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My Response to Keith Myers’ Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News

letter to the editor

In June, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News about a letter the paper published from Patrick Holt, the pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Grover Hill, Ohio. You can read my letter here. Holt quickly responded, and I rebutted his letter. Several local Fundamentalist Christians (members in Holt’s church?) responded to my rebuttal, including Keith Myers. (See other posts about Patrick Holt.)

Before I get to Myers’ “response” to me, let me first post the letter he is responding to:

Dear Editor,

What follows is my rebuttal of Patrick Holt’s recent letter to the editor.

I never mentioned Pastor Holt’s school shootings “argument” because it is absurd. Holt sees a connection between banning school prayer, Bible reading, and the Ten Commandments in public schools, and school shootings. When he and I were in school, cell phones had not been invented. There were few school shootings. Now virtually every public school student has a cell phone and we have frequent school shootings. Using Holt’s logic, I could easily conclude that cellphones caused the increase in school shootings. I can make the same argument with birth control. Absurd, right? Holt should stop reading the Bible, and read up on the “correlation implies causation” fallacy. Holt wrongly thinks that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between prayer/Bible reading/Ten commandments and school shootings. He provides no evidence for this claim other than he thinks it’s true.

Holt forgets the discussion we had on my blog. He is not a stranger to me. Further, Holt is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. I am generally considered an expert on the IFB church movement. I was raised in the IFB church, attended an IFB college, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, pastored IFB churches, and I continue to closely follow the machinations of the IFB church movement. I know Holt’s beliefs quite well. Holt made no attempt to rebut my claims. I assume, then, that my assessment was spot on.

Holt’s soteriological and eschatological beliefs force him to see the world as fallen, in a continued state of decline. I reject his beliefs out of hand. The current attack by the religious right on women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities, and the separation of church and state rests squarely on the shoulders of Holt and his ilk. The “godless” have no power. While we “godless” are rapidly increasing in number, seven out of ten Americans identify as Christian. If Holt is looking for someone to blame, I suggest he look in the mirror. As a humanist, my goal is to make the world a safer place to live. Instead of blaming atheists for school shootings, put the blame where it belongs: non-existent gun laws, easy access to weapons of mass carnage, and our nation’s continued worship of the AR-15. The solution to school shootings is right in front of us. Or we could just keep praying . . .

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

Now to Paul Myers’ letter. My response is indented and italicized.

The letter to the editor in the July 5 Crescent-News by Bruce Gerencser puzzled me. The author blames Pastor Holt and the religious right for society’s problems and makes fun of Pastor Holt’s theory of cause and effect. The author then uses the cause and effect theory to suggest a solution to mass shootings.

Please read my letter above and see if you can find any place where I “blamed Pastor Holt and the religious right for society’s problems.” All I did was point out the absurdity of his arguments and suggested that he look in the mirror if he is looking for someone to blame. Holt sees a cause and effect where there is none. As I clearly showed, there’s no connection between school shootings and school prayer/Bible reading. None, nada, zip. I tried to show how absurd Holt’s claims were, but my attempt to do so was lost on Holt and Myers. Logic meets cement.

Where is his evidence that his theory is correct other than his beliefs that it is true? By his own standard if Pastor Holt’s belief is absurd, then Mr. Gerencser’s belief is equally absurd.

Sigh. (Please see Why I Use the Word “Sigh.”) Myers totally missed my point. I offered up no comprehensive solution for school shootings. I have one, but that wasn’t the point of my letter. My goal was to challenge Holt’s religious Fundamentalism and his faulty moral foundation.

What is the answer to these mass shootings? Maybe we should start with one of God’s commandments “thou shalt not kill.” That commandment has been so popular that most societies have made it a law, but Mr. Gerencser doesn’t want that taught in schools.

Myers and Holt would have us believe that if public school students were just forced to read and recite and memorize the Ten Commandments, school shootings would be a thing of the past. These men provide no evidence for their claim outside of “the Bible says _________,” and “it seems right to me.” I can’t think of any possible way that reciting “thou shalt not kill” in public schools will in any way make a difference when it comes to school shootings. Offer real solutions such as gun control, strict licensure, universal background checks, and banning assault rifles/high-capacity magazines, and Myers and Holt will be screaming about their Second Amendment Rights. In their minds, the Bible is some sort of supernatural book with magical powers, including stopping mass shooters and high-velocity bullets. Talk about absurd.

According to Mr. Gerencser, we must keep a “separation of church and state,” even though that phrase is not found in our constitution or its amendments.

Lots of things aren’t mentioned in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights: God, church, church tax exemption, clergy housing allowance, homeschooling, and a plethora of other things Myers cherishes. There was a day when Baptists without exception believed in the strict separation of church and statement. Today, such believers are hard to find. Christian nationalism has infected countless Evangelical churches. Theocrats know that the separation of church and state stands in the way of their overthrow of our secular society. So, they rewrite history, quote disgraced author David Barton, and pretend that the original framers of our Constitution wanted a theocracy all along. Such people are an existential threat to our democracy.

We wouldn’t want good wisdom like that to guide our children to care about others. We must totally remove God and those who believe in Him from society. We must stop reading our Bibles so that man can live in peace and harmony. That is according to the self-proclaimed humanist.

Myers evidently is unfamiliar with my writing and my letters to local newspapers over the years. Had he bothered to educate himself, he would have learned that I support teaching the Bible to middle school and high school students. Damn, Bruce, didn’t see that coming. Every public school student should be required to take a comparative religion class and a religious literature class. Of course, Myers and Holt don’t want this. They know that teaching children about the various world regions and holy texts would put a real dent in the supremacy of Christianity. Myers and Holy only want one religion taught in public schools: theirs.

For the record, I think students should be required to take logic and philosophy classes too. I even think they should be taught creationism, not in a science class, but in a literature class, right next to other creation and flood myths.

Knowledge is power. The sooner students are exposed to Christianity, the better. The same goes for Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Paganism, Satanism, atheism, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to name a few.

It’s obvious the letter has only one purpose like all of Mr. Gerencser’s letters: to try to persuade Christians to give up their faith in God and join his “humanism” as they skip and dance on their merry way to their reward.

I am just one man with a story to tell, yet Myers sees me as an existential threat to Christianity; that my goal is to persuade Christians to deconvert. Nothing could be further from the truth. Would the world be better off if it embraced humanism (both secular and religious)? Absolutely. But that’s not going to happen anytime soon. When I write letters to the newspaper, I do so because someone has to be a voice of reason, science, and common sense. Letters from Trumpists and Christian Fundamentalists fill the editorial page of the Crescent-News. I want readers to know that these neanderthals don’t speak for everyone; that there are people out there who are moral and ethical without God; that not everyone voted for Trump; that not everyone is trying to burn down sixty years of social progress.

I love how Myers subtly suggested that I am headed for Hell. Oh, he didn’t say this directly, but he meant it with his line “skip and dance on their merry way to their [humanist] reward.” I can’t skip or dance these days, and the only reward coming my way is death. Sorry, but I’m immune to threats of Hell and eternal torture.

I’m curious when Mr. Gerencser was a pastor did God exist because he believed in Him or was he just lying to his congregations?

Ah, yes, Myers shows that he is a card-carrying member of the Christian Asshole Club. Of course, I believed in the existence of God. I believed in the existence of the Christian deity for fifty years. To suggest that I was lying to the churches I pastored is just Myers’ way of smearing my character. He’s one of these Christians who can’t or won’t understand (or accept) that beliefs can and do change. That’s his problem, not mine.

Saved by Reason,

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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How Math Led Me Away from the IFB Church Movement

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I was raised in a dysfunctional Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) family, attended IFB churches throughout my childhood, attended an IFB college, married an IFB preacher’s daughter, and pastored several IFB churches in the late 1970s and 1980s. Yet, by the late 1980s, I was, for a variety of reasons, done with the IFB church movement. What happened?

One of the reasons was math. Yes, math. As a young preacher, I would attend Sword of the Lord conferences, Bible conferences, and preacher’s meetings. I heard countless big-name IFB preachers; men who pastored churches running thousands in attendance; churches that were winning hundreds and thousands of souls to Christ. Men such as Jack Hyles, Bob Gray (Longview), Curtis Hutson, Bob Gray (Jacksonville), John Rawlings, Tommy Trammel, Lee Roberson, Lester Roloff, Tom Malone, and others whose names are long forgotten, regaled attendees with stories about their dick size, uh I mean church-building prowess. These men would wow young preachers such as myself with attendance and soulwinning claims, suggesting that we too could be successful if we just followed in their steps, uh, I mean Jesus’ steps.

One day, I was sitting in my study at Somerset Baptist Church thinking about my ministry. Somerset Baptist was a growing, thriving rural church. We had just passed 200 in attendance. Souls were being saved every week. My colleagues in the ministry were talking about me being an up-and-comer. Some of them were even asking me for tips on how to grow their churches. I felt that I had arrived.

My mind turned to Jack Hyles, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana — then the largest church in the United States. I had just listened to a Hyles sermon on cassette tape. Hyles, a braggart if there ever was one, was regaling listeners with a statistical accounting of how busy he was for Jesus; how many people he counseled; how many sermons he preached; how many people he evangelized. On and on he went, painting himself as the busiest and most productive preacher since the Apostle Paul.

Hyles was quite the preacher; a storyteller. Surprisingly, Hyles preached very little from the Bible. I had long believed that Hyles was a master exaggerator. That’s Greek for liar. Every preacher could exaggerate from time to time to prove a point, myself included. David Foster Wallace once said, and I paraphrase, “why let the truth get in the way of a good story?” This was certainly the case with IFB preachers — a movement built on dick size: attendance, baptisms, offerings, souls saved.

ifb preachers importance
Three IFB preachers checking to see who has the biggest church

After listening to Hyles’ sermon, I wrote down all the things he said he did every week and the amount of time he had to do them. It quickly became clear to me that Hyles was lying; that he was grossly overstating how busy he was and how much he was doing for the Lord.

I then went on to examine the claims made by other IFB luminaries. I concluded that most of them played loose with the truth. While I didn’t immediately leave the IFB church movement, these revelations troubled me enough that I decided to stop fellowshipping with the Hyles/Sword of the Lord crowd. Not long afterward, Hyles was accused of sexual misconduct. Today, the IFB church movement is a shell of what it once was. The reasons are many, but I can’t help but believe that one of the reasons for their decline is that they allowed big-name preachers to lie with impunity from the pulpit. Instead of standing up and shouting LIAR!, we said AMEN! PREACH IT BROTHER! Instead of standing up for truth and honesty, we enabled these narcissists. I regret my participation in the charade.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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An Independent Baptist Woman Asks, How Do You “Minister” to Atheists?

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I found the following dated discussion on a public forum called the Online [Independent] Baptist Community. I have excerpted the relevant comments from the thread. Enjoy! 🙂

Madeline stopped commenting on this site twelve years ago. One can only hope that she found the light of reason, skepticism, and common sense.

Madeline asks:

How do you minister to atheist?

Most atheists I minister to don’t care what I have to say. The Gospel bounces off of them like bullets to Superman. If I tell them that God loves them and sent his only Son to die for them, they respond by saying, ‘I don’t care, I don’t believe that!’. Or if I were to ask them if they believe that they will go to heaven when they die, they respond by saying, ‘I don’t believe in God or Heaven’ What am I suppose to do? And I don’t want to go force the Gospel on them, they get upset sometimes and this scares me!!!

Anon:

Try asking an atheist why we have seven days in the week and why we have Saturday and Sunday off.

Samer:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

And so it is that the Bible doesn’t need to prove God–it’s evident by nature–and it simply begins “In the beginning God…”!

We know that people who reject this are hardheaded and willfully ignorant (Psalm 14:1, 2 Peter 3:5). Thus, they usually aren’t responsive to logic.

Atheism, to say there is no God, is silly. To say there is no God is akin to saying there is no gold in China. Such a statement requires absolute knowledge of everything, which none of us has but God.

If I told you to look at any building, and asked you to prove to me that there is a builder, you would probably say “That’s easy! The building is proof that there was a builder.” You don’t just lay down cement and lights and bricks and glass, and turn around and after a million years, a building will be there. And so creation is proof of a Creator.

It’s the same with a painting, like the Mona Lisa. Prove to me a painting has a painter, and you will say the painting itself is proof. Nobody in their right mind would think the Mona Lisa (or something much more complex) appeared by chance, yet the earth and heavens are filled with beauty and art. Art implies an Artist.

….

Countless statistics can be used–the anthropic principle is amazing–but in the end, they’re just willingly ignorant, as Peter says.

….

And remember! God has given us ALL a conscience inside of us. Every time we sin, we do it with knowledge that it is against God’s law. Use this fact!!

Itl:

I’ve got some more suggestions as well.

1) The last thing to do is to get into an intellectual debate. Try not to quote from stuff (like from secular historians) outside the Bible to help your witnessing, and STAY AWAY from philosophical stuff. Many of them are well-skilled in philosophy and such stuff, they will defeat you easily if you do not rely on God’s Word alone.

2) 1 point you can tell them: Man, by nature, is a religious being. Even the most remotest tribe will at least worship something, or will be interested in spiritual fulfillment. If it is not religion (very true for the atheist) that they seek, they will seek other things, like philosophy, arts, history and so on. I have never, in my life, heard of a person who has absolutely no interest in any spiritual things. Does that not tell us Man retains in his heart, a knowledge (albeit corrupted) that there a God exists? Tell them then, this God is the Biblical God, the Lord God Almighty.

3) What about life after death? Many atheists will tell you after death, they just go out of existence. But I doubt any of them will feel comfortable about it. Aha! The conscience. The fear, that judgment shall come for them after death. Another evidence of God’s existence. Focus on this part, the conscience (as the other brethren here have mentioned). If God does not exist, then morality does not need to exist as well, because human beings will have no one to be responsible to, but themselves. This is why many unsaved people who go on to a life of decadence and evil first reject God.

5) Btw, I find it contradictive they can get upset after hearing the gospel of Christ preached. If they do not believe (and reject) in God or the gospel, they wouldn’t feel offended in the first place (because they think it’s nonsense). Perhaps it’s their conscience being pricked? Hmmm…

And, if they threaten to get violent or blackmail you, back away. [it’s good if you can find a fellow brethren to help you] You preached the gospel to them: it is now their responsibility to accept or reject it. But at least you have sown seeds of God’s Word in them, which, hopefully… will grow and bear fruit aplenty.

May God’s blessings and protection be with you, as you preach His news to the lost!

LettheRedeemedSaySo:

When ministering to an athiest I would address the issue of What is Truth?

Madeline:

I’m actually using some of the pointers here on this thread on an atheist forum and see if I can get some ministerial experience. Well at least they can’t chase me!

Psalm 18:28

Are you sure you want to witness an atheist forum? It is harsh and they will shred you into pieces. I know several people had a change of view of the bible after being on an atheist forum (they were a young Christian). One of them became a theist evolutionist. You have to have a thick skin, and full knowledge of the bible and bible history, and strong faith and love for Jesus that nothing can cause you to lose your faith. I survived from a atheist forum, and it left some doubts in me for awhile. What didn’t kill me made me stronger. Many people who thought they knew Jesus decided to reject him after being in a atheist forums

Madeline:

Yes yes! I want to minister on an atheist forum. Anyone who rejects Jesus after being influenced by atheists would have proven to be a false convert. Jesus said that none of his sheep can be removed from him. And I may be young, but am not a young christian. God made you stronger after debating with atheists, and I’m sure he will do the same for me. Yay!!!!

Madeline:

Uhhhhhhh! I don’t think the atheists on the forum are going to change their mind. 😥 I tried but nothing seems to convince them. It’s so sad, the devil has blinded their minds and my heart grieves for them.

Madeline:

What am I doing wrong? I tried to minister to the atheists on the forum and gave it my all, how come it has no effect? What am I doing wrong? Someone please help me!!!

Samer:

You presented the Word, but you can’t do anything more–the result are of God. If it were up to us to get people saved, nobody would ever be saved–it’s all God!

Regarding atheists, though…

For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:(2 Peter 3:5)

They are willingly ignorant. They don’t want to believe. I know this, having two atheist/agnostic siblings…Just hardheaded, because if God exists, then they’re in big trouble because they love thier sin too much.

Madeline:

I posted almost 70 replies just today on the forum and nothings changed. Should I quit? and what should I say to them if I decide to quit ministering?

Madeline:

No, not really! They hurt me emotionally there and I could not take it so I left. They don’t want to learn. Some of their posts are filled with sexually explicit remarks and explitives which are too offensive to mention. But as you said, I will leave it up to God as of now since there has been no progress. Thank you!

Madeline:

It is easier said than done grace. I bombarded them with scriptures, they can’t stand it when I quote scriptures, it makes them angry. I have made almost 80 posts in less than 2 days and nothing has progressed. If you think you can give them a change of heart, be my guest.

Madeline:

One thing I have learned thus far from debating with the ‘hard core’ atheists on the forum is that they will never believe the bible unless you can bring scientific evidence of some sort to the table.

Kevin Miller:

There’s a lot of good material on Biblical science out there. Kent Hovind is one of them. It’s much easier to prove Biblical science than evolutionary. You should look into it, I’m sure you can find some good stuff on the web.

Psalm 18:28:

They will refute anything. They are blind. You have to let them know what sins is and why they need to a savior. give them the 10 commandments and ask them if they broke it. If they say no, they have not broken it, then tell them how they broke every commandments. Then tell them that it is because they are not God and need to understand that the HOLY, SINLESS God is the only who can save them. They can not enter heaven as a sinner. They have to trust Jesus to wash their sins away so they could enter heaven. I am not better at explaining but you probably could.

Itl:

Madeline, Psalms18_28 is correct – they’ll (the “hardcore” atheist) refute anything. To them, they would believe only in the things they call as “science” (which may not necessarily be genuine science, but science “falsely so called”). As I have said earlier, the last thing to do when witnessing to them is to “debate”. I would recommend you to save all these Biblical Science for the agnostics, whom I believe are more receptive to the gospel.

Psalm 18:28

you might can ask them “where did the big bang come from?” or where did everything began? Can’t be aliens (looking at some of their prospective, some believe in aliens), because even they have to come from somewhere.

It was all created from God, who has no beginning or ending. They may asked who made God, but we know that he always existed. His proof of his existence is that we are here, and that’s the reality.

They probably knew who you are by googling your screenname, especially when you link their website to us.

Twinkle:

here you are…Hi mad!

Whoa…neato! A website for baptists only! Maddy, I wouldn’t spend too much time with atheists, there are those who are lost and are willing to receive the Gospel. Do what you can and shake the dust off your feet. So what did you do today…?

See you at Bethel Sunday?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Attack on Salman Rushdie: Why I Am Afraid. Very Afraid.

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

J’ai peur.  Parfois, j’ai beaucoup de peur.

Perhaps it has something to do with having been an Army Reservist and reading Hemingway in my youth, but one of my definitions of true friendship includes the emotional space to frankly express fear, in whatever language.

I first met Noem thirty-five years ago and Marie-Jeanne a couple of years later, not long after they began to date. They were delighted that I remembered their recent 30th wedding anniversary. But that was not the occasion of their visit two weeks ago. They (and I) hadn’t planned to take a major trip this summer because of the costs and the general insanity in transit hubs. But they decided to come because in late June their son, who graduated from university two years ago, moved here for his job. Marie-Jeanne, ever the mom, wanted to be sure that he was safe and well—which, of course, he is.

This was not their first time in New York, so I wanted them to have an experience I assumed (correctly) they hadn’t had: a tour of the graffiti murals in the industrial areas of central and eastern Brooklyn. And, because I knew they wanted to eat something they probably wouldn’t have at home, and I wanted them to experience something authentic and unpretentious, I took them to Christina’s, a place that seems like a cross between a working-class café in Kraców and a New Jersey roadside diner. We were the only non-Polish patrons in that eatery—on Manhattan Avenue, in the heart of the Polish enclave of Greenpoint, Brooklyn—where the soundtrack consisted of a combination of songs from the home country, Frank Sinatra and ‘70’s pop tunes. They loved it.

Over pierogies, I expressed my fears of what is happening in this country. While there are nationalists and flat-out racists in their country’s public life, and some express anxiety that Muslims will take over their country (though, contrary to such fears, followers of Mohammedism comprise only about a tenth of the population), France’s public discourse hasn’t been as infected with religion as it has in the United States. Moreover, while some invoke myths—which they take as historic facts—about their country’s Christian heritage, there is little, if any, equivalent to the Christian Nationalism—or, for that matter, any sort of religious nationalism–that some American politicians publicly espouse.

I was reminded of the fears I expressed to them when I heard about the attack on Salman Rushdie. His alleged assailant, Hadi Matar, wasn’t born until nearly a decade after Ayatollah Khomeini deemed Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses blasphemous and issued a fatwa calling for the novelist’s assassination. According to Matar’s mother, he became radicalized after a 2018 trip to visit his father in Lebanon. I am guessing that Matar has never read Rushdie’s novel and heard about the fatwa third-hand. But as young men with no hope or direction—the “target audience” of hard-line religious leaders and nationalists (and military recruiters)—are wont to do, he imbibed the inflammatory rhetoric and metabolized the anger it expressed into fibers of resentment that bound up his mental energies.

The attack reminded me of this: once a trusted authority figure expounds a narrative that posits someone who simply thinks differently as an “enemy” or “infidel,” someone else—often, a young man like Matar, who had nothing to lose and nothing to look forward to—will take it to heart, never mind how much it’s been discredited. Although Khomeini is long dead and Rushdie emerged from hiding, the Iranian state has reiterated the fatwa.  Even if it hadn’t, people like Matar would, in essence, keep it alive, just as Adolf Hitler—the biggest failure in the history of humanity—continues to inspire violence and hatred against Jews and people who aren’t white, heterosexual, and cisgender. They don’t even need the memory of the Fuhrer: Their interpretations of the Bible—which, as often as not, are little more than summaries of their pastors’ sermons—will give them all of the rationales they need to fabricate narratives of people such as I “grooming” children and call for our persecution or even death. It’s not such a leap from that to declaring that an opponent has “stolen” the election and anyone who says otherwise is aiding and abetting a conspiracy and therefore needs to be destroyed.

In other words, hate is never destroyed nor conquered. In fact, it is too often given new life by people who claim to follow a “gospel of love” (as many Christians like to call their holy text) or a “religion of peace” (the literal meaning of the word “Islam”). And such hate can sweep up any country, no matter how educated or enlightened it fancies itself to be. (Germany was the most technologically advanced country of its time when Hitler came into power and was, in the eyes of the world, “the land of Mozart.”) I think Noem, Jewish by heritage, and Marie-Jeanne, of Catholic lineage—both raised in secular homes and now living as atheists—understand as much. That is why, after hearing about the attack on Salman Rushdie, they sent me this text message: “Are you OK?”

For now, I am. But I am still afraid. I’ai beaucoup de peur.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Quote of the Day: The Practical Effect of Trying to Rejoice Always, Pray Always, and Thank God for Everything

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The cynical part of me observes that passages like this [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, rejoice always, pray always, in everything give thanks to God] keep believers tied up in knots because they literally can’t do what he’s insisting are God’s commands. Well, maybe, if you’re a monk on some Mediterranean island and have lots of time to work on the praying without ceasing, but that’s obviously not who Paul is thinking of. But if you live in a state of fear that you’re not obeying God well enough, how do you fix that? Why, you go to church, pray, fellowship, listen to your church founder’s letter read yet again, tie yourself further up in knots, and cycle yourself deeper and deeper into the religion. It’s manipulative. And of course, manipulative processes, no matter how well-intentioned, will get hijacked by people who have ulterior motives.

— Karen, the Rock Whisperer, comment on Should Christians Rejoice Always and Thank God for Everything? August 16, 2022

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Should Christians Rejoice Always and Thank God for Everything?

1-Thess-5-16-18

The Apostle Paul says in I Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (KJV)

The Message puts it this way:

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

This text tells Christians three things:

  • They are to rejoice always no matter the circumstance
  • They are to pray without ceasing
  • They are to thank God no matter what happens
  • It is God’s will that you follow these commands.

Paul is not making suggestions here, as Evangelical preachers make clear in their preaching. Ask any Evangelical if they have ever heard sermons about rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and always thanking God for everything, and they will tell you yes. Worse, they will likely tell you that these commands were an unattainable ideal; that they caused them much consternation and depression. What Christian has ever rejoiced always, prayed always, or thanked always? None. In the hands of Evangelical preachers, especially those who are IFB, these verses become millstones around the necks of people of faith. Often, they cause psychological harm.

praise the lord

I am sixty-five years old. I have experienced a lot of things that caused me to rejoice: my marriage to Polly, the birth of our six children, and the birth and growing lives of our thirteen grandchildren. I am quite stoic about life. I am not a clap-happy seal who gets excited about the trivialities. While I rejoiced when the Cincinnati Bengals made the Super Bowl last year, my feelings paled considerably when compared to watching my beautiful bride walk down the aisle or holding our first child in my arms, and many years later our first grandchild in my arms. Most of life just “is.”

I have experienced some things in life wherein I had no capacity to “rejoice.” When I thought Polly was going to die from ulcerative colitis, I did not rejoice. As I continue to struggle with gastroparesis and unrelenting debility and pain, I do not rejoice. When my parents suddenly died at relatively young ages and Polly’s sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident, I did not rejoice. As I mentally page through the trauma I have faced in life, I find nothing to rejoice over. I have experienced horrific things in my life, things no child should ever face. How could I possibly “rejoice?” I see no redemptive value in these things. I wish I had experienced none of them. Yet, Evangelicals are taught that they are to rejoice no matter what happens in their lives; that they are to be thankful to God no matter what happens. Rarely do they ask, why? Why should I rejoice? Why should I give thanks to God?

Verse 18 mentions “the will of God,” and therein is the answer to the why? question. You see, Evangelicals are taught that their peculiar God is sovereign; that he is the creator of all things; that he controls all things; that everything happens according to God’s purpose and plan. Thus, when you are lying in bed, writhing in pain, rejoice! When your baby is born with fatal birth defects, rejoice! When your wife runs off with another man and divorces you, rejoice! When you lose your job, your house is foreclosed upon, and your car is repossessed, rejoice! And greater still, THANK GOD for what you are experiencing in your life. Paul said in EVERYTHING give thanks. No matter what pain and suffering you face in life, your experiences are God’s will. So dear Christians, God says shut the fuck up and take it! That’s what Paul, writing under the influence and control of the Holy Spirit, is saying to you.

I am so glad to be free from this kind of thinking. Though it still plagues me from time to time, I no longer feel the need to praise and thank Jesus when my life is in the toilet or when my pain is so bad that I want to kill myself. Shit happens, life is hard, and then you die. Live long enough and you will face a good bit of pain, suffering, and heartache. For some people, the hits never seem to end. I am grateful that my illnesses and pain aren’t the sum of my life; that there are moments in my life when I can rejoice.

Yesterday, Polly and I, along with our oldest son and his girlfriend, and Bethany, our oldest daughter who has Down syndrome, traveled three hours south to Cincinnati to watch the Reds play the Chicago Cubs. We had a delightful time, even though I was in a lot of pain. Afterward, we ate at a Bone Fish Grill, which was an unmitigated disaster. More on that tomorrow. We finally arrived home around 11:00 pm. By then, my pain levels were off the charts, despite taking extra narcotic pain meds, and my legs were swollen from fluid retention. I finally fell asleep around 4:00 am, though I had to get up repeatedly during the night to urinate as my body fought to remove the fluid from my legs. I slept to 4:30 pm, waking upon hearing the loud, playful voices of my youngest grandsons.

Just another day in my life. If I am going to do anything that matters in life, I must be willing to pay what I call “the price of admission.” I could drug myself enough that I wouldn’t have any pain, but I wouldn’t be able to do anything — literally. So, because I plan on living until I am dead, I must daily determine how much pain I can live with. I take hydrocodone, NSAIDs, and powerful muscle relaxers, just enough so my pain is lessened so I can function. There’s never a day when I feel well or am without pain. That’s just how it is. Does this mean I never have any reason to rejoice? Of course not.

I rejoice over spending the day with my son, his girlfriend, my wife, and my daughter. I know that I have a finite amount of time I can do so. Someday, sooner than later, I will no longer be able to do these things. I rejoice over the Reds beating the Cubs, a highlight in a depressing season. I watched Joey Votto play, knowing that next year might be his final season. I watched numerous young rookies hit and field, wondering if I were seeing stars-in-the-making. I rejoice over the endless banter between us as we drove to and from Cincinnati. I rejoice over hearing my son laugh as we listened to comedians on our way home. Most of all, I rejoice over not having to rush to the bathroom, avoiding shitting my pants or vomiting. That is a good day in and of itself.

Yet, I know there will be days that I have nothing to rejoice over; just moments and days to be endured. This is life as it is. No religious fantasy or delusion. Imagine how much better it would be for Evangelicals if their pastors told them the truth: sometimes life sucks. Expecting people to rejoice over whatever happens in their lives, or expecting them to thank God no matter what, doesn’t help them, especially when they are also told that someday after they die, God will reward them for not blaming him for the shit that happened in their lives. Instead of every human being brought before God’s throne in Chick tract This Was Your Life fashion, perhaps it is God who should be called to account for his mistreatment and abuse of humanity.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Update: Black Collar Crime: United Church of Christ Pastor Misi Tagaloa Pleads No Contest to Ripping Off Disabled Vet, Given Probation

misi tagaloa

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In 2021, Misi Tagaloa, pastor of Second Samoan United Church of Christ in Long Beach, California, was accused of stealing over $100,000 from Phillip Campbell (who has since died), a disabled, schizophrenic homeless man. Charged last August, Tagaloa remains the pastor of Second Samoan.

Jeremiah Dobruck, a reporter for the Long Beach Press, wrote at the time:

The man in the photo looked like her father, but Sounmi Campbell needed to be sure.

Phillip Campbell had disappeared almost 20 years earlier in a fog of mental illness that abruptly drove him from his sister’s home in Georgia. A trail of letters, the final ones postmarked from Long Beach more than a decade ago, was his family’s last clue to his whereabouts.

The letters eventually stopped, but the search didn’t. From the East Coast, Sounmi’s sister-in-law was scouring online records. In 2017, as she Googled the name Phillip Campbell, she saw it associated for the first time with Misi Tagaloa, a prominent pastor in Long Beach who has run for City Council three times.

What were the chances this could be their Phillip Campbell?

For months, Sounmi said, her sister-in-law tried to reach the pastor, but he would take weeks to respond. When he eventually provided a photo of a man he knew as Phillip Campbell, Sounmi was stunned.

“When the picture came up, I was like, oh my god,” she said. In the man’s face—with an unmistakable hawk nose the entire family seems to share—she saw herself.

….

For years, Sounmi had feared her father was dead or living on the street, so she at first was grateful Campbell was under the care of Tagaloa, who leads the Second Samoan Congregational Church on the outskirts of Downtown Long Beach.

Campbell was living in a home next to the church’s sanctuary. Inside, the conditions weren’t ideal, according to his family, who said he was sleeping on a couch in the house with several other homeless men. But at least he was safe.

That gratitude has since soured as investigators from the Long Beach Police Department and state Department of Justice unwound Tagaloa’s financial relationship with Campbell.

“This is clearly abuse of my father,” Sounmi said after seeing the breadth of the accusations laid out in a 14-page affidavit filed by state prosecutors earlier this year and obtained by the Long Beach Post last week.

Tagaloa’s crime, the document alleges, spanned years, with the pastor gaining power of attorney over Campbell, a schizophrenic man in his 60s who had lost the ability to properly care for himself.

While managing Campbell’s finances, prosecutors say, Tagaloa embezzled more than $100,000.

The California Attorney General’s Office charged Tagaloa in August with felony counts of grand theft and theft from an elder dependent, but the case has remained largely out of public view with Tagaloa free on $70,000 bail as he progresses slowly toward trial.

….

Madena estimates her brother had been living out of Tagaloa’s church since some time before 2013. By 2016, Tagaloa was applying to manage Campbell’s VA benefits, according to investigators’ account in their 14-page affidavit. As part of the application, the pastor signed an agreement pledging to use the money only for Campbell’s benefit.

As soon as 2017, the VA flagged a questionable expense. In August that year, officials asked Tagaloa to justify a $4,390 payment to ClickSound & Stage, the name of a Norwalk-based stage and sound equipment rental company.

When investigators circled back for a closer look, they found a host of suspicious payments starting as early as 2016, according to the affidavit. They allege Campbell’s account was charged $356 at Men’s Suit Outlet, $913.11 to TNT Electric Signs, $318 to A & A Towing, $1,000 for rent at “Second Samoan,” followed three days later by another $1,200 to the church.

There was a flurry of spending from Campbell’s account on one day in February 2017, the affidavit says: a total of $2,477.75 at what appear to be clothing and apparel stores like Judy Blue Jeans USA, LAJEWELRYPLAZADOTCOM and Capella Apparel Co.

More charges would follow, according to the affidavit: hundreds of dollars to restaurants and donations to local community groups along with thousands directly to Tagaloa’s church.

….

All the details still aren’t publicly known. In the affidavit, investigators describe over 50 transactions they thought were suspicious, but they also seized six years of bank records that could contain more details.

The charges against Tagaloa accused him of stealing more than $100,000, but the California Attorney General’s Office declined to give a more exact figure or describe further what Tagaloa allegedly spent the money on other than to say they were “unauthorized expenses.”

Prosecutors haven’t found evidence of Tagaloa gaining guardianship over anyone other than Campbell, a spokesperson for the State Attorney General’s Office said in an email.

Sounmi said her father was clearly unable to adequately care for himself, but if his children had been in control, perhaps they could have gotten him better treatment before he ended up on a couch or in a convalescent hospital.

“There’s no reason that my father had to live like that,” she said. “We needed that pastor’s help and he neglected to contact us.”

Last Monday, Tagaloa pleaded guilty to theft. He was sentenced to probation, two years probation and 200 hours of community service. Tagaloa is also required to make restitution to the deceased veteran’s family.

The Long Beach Post reports:

A prominent Long Beach pastor admitted Monday to stealing almost $100,000 from a disabled veteran who was under his care.

As part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, Rev. Misi Tagaloa pleaded no contest to felony theft from an elder dependent and was promptly sentenced to two years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

Tagaloa also agreed to pay back $96,000 he siphoned from Air Force Veteran Phillip Campbell, a schizophrenic man in his 60s who was no longer able to care for himself.

The negotiated sentence is significantly less than the three years in prison a judge previously said she would likely give Tagaloa if he pleaded guilty. The State Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case, said the decision to offer a probationary sentence to Tagaloa “is consistent with his decision to accept responsibility for his offense.”

Tagaloa, who twice ran for Long Beach City Council, is well known locally as pastor of the Second Samoan Church. He’s long run a homeless ministry out of the facility near the outskirts of Downtown and even shelters homeless men in a house next to the sanctuary.

After they spent nearly two decades searching for him, Campbell’s family discovered he was living in that home under the care of Tagaloa, who had gained control of Campbell’s finances, including his $2,900 monthly VA benefits.

….

According to testimony from an investigator, they found tens of thousands of dollars in questionable spending, including $11,305 to pay off Tagaloa’s credit cards; at least $11,000 in rent, donations and tithes to Tagaloa’s Second Samoan Church; $3,319 in cash withdrawals; $5,506 to an online stock-trading service; and thousands of dollars spent at clothing and apparel stores.

In Aug. 2020, the California Attorney General’s Office charged Tagaloa with felony counts of grand theft and theft from an elder dependent. Campbell died the next month at an elder care facility in Palos Verdes where his children were able to visit him during his final days.

Tagaloa has said he spent money from Campbell’s account thinking it was in the best interest of Campbell and his church community.

“I made some mistakes, but it doesn’t make me a bad person,” Tagaloa said during his sentencing hearing Monday.

Speaking to Judge Judith L. Meyer, Tagaloa said he’d spent a long time thinking about the case since it “hit the media” in a story reported by the Long Beach Post, “and it’s not easy given what I do for a living.”

The pastor said many facts in the case were presented in a “suboptimal way, which may jeopardize my—my sense of that which is good, but I have other considerations also. I’m thinking about my wife and my children and the community I serve.”

For those reasons, Tagaloa said he agreed to take the prosecutor’s offer of probation and plead no contest.

“Facts are always subject to interpretation,” Judge Judith L. Meyer responded. “But I respect that you’re willing to take responsibility for your actions.”

During his two years of probation, Tagaloa will also be barred from being a trustee or guardian of any veterans. He’s also prohibited from performing his 200 hours of community service at any veteran organizations or churches.

No jail time? As I stated in a different Black Collar Crime post:

I suspect he got the preacher’s discount. Some judges have a hard time doling out lengthy sentences to preachers for crimes such as theft, fraud, and embezzlement, thinking the “atta boys” in their lives outweigh the “aww shits.” Mere mortals such as you and I face lengthy jail time if we commit such crimes.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Updated: Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Jerome Milton Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Elderly Church Couple, Sentenced to Six Months in Jail

pastor jerome milton

Earlier this year, Jerome Rocky Milton, pastor of Open Door Bible Church in Tyler, Texas, and his son, Jerome Anthony Milton, were indicted on charges of stealing over $30,000 from an elderly church couple through credit card withdrawals and other financial malfeasance.

CBS-19 reported at the time:

A Tyler pastor was accused of taking money from an elderly couple and also opened bank accounts without consent from his previous church to pay personal bills, police documents show. 

Jerome Milton, 65, of Tyler, was charged Saturday with two counts of credit or debit card abuse against the elderly and one count of property theft between $2,500 and $30,000. He remained Friday in the Smith County Jail since his arrest on bonds totaling $550,000. 

Milton is the reverend for Open Door Bible Church in Tyler, and according to the arrest affidavit, Milton was helping take care of an elderly couple at church and had the power of attorney and finances for them.

Another CBS-19 report adds:

The son of a Tyler pastor who is accused of stealing over $30,000 from an elderly couple through credit card withdrawals has been indicted on a similar charge. 

A grand jury handed down an indictment for Jerome Anthony Milton, who is the son of Rev. Jerome Rocky Milton, on a credit or debit card abuse against the elderly charge on March 31.

Rev. Milton, 66, of Tyler, was indicted Dec. 9 on a charge of property theft between $30,000 and $150,000 (against an elderly individual), according to judicial records. 

Police documents show Rev. Milton unlawfully took $30,881.70 from an elderly married couple through multiple check withdrawals from their bank account and ATM transactions. He is then accused of using the funds for his own benefit, such as car payments and hotel rooms in Brownwood.

According to the March 31 indictment, over a seven-month period, the younger Milton fraudulently benefited from using the same elderly couple’s debit cards.

An arrest affidavit stated that Rev. Milton served as the reverend at Open Door Bible Church in Tyler at the time of his arrest, and he was caring for the elderly married couple from his church. He had the power of attorney and finances for the couple.

The woman has impaired memory, while her husband is completely bedridden due to an injury, the affidavit said.

In the affidavit regarding Rev. Milton’s arrest, the document stated that Jerome Anthony Milton was seen making ATM withdrawals from the elderly man’s bank account. 

Rev. Milton told police his son would make withdrawals for him because the elderly man liked to keep cash in his wallet. The elder Milton couldn’t provide a reason why the man, who was bedridden, needed so much cash, the document explained.

October 2021 Black Collar Crime post about Jerome Milton.

Last Thursday, Milton pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in jail and ten years probation.

CBS-19 reports:

A longtime Tyler pastor, coach and community figure will serve six months in the county jail and 10 years’ probation after pleading guilty to stealing from an elderly couple, his former church and a local nonprofit. 

Through a plea deal Thursday, Rev. Jerome Milton, who leads Open Door Bible Church in Tyler, admitted to using bank transfers and credit cards to steal from two elderly congregation members as well as stealing from the previous church he led and the East Texas Communities Foundation. 

During the hearing in the 114th District Court, Judge Austin Reeve Jackson went over the plea deal, saying that Milton will serve 180 days in the Smith County Jail and 10 years’ probation.

Milton told Jackson he was guilty of property theft worth $30,000 to $150,000 (against an elderly individual), money laundering and enhanced property theft worth $30,000 to $150,000. 

….

Once released from the county jail, Milton will have a hearing in February to address restitution payments, prosecutors said. 

Police documents obtained in October 2021 state Milton unlawfully took money from congregation members, Wayford and Marilyn Brown, using multiple check withdrawals and ATM transactions while he serving as their power of attorney and finances. 

The document states Milton used the funds he took for car payments and hotel rooms.

In a previous interview with CBS19 in May, Milton denied doing anything illegal as he had legal power of attorney and was taking care of the Browns.

The Browns’ son Darryl Brown said Milton left just 28 cents in his parents’ bank accounts. 

According to the indictments, Milton took between $30,000 and $150,000 from the East Texas Communities Foundation and Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church (now named Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church) from Feb. 2, 2017 to Jan. 5, 2018.

In the indictment for the money laundering charge, Milton is accused of transferring the proceeds from theft, misapplication of fiduciary property, forgery and credit card abuse between bank accounts for just under four years (February 2017 to October 2021).

For 32 years, Milton was the pastor at Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, where he later retired. He later came out of retirement to lead the Open Door Bible Church. 

….

Previous police documents mentioned Milton was asked to leave Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church around 2018 by church membership because of “his handling of finances and other suspicious behavior on his part.”

However, Milton in a CBS19 interview said he left Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist in better shape than it was.

In an affidavit related to Milton’s October arrest, Texas Bank and Trust records for Milton showed he deposited two checks totaling $5,000 written to him from an American State Bank account named Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church.  

Kermit Lane, a deacon with Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, said the church did not write Milton those checks or any since he left.

Lane said Greater New Pleasant never had a bank account with American State Bank. He also told police the check signatures were from Milton’s personal secretary while at the church, who died early last year, the affidavit read.

The affidavit shows that Lane told police the document Milton produced claiming he had authority to open bank accounts for the church was false. 

The lightness of Milton’s sentence troubles me. I suspect he got the preacher’s discount. Some judges have a hard time doling out lengthy sentences to preachers for crimes such as theft, fraud, and embezzlement, thinking the “atta boys” in their lives outweigh the “aww shits.” Mere mortals such as you and I face lengthy jail time if we commit such crimes.

Does anyone doubt that Milton will g right back to preaching and thieving once he is released from jail? I know I don’t.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: United Methodist Pastor Rick Haberland Pleads No Contest to Child Pornography Charges

rick haberland

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Rick Haberland, pastor of Oneida United Methodist Church in Oneida, Wisconsin, pleaded no contest last Friday to charges of child pornography possession. Haberland previously pastored United Methodist Church in De Pere, Suring and Hickory United Methodist Churches in Suring, Phillips United Methodist Church in Phillips, and Tabor United Methodist Church in Eden

The Post Crescent reports:

Rick E. Haberland, former pastor of Oneida United Methodist Church, pleaded no contest to all five charges Friday morning during a plea hearing in Outagamie County Circuit Court. A no-contest plea accepts a guilty verdict without admitting or denying any guilt.

….

He was arrested in February following an investigation in response to a Cybertipline report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

During the course of the investigation, police linked Haberland with a Skype account and email address involved in multiple exchanges of child pornography.

On Feb. 23, police executed search warrants at Oneida United Methodist Church and Haberland’s nearby residence, during which they seized his phone. A digital forensic examiner estimated Haberland’s phone had more than 150 videos depicting sexual abuse of children, in addition to written statements about sexual abuse of infant to 12-year-old boys, according to a criminal complaint. 

During the search at Haberland’s residence, investigators found 1.2 grams of meth in his bedroom closet, the criminal complaint said.

Haberland was initially charged with 13 counts of possession of child pornography, but nine were dismissed.

Haberland’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Oct. 14.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser