoff spot, often using abusive, childish, and derogatory language.

Last night, Dan Barker appeared on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show to register his outrage over a restaurant giving patrons who say a prayer a discount. Barker’s Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a threatening letter to the restaurant demanding they stop their prayer discount immediately. Jordan Klepper made a mockery of Barker and the Freedom From Religion Foundation and I, as a member of the Foundation, was quite embarrassed.

President Obama can’t break wind in a White House bathroom without Fox News being outraged over his fartiness. Fox has expressed indignant outrage over everything from the President’s wardrobe to his children acting like teenagers. Every day, there is a new outrage at Fox News, end of the world wars on Christmas and Christianity.

MSNBC gets in on the outrage game too. Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, Pete King, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin seem to demonstrate their stupidity every time they open their mouth and MSNBC is right there to let their viewers know exactly what these dimwitted hacks said. Let the outrage begin.

And then there’s the Evangelicals. Is there anyone more offended, upset, and outraged than Evangelicals? From Worldnet Daily to James Dobson to Franklin Graham to John Piper to John Hagee to Phyllis Schlafly, Evangelical talking heads take to social media, their blogs, and ministry websites to express outrage over same-sex marriage, abortion, birth control, immigration, Xmas, the minimum wage, and countless other things that they are sure are condemned in the Bible. Why God is outraged and so are they! They have even convinced themselves that they are a persecuted remnant. Atheists, humanists, socialists, communists, secularists, and Democrats have taken a secret blood oath to destroy Christian America. Why any day now, Evangelicals will be rounded up and send off to concentration camps, or so the paranoid among them think.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of all the fake outrage. It seems we have lost all sense of proportion. Even when there is an element of truth in a person or groups outrage, like in the case where the restaurant IS violating the law by only offering a discount to those who say a religious prayer, it seems that many people give every outrage equal weight. Result? Someone mentioning the Christian God at a high school graduation is equivalent to Mexican immigrants dying in the Sonoran Desert because of draconian, immoral immigration policies.

Everyone is so busy showing their outrage by posting to Facebook or Twitter and asking their friends to click like or retweet that they never consider how insignificant and petty their outrage is. As our climate warms and corporations continue to buy Congress, countless Americans are outraged over the series ending finale of Sons of Anarchy.  As we fight a global war against a ginned up enemy called terrorism and countless civilians continue to be slaughtered in the Middle East and Africa, far too many Americans spend their time being outraged over their singer not winning The Voice.

Count me as one person who is outraged over the outraged. Is this what we what become, a petty populous indifferent and ignorant of our surroundings, more concerned over posting a bad restaurant review on Yelp than we are the future of the human race? If this is so, I wonder if there will even be a future for us to hope for. We are going to kill ourselves one tweet and like at a time.