An Ex-Pastor’s Dilemma

questionContrary to what some of my critics say, I have no great need to convert others to what they derisively call the atheist religion. I am quite content to live and let live. I fully recognize that many people find great value in believing in God and the afterlife. I even understand the deep emotional need such beliefs meet. Who am I to rob someone of anything that gives their life deeper meaning and purpose?

It doesn’t matter whether their belief is true or I think their belief is true. All that matters is that THEY think their belief is true. I have no pressing need to deliver people from their fantasies, delusions, or irrational beliefs.

As much as I think that I am a rational person driven by evidence and knowledge, I know I can, like any other human being, be led astray by false or misguided beliefs. No human being is a god when it comes to rational thinking. We all, can, and do, fall off the wagon of rational thinking.

As long as a religious person does not try to convert me,  I am inclined to leave them well enough alone. I suspect if the Christian religion was a private, pietistic religion practiced quietly behind the closed doors of homes and house of worship, I would have little to blog about. Since it is anything but these things, I have plenty of things to blog about, and I am inclined to push back at those who believe their beliefs should be the required beliefs for all, whether believed voluntarily or under threat of law.

For twenty-five years I was pastor to hundreds and hundreds of people. I was their friend, counselor,  and confidant. I married their young and buried their old. Sometimes I buried their young. I led to them to faith in Christ. I baptized them. They looked to me to give them certainty and hope, a message from God that he loved them and cared for them.  Through every phase of life I was there for them. That’s the life of a pastor…

I cared for them, loved them, and even to this day, want only what is best for them. And this puts me in a real spot, what I call An Ex-Pastor’s Dilemma.

I pastored my last church in 2003. In 2008, I left the ministry, left the Christian faith, and over the course of the next year or so moved from self-identifying as an agnostic to being an out-of-the-closet atheist.

I am not a person that is hard to find. I have a unique last name. I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the United States, maybe the only one in the world. (ain’t I special)  My Google, Facebook, Twitter, and email contact information is readily available via any search engine. I guess what I am saying here is……I am not an ex-Pastor in hiding. I am not trying to forget a past life and make a new life for myself. It’s not the simple.

Here’s my dilemma…

Former parishioners and Christian friends often try to touch base with me . They haven’t found this blog yet or read any of the other things I have written that are posted on the internet so they assume I am still a pastor.

A middle-aged woman, a woman I first met when she was a troubled teen, contacted me to let me know what a wonderful difference God was making in her life. She just knew I would want to know that FINALLY God was using her to help other people.

Quite frankly, I AM glad God is using her to help other people. I am glad God has made her life better. I remember the tough time she had growing up, the great sorrows and difficulties she faced.

I didn’t respond to her inquiry. I didn’t want to open the door to her being discouraged or disillusioned. It is one thing if she stumbles upon this blog. If she dares to search a bit she will find the truth, but I would rather she come to it on her own rather than me telling her.

I am not being a coward. Those who know me know I don’t play the coward’s part very well. But, at the same time, I still have a pastor’s heart. I don’t want to see people hurt. Maybe she will never find out I am an atheist. Maybe she will live a good life, thinking that Pastor Gerencser is proud of her. Such a small deception is one I will gladly commit if someone like her finds peace and purpose as a result of it.

It is one thing if an ex-parishioner or Christian friend comes after me like a hungry lion chasing a bleeding deer. Those who find out about my defection from Christianity and become angry, combative, defensive, and argumentative, will find that I am quite willing to meet them in the middle of the road and do battle. If I am forced to do so, I will speak my mind and pointedly share what I believe. (or don’t believe) However, for those who are only looking for the man who loved them and nurtured them in the faith? I am not inclined to hurt them or cause them to despair.

repost, revised

Comments (7)

  1. Catherine Carter

    Alexander McCall Smith had his character Isabel, a philosopher, consider the question of whether one should try to convince religious people that their beliefs were delusions, but she ended up concluding that it would be very unkind to do that.You seem a very kind man.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks, Katherine. I do my best to be a kind, decent man. I can be temperamental and I must always be aware of it. With few exceptions, I think people should be treated decently. The golden rule is worthy of emulation.

      The other day We were in town and there were two guys on a street corner with signs that said, Impeach Obama. They had Obama made up to look like Hitler. They waved while we were the light…and…I gave them the finger. :) didn’t know how else to register my disapproval of their sign. So, I have my moments, but, as a rule, I don’t go through life flipping everyone off. Life is too short.

  2. Kerry

    As in most of your posts, Bruce, you wear your heart on your sleeve for all to see. I have no issue with your approach. Just a few days ago I had been contacted after many years by an old friend that once attended men’s bible study with me for over 3 years. He had found me on-line and wrote to say hi and to tell me a little about God’s work in his life, etc. Since we last spoke, my life has had MANY changes. He was not aware I had divorced for one thing, but I knew my revelation that I had left the faith would shock him to no ends. I did share my story short and sweet with the warning in the first sentence of my response that I am sure he did not want to hear of my journey, and my purpose in the response was not to offend.

    This is not your dear old lady friend that needed comfort. He is a capable guy who I believe can take the truth about my status. What I did not do is justify or try to convince him I was now correct in my world view. No point in that. But I told him that out of friendship he deserved to know the truth…that I was not embarrassed by my decisions, that my family had learned to accept me as I am, and that I am happy and comfortable with the direction my life has taken.

    I have not heard back from him yet, but he will probably respond that he will pray for me.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      If people ask me direct questions, I usually give direct answers. If I can avoid conflict, especially conflict that will serve no meaningful purpose, I try to do so.

  3. Erin

    I am not usually forward about my changed beliefs when talking to Christian friends. I don’t know the purpose of trying to cut them off at the knees…it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s no secret where I stand, but I don’t make any issue of it unless they challenge me first. Sometimes, being a former Christian gives insight into just how futile the arguing can be…I feel I understand it better than some never-been-Christian atheists I know. Sometimes, it’s just better to leave them happy with their beliefs.

  4. Texas Born & Bred

    I see you dilemna and have no idea of what to do (or not do).

    But this brings up a pastor question I’ve had for years. How does a caring pastor avoid becoming depressed when dealing with all the misery encountered by his or her flock? It seems that dealing with horrible situations day in and day out has to take a toll on any pastor!

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      It does affect you. Like the police officer, most long-time pastors have seen a lot of ugly human behavior. In the pastor’s case, he is often dealing with people who “outwardly” put on a Christian appearance but are anything but Christian behind closed doors.

      Even now, I am very cynical about the medical profession because of what I saw visiting the sick and dying in the hospital. Errors, mistakes, horrible bedside manners. Fortunately, I also saw medical professionals that were compassionate and really cared for their patients


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