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Randy, the Atheist-Turned-Evangelical Talks Smack About Bruce Gerencser

peanut gallery

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Some of you might remember Randy the atheist-turned-Evangelical . . .

Several years ago, Randy (who is currently the discipleship pastor at Encounter Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas) left a comment on the Fundamentalist Christian blog Spiritual Minefield (The True Darkness of Atheism Part Two) about his commenting experiences on this site. Here’s what Randy had to say:

My name is Randy and I lived as an atheist for 32 years of my life. I’m a pastor [Randy’s church. He is not listed on the staff roster] (been a follower of Christ since 2002). I hung around Bruce’s blog for awhile until he finally asked me not to come back. I questioned him about having a personal vendetta against Christianity and never attacking Islam. I also accused him of being just as intolerant and judgmental towards Christians as he claimed they were to him. Boom – he asked me to hit the virtual highway.

Bruce stands beside the works of Ehrman like they are Scripture. I love Bart Ehrman and have read most of his books. He’s a great New Testament scholar but has some serious flaws in his conclusions. He is an agnostic but still has a personal vendetta against Christianity like Bruce. His goal is to undermine the Bible’s authenticity.

Atheism has changed since I claimed that name. I was a live and let live guy. Now, the radical, militant atheists, like Bruce, have become the majority. They are not happy just to choose unbelief, they actively try to draw others to their beliefs (atheist evangelism?) and want to strip all freedom from Christianity in the public area of life. They will tell you they don’t hate God because they don’t believe in him. This may be true to some extent, not being conscious hate, but their actions clearly express hate towards God and his people.

I appreciate your blogging. Keep up the good work.

Randy left a total of forty-two comments on this site. While Evangelicals are generally given one opportunity to comment — as is made clear in the commenting rules —Randy seemed nice enough guy that I allowed him to continue to comment.

Randy first commented on September 24, 2015. Here is what he had to say:

Bruce let me say first, I am still in the Christian camp and I’m glad I didn’t let your warning prevent me from reading this post. But then again, I’m not in the “easily offended evangelical” section of the camp. I think more Christians need to hear and heed your words. The greatest deficiency I see in Christianity is a lack of authenticity. Most can put on the mask, play the part, buy the book, the t-shirt, the poster, and all the accessories just enough to fool others.

The honest truth is this: the non-Christians I know are generally much nicer than the Christians I know. They aren’t pretending to be something besides who and what they are. They are my friends for the same reason anybody should be your friend: because I thoroughly enjoy their company. I do not maintain the relationship to convert them. We may talk about spirituality from time to time, but my goal is not to debate them to a profession of faith. I stand by my faith but I don’t bludgeon them with it.

I’m an introvert at heart, so I don’t open my house up to many people. The ones I do truly know me. Yes you’ll find some Christian pictures and such here and there. I do have a shelf full of Bibles and theological books, but you’ll also find some Louis L’Amour Westerns and (gasp) swords & sorcery and vampire fiction, along with plenty of non-fiction and a few biographies. Yes I have some Christian movies, but I have a ton of sci-fi and Westerns and yes (gasp again) some are rated R! I have an Xbox one and a stack of video games that have nothing to do with Jesus. My music collection has a scattered collection of Christian artists but is primarily composed of the likes of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and other heavy metal and honky tonk artists.

Now you better sit down for this one. I smoke cigars. I like bourbon. These are the two funniest because I know Christians who do them in secret. I’ve been asked not to post pictures of me doing either on social media by church leadership. It’s so funny man. My primary ministry is in the local county jail and I love it. I’m real with those guys about who and what I am. We are just a bunch of messed up guys who like to have a genuine good time but want to get our lives straightened out. For us, our faith is a guide.

Anyway, I make a lot of Christians uncomfortable for all the above reasons. Sometimes they think I am too “worldly” or “backsliding.” I used to make sure I never slipped up and cursed. Not a big deal now. I try to be mindful of offending people with my language and the fact I have children who I want to make a good impression on for how they speak, but every once in awhile, I just let those accursed words roll off my tongue.

Most of all I just want to be me. If Jesus is real, and he doesn’t love me for who I am, if he insists that I be something I am not, then it’s not real love anyway is it?

On March 16, 2016, Randy left the following comment:

I am a Christian and a former atheist (I’m not going to argue that again here. I know what I believed and how I lived.) One of my absolute favorite authors is Bart Ehrman. He is one of the foremost scholars on the New Testament and quite brilliant. At this point I have read 5 of his books and own 2 of them (“Forged” and “Did Jesus Exist”).

The biggest problem I see in Christian apologetics to day is the use of circular logic. “How do I know the Bible is true? Because the Bible says so.” That is an epic failure. I am sure every holy text testifies to it’s own veracity. These same apologists will quickly call out circular logic when used by other faiths or evolutionists. You cannot change the rules in your favor.

To complicate things, the majority of Christians are unwilling to read anything outside of the Christian realm of apologetics. They won’t read Ehrman and his questions concerning the reliability of the biblical text. They won’t read what evolutionists have to say. They won’t read what prominent atheists have to say. They stick their head in the sand and shout, “But the Bible says so!”

I cannot live that way. I walk in doubt many days. I don’t find the answers of men like James satisfying at all. In fact, it makes me disappointed in Christianity in general. Do I have irrefutable evidence for the existence of the Christian God? Unfortunately, no. Do I believe the Bible is the best defense of the Christian faith? Nope. Do I believe there are compelling arguments against the existence of the Christian God? Sure.

My faith is what it is: faith. I have seen things, experienced things that leads me to the conclusion that a supreme being of some type exists. I best view him through the paradigm of Christianity. I am reluctant to label myself “evangelical” because at this point in my life, it is a personal journey seeking truth. I do not regularly share or impose my beliefs on others. I feel like I am beyond that. I do respond to those who come seeking knowledge of Christianity, and I always encourage those I work with to keep their brains turned on, to focus on their spiritual journey and not some manmade institution that is more interested with your butt filling a seat and your money filling the offering bucket.

I enjoy reading you Bruce because you challenge my thoughts and faith. I believe you were a sincere Christian once as I was a sincere atheist. Maybe one day our paths will cross somewhere on your side, my side or in the middle.

In December 2016, Randy finally showed his true colors. Objecting to something I had written about Donald Trump and Evangelicals, Randy vehemently stated:

I like you and respect you Bruce, despite us being on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to our spiritual beliefs. I think you normally do a fair job with your posts and your responses. However, I have several issues with what you’ve said here.

First is the ad hominem attack on Evangelicals who voted for Trump. Do you honestly think that people who voted for Trump condone this man’s behavior or behave like him? If so, then Christianity is in much worse shape than we think. Why have his actions not been condemned on Evangelical blogs? I think for one thing this guy has flown under the radar and many have not noticed. Just check out his Facebook pages. He only has a few hundred followers. I think that speaks greatly to the number of Evangelicals that support his methods. I believe others do not want to give him any more attention than he is already receiving for his ignorant actions in the media.

Secondly I fail to understand why people in liberal circles feel it’s okay to judge all Evangelical Christians by the actions of a fractional minority yet insist that Islam should not be judged by the actions of a small group of radical fundamentalists. Let’s be honest, people like Grisham, as disgusting as they are, are only doing things like protesting Santa, soldiers funerals or LGBT events. Compared to flying airplanes into buildings, chopping off peoples heads and destroying historic works of art and architecture it’s not hard to see who poses the greater danger. However, I’m not sure I’ve seen you one time denounce or address the danger of the other big monotheistic system in the world: Islam. I greatly respect atheists like Sam Harris who dare to challenge Islam, but he is one of only a handful who do.

Third I question the validity of your statement that the Bible can be used to justify almost any behavior. Certainly people throughout history have used it to promote or defend their own dismal behavior but they have done so by ignoring or twisting the core tenants of Jesus’ teaching. Again, the seeming hypocrisy in liberal circles on this versus Islam and the Koran stand in stark contrast. In the case of radical Islam it is said that a marginal group is twisting the meaning of the Koran’s teachings and because of that all other Muslims are exonerated of any guilt for these terroristic actions. However, statements like yours are used to vilify all Christians. Let’s play fair or at least admit a personal vendetta against Christianity may be at work here.

Ultimately David Grisham is a far cry from the mainstream Evangelical. I think his actions are inexcusable. If I had been in line with my children and he pulled a stunt like that, I would have reacted much quicker and more harshly than these parents did. He is lucky that the only “assault” he experienced was someone simply touching him. I’m just asking for fairness in how you judge Evangelicals, or at least some equal time looking at other faith systems making inroads in America such as Islam.

In response to Randy, I stated:

Evangelicals who voted for Trump betrayed their beliefs and values. They are, in my opinion, hypocrites. Don’t come to me preaching Christ and moral superiority and then vote for the Devil. Evangelicals knew what Donald Trump was when they voted for him. He did not fly under the radar, he rolled over the top of America with a tank. That Evangelical blogs and websites were silent during the election (unless they were condemning Clinton or explaining how Trump was a baby Christian) is proof that they desire political and social power more than they do righteousness. By electing Trump, Evangelicals have forever ceded their place of moral and cultural influence.

I stand by my statement concerning the Bible. Thousands and thousands of Christian sects are all the evidence I need to prove my contention. Each appeals to the Bible as justification for their beliefs and behaviors. I’ve heard scores of people use the Bible to justify their behavior — you know, like voting for misogynistic, pussy-grabbing, immigrant hating, war-mongering Donald Trump.

Your comment does come off as passive-aggressive. You’ve presented yourself in the past as some sort of Christian moderate, but today you are a defender of Evangelical honor.

Everyone who reads this blog knows that when I use the word Evangelical I don’t mean all Evangelicals, everywhere. To expect me to use a modifier every time I use the word is silly. If the shoe fits wear it, if not . . . I wasn’t talking about you.

If you think Grisham is some sort of aberration, you need to get out more. Go to any moderate-to-large city and you’ll find people preaching on the streets and attempting to evangelize passersby. These zealots for Jesus all have one thing in common– they are Evangelicals. I get it, you want to pretend that your crazy uncles aren’t really related to you. They are, so deal with it. I’m not the problem here, they are, as are those who tacitly support them by not publicly condemning their behavior. Over the years I have had numerous pastors write to tell me that they appreciate my honest assessment of Evangelicalism. They are embarrassed by the crazy uncles. When I ask them to take a public stand against extremism, they refuse, saying that taking such a stand would cause a church split or loss of job.

I’ve given you a lot of space, Randy, but it now sounds like you have had your fill of Bruce Gerencser. Go in peace.

I then added the following:

And as far as other faiths, I write about American Christianity, particularly Evangelicalism. It is silly for you to expect me to write about Islam when they are not my focus. There are plenty of writers who focus on Islam, so there’s no need for me to do so. Besides, the greatest threat to America is not Islam, it’s Evangelicalism. Again, who is it that put Trump in the White House? Who is it that just passed a law in Ohio that outlawed abortions after six weeks? Who is it that wants to put God, prayer, and the Bible back in the public schools? Who is it that supports capital punishment and supports the American war effort? Who is it that wants to criminalize certain sexual behaviors? Who is it that denies the existence of the separation of church and state? Who is it that clamors for theocratic governance? Evangelicals.

Randy responded:

I’ll respect your invitation to leave and not trouble you anymore in your personal corner of the blogosphere after this.

You say you have changed much since your days of IFB Fundamentalism. What I see is you have merely traded jerseys. You’ve adapted the same attitudes, tropes and tactics from your IFB / conservative days and simply clothed them in atheism / liberalism. You are still an extremist with little tolerance for those who do not believe the same way you do. We’ve had some good conversations but apparently I’ve crossed the line. I honestly did not expect such a virulent response from you.

Since I left atheism and went through my own zealous phase of Evangelicalism I’ve tried to walk a more moderate path. Unfortunately what I’ve found is that on both the Evangelical and Atheism fronts, people are equally dogmatic, rigid, intolerant and close minded. That’s unfortunate.

I wish you and Polly the best and Happy Holidays.

To which I replied:

Ah, now the true Randy comes out. I have zero problem with rational, thoughtful disagreement. We’ve had plenty of them on this blog over the past eight years. So far, I have yet to meet an Evangelical who is capable of such discussion. No matter how much line I let out for them to run, sooner or later they will do exactly what you have done with your latest comments. It’s in the nature of Evangelicals to behave this way. Until you get away from Evangelicalism you will not see this. That you cannot see that Evangelicals voting for Donald Trump is a denial of EVERYTHING Evangelicals SAY they hold dear, is case in point.

I wish you well.

I’ll leave it to readers to decide if Randy’s comment on the Spiritual Minefield blog is a fair assessment of his interaction with me and my fellow atheists on this site.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Edward Williams Accused of Having Romantic Relationship with Teen Girl

pastor edward williams

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.

Edward Williams, pastor of Jesus People Full of Faith Ministries in Pembroke Pines, Florida, stands accused of having a romantic relationship with a seventeen-year-old girl. Williams was also a teacher and football coach at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School.

Channel 10 reports:

A high school football coach is under arrest after being accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student.

Detectives said that 44-year-old Edward Malachi Williams of Miramar was romantically involved with a 17-year-old girl at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School.

According to a police report, the victim told investigators that the two were not sexually active but were waiting for her to turn 18 before going public as a couple. One of the texts she showed police from Williams said: “Baby, give me one chance, baby, baby, baby, give me one chance. I can’t believe I lost my girl. Please what if we make love one last time, it won’t be the last time, but for awhile.”

Miami-Dade Schools Police officers said that they went to the home of the 17-year-old after receiving information through an anonymous source.

They said the girl stated that although they had not been sexually intimate, they are “in love, have held hands, and kissed.” Police said both the victim and Williams denied engaging in sex.

….

Williams was located at the school on Wednesday, according to investigators, and brought to Miami-Dade Public Schools Police Department headquarters for questioning, where he was subsequently arrested.

He was released from jail late Wednesday and walked out covering his head with a shirt. He did not speak to anyone.

According to Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Williams had been employed with the district from 1999 to 2017. He returned to the district in June of 2020. School officials said he had no history of disciplinary actions. Williams has been fired, according to the district.

….

He is facing a second-degree felony charge, Offenses Against Students By Authority Figures.

Williams’ church bio states:

Edward is committed to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, so when the call came for ministry, it was no hard decision. Edward’s desire to see people live their lives to the fullest in Christ made the call and commitment to Pastor in the South Florida area an easy one. Edward’s strong belief is God has blessed us to be a blessing to others.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Why I Won’t Let Anyone Control My Storyline

shut up bruce

We all have a story to tell. I love to hear the stories of others. I hate Facebook, but I remain on the service because of the stories, complete with photographs, people tell about their lives. The Internet allows me to meet and interact with people all over the world. My life is richer in every way because I have met people different from me. And yes, I have met people who are similar to me too — people who have similar beliefs and want the same things I do.

In the 1990s, I started sharing my story on the Internet — on church websites, BBS sites, and AOL/CompuServe forums. I also sponsored a discussion email list, CHARIS. For a time, I shared my stories on several private forums for Calvinistic pastors. I did all of this as Pastor Bruce Gerencser, a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

In 2007, as my search for “authentic” Christianity intensified, I started a blog. By then, my theology and political beliefs had become progressive/liberal. For a time, I was enamored with the Emerging/Emergent church. I openly wrote about how my life, and that of my family, was changing. This brought all sorts of attacks from people I labeled “keepers of the Book of Life” — people who thought they had the duty and obligation to declare who is and isn’t saved. These Fundamentalist Christian zealots believed that God had called them to “discern” the unbiblical beliefs and behaviors of others. This kind of thinking continues to this day on sites such as Protestia and Christian Research Network.

Several “discernment ministers” declared that I would one day become an apostate and leave Christianity. According to them, the signs were there for all to see. And, they were right. In early 2008, I was sliding down the proverbial slippery slope of unbelief. I stopped to rest several times along the path to the bottom. I thought maybe liberal Christianity might be what I was looking for. It wasn’t. I then thought that Universalism might be the answer. In the end, nothing stopped me from hitting the bottom of the hill with a big thud. On the last Sunday in November 2008, I attended church for the last time. Throughout all of this, I continued to tell my story.

In early 2009, I wrote a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. I posted this letter to my blog. I also sent it via email and snail mail to over two hundred family members, friends, colleagues in the ministry, and former church members. This was me telling all who knew me (and Polly) that Elvis had left the building.

From 2007 through 2014, I had several blogs. I would write for a while, face withering attacks and character assassinations, crash into an emotional heap, and then quit blogging. After my wounds would heal, I would rise like a Phoenix from the ashes and start writing again. In December 2014, I started the current iteration of this blog, The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. I find it hard to believe I am still blogging six and a half years later. But, here I am, one man with a story to tell.

When I first started telling my story years ago, I decided that I would use my real name. I am the only Bruce Gerencser in a world of almost eight billion people. In this regard, I am special. 🙂 I am blessed (and cursed) to have a unique name. Thus, I don’t have to worry that I will be confused with someone else. When someone searches for “Bruce Gerencser,” the first Google/Bing result is this site. I am easy to find, and if someone wants to contact me, I am but a click away.

Early on, Evangelical zealots, along with former friends, family members, church members, and ministerial colleagues, tried to control my storyline. I was told countless times that I needed to move on or that I had no right to talk about others whose stories intersected with mine. One dear ex-friend, the late Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church in Millersport, Ohio, drove 3 hours to see me after receiving the aforementioned letter. (Please see Dear Friend.) Bill desperately and frantically tried to reclaim me for Jesus, but he concluded, after a three-hour-long discussion between us, that my mind was made up. Bill then asked me to keep my story to myself. Why? Bill feared that if people heard about my deconversion that it could cause them to lose their faith too (and he was right). What Bill wanted to do is control my storyline.

I determined long ago that I wouldn’t let anyone control my storyline. It’s my story, and I plan to tell it as I see fit. I view my blog as a digital autobiography. Honestly telling my story means that I am going to say things, at times, about people that they (and others) might find unflattering or embarrassing. Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) people, in particular, despise my willingness to talk out of school. They hate that I am willing to write about what went on behind closed doors. They know that I know secrets, where the proverbial dead bodies are buried. Instead of getting their panties bunched up, perhaps they should thank the Lord Jesus Christ that I don’t tell ALL I know. You know: preachers who were fucking their secretaries, preachers who were porn addicts, preachers who abused their wives/children, preachers who visited strip clubs, preachers who were drunks — all while they were raging against their congregants’ sins. I don’t share these things because they are not germane to my story. However, when their lives intersect with mine, an honest telling of my story requires me to tell the truth — even when it portrays me and others in an unflattering light.

I can’t tell my story if I leave out the unflattering parts. Some family members are livid with me because I dare to paint a negative portrait of the family’s now-deceased patriarch. They want this giant of the faith to be portrayed only in a positive light. However, the sum of this man includes his angry, violent outbursts. Sure, on balance, he was a decent man. However, he emotionally and physically hurt people. I told my oldest son the other day that if one of my children ever wrote an autobiography, I would want them to tell the truth — all of it, as they remember it. I certainly would want them to write about all the good things they remember about their father, both as a man and a preacher. But, if that’s all they wrote, their book would be incomplete. You see, there’s another side, dare I say multiple sides, to their father. A dark side. An angry side. A violent side. A mentally ill side. An OCPD side. A man who loved them, yet a man who harmed them. You can’t tell and know my story without telling everything — well, almost everything. I won’t share my favorite sex positions. I would rather show you. Pictures coming soon. Woo! Hoo! 🙂 So, while it would hurt me if one of my children told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about their father, I would be proud of them for doing so. I don’t want my children to bury the past. I want them to own it and give an honest accounting of the good, bad, and indifferent things they have experienced. After I am dead, I want my children to share wonderful stories about me. I am, I hope, on balance, a kind, decent, loving man. At the same time, I want them to share the “other” stories too. I want them to know that it is okay to say out loud that their father physically abused them; that “Biblical” discipline is, in fact, child abuse.

I make no apologies for mentioning people by name in my writing. More than a few family members, ex-friends, former church members, and ex-colleagues in the ministry have objected to me portraying them in a poor light. I tell them, “then you should have treated me better.” Don’t want to be portrayed as an asshole or a prick? Behave differently. And instead of trying to badger me into whitewashing your interaction (s) with me, how about owning your behavior? I had a few nasty interactions with a handful of church members years ago. While most former congregants will praise me, the sum of my twenty-five years in the ministry can’t be told without saying, “you know, Pastor Bruce sure could be an arrogant, self-righteous, judgmental asshole.” Yes, I was a kind, loving, compassionate preacher, but I was also that other man too. You can’t have an Oreo without the white filling.

There may come a day when I am done telling my story. I may also die with my fingers on my IBM Model M Clickity-Clack keyboard, preparing to add one more chapter to my story. Who knows? God? 🙂 I promise you this: I will be open and honest with you, even when it paints me (and others) in an unflattering light. It is up to readers to decide whether what I write rings true. Remember this as you read my story: I am telling my story as I remember it. It is up to you to decide whether what I write is believable.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Advice for Atheists: What to Do When Your Christian Family Won’t Respect You

all-about-jesus

I listen to several atheist call-in shows on YouTube: The Atheist Experience, Talk Heathen, Matt Dillanhunty’s The Hang-Up, Jimmy Snow’s The Sometimes Show, and The Sunday Show on The Line. It is not uncommon for me to listen to these shows late at night when I am having trouble sleeping (which is EVERY night). It is not uncommon for atheists to call, asking for advice on how to handle their Fundamentalist Christian families — especially parents. I have heard heart-wrenching stories from atheists who have been kicked out of their parents’ homes, excommunicated from their families, and generally treated like dog shit on the bottom of a shoe.

I have concluded that many expressions of Christianity cause otherwise decent people to treat their unbelieving children, grandchildren, siblings, nephews, nieces, and cousins with disregard and disrespect. And even when behavior doesn’t go this far, atheists often feel marginalized and walled off from those they love. All because they no longer worship the family/tribal deity or refuse to go to church on Sunday. And it is worse yet for atheists who are also politically progressive/liberal or who are LGBTQ.

My parents died years ago, so my deconversion played no part in our relationship. While both of my siblings believe in God, religion is very rarely talked about. Neither of them regularly attends church. On the other hand, Polly’s family are, for the most part, devout, church-going Independent Fundamentalist Baptists. Polly’s father was an IFB preacher. He and I started a church together, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, in the early 1980s. Dad died last November. Mom still attends an IFB church, the Newark Baptist Temple.

In November 2008, Polly and I walked out of the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time. We had reached the end of the proverbial line. Not sure what we had become, we were certain that we were no longer Bible-believing Christians. Several months later, in a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners, I informed those who knew us that we were no longer Christians. Not long after that, I began calling myself an atheist. This letter caused immediate outrage. We feel its reverberations to this day. Ironically, most of Polly’s IFB family, including pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and their spouses, took what I call the silent approach. For the most part, Polly’s family pretends that there is not a ginormous rainbow-colored godless two-trunked, six-leg elephant in the middle of the room. It has been over twelve years since Polly’s parents learned of our unbelief. Four thousand-plus days, and not one question or conversation about why we are no longer Christians. Outside of being told, “we are praying for you,” Polly’s parents and extended family ignore our unbelief (and that’s preferable to how some atheists are treated by their Christian families).

In the early days of our unbelief, Polly’s mom would invite her to come to special church events (even though we live 3 hours away), and when we visited on a Sunday, she would ask if we would go to church with her. It’s been years since Mom has asked us to attend her church or asked Polly to come to a Mother-Daughter Tea. I suspect that she has resigned herself to the fact that we aren’t interested in such things. Last year, Mom — during a hospital stay where death was a real possibility — did tell Polly that she hoped we would come back to Jesus and get back in church. I snarkily told Polly to tell her, sure. We are now Muslims. 🙂 What Polly’s mom wants, of course, is for us to come back to her brand of Jesus, and start attending a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching Baptist church. That ain’t going to happen — ever.

We live with the fact that there will always be a huge God-shaped hole in the middle of our relationship. And not just with Polly’s mom and extended family. We have six grown children, ages twenty-seven to forty-two. Outside of our oldest son, not one of our children has had an honest sit-down discussion with us about our beliefs and why we are no longer Christians. (Maybe, reading my blog satisfies this need, but I have my doubts about whether many of them read my writing.) Granted, only two of our six children regularly attend church (Catholic and Southern Baptist). Maybe our unbelief just doesn’t matter to them. However, a short conversation with one of my sons last year led me to conclude that some of our children and their spouses do not understand why we walked away from the ministry and later deconverted.

Polly and I are determined to live open, authentic lives. If people want to know “why,” we are more than willing to share our reasons and motivations with them. There are no secrets when it comes to our defection from the One True Faith®. Our children know that we won’t be cowed into doing things we don’t want to do, and that includes baptisms, confirmations, and church programs. Polly will, at times, attend such things, but I do not — ever. If that makes me a bad father or grandfather, I don’t know what to tell them.

All in all, I am fine with the relationship I have with my children and their spouses, siblings, Polly’s mom, and our extended families. I wish we could be openly atheistic around family, but I am willing to set aside my beliefs when around them (unless asked) for the sake of maintaining harmonious, peaceful relationships. Some atheists, however, don’t have this option. Their Christian families are openly hostile towards their unbelief. I know of atheists who are brutalized in Jesus’ name every time they come into contact with their Christian families. Viewed as unsaved or backslidden, these atheists are often evangelization targets. Sometimes, their Christian parents sic their pastors on them, thinking the man of God can rope them and drag them back to church. Another steer corralled for Jesus. Amen? Amen! Is it any wonder many ex-Christians need years of therapy to deal with how their Christian families treat them?

Most atheists want love, kindness, and respect from their Christian families. Surely, that’s not too much to ask, right? Unfortunately, in some families, Jesus, the Bible, and the church are more important than having good relationships with unbelieving family members. Many Evangelicals believe that blood is not thicker than water, that their church families are their “real” families. Over the years, I have watched the harm caused to Polly by this kind of thinking. Polly’s sister died in a tragic motorcycle accident in 2005, so she is her mother’s only living daughter. Yet, Polly’s mom acts as if her IFB Christian granddaughters and nieces are her “real” daughters. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched Polly’s mom treat her like she is the proverbial ugly stepchild with hurtful words and behaviors. It wouldn’t surprise me if Polly never talked to her mom again. But she does. Why? Because she loves her. And on those Sundays when she doesn’t want to talk to her mom, I encourage her to do so, reminding her that someday soon her mom will be gone.

Polly’s favorite uncle, Art, died in 1994 at fifty-one from viral heart disease. Polly asked her mom if she could have one memento to remember Art, a glass elephant. That’s it. (We are not big on such stuff.) Art collected glass, so he had all sorts of expensive glass collectibles. Over the past twenty years, Polly has, from time to time, asked about the elephant. Polly’s mom gave her all sorts of excuses (lies) about the elephant’s whereabouts, finally saying it had been sold years ago. Imagine Polly’s surprise and heartbreaking disappointment when she learned that the elephant was very much “alive,” having been sold at an auction earlier this year. She would never have known this had it not been for the fact that after Art’s glass was auctioned off and the unsold items picked through my Mom’s “real” family, Polly was offered the leftovers no one wanted. (And there’s a reason no one wanted them. Anyone want some famous composers plates. All six for $100 plus shipping if you want them.) In the tub of leftovers was an inventory of the items sold at auction (for thousands of dollars). On that list? Yep, a glass elephant.

While this may seem a small matter to some of you, it crushed my wife. Being constantly treated as less-than will do that to you. When you see other women in the family treated as daughters, and you are just an afterthought (except when a fucking mess needs to be cleaned up), it’s hard to not feel hurt and marginalized. Polly will never say to her mom or extended family what I have written here, but I will. Why? Because Polly is a wonderful person, a loving, caring mother, daughter, aunt, and cousin — even when treated as less-than, due to unbelief, lack of church attendance, or Loki forbid, whom she is married to. (God, if she had just married someone else she would still be a Christian!) If Polly said to me, “I am done with my family,” I would understand.

With the aforementioned story in mind, let me try to bring this post to a conclusion. Family relationships, even the best of them, are complex. In families where religion is front and center 24-7, family relationships are often fraught with conflict. Unbelievers walk on eggshells, fearing saying or doing the “wrong” thing will result in hostility, correction, or rebuke. What’s an unbeliever to do?

Some atheists refuse to cower to Jesus and the Bible. This, of course, often leads to open warfare. Sometimes, this warfare destroys relationships. I know some atheists who have not seen or spoken to their Christian families in years. This is especially true for atheist LGBTQ people. When your parents or siblings view you as a vile, sinful reprobate, it is hard to have a healthy relationship with them.

When atheists write to me for advice about how to deal with their Christian families, I typically ask them several things:

  • Do you want to have a relationship with your family?
  • Does your atheism matter to you?
  • Are acceptance and respect important to you?
  • Are you willing to endure unwanted attacks and badgering from religious family members?
  • Are your Christian parents, grandparents, siblings, and extended family willing to have an open, honest discussion with you about why you are an atheist?
  • How much time are you willing to devote to having a relationship with your Christian family.
  • Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

How atheists answer these questions, and others, will guide them in how best to measure their relationship with Christian family members. Some atheists are like Polly, willing to endure mistreatment for the sake of maintaining family relationships. Others, unwilling to be misused and abused in Jesus’ name, will have frank discussions with their families, defining boundaries that MUST be maintained if there are to be continued relationships. And some atheists will conclude that it is impossible to have relationships with their Christian families. No path is the right one. Every atheist must determine for themselves what, if any, relationships they want to have with Christian family members. Atheists might find that it is possible to maintain relationships with some Christian family members, but not others. Twenty years ago, I ended my relationship with my Fundamentalist Christian grandparents. John and Ann were/are awful people, judgmental assholes. (Please see Dear Ann and John.) I have not regretted telling them to take a hike. I am quite happy that none of my thirteen grandchildren know them. They will never have to endure the indignities dished out by John and Ann Tieken.

I hope atheist and agnostic readers of this post will share how they handle their relationships with Christian family members in the comment section. Knowing how others deal with their Christian families will be helpful.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Bruce Gerencser